Sunday, March 16, 2014

Moses: Forty Days of Restoration

(A sermon based on Deuteronomy 10:1-5, 10-11 for the 2nd Sunday in Lent 2014)

[Note: during Lent I am preaching a series called "Making Good Use of Forty Days." This is the second sermon in the series.]

The Book of Deuteronomy is cast in the form of a farewell address of Moses to the people that he had led out of captivity in Egypt and through a forty year-long sojourn in the wilderness. The narrative setting of Deuteronomy is on the plains of Moab on the eastern side of the Jordan River where the people are encamped as they prepare to at long last enter the Promised Land. Moses leads the people who are about to enter the land in a covenant renewal ceremony, reminding them that the covenant that God had established with their ancestors forty years ago at Mt. Sinai was also a covenant that God had made with them and that the relationship God has established with them forty years earlier was still in place.

So Moses walked them back through what had happened all those years ago.

What had happened?

Well, after the people had come out of Egypt, Moses led them to Mt. Sinai. There, he spent forty days and forty nights on the mountain in the presence of the Lord; during that time the Lord gave Moses the content of the covenant including, most famously, the Ten Commandments that were written with the finger of God on two stone tablets. At the end of the forty days, though, God told him that the people were already violating the covenant by worshiping an idol; God furthermore told him that he would destroy the people and start over with Moses; Moses would be, in effect, a new Noah and Abraham combined.

When Moses went back down the mountain he found it as the Lord said he would; the people were sinning by worshiping an idol. Moses threw down the tablets, shattering them; his action symbolized that their covenant relationship with God, which had barely gotten underway, had been broken. The very real possibility that loomed over the people was that it had been broken forever.

To put it succinctly: the people had sinned; they had been unfaithful to the God who had delivered them from bondage and who intended to give them freedom. And they had done so right out of the gate, like a race car blowing its engine right after the starting flag dropped. Now what? Were they destined to wander around the wilderness until they died? Would they have to return to slavery in Egypt?

Do such questions ever occur to us?

The Christian life is an interesting and challenging pilgrimage with many ups and downs and many twists and turns. Whether we’re at the beginning of our walk with Christ, in the middle of it, or toward the end, we are prone to sin against God; as the hymn puts it, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it—prone to leave the God I love.” It happens to us all in all kinds of ways. Sometimes we think about something a long time, conclude that it’s wrong, and then do it anyway. Sometimes we transgress on the spur of the moment. Sometimes we get to feeling very secure in our relationship with God and our pride causes us to fall. Sometimes we get very lackadaisical in our relationship with God and our carelessness leads us to slip. It is, for those who pay attention to themselves, very frustrating. Sometimes we feel like screaming the words of Paul: “Wretched person that I am!”

But it wasn’t over for the Hebrews and it isn’t over for us.

God summoned Moses back to the mountain where Moses spent another forty days in the presence of the Lord. There, God re-wrote and re-established the covenant with the people, even to the point of writing the Ten Commandments on two new tablets that Moses had carved.

When we sin, we need to spend time before the Lord getting our relationship with God re-established and re-oriented to the new situation created by the reality of our sin. Now, it was Moses who went back to the mountain as the representative of the people and you can believe me when I say that your pastors spend time before the Lord interceding on your behalf. Now, though, because of the direct access to God we have through the death of Christ our Lord, we all have the responsibility to go before God for ourselves. But we also, because of the priesthood that is ours through Christ our Lord, have the privilege and responsibility of going before God for each other.

After God’s great saving act in the Exodus, Moses spent forty days on the mountain receiving the covenant.

After the people’s great sin, Moses spent an additional forty days on the mountain having the covenant restored and interceding with God for the people.

Here is a good use of forty days (or for however many days it takes): let’s take our own and each other’s relationship with God seriously enough to want to grow in that relationship, even when it means facing up to our sins and failures and to God’s great grace, and enough to want to intercede fervently for each other before God.

Moses had to go back to the mountain; it is good for us to go back to the cross. We need to remember how far God went to set us free and, when we live as if it doesn’t matter, we need to go back to the cross to remind ourselves just what is at the heart of our relationship with God.

Yes, sometimes we, like Paul find ourselves crying out, “Wretched person that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”

When we find ourselves asking that question, let’s remember Paul’s answer: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

If the people’s relationship with God was to be restored, Moses had to return to Mt. Sinai.

If our relationship with God is to be restored, we have to return to Mt. Calvary …

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