Preach from Sunday 13th July… well, at least the bare bones of what I said…
Those of us who’ve been working through the daily Bible readings from the E100 series have now reached Exodus… and although we’re only 2 books into the Old Testament we’ve taken nearly 5 weeks to get here, because this stuff is the foundation of our faith. If you look at Exodus 19, you won’t see any hidden mention of Jesus, but repeated again, there is this thread of a promise growing- first made to Abram, then to his son Isaac and to Jacob… and now repeated here to the people of Israel. The promise that the people of Israel would be treasured by God, would be a kingdom of priests has a follow on… if they’re priests, who’re the congregation? Once again, the idea that God’s love flows through them to others… just as the promise of forgiveness flowed through Jesus to all who believe, and so as the seeds on rich soil multiplied 30, 60 or 100 times, so the blessing, the forgiveness, the love of God flowed out and continues to flow out.
But within the passage from Exodus 19 there’re also a couple of challenging ideas we need to engage with. There is this idea of a chosen people- God clearly chose the people of Israel… does that mean God didn’t love anyone else? The more recent questions around this are to do with election and predestination- can anyone chose to follow God, or only the ones that God has already chosen- or in other words, do we really have a choice about this at all? The way that I have always understood this idea is that God calls to us all- through the beauty of His creation, through his presence in people around us, through the message of the Gospel that we might hear, through the depth of prayers and hymns that we sing or say together as we worship… God calls and has always called to everyone. It is up to us whether we respond. The part that the people of Israel played, and that Christians now play is to stand in the gap between God and the world, and to point out, to highlight, the work and activity, the presence and word of God, for others to be blessed by coming into relationship with God. So its not a case of ‘some are called/chosen by God’ and neither is there a valid case that Christians can simply leave it up to God to call others to faith… God calls, we help people to hear and to respond. One very poignant way that I see this happening is when people look to me as a minister to help them understand their own spiritual experiences- often ones that have happened outside of our gathered worship… and that’s what it means when here it speaks of a holy people, a nation of priests- people who can help others to understand.
Often we can get caught up with thinking about the Old Testament in terms of either the Law- starting with the 10 commandents that come in the chapter following our reading, or in terms of the Land- the promised Land, the kingdom etc… but its important to notice here that God’s love for the people of Israel comes before the Law or the Land… their relationship to God is the most important of the 3. Its only after God has declared his love, and that the people have responded, that God then says ‘if you want to honour me, to follow me, this is how others will notice- this is what will make it obvious’… the Law is to help other people see the difference. And the Land comes last of all- material things are less important than relationships or values. We know that to be true in our own lives- who you go on holiday with and how you feel about things is more important than where you go… and its not something limited to the Old Testament and the people of Israel- its true in our faith. The challenge is to ensure that our relationship with God is right- that our values and actions are based on a true understanding of our relationship with God- that’s why we’ve started quite so slowly with our progress through the Bible this last month- because we need to get these basic things in place-
God’s love, God’s promise, God’s activity, God’s grace, God’s forgiveness. Our acceptance, our response, our relationship with God- creator, saviour, Father, Spirit.
Actions that are in line with stated beliefs, that are based on strongly held values… integrity.
And when we build on that, putting our own discipleship as the first building block… our own relationship with God- basing our prayer and personal devotions around that relationship rather than anything else, then other questions become, if not easier to answer, at least easier to look at, because our values become clearer and in line with God’s. And then our actions and our stuff (the equivalent of the Law and the Land) become more in keeping with God… and people will start to notice. As I heard someone say recently- ‘when people around the world see Christians starting to behave how they think Christians should behave, that changes the conversation’.
For us this week, as we seek to live our lives as followers of Jesus, lets make sure that we get these simple things in the right order… so that we can build on firm foundations as we draw others into the blessing that is a relationship with God.