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Confident in the Flesh. Dead in the Spirit.

October 4, 2020

Our Old Testament reading today is the Ten Commandments from the book of Exodus. Listen for the Word of God as it continues to speak to you this morning.

READ Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20

Our passage from Philippians (3:4b-14) that Meg read earlier is too good to just let go. So I want to start there today with Paul’s shift in understanding on what’s really important to his faith… to his devotion to God. That list of his credentials that he gives… of what made him important in his life before God… his circumcision on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. In his world, Paul checked all the right boxes. He was legit. Don’t know if that is active slang anymore… but I’m not sure how else to say it. He was bona fide. How’s that? Is that slang any better?

I hear this list again this morning and I think we can easily relate to what Paul is saying… especially as we are so divided and tribalized at the moment. We have our own list of what makes us legit. The do or die qualifiers of which we can boast to those who agree with us. Do you check off all the boxes of your political tribe? Always a great example since right now everyday… and it seems in every way… we are constantly aware of the political waters we are swimming in. I mean… nobody on the one side wants to be accused of being a RINO, right? A Republican in name only. Maybe I should trademark the acronym DINO. Where the “I” sounds like an “E”, but that’s okay as far as Democrats are concerned. It’s a mark of inclusivity. What are the tribal qualifiers? Does anyone really know? Who sets the definition? Is it the most extreme ends of the political spectrum? It’s chaos… it’s chaos as each person has their own set of facts… as we are all being manipulated through social media algorithms that aren’t interested in anything higher than keeping our attention long enough so that we might look at an ad and make them money. And even if you think… well, not me… I don’t do much social media… it doesn’t matter because it’s like a category five hurricane that has set up residency where you live so that nothing is safe from its influence. Nothing. We are all caught up in the swirling whirling chaos of heart, mind and soul whether we want to admit it or not.

Look at Paul. A persecutor of the church. A killer with a clean conscience because his violence against the men, women and children of the time was justified by the chaos swirling around him. Who was going define faith? What was going to define faith? What were people going to do… how far were they willing to go when they felt pushed outside of their norms and expectations? Paul’s righteousness under the Law acted as cover for whatever he brought into the world… but righteousness under the Law meant that he was good at following those things that his fellow Pharisees believed were so important… not the spirit of God that was supposed to live through the obedience to the Law. I’m sure Paul’s Sabbath observations were right on the mark. I’m sure the tassels on his prayer shawl were perfect. I’m sure he maintained the dietary laws to the letter. Confident in the flesh. Dead in the spirit. Is it really surprising that when he has an encounter of the risen Christ… that when Paul comes face to face with the fulfillment of the law and the prophets… when his heart is resurrected… is it any wonder that all that stuff… all those things that Paul believed made him legit… all that… became rubbish. I mean, it was always rubbish in a sense, right… but now looking through the eyes remade by Christ… Paul just finally saw it.

We’re all carrying our own giant piles of rubbish around… that’s why we’re being so easily manipulated because all those voices… all those emotional levers being pulled… give us greater and greater confidence in the flesh until no one but our own little tribe can stand to be around us anymore. We are so confident in the flesh that we are full on obnoxious. It’s like those psychological studies… how people who are overly confident… think they are the best at everything. We have all become obnoxious know nothing experts. And it’s all rubbish.

How do we leave the chaos… the rubbish… behind?

You shall have no other gods before me. What’s so interesting about this first commandment is its presumption of the existence other gods. We might not see that much anymore. It’s a choice. All these commandments are a choice to obey. And that first choice… to me… is God saying, “If you are going to choose to follow me… if you are going to choose to be called by my name… then it’s an all or nothing proposition. I’m not a part. I’m the whole. Everything else will be defined by me and I refuse to be defined by anything else.” God will be God on God’s terms alone… not by what we set. That’s lesson number one. We saw this a couple of Sundays back with Jonah… Jonah who knew God was gracious and merciful… Jonah knew God was slow to anger and quick to forgive… Jonah knew God was abounding in steadfast love… but Jonah sought to manipulate God and to use God to satisfy his own hatred of the people of Nineveh. Jonah’s hatred had become to him another god… the god Jonah was truly following… the god of vengeance.

So the second commandment about idols… is tied closely to the first commandment… is there so that we choose to obey God and not work to manipulate God for our own purposes. It’s there so that we don’t confuse God with the other idols or gods of our own creation whether that is with our own hands… but more likely constructed with our heart. Rules and regulations… various purity litmus tests… all easily become idols… as Paul found out. Idols that kept him from knowing the God so wonderfully revealed in Christ. .. that God of grace and mercy that humbles us into service… that will not uphold our prejudice or give us cover for our righteous persecutions of others.

We usually think of the third commandment as making an oath or swearing using God’s name… but really it is the misuse of God’s name. So when we do something in the name of God that is not characteristic of the God who has been revealed to us through Christ… that is misusing God’s name. We are… more often than not… applying God’s name to one of our idols. So if our subculture to which we have connected the name of God is not acting in the ways in which God directs… we are misusing the name of God. If the subculture to which we have connected the name of God is more in love with money and the material than it is in serving the poor and the needy… we are misusing the name of God. If the subculture to which we have connected the name of God is more apt to find reasons to persecute and condemn in the name of God rather than be generous with mercy and forgiveness and the steadfast love of God… we are misusing the name of God. If the subculture to which we have connected the name of God is more apt to believe itself better than or to work to preserve social structures that gives itself advantages over others instead of committing itself to the humble service reflected in the cross… then we are misusing the name of God.

These first three commandments give us a rock to hold onto with all the swirling chaos around us… gives us that thing that is sure especially while we are having a difficult time knowing or even discerning what is true. So much doubt has been sown. So much distrust muddies everything. We are so ready to believe the worst of everyone… place so much sureness in our no nothing knowledge of others’ motives… that it is little wonder we believe any juicy conspiracy that comes our way whether it is rational or not… any bit of gossip that confirms what we already know to be true. We can’t distinguish between slant and information. Actually I think we’ve gotten to the point where the slant is all we care to hear. The sound of it is like the sweet choir of angels swirling around our idols and other gods of our own choosing and making.

But… but if you make the decision to follow that first commandment… if you take up the name of Christ… if you respond to God’s call to be a disciple… then be prepared not just to follow the letter of the remaining commandments… be prepared for them to transform your heart… be prepared for them to turn to rubbish all those others things you think are so valuable. These words don’t change under context and circumstance… but the context and circumstance we find ourselves gives these words a weight that perhaps we haven’t perceived before.

To honor the Sabbath means that you are not just what you create with your hands or the value that others make out of you. You are not the world’s commodity to use and abuse and dispose of when the world has wrung out all it can get from you. And neither is your invisible neighbor. To honor the Sabbath means you have intrinsic value… an intrinsic value that is understood more and more the more and more you grow in your relationship with the God whose name you have taken. On the Sabbath we take the time to purposefully know God better through worship and study… and to know ourselves as God’s children.

To honor father and mother... is believing and trusting in the value of relationships… starting with our most basic and core relationships. Scripture teaches that this honoring is not just for the children, but mothers and fathers are to act in ways toward their children so as not to make the honoring a burden but an easy and natural expression of love.

If we truly choose the name of God then we order our lives according to that name. We build the type of community that brings glory to God’s name. It is easy for the majority of us not to murder one another… but the commandment to murder means removing the hate from your heart in the same way that not committing adultery means removing the lust from your heart. Both of which… hate and lust… objectify another and take away their intrinsic value that comes from God’s hand. To steal breaks community making possessions of more value than relationships. To lie… to bear false witness against a neighbor… not only breaks the trust necessary for relationships and community… but to lie is to also deny the truth that is God. You cannot be a liar and bear the name of God because the lie becomes an idol… becomes a different god to whom you are beholden. To covet is stealing in your heart if not in action. To covet is not to be thankful or to have gratitude for all that you have… all that you have been given. To covet puts us in a state of dissatisfaction so that what we value gets thrown out of whack.

For Paul, his encounter with Christ, revalued his relationship with God. The marks of his relationship he once thought were so important… he saw were truly rubbish. The god being revealed to the world through the old Paul was not the God that had been revealed through the whole of scripture… was not the God that was revealed through Christ. Saints, if we look at the Ten Commandments through the eyes of Christ, what we see is a rudimentary path set out for us for the transformation of the heart… for the growth of community… and a deeper relationship with the truth that is God. To end with Paul… look at the communities of faith he sought to create in Christ… look at the quality of the relationships… look at how the work of the Holy Spirit was at the center… works that were to produce the finest of godly fruits. Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.” Amen.

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