The next installment in our Lipscomb DMin Exodus Series was presented by Ben Ries (see previous post for full explanation). -Sara
Born and raised in Davenport, Iowa, Ben Ries moved to the Pacific Northwest when he was a junior in high school. He is a graduate of Cascade College (BA, Biblical Studies), Abilene Christian University (MDiv), and is currently working on a Doctorate of Ministry from Lipscomb University. Before accepting the position of preaching minister at Church of Christ at Federal Way in 2010, Ben served as a youth minister or preaching minister in Oregon and Washington since 1998. Ben and his wife, Jen, have been married 15 years. They have three children, Emma (13), Aiden (11), Izzy (9) and a 5-year-old greyhound dog that is really fast, has awful breath, and is incontinent.
Exodus 19:1-8 “On the third new moon after the Israelites had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that very day, they came into the wilderness of Sinai. They had journeyed from Rephidim, entered the wilderness of Sinai, and camped in the wilderness; Israel camped there in front of the mountain. 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: You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 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, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites.” So Moses came, summoned the elders of the people, and set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him. The people all answered as one: “Everything that the Lord has spoken we will do.” Moses reported the words of the people to the Lord.
It is the miracle in Exodus that no one seems to talk about. Defeating the Egyptian army is nice, the parting of the Red Sea is impressive, the manna from heaven and the water from the rock is extraordinary, but it’s the miracle we witness today that seems the most implausible to me. Moses sets before the people the words that the Lord commanded him to and…”The people all answered as one: ‘Everything that the Lord has spoken we will do.’” Really? All the people answered as one? All the people? One gigantic unanimous, “Yes!” Anyone that has worked with any group of people knows that a snowball has a better chance in hell than an entire group of people agreeing on anything, especially when that one thing is something as big as committing to the purposes of God for the sake of all creation.
Surely, they didn’t know what they were signing up for. I say we write this off as an act of fidelity birthed from blind, adolescent love – an irrational commitment you would expect from someone who’s only know this new lover for three months. Standing together at the foot of Mt. Sinai that day, did Israel really know what they were signing up for when God invited them into this relationship? Ok, we can admit that the previous relationship with Egypt was an abusive one. Egypt did not love, cherish, and protect Israel as it should have. And, you have to admit that what God has done up to this point has been pretty remarkable. Swooping down, rescuing Israel from the certain death of slavery and then flying to heights where the fiercest army could not harm them, and the surrounding waters could not stop them, and where empty plates and cups were met with manna and water. But did they really know what they were getting into? Did they have any idea the sort of demands this new relationship would ask of them? Did they know they would be asked to walk away from all the many gods they had grown accustomed to worshipping and give all their allegiance to this one they had been brought to? Did they know they would be asked to no longer be defined by what they produced or acquired but by what they gave and relinquished to others? Sure, God had done a great deal for them, but did they really know what they were signing up for that day when they proclaimed that miraculous, unanimous “Yes!”
“God has done a great deal for us!” my father proclaimed on the eve of Thanksgiving in 1990. Standing together in the waters of baptism my father spoke of the many things that God had done in my life. God had provided a loving family that would stop an army if they had to, a nurturing church that would not let me drown, and moments of grace and mercy that even my 12-year-old self could recognize as food for my heart and water for my soul. God had done a great deal for me, but truth be told, when my father invited me to obey the voice of God and keep his covenant that evening, I did not know what I was getting into. I did not understand the demands this new relationship would ask of me. I had no idea that I would be asked to walk away from the gods of consumerism, materialism, and patriotism and give all my allegiance to this one who I had been brought to. I did not know that I would be asked to no longer be defined by what I produced, or how put together I seemed, or even the homiletical brilliance of my weekly sermons. I was not fully aware that day of the costs that the pursuit of justice, and the love of mercy, and the commitment to walk humbly would require of me. Sure, God had done a great deal for me leading up to that moment, but standing in the waters of baptism on that day I did not know what I was signing up for when I joined in the miraculous, unanimous, “Yes!”
And I wonder if standing at the foot of Mt. Sinai that day if Israel’s miraculous “Yes” would have been unanimous had they known what lie just ahead of them. Had they known that their future would entail years upon years of desert and desolation and wandering, would they have been so quick to commit their entire existence to this new lover who just recently walked into their life? Would any of us have been so quick? If we could go back to that day when we stood with the faithful and joined in that miraculous, unanimous, “Yes,” would we still do it if we knew that this life with God would not be all milk and honey? Would we still do it if we knew there could be long seasons of depression, or divorce, or cancer, or addiction, or church splits, or broken relationships, or any of the other types of deserts and desolations and wanderings that the people of God are not exempt from?
Sure, we have a handful of experiences of God’s faithfulness, and they might be significant, but standing together and answering as one, “Everything that Lord has spoken we will do”…to join in this miraculous, unanimous “Yes!” with no guarantee that our lives will be safer, or happier, or healthier seems to me to be, at best, blind love and, at worst, utter stupidity. And then I look to my left, and standing with me is my daughter who (though she is only 13-years-old) feels this genuine pull to care for the kids in her middle school who are picked on. Why? Because God has been faithful to her and she has heard a call into God’s purposes. And then I look to my right and I find my neighbor and my friend, Alan, who has bi-polar and is tired of the stigma and silence that surrounds mental health in our faith communities and refuses to be quiet about it. Why? Because God has been faithful and he has heard a call into God’s purposes. And then I look in front of me and there is my friend, Jen, gifted and called to preach. And though I have been called to a position of power, a position that is currently not available to her, it is (more often than not) she who talks me off the cliff of quitting ministry, reminding me of the beauty and grace and mystery found in this thing called church. Why? Because God has been faithful to her and she has heard a call into God’s purposes. And then I look behind me and I see my sister-in-law, Jess, and though brain cancer took the life of her husband far too soon…there she is, caring for two young children, loving a community, and bearing witness to the kingdom of God. Why? Because God has been faithful to her and she has heard a call into God’s purposes. And then, I look beyond them and I see this endless sea of God’s people standing with me, no, standing with us – go ahead…look around you today. Here we are, surrounded by and participating in all these stories of God faithfulness, stopping an army here, and parting a sea there, and providing manna and water from unexpected places in unexpected ways.
And though we might be tempted to speak of God’s faithfulness in my life, together, we know that the lines between God’s faithfulness for one person is not so easy to distinguish from that of another. Just as when my daughter suffers, a part of me suffers or when Jess grieves a part of me grieves. We also know that God’s faithfulness to you is somehow, mysteriously God’s faithfulness to me as well. No longer is it my story or your story, it is our story! And then, standing together, we look up and who do we see, but Moses coming down from the mountain. And he brings us in close and he says to us, “Hear the word of the Lord: You have seen what I have done, how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 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, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.” And together we stand at the foot of this mountain, bound together by these handful of experiences of God’s faithfulness and we lean forward and with every part of our being we respond to this invitation and we proclaim miraculously, unanimously “Yes! Everything that the Lord has spoken we will do!”