Everything has a starting point and what we sometimes forget is that faith has a starting point as well.
For most of us, our faith starting point happened somewhere in childhood with a conversation with a parent, or a priest, or a pastor. Maybe it was something you heard in church, or at a camp, or in a conversation at home with your Mom.
But somewhere in your childhood, you were handed some building blocks and your faith journey began.
But as you got older, the starting point of your faith as children took some hits as we noticed that there was a gap, between what you had been taught about God and what you experienced as an adult.
And so sometimes our childhood faith doesn’t survive the rigors of adulthood as life chips away at it. It’s not that we chose to abandon faith, it just got lost in the rear-view mirror.
So, what we've been doing over the past few weeks, is hitting the restart button, and asking the question, "What if we didn't know anything, where would we start?
If you weren’t here, or if you’re going to miss any of the weeks, it’s important that you read or listen to them online because all these messages build off each other. Or perhaps you have some friends or a relative and you’re thinking, “I really wish they had heard this” or “I’ve been trying to explain this and you said it in a way that I haven’t been able to say it” . . . just direct them to the website and they can learn along with us. Better yet, invite them to join us as we continue this series.
Today, we’re going to tackle something that all of us have wrestled with at some point along the way, the role of rules because in every religion there are rules.
Sometimes you did well. Sometimes you didn’t do so well. And for some of you, it’s part of why you left the faith . . . you were just kind of fed up with them.
So, the question I want to ask today is, “What’s up with all the rules?”
Let’s begin with this premise . . . rules always assume relationship. Whether it’s secular or religious sense, where there are a set of rules that you are held accountable to, you are in a relationship.
To help us get the discussion going, I’ve made up some categories. Some models . . .
The family model of rules. You were born into a family, you were a part of a family, and your parents established a set of rules. And as you got older . . . and more rebellious . . . those rules were adjusted and there were consequences to breaking those rules . . . right? But these rules don’t make you part of the family, they are because you are family.
The club or employee model of rules. In this model, you agree to keep the rules to begin the relationship. When you join a club or a team, or if you get a job, they give you a contract, you read it, and if you agree, you sign it, and once you agree to keep these rules, you’re in. But if you break the rules, you’re out.
So, in the first model, you get the rules after the relationship is started. In the second model, you get the rules to establish the relationship. But both are based on relationship.
Just for fun, let’s throw in a third model . . .
The Neighborhood Association model of rules. Now in this model, you don’t always know where you stand. You’re free to buy a house and as long as you obey the neighborhood rules, you’re fine.
But if you get a little squirrely and paint your house bright pink or put a above ground pool in your front yard, you’ll get nasty notes in your mailbox or maybe a mysterious flat tire. They can’t make you move but they can treat you in such a way that you wish you lived somewhere else.
The point of this is that wherever there are rules, you are in a relationship of some sort. These two things go together. And if you take these ideas and you transpose them in to your religious belief system, you can see why this is so confusing. Which one is it and how do we know?
Now some of you when you hear this, you think, I was taught this (family) but you feel this (club). Some of you were taught this (club) and you never felt like you were part of the family. There might even be a handful of you who resonate with the neighborhood association. It was fine for you to join a community of faith but after a while they treated you in such a way that you wished you didn’t.
My question is this . . . When it comes to your relationship with God, which one is it?
How do you know if you are in or out?
To help us answer these questions and create a framework around the role of rules, I want us to go back in time to the most documented set of rules ever given . . . the ten commandments.
The interesting thing about the ten commandments is that hardly anyone knows all ten of them. And if you are questioned about them, most people have no clue where to find them in scripture. So, I’m going to tell you where to find them.
Exodus 20 . . . let’s say that together.
Before we look at them, I want to tie all of this together because as I said a minute ago, these sermons are going to build off each other. Last week we talked about Abraham.
Yes, a little more history . . . I’ll move quickly through it. Hang on!
Abraham was promised by God that he was going to be a nation but as time passed, he noticed a disconnect between what he was told and what he was experiencing. He didn’t have any children or land and so he was struggling with doubt.
