Ten Is Not Enough

The Rev. Scott Trotter
Proper 23A
Exodus 32:1-14; Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23; Philippians 4:1-9; Matthew 22:1-14

Apparently ten is not enough. Other than explanations, most of chapters 21–31 is God explaining how to put the Ten Commandments into daily use. God dictates it all to Moses. It takes a while. It’s hard to write on stone. The Hebrews get themselves in trouble; REAL trouble.

Do you remember the first commandment? NO other gods. How about the second? NO idols, because God is a jealous God (and that’s lots worse a jealous date). The Hebrews did both—make an idol AND worship it as THE god who saved them from oppression in Egypt.

God THE God gets angry, REALLY angry. Divinely angry; enough to wipe the Hebrews out and start all over again with Moses. For some unexplained reason, despite all the abuse and ridicule, Moses intercedes for the stiffed-necked Hebrews. Moses pleads with God, and God repents, is sorry for his tirade, and changes God’s mind.

A couple of observations:

1. It’s a wonder the Bible story ever gets out of Exodus.

All we hear is about is a grumpy, quarreling, stiffed-necked people, who never see God’s graciousness. I wouldn’t put up with it. Would you ? At this point in the story we might want to recalibrate our understanding of God’s strength. We’ve seen the strength of God in the routing of the Egyptian army. It’s one thing to obliterate a bunch of bullies; but, it’s another sort of strength, all together, to put up with a bunch of ill tempered, self-centered, uncommitted people.

2. It may be time to rethink our understanding of all knowing.

I mean, if God knew all this was going to happen, then why let it happen?

3. We might want to reconsider unchangeable.

This may be the first time we hear God change God’s mind, but it’s not the last.

4. I’m ever more thankful for Moses.

As imperfect as he is, his love for his people leads him to take huge RISK for them by arguing with God!

The short form the story from here is: God relents, the Hebrews get to the promised land. There are lots of miss-steps. God intercedes again … and again, finally, he sends his Son, to save us from ourselves.

Just to make sure we are all on the same page; three weeks ago we heard the Jewish leaders challenge Jesus’ authority. They want to know from whom and where he gets his authority. Jesus does not answer, at least not directly. A series of parables follow: that Sunday was the parable of 2 sons asked to work the field, one says no and then does, the other says yes, and then doesn’t. It’s a parable about doing the will of God. Last week was the parable about corrupt tenants. They are eventually thrown out and replaced by new tenants who will produce the fruits of the Kingdom. This morning we heard about the wedding banquet. The invited guest don’t come; they make up excuses, dismiss the invitation, abused and kill the king’s servants. All this really angers the king, who sends out his army to destroy the people and burn the city. Then he invites others to the wedding banquet. The first invited guest, like the yes but not son, and the greedy tenants are God’s people, the Jewish leaders. The fiery destruction is the destruction of Jerusalem The new guests are Christians, but to our surprise, they include the faithful and the false; much like the parables of the wheat and tares, the good and bad fish.

There are interesting parallels between the Exodus story and this morning’s parable. In Exodus, the Hebrews turn away from God, make their own god (the calf) thus turn away from God. In the parable, the guest (the Jewish leaders) turn away from God, following their own priorities, their own farming and business interest. These stories show what not following the Ten Commandments looks like. This behavior in Exodus provokes God’s anger, who is ready to utterly destroy the Hebrews. In the parable the guest provoke the king’s anger and he does utterly destroy them. Well not utterly, there are, other people to invite. Consequences. In Exodus, Moses’ intervention causes God to repent, to stay God’s hand. In the parable, there is outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. These are aspects of judgment.

I suspect you realize there is a third step, a third comparison in all this. It’s now, and us. Both the story from Exodus and Matthew evoke the question: What gods have we shaped for ourselves and what aspects divine grace are we giving them credit for?

There are lots of candidates. Without respect for our preferences, ideologies, political and economic have become idols. Our dependence on human strength, military and wealth, et. al. have become other gods. Our reliance on human knowledge, science and technology, especially medical, is another source of other gods. Neither ideology, strength nor knowledge should be outright dismissed. BUT! they cannot be first in our lives. They have true value only in so far as they produce Kingdom Fruit. Irrespective of poplar Bible quoting, or inference, as Psalm 106 says we HAVE forgotten our God. One little clue is in our language: “The least we can do is pray… .” By implication, there IS MORE that can be done. Think about it.

Once again, I’ve wandered into a dark, confusing chaotic corner. But, it is where the Gospel story is … at this point. Tensions are high, the outlook is poor, everyone is on edge. I never skip to the end of the story, that’s cheating. But, this morning, I will. Moses intercedes for the Hebrews.

The Parable leaves us at the edge of the abyss. Who is going to be in darkness, who is not? To the end of the story. In Jesus death and resurrection, Jesus/God intercedes then, and now.

SO, as we believe, as we ACT in faith, all will be well.

However, there is a caveat; and it is my least favorite; there will be judgment. Yes, the prosecutor, judge and defense are all on our side. However, this does not give us freedom to run amok, to follow other gods, to give homage to idols (of our creation), nor to profane God’s name in what we say, or in how we act. Judgment will come!

Between now and then, we might listen to Paul:

Stand firm in the Lord … rejoice in the Lord … do not worry about anything … [and] Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard … and the God of peace will be with you.