Before God 9/14/14
Exodus 14:19-31, Romans 14:1-12, Matthew 18:21-35
Next week, we will endeavor down our fall sermon series, tied to The Church Has Left the Building. The theme this year is Love the World, based upon the classic Biblical proclamation: God loved the world so much that he sent Jesus Christ that whoever would believe in him would have eternal life.
This week, a transitional week from a sermon sense, will call upon the lectionary passages. Sometimes my first glance at the passages in the lectionary make me go, “huh”. But they are worth the effort to piece together and see why they were put together.
Simply put, the three passages guide us to consider yesterday, today and tomorrow. And we look at time in light of who God is. We live before God.
The word ‘before’ is a preposition which most of the time means “in advance, or ahead”. You need to eat your vegetables before you get to eat ice cream. But there are other uses of the word. For example, it can mean ‘under the jurisdiction or consideration of’ (the case before the court). Also, in a higher position than, (quality before quantity). Also, it means ‘in the presence of’. Life before God.
These secondary definitions are very helpful in explaining our relationship with God. We are before God, in God’s presence. We serve God, who has jurisdiction over our lives. We acknowledge God is in the highest position, before our loved ones, families, friends and neighbors. Paul quotes the prophet Isaiah, “As surely as I live says the Lord, every knee will bow before me.”
The Exodus story roots us in yesterday. The Gospel Parable becomes our story today. The Romans teaching guides us into tomorrow.
The story of the Exodus is a universal and true story. It happened to Israel, but it is attractive to us because we all have felt trapped, and wondered how we will be rescued, and at some point in all our stories, only God can rescue us.
The Israelites were slave in Egypt for some 400 hundred years. Just for context, The United States will turn 400 in the year 2176. Throughout this story of slavery, they had heard that God would someday rescue the people, and bring them to a promised land. The people held onto that promise and passed it along from generation to generation. As the day hastened, there were stories of Moses returning with his brother Aaron to demand that Pharaoh let the people go. There were miracles and plagues. Something was happening.
But then one night, it really did happen. Pharaoh was fed up, and wanted the life that he had known before all types of struggle had come to him, and he tells the people to get out of the land. Citizens give gold to the Israelites as they leave. The people literally pay the Israelites to leave. But as they travel, Pharaoh comes to his senses. And he sends the world’s greatest army after the Israelites.
Think about the emotions. Imagine you are one of the people. You had been slaves their whole life. You had worked hard and were tired. And then one night, you pack up your stuff and get your family in order and start walking. Where would you go? Where are we going right now? What was the next chapter? Who cares…were leaving Egypt! God’s promise had come true! And then in the distance, you see the armies coming after you. Terror strikes. And before you is water. How can you possible get across?
They most haunting verse is 30. “That day, the LORD saved Israel from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore”. The Israelites had been freed, the promise had been fulfilled. They saw God act. Oppressive Egypt was judged. It must have been a sight that did not easily escape their minds. But it happened. The Israelites, whatever happened in their future, would always be able to remember the day that God saved them.
In the Bible, the exodus is Israel’s story. The story for us is of Jesus Christ, who lived and died and rose to rescue us from spiritual slavery. We look at his actions, and remember the sacrifice involved. We live today, remembering that salvation act. Or we live today, forgetting what God did in the past.
Jesus changed the story, he took care of the problem of human sin and the alienation it caused people before God. Jesus’ work shouldn’t be kept under ‘yesterday’s file. The story is real for today. God’s saving forgiveness comes to us. And Jesus taught that we should share it with others.
Reading the news, the numbers boggle the mind. The nation’s debt spiraling into the trillions. State budgets billions of dollars short. How does this happen? The Bible alludes that these types of insurmountable debt are no stranger to other generations. He tells a story of a man who owed 10 thousand talents, that is millions of dollars. A millionaire in Jesus time must have been like a billionaire today. Imagine being forgiven a billion dollars in personal debt, only to be enraged at someone who had borrowed $5 from you. Jesus invites us to forgive, as we have been forgiven. In fact, don’t forgive someone 7 times (which was significantly more than Hebrew Law had commanded), forgive seventy times that! Keep on forgiving.
Yesterday is the story of God’s work in Jesus Christ. Today, we live before God. We have been forgiven in Christ, we too are to forgive. We are like the servant forgiven 10 thousand talents. Will we now imprison that person who took a cup of coffee from us?
Doing so isn’t how Jesus desires us to live.
So what is the way? What is the next step? What type of life are we to build toward tomorrow? The Apostle Paul invites us into strength and a strong faith.
One of the biggest issues facing the early church was food. It comes up in Acts and most of Paul’s letters. Essentially, the Hebrew Scripture contained dietary and strict food laws. Were people supposed to follow those in light of what Jesus had done? Were people free because of Jesus, or were people suppose to build their faith in Christ in addition to the laws already taught?
In addition, the world around the people of faith often ate and drank in honor of idols. So if you were a Christian, and you were invited to eat dinner at someone’s house, and they offered a prayer to a false god before eating. Did eating symbolize your acceptance of the idol? It was a big teaching that confronted the church. Ultimately, Paul says that idols are really nothing, that is, they ultimately do not exist. God exists, therefore, honor God by faith.
In Romans 14, the position is that those able to eat foods because of their faith should not condemn those who are weak. And those who viewed everyday as sacred should not condemn those who kept the Jewish feasts. His stance is surprising, we might think that the stronger person was the one who didn’t eat meat, or that kept the feasts of Israel. Paul’s main point is now that we are in Christ, don’t judge someone who is weaker, but run after strength. If someone can’t eat the meat, fine, but you should seek what is good and true. Speaking of the Apostle Paul, and his views of what was essential for the Christian faith, Charles Hodge writes, “Paul would concede everything, and become all things to all people where principle was not at stake; but when it was, he would concede nothing for a moment.” This is a good reminder for us, that it is all about Jesus. We live before God, that is, in the presence of God.
Paul teaches us how to build for tomorrow:
--God has accepted us in Christ, not because of how we handle
issues of diverse opinion.
--We all serve God, and our first priority is our relationship with
God. We don’t live other’s relationship with God for them.
--The Lord is able to make us strong and able to make us stand.
--What we do, say, eat, pursue, should be for the Lord.
--We don’t live just for ourselves, we live and die belonging to
--We should devote energies to the day that we will stand before
God to give account of ; the life that God has given us.
Yesterday reminds us of the God who works in our world God has rescued us, both collectively and individually.
Today is the chance to show how God has worked to others.
Tomorrow is what we build for, seeking God and a strong faith in God, and all of our life before God.