So, God takes him outside and has him look to the sky and says, “See all those stars, that’s how many decedents you’ll have. That’s how many people I love and want to restore back into a relationship with me. So, don’t got caught up in your own little star and give up because you are the starting point of a much bigger plan I have.”
Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. That’s where we left off last week.
Now he’s a little older and he’s really getting panicked because he still doesn’t have a kid. So, he and his wife, Sarah, decide to take matters into their own hands and get a sera gate. They chose Sarah’s handmaiden and she has a child named, Ishmael. And then later, Sarah, turns up pregnant and she has a son named, Isaac. So, he ends up with two sons.
This is the point where these three major faith traditions go in completely different directions. About 600 years after Jesus, the prophet Muhammed showed up and he wove together this narrative that connected the Arab nations back to the blessings of Abraham through Ishmael.
And in Judaism and Christianity, Isaac is considered the son of the blessing.
Isaac had a son named Jacob. Jacob had 12 sons that eventually became the twelve tribes of Israel. One of these sons was named Joseph and his brothers did not like him because he was a daddy’s boy, who was given some cool clothes. So, they sold him in to slavery and told their dad that he was dead.
While in Egypt, he ended up becoming the prime minister of Egypt. There was a famine in the land. He sent an email out letting his family know that there was plenty of food in Egypt. They have no idea that this guy is their brother so they all head to Egypt. And there’s a beautiful reconciliation and the relationship is restored.
And because of this all of Abraham’s children, grandchildren, great, great, great, great grandchildren end up in Egypt. This family becomes a nation in Egypt and their multiplying like rabbits and so the Egyptian people come to Pharaoh and say, “If we don’t do something about these Hebrews, there’s going to be more of them than us.” So, they enslaved them.
And so, for 400 years this family becomes a nation, but a slave nation. Generation after generation, all they know is slavery.
And when they would get together they would tell stories and sing songs about father Abraham and how God promised him that one day his family would become a nation but the Hebrews were like “That’s great but we’re slaves, so it doesn’t look like it worked out well for us.”
And like us, they struggled with the disconnect between what they had been taught as kids and the reality of their adult lives.
And then, out of the blue, this guy named Moses shows up and says to Pharaoh, “Let me people go”
And Pharaoh says, “NO, I’m not going to let your people go”. So, Moses says, “Well, then watch this”.
And suddenly nature completely freaks out; locusts, boils, tics, frogs, water pollution. It just goes on and on. And the next thing you know, Egypt’s whole economy is wrecked.
Moses comes back to Pharaoh and says, “You gonna give up?” and Pharaoh was like, “No way”.
So, Moses goes to his people and says, “OK, guys Pharaoh isn’t going to let you go so God is going to judge the entire nation . . . you included . . . but God wants you to trust him. Before you go to bed tonight, you need to slaughter a lamb and put its blood on your door frames and then go inside pack your bags and have a meal together.”
And the people were like, “why would we do that?” God says, “Trust me”. “what difference is that going to make?” . . . “Trust me” . . . “But” . . . “Trust me”.
That night, they trusted God and did everything He asked of them. And the angel of death went into Egypt and it passed over every household where the blood of the lamb was over the door. And the next morning Pharaoh said, “Go and take everything you own and take anything we own, I don’t care, just go.”
And from that moment on, the Jewish people would celebrate Passover to remember the night God whispered to the nation, “I just want you trust me, and in trusting me you will find your deliverance.”
About three weeks later, they end up at Mount Sinai and Moses goes up to get God’s law because . . . this is important . . . all they know is slavery. For generations, they’ve been slaves, no freedom, so they have no idea how to live as free people.
So, God steps in to help them navigate their relationships as free people by setting up rules . . . and a part of those rules is the ten commandments . . . which are found in? Exodus 20!
This morning I want us to focus on the first two verses, the introduction to the rules, because in these two verses we get a major clue as to how religion and God and rules, all fit together.
“I am the Lord your God, who has done something for you . . . when you had given up all hope, when you were about to throw in the towel and tap out, I sent a deliverer to rescue you out of bondage.”
