Thursday, October 6, 2011

Sermon for 10 02 2011; Exodus 20:1-21

Rev. George Miller
Exodus 20:1-21
Oct 2, 2011

Last week I visited Disney World for the first time in 25 years. I had me a good time. Waved hello to Snow White; spun around in the tea cups; went to Space Mountain, yelling out “Ya-hoooo!” just like my Mama taught me.

However, there was one ride I went on that scared the Donald Duck out of me. It’s based on the cartoon character Stitch, a mischievous creature from another world that children get a kick out of because he’s so amusingly inappropriate.

The concept of the ride is that you’re in a space station designed to hold the galaxy’s criminals. You’re lead into a circular room where you take your seat; handlebars come down to keep you in. Stitch appears in one of the holding cells, but something happens and he breaks free…

That’s when the fun is supposed to start.

The lights go out, and each seat is fashioned with a set of speakers, allowing you to hear all the playful havoc Stitch is creating.

Trouble is, my speakers were not working; at all. So I was left sitting in complete darkness, not knowing what was going on.

I heard others giggling, laughing, yelping; no idea why. I wondered if the floor was going to drop out like one of those carnival rides that spin.

It was a moment that any A-type personality dreads: total and complete loss of control.

The adult part of me knew that everything was OK; but the child, the one who thought monsters lived in my closet, did not.

And I was scared…

…One of the brilliant things about Disney World is the way it combines two different worlds.

There is the world that is cute and gentle: Cinderella’s Castle, the Dumbo ride, Mickey Mouse.

But then there’s the world that’s scary and rough: Haunted Mansion, Pirates of Caribbean, Stitch.

Kind of like the different parts of God that we come across in the scriptures.

Sure, there is the Still Speaking God who is full of love and compassion and concern for the poor.

Then there is the Raging God who is loud and intense, jealous and down-right scary.

Today’s reading gives us more of that side of God, the side that scares the people of Israel not because they couldn’t hear what was happening, but because they could hear.

To catch us up on things, I invite you to listen: it’s been three months since the people have walked through the Red Sea and cried out to the Lord in the wilderness.

It’s been three months and they’re now camping out beside Mount Sinai.

Moses and God have this special relationship going on. Moses goes up to the mountain, God gives him a message, and Moses goes down the mountain to share that message with the others.

The people respond, sending Moses back up the mountain to tell God what they said.

After a few times doing this, God says to Moses “Listen, I’m gonna come down to the people so they can hear me speak to you, that way they’ll better trust you. But before I do, get the people ready for me.”

The day comes and smoke fills the place, the mountain shakes, a trumpet blasts, there’s lightening and God’s voice sounds like thunder.

This is a moment that is intense, powerful, free, and dare I even say, passionate.

It is at this point of earth shaking, smoke swirling, lightening flashing, trumpet blasting that God speaks the 10 Commandments.

And as you heard, the people’s response? “Ooh Moses, we’re scared. You go on ahead and speak with God and we’ll just listen to what you have to say…”

As you can hear, today’s reading is so much more then about how the 10 Commandments came to be.

It’s about God. About a side of God that is wild, the side of God that is free, the side of God that can make us uncomfortable and down-right scared.

Today’s reading is about how God may make the rules, but it doesn’t mean that God plays by or follows the rules, or at least the rules as we would like to understand them.

This is God who is mysterious, distant and close, and a God who breaks into the world in ways that defy description and expectation.

In other words, a God who commands awe and wonder, respect and total attention.

I hear today’s scripture and I think of how different branches of Christianity reflect certain aspects of this reading.

The Baptists who embrace the notion of rules and laws of what you can and can’t do.

The Pentecostals who embrace the wonder and noise, where God breaks in to do the unexpected via elements and miracles.

The Catholics who embrace the sense of reverence and splendor, the notion that the holy and the ordinary are separate and to be honored.

In some ways, I think us UCCers have blocked our ears to this, because we’re taught to explain these things away as metaphors and to focus on the call to social justice.

And that’s there, after all the commandments are about how to love God and how to love our neighbor.

But the way in which the commandments are given, they way in which they are introduced, presents a God who is much more like Stitch and less like Mickey Mouse, a God who is wild and free, unexpected and untamed.

This is a God who’d rather side with the downtrodden Hebrew slaves then with the Egyptian taskmasters. This is a God who parts the waters and says “If I want to come down in a cloud, what’s it to you?”

We heard glimpses of this in Jesus. The way he stormed into the Temple and over-turned the tables, the way he spoke back to the religious leaders, and the way he just couldn’t stay dead even after 3 days.

And we certainly heard this in the Holy Spirit. The whoosh like wind, the speaking of tongues, the speech from Stephen.

All these things about the Holy Trinity are unexpected, untamed, fearless and free. Yet also enough to cause fear for those who could hear but were afraid to believe.

And although I am a mega A-type, control freak diva, I like this side of God and of Christ and of the Holy Spirit.

In closing, today’s reading presents to us the 10 Commandments, a way to live a full and healthy life with God, with our family, with our neighbor and ourselves.

But let’s not forget that the commandments were heard in the context of freedom.

Freedom of the Israelites after they crossed through the Red Sea.

Freedom of God, the one who chose to come down from the mountain to speak to them.

This freedom of God is not something for us to take too lightly. For if we say that God is Still Speaking, then it means that we have to be willing to listen.

Not with ears which only hear what they want to hear, but ears which hear what is actually being said.

God will speak.

Sometimes what God speaks will be instructions, sometimes words of reassurance, and sometimes things which we do not want to hear.

But listen…even if you are afraid.

Because God is not calling us to be left in the darkness, but God is calling us to step into the light and to be part of a whole new world.

And for that we can say “Hallelujah” and “amen.”

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