Exodus 20. 5-6: “for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
“Love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength”, Jesus said. Good advice. But hard to do when you are afraid of God.
If I were a betting man, which I decidedly am not, I would wager that most of you got stuck on the first half of the Exodus passage I just read, and barely heard the second half. I suspect the notion that God jealously punishes children for the iniquity of their parents didn’t sit too well. It didn’t sound right, or fair, or just—at all.
Well, you know, you may be on to something there. And I think you should follow that thought—see where it leads you; see what you can find out. Maybe God isn’t who you thought God was. Or maybe what you believe isn’t consistent with Scripture? Or maybe these words don’t mean what they say, but instead mean what they mean; whatever that is.
Anyway, let me know what you find out—because that’s not what I am going to talk about this morning. I didn’t have a problem with the first half of the passage—the “God as punisher” part.
Instead, I was captivated by the second half— “I (am) the Lord your God (who) show(s) steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me…” The Hebrew word translated here as “steadfast love” is “chesed”. It means “lovingkindness”—but it carries feeling of a kindness that is constant, unchanging, unswerving. “I, the Lord your God, am lovingly kind to the thousandth generation…”
“God is Love”, the New Testament tells us in the 1st letter of John. For Christians Love is one of the names of God. For the Jewish writer of the book of Exodus, “Lovingkindness” is one of the names of God. Not something most of us expect from the Old Testament, is it. But here it is. “I (am) the Lord your God (who) show(s) (constant, unchanging, unswerving Lovingkindness) to the thousandth generation…”
I want to think about what that means for us—especially as it shows up right here at the beginning of what we have always called “The 10 Commandments”.
You may remember last week I reframed these 10 Commandments as “10 Words of Grace”. It was the image of God as “Lovingkindness”; God whose very nature is to be lovingly kind through all generations, that got me thinking in that direction.
What effect, I have often wondered, might God’s unwavering, unchangeable kindness have on how we live our lives?
So here’s a story that comes from the Irish philosopher, theologian and generally kind of wacky guy, Peter Rollins:
There was once a young man called Caleb who was obsessed with possessions and status. He was driven and he was successful, but he was not happy. He worked long hours, rarely saw his children, and was easily irritated.
But more than this, he knew that his father disapproved of his lifestyle. His father had himself been a wealthy and influential man in his youth, but had found his life shallow and unsatisfactory, turning away from it to embrace a life of simplicity, fellowship, and meditation. Caleb’s father had urged him from an early age not to seek material and political influence. He encouraged Caleb, in the strongest possible way, to delve deeply into the beauty of creation, the warmth of friendship, and deep, sustained reflection.
Caleb’s father was an inspiring man, well loved by all. He could see that his father was at peace with himself and the world in a way that he was not. Caleb often looked with longing at his father’s life and detested his own path. Yet he was still driven to pursue wealth and power.
It was true that his father was contented, but he was also concerned about his son. On any occasion when they spent time together, he would criticize Caleb for the life he had chosen. But one day while Caleb’s father was reflecting upon his son’s life, a voice from heaven interrupted him, saying, “Caleb is also my son, and I love him just the way he is.” Caleb’s father began to weep as he realized how he had been hurting his son through his disapproval and criticism.
So he immediately visited his son and offered a heartfelt apology, saying, “Please never feel that you have to change what you do or who you are. I love you, without limit or condition, just as you are.”
After that day, the father began to take an interest in his son’s life again, asking about what he was doing and how his work was progressing. Soon Caleb found he was no longer so interested in working the long hours. Soon he started to skip work in order to spend time with his family, taking less interest in what others thought about him. Eventually, Caleb gave up his work entirely and followed in his father’s footsteps.
It was only after his father had accepted him unconditionally for who he was, you see, that he was able to change and become who he always wanted to be.
And here’s another story. Look for the similarities:
Moses sees a bush burning in the wilderness—blazing but not consumed. He goes to check it out and a voice booms. “Take your shoes off, Moses. You’re on holy ground.”
“I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob,” the voice continued. Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians; to bring them to a land flowing with milk and honey”.
God has come to redeem these people? Why?
Because they are suffering. And because God claims them as God’s own.
So Moses goes down to Egypt and brings the people out—out of the city, through the Red Sea and on to Mt Sinai. They have been rescued from slavery; they have been redeemed; they have been saved—choose your verb, but realize, it has to be past tense.
They have been set free. They didn’t earn their freedom, or work for it. It didn’t come to them because of their obedience or their faithfulness.
God acted; and they were set free.
Now what? is the question we are tempted to jump to. But let’s not be hasty. Sit for a moment with what is happening here. These people gathered around the base of Mt Sinai are learning the lesson Caleb learned from his repentant father.
For over 400 years 20-some generations of Abraham’s children have been in abject slavery in Egypt; utterly subject to the power of Pharaoh and Pharaoh’s gods; having lost generations ago the hopes and dreams of their ancient father Abraham.
And here they are suddenly, surprisingly free.
The voice on the mountain says, “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage”. And it’s like God is saying, “Would you like to see what else I can do?"
“I am the Lord your God. Trust me. My steadfast love—my unswerving lovingkindness—will last for a thousand generations. Come and see.”