It’s as if God said, “Before I give you these rules, I need you to know that I am yours and you are mine. We are in relationship with each other. And you didn’t have to anything to establish this relationship except trust me. I need you to know that before we talk about rules.”
Now here are some things I want you to do as we learn to live together.
And then he gave them his first commandment, or rule . . . Don’t have any other Gods before me.
To which the whole nation went, “Ok, let me get this straight. You embarrassed Pharaoh, wrecked the Egyptian economy, delivered us from slavery, we’re going to have our own land and we have a leader to take us to it and all you want us to do is make sure that we have no other God’s before you? You can put a check in that box! . . . Ok, what’s next?”
Here’s the point . . . the ten commandments were a confirmation not a condition of their relationship with God.
God didn’t say, “OK, I’m going to give you 10 things and if you do these things you can be my people. If you mess up, or only live up to 8 of them . . . well, then I’m going to have get some new people.”
No, God made it clear to the nation of Israel, “You are my people even though you haven’t done a thing to deserve it. And now that we’ve established the relationship, I want you to teach you how to live together and how to live under my authority.
So, let’s start with the basics . . . just don’t have any other God’s other than me and set aside a day, just one day out of seven to spend some time with me and with one another. Because spending time with each other is best way to grow and nurture relationships.
And every commandment after these are about . . . take a guess . . . relationships.
Love your parents. Don’t kill each other. Be faithful to your spouse. Don’t steal. Don’t lie about each other. Don’t covet your neighbors stuff. This is how we are going to maintain and nurture our relationships together.
But guess what happened . . . they messed up. Over, and over, and over again, they broke God’s law.
So, what does God do? He sends prophets to remind them about the relationship between God and his people and that they need to straighten up.
If you’ve ever read the prophets, they come across as ranting, raving, lunatic men that are just mad. But the prophets are evidence of the fact that God wasn’t going to give up on his people, even when they didn’t follow the rules.
In other words, the prophets are all about God being a good parent and saying, “Ok, one, two, three, you’re in timeout.” One time, he said, “OK, I’m going to put you in timeout for 70 years, you sit in the corner over there in Babylon for 70 years so you can remember how much fun it is to be a slave and then I’ll bring you back. But I’m not giving up on you.”
The history of Israel . . . and why this is important to know as you explore a starting point or restarting point of your faith . . . is a history of God saying, “It’s not the club model, where you sign a contract and if you break any of the rules, you’re out. It’s the family model, where relationship precedes the rules.”
The rules are confirmation of, not a condition of, a relationship with God.
Now if this is true . . . that’s staggering!
If God’s relationship with the nation of Israel is the model where you can mess up, intentionally, but God keeps coming back over, and over again, and disciplining, and disciplining, and disciplining . . . not to pay you back but to bring you back like a good parent, that’s staggering.
It says something about the expansive and amazing wealth of God’s love and mercy, and kindness.
So, we shouldn’t be surprised when 1,500 years after the law was given to the nation of Israel, Jesus shows up. But before he demands anything, before he requires anything, he turns nature upside down.
He heals people, he raises people from the dead, he speaks to storms, and the winds and the waves obey him. He does things that no one can imagine any human being doing. And those closest to him were freaking out because of his power and authority over nature.
Then he says, “Trust me . . . because the promise to Abraham is not just for the nation of Israel, it’s a promise for all people and it’s being fulfilled through me.”
And so, John, who knew Jesus best, said “To those who believe . . . trust Jesus . . . he gave them the right to become . . . club members . . . no . . . neighborhood association members . . . no . . . he gave them the right to become . . . children of God.
It’s the family model . . .
And this is so important, God says, “Anything I require of you, is evidence of my love for you. Anything I ask you to do, is evidence of the fact that we have a pre-established relationship. You can trust me because those stars in the sky that Abraham saw that night . . . that was you!”
I find it interesting that science shows that the universe is constantly expanding. Don’t you?
That’s where we’re going to pick up next week. But I’m going to leave you with a question. Growing up, did you feel that religion was based on the family model, the club model, or the neighborhood association mode?
Everything has a starting point and what we sometimes forget is that faith has a starting point as well.