Sunday, June 12, 2005

Sermon - Pentecost 4 - Exodus 19:2-8a

4th Sunday after Pentecost – June 12th, 2005
Exodus 19:2-8a

“Instructions at Sinai”

I. Introduction –
Moses and the people of Israel had arrived at Mt. Sinai. And as Moses had climbed the mountain for his “summit” meeting with Yahweh, we can only imagine what was running through his mind. Perhaps one of the things Moses was wondering was, “NOW WHAT?” . Moses found himself as the leader of this newly independent nation of some 600,000 adult men (plus women and children). They too, were certainly struggling with uncertainty. What would the future hold, what would happen today? So maybe Moses wondered what he would say to them. How would he encourage them? What message could he bring? Remember this was Moses who told God he has “never been eloquent” and “I am slow of speech and tongue”.

As a preacher, I can relate. Often I wonder what my sermon will be about this week. What can I say that will “get people’s attention” or “make a difference in your life”. Will it be helpful? I hope so. What should I say this week? Ultimately my questions must always find their answer in the word of God. For as your pastor, I am wasting your time if I am not making clear, proclaiming, and encouraging you with God’s word. My words are of little value. God’s word is a priceless treasure.

If Moses wondered what he should preach about, God certainly answered. He gave Moses clear instructions for the people. We will find instruction in those same words today. God reminded them of the past, encouraged them in the present, and promised them a future. So he does for us.

II. “You Saw What I Did Then”
God was good to the Israelites in the past. He had done wonders. “You saw what I did in Egypt” The Nile turned to blood, the plague of frogs, of gnats, of flies, of livestock, the boils, the hail, the locusts, the darkness – and finally, the death of all the firstborn sons – except for those that were passed over. “You saw what I did in Egypt” would include all of that and more – as here at Mt. Sinai the people had probably not yet cleaned off the mud from their sandals after passing through the divinely-parted Red sea. Time and again, over and over, God had been good to the Israelites – bringing punishment on their enemies, and keeping them safe and sound.

If you think about it, God has been good to you, too. He has worked wonders in your life – maybe not as spectacular, but no less important.
Your birth, your baptism, your Christian education – through these and more God has blessed you. Through every danger and problem and storm and trouble – through all the crises in life – God has been with you. He might even say, “You saw what I did – in YOUR life”. But then again, there are surely numerous ways God has worked for you and in you – that you may not even see. That’s how gracious and loving he has been to each of us.

Even before we were born, God was preparing our salvation. Most specifically, thousands of years before – in the person of His Son, Jesus. As we retell and rehearse the life and death and resurrection and ascension of Christ – we see what God did then – for all of us. And we can see how good he has been.

III. “Trust Me Now”
Though it may be easy to look at our past with a certain degree of nostalgia, My guess is your life isn’t perfect now. Most people have an “issue” or two. I saw a girl in the store the other day with a T-shirt that said just that, “I have issues”. I think we all have “issues”. Maybe something happening to you. Or some temptation or sin you’re struggling with. A problem in the family, a conflict in the workplace. It may be the accumulation of little things, or one big, glaring problem. Whatever the case, however you see it, no one’s life is trouble-free in this sinful world.

For the Israelites, their problems were also in the here and now. They needed help just to survive. God was about to take them on a 40 year vacation in the desert of Sinai. But this would be no picnic. There were real concerns for where they would get even food and water. It wasn’t going to be easy. They would complain. Even thinking that going back to slavery in Egypt was a good idea. “At least there, we had food”.

But God says, trust me. “NOW. Obey my covenant.”

We hear the “obey” and we think “follow the rules”. But the real idea here is not one of sinless perfection by fulfilling every jot and tittle of some legal agreement. God is asking for their trust. He is calling the Israelites to faith. He will feed them, give them drink. He will make sure their clothing lasts. He will provide for their present, physical needs. But also the spiritual!

He will work through this covenantal system – the sacrifices, the festivals, the priests and the tabernacle – he will work through these to show the people his grace, mercy and love. He will work through these to show them forgiveness. He will work through these to point them forward to the coming messiah.

God calls us to trust him in the present, too. It’s why we worship on a regular, weekly, basis. It’s why we have come today – to hear God’s word to us right now – to receive Christ’s body and blood in the present tense. God is the God of yesterday, but also of today!

Some people accuse us Christians, especially faithful, bible-believing, Christ proclaiming, traditional Lutherans that we are – some accuse us of being irrelevant. That the church doesn’t speak to people’s needs today. That we aren’t current, or “with it”. Nothing could be further from the truth.

There is no more pressing need for the present than the forgiveness won by Jesus Christ at the cross. Jesus is ALWAYS relevant. Christ is ALWAYS current. Styles, fashions, language, music, tastes in food and all sorts of cultural preferences will change. But the basic problems of sin and death are always the same. And so is the solution. Jesus. It is his constant changeless grace that makes him so relevant.

IV. “You Will Be Special”
So God’s wonders are seen in our past. And his love is seen in our present. But what about the future? God has plans there too.

For the Israelites, their future included a multitude of promises – “you will be my treasured possession… you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation”. They were also promised a land, divine protection, abundant harvests, and many descendants. On all these promises God eventually delivered. God always keeps his promises.

And then of course his greatest promise to them, or we could say, the root promise of all the other promises, was fulfilled on a lonely night in Bethlehem when God’s own son was born. It was fulfilled further on a lonely hill outside Jerusalem where God’s own son was crucified. It was fulfilled when God raised his Son and our Savior from the grave. To the Israelites this was the future. To us it’s the past, but also the future. For the resurrection of Christ guarantees our resurrection too! Because he lives, we will live. He has gone to the Father, but promised to return for us. He will grant us mansions in heaven, the crown of life, and eternity in his presence.

In fact, all of God’s promises to his ancient people apply to us, in Christ. In Christ, we are a treasured possession of God. Because of Christ’s precious blood shed for us, God holds us dear. In Christ, we are a kingdom of priests – royal in the promised reign with him – priestly in that we need no other mediator than our high priest, Jesus. Our priestly sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving - Christ has made acceptable to God.

And we are a holy nation. Not a nation of one ethnicity or of mere geographic borders, but the church, the holy people of God, with Christ as our eternal head – we are special to God. Not in ourselves, but in Christ our savior. We are the new Israel, by faith not lineage. And our future is in His good hands.

You know, it might be nice to be like Moses. To be able to just go right up to God and find out what you need to know – to get your instruction from the source. (Personally, I wouldn’t mind it if he wrote my sermon for me every week). But really, we have that same instruction in the words of Holy Scripture. Even here in Exodus, as we read God’s instructions at Sinai, we know they are for us too. For like the Israelites, our past, present and future all depend on him and his son, Jesus Christ our Lord. In his name, Amen.

V. Conclusion
God speaks words of instruction to the Israelites at Sinai. Drawing on the past, calling in the present, and promising the future – God deals with the ancient Israelites and with us, by His grace in Jesus Christ. Our past, present and future are always with Him.

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