They don’t have to come and see. They have a choice. They can choose another way if they want to. Of course, there will be consequences to their choices; there always are. And, of course, it will be their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren who will feel those consequences. That’s just the way it works. We all know how our children have been affected by the choices we have made. But we are free to choose.
Or they can “come and see”. They can accept the lovingkindness of this redeeming God. They can be the vanguard of a thousand generations who, in response to this lovingkindness, will love God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength and love their neighbors as themselves.
We have a choice, you see. And our choices matter.
And right here is where some present, real world effects of our choices can be seen. For instance, in a community infused with Divine lovingkindness, women would not live, as they reasonably do now, in constant fear of being harassed or assaulted; or spend decades trying to recover from assault. And men would not hide behind the gender privilege our society gives us to take from women whatever we want just because we can. In a community bounded by God’s 10 Words of Grace, the horrid spectacle we saw last week before the Senate Judiciary Committee would never be seen. That, in itself, would be a future worth having, don’t you think?
How we respond to God’s lovingkindness is up to us, of course. The choice is always ours. My point, simply, is that how we respond—and why we respond, really matters.
In the story I read earlier, Caleb works his tail off to buy something that isn’t for sale—his father’s love. When he discovers it has been given to him, his life takes a new direction.
In our story today, the people are shown, through their rescue from slavery, the lovingkindness of their Creator God. Lovingkindness then promised to their children though the next thousand generations, the next 20 or 30 thousand years—forever, in other words.
With one statement—“I am the Lord you God who brought you out of the house of bondage”, and 10 Words of Grace, God creates the future everyone wants but no one can attain.
And then God invites everyone in.
A thousand generations of the children of Abraham are invited. A thousand generations of the children of those Swiss farmers and cheese makers who founded this church 105 years ago are invited. And in case you’re counting, we’ve only used up 5 of our allotted generations in those 105 years. We have 995 still to come.
A thousand generations of whoever is loved by the God whose name is Lovingkindness are invited in.
That’s the story.
So what will we do with this? is the question we’re left with, I suppose. In this world—with our lives so infused with lovingkindness, how will we live and work and play? Whom will we love and whom will we hate? Whom will we draw into our circle and whom will we wall out? Whom we will support and whom we will resist?
“I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. My name is Lovingkindness”.
How about we ”love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength; and love our neighbors as we love ourselves”.
That seems a fitting response, don’t you think.
Adult Bible Study Class
Week 4 September 30, 2018
Last week we read the story several times and have become well acquainted with the details—who’s doing what to whom when, where and why. Then we answered the first 2 of the 5 questions we will address each week on the text for the week. this week we will dig a little deeper into the portion of the story that seems to have caught our attention and won’t let us go. This will likely be a different part of the story for each one of us. You are not doing a deep theological critique here. You simply need to listen and somewhere in the story you may sense the Spirit nudging you to look more closely at something. It may be a single word or a short phrase or maybe even a whole verse—but probably not more than that. So read over the story one more time and work through the questions that follow.
Exodus 19. 3-7
3 Then Moses went up to God; the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, ‘Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites: 4 You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, 6 but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites.’
7 So Moses came, summoned the elders of the people, and set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him.
Exodus 20. 1-17
1 Then God spoke all these words:
2 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 3 you shall have no other gods before me.
4 You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, 6 but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.
7 You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.
8 Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9 For six days you shall labour and do all your work. 10 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.
12 Honour your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
13 You shall not murder.
14 You shall not commit adultery.
15 You shall not steal.
16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.
17 You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.
You answered questions 1 and 2 last week. So unless you have found something that has caught your attention more forcefully, repeat your answers here
1. “What’s the place in the text that fascinates you, bothers you, troubles you thrills you, haunts you, angers you, gladdens you or otherwise jumps up to meet you?” (Rehearsing Scripture, pg 86). Write out that word, phrase or verse here: ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
2. Why does it get you? Why the strong reaction? Hint: It might be because you’ve been in a similar situation, made the same mistake, felt the same blessing. Pay attention to your feelings and answer the “Why?” question here: _____________ ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
3. What do you know about God from this moment in the text that gets you? Here we get closer to the point of this exercise. We read and rehearse Scripture “so that we can say something true—something that matters vitally for the world—about God”. (Rehearsing Scripture, pg. 90). Honesty, more than certainty, about what you know of God really counts in this answer.
5. Why does your community (this class) need to hear today what you know about God from this story? Why is it important to tell them? (“If what we say matters vitally, if it speaks to the needs and concerns of real people we love and care for, then we must speak up…It will be a word about God” Rehearsing Scripture, pg 92) _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
6. What do you want to say? Say it in one sentence. This may be the toughest question. You may need the help of your fellow students to find the words. From Rehearsing Scripture, pg.93 “Keep it simple. God is the subject. We encountered God in this text. I have a word to speak, a word that matters, for people I love. This is what I want to say:” _________________________________________________________________
7. “Since words do things to people, what do you hope your words will do?” (Rehearsing Scripture, pg 94) Recall what your words have done in the past—hurt feelings, ruffled feathers or even causing someone to fall in love with you. Are your words “tasty”, hospitable? “The door we open is the one that points to God”, (Rehearsing Scripture, pg 95). Write your hope here: