Following the Rules

Pastor Kim Gilliland
Pentecost 18/Proper 22
SCRIPTURE: Psalm 19 and Exodus 20: 1-4, 7-9, 12-20
Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”
Exodus 20: 20 (NIV)


So, here we are on week four of our 40 day journey to the Promised Land. Each week, we have seen how God has acted in the lives of the people of Israel to bring them to a place where they can trust God. And that’s one of the main purposes of the Exodus journey, to let the people know that they can trust God.

In week one, they thanked God for bringing them out of the slavery of Egypt and into the relative safety of the wilderness. In week two they started to grumble because they had no food but God fed them. In week three the people grumbled some more – but so did the leadership – because they had no water. So God supplied the water. Now we are at week four and God is about to do something else that’s really quite amazing. He’s going to let them know how important it is to follow the rules. But before we discover that, let’s find out where they are.

Remember that the people of Israel lived in Goshen in the land of Egypt. When Pharaoh finally let the people go, they travelled over the Red Sea and crossed over to the Desert of Ethan and then into the desert of Sin. Last week they left the Desert of Sin and camped at a place called Rephidim which is somewhere near the tip of the Sinai Penninsula. Let’s find out where they are today.

We find out in Exodus 19:2 (NIV) which says this: “After they set out from Rephidim, they entered the Desert of Sinai, and Israel camped there in the desert in front of the mountain.” So now they are at Mount Sinai and who knows what important thing happened on Mount Sinai? It is where God gives the people the Ten Commandments. It talks about that in Exodus 19:3 (NIV) which says, “Then Moses went up to God and the LORD called to him from the mountain and said, ‘This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel.'” And then, in Exodus 20, God gives Moses the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are the basic rules that the people are supposed to follow. I’m wondering though. You’ve all heard the Ten Commandments but how many of them can we name this morning?

Sometimes it’s easier to remember them when you realize that there are two sections to the Ten Commandments. The first section, the first four commandments have to do with our relationship with God. They are 1. don’t have any other gods before God; 2. don’t make idols; 3. don’t use the God’s name in vane; and, 4. keep the Sabbath as a way to honour God. Those are the first four. The final six are in the second section and are about our relationship with each other. Here they are: 5. honour your parents; 6. don’t murder. 7, don’t commit adultery; 8. don’t steal; 9. don’t give false testimony; and, 10. don’t covet your neighbour’s stuff. Those are the rules that the people are supposed to follow. And they’re pretty important to us too because they are the basis of the legal codes in most Western countries such as Canada.

After Moses tells the people the Ten Commandments, something interesting happens. We read about it in Exodus 20:18-19 (NIV) which says, “When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, ‘Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.'” What’s this all about?

This is what theologians call a theophany. Theophanies happen a few times in the Bible. Theophanies are when God makes his presence known to the people in pretty dramatic way. It usually involves a great display of power and natural phenomenon such as in this case where the people experience thunder and lightning. There is also a trumpet blasting and smoke covering the mountain. The response of the people is that they are afraid. And who can really blame them. They are just getting to know God and to realize the God controls the weather and God can make a mountains burn and smoke is really quite awe inspiring.

But it also makes them aware of something else. This is a God who means business. You don’t toy with God. You can talk to God. You can pray to God. You can have a relationship with God. You can even laugh and cry with God. But don’t ever think you can get away with things or fool God because a God who can make thunder and lightning, who can create trumpet blasts and smoky mountains can easily figure out what’s going on with you. God is all powerful, all knowing and everywhere all the time. If you decide to do something you’re not supposed to do, God will find out about it.

No wonder the people are afraid. Their lives are laid open before God. No one will get away with anything. You can fool your mother and father, your husband or wife. You can fool your boss, your friends and maybe even yourself. But you will never fool God because God sees all, hears all and knows all things all the time.


That’s leads us to today’s pitfall. The pitfall is that some people don’t like the idea of God knowing everything that they do because all of a sudden they are accountable to someone, namely God. Rather than being accountable they think that God should love them whether they follow the rules of not. And not only do they believe that, they also want to define what it means for God to love them. And this is what it often means. It means that no matter what they do, where they go, what they say or anything else, when they die, they get to go to heaven. Otherwise, God does not really love them. That’s because if God really loves me, than God will accept me unconditionally, no matter how irresponsibly or unacceptably I may choose to act.

Is that true? In a way it is. Truly God does us love us all no matter what we do or how we act. But is that the same thing as saying that we get a free ride? Would you give your child a free ride? Would you let your child do whatever they want with no consequences and no accountability or discipline? Some parents do that. Have you ever tried to deal with their kids? It’s not pretty and it’s not fun because the kids become little tyrants. Just ask some of the teachers in the congregation. They’ll tell you.

As parents, we have a responsibility to make our children accountable for their actions, especially if we want them to grow up to be responsible adults. Ruth and I have always tried to make our children accountable. I supposed that one of the most obvious times was when Andrew was going through his rebellion phase. If you’ve ever had a teenager in the house, you’ll know about the rebellion phase. His rebellion phase included the use of illegal drugs and we had some pretty clear rules in our house about illegal drugs. There was zero tolerance. Andrew got caught twice. The first time was when I was in Meaford one summer with the army and got a call from Ruth. She had been doing the laundry and something had fallen out of Andrew’s pants pocket. It was in three pieces and after describing two of them, I said, “It’s a hash pipe.” Ruth said, “What’s a hash pipe, what’s it used for and how do you know that?”

Then she said, “What do we do?”

I said, “What did we always say we’d do?”

She said, “We always told that kids that if they were ever caught with drugs, we would phone the police.”

“That’s right,” I said, “so phone the police,” which she did. That’s right. We turned in our kid. The police officer came over to the house. He couldn’t arrest Andrew for possessing paraphernalia but he had a long talk with him and I think Andrew’s car got pulled over by the police three times during the next month.

But a few months later, it happened again. This time, I was taking an evening walk down toward the ball field when I happened to see the police tearing apart Andrew’s car in the parking lot. Andrew was sitting on the ground leaning up against the back bumper of his car looking somewhat forlorn. I walked over and identified myself to the police officer who showed me the digital scale and pair of scissors that he had found in Andrew’s car. That, of course, meant that Andrew was not only using. He was also dealing. I thanked the officer and told him that I would have a talk with my son when he got home. And that if he found anything worse and arrested Andrew, I would not be going down to the station to bail him out.

When Andrew got home, we had a talk about the consequences of breaking the rules. Our talk was very firm and very brief. It was also one sided. I did all the talking and it went something like this: “Andrew, that’s strike two, the second time you’ve been caught with drug paraphernalia. If it happens again, you’ll be out of the house. And I’m not talking about giving you a month to find a place to live. I’m saying that you’ll have an hour to pack your bags and leave. Where you go and how you deal with that is your problem. And it’s not because I don’t love you. You’re my first-born son and I love you more than my own skin but I cannot afford to let you influence your younger brothers and sister in this way. So make up your mind and do it quickly.”

I didn’t have to tell him I was serious because he knew I was. The fact that we followed through by turning him into the police the first time he was caught assured him that I was serious. That was late September I believe. By the new year he was clean and had even stopped smoking cigarettes. He’s been clean ever since. And now he’s married with two beautiful children and pastoring a church in Charing Cross. I know that it doesn’t always work that was with all families. I know we got lucky but sometimes you have to roll the dice and just pray that things will work out. And you also have to let your kids know that you’re absolutely serious when it comes to discipline.

If you can love your children unconditionally without accepting everything they do then so can God. Sometimes, to get us to come to our senses and understand that a sin is a sin, God kicks us out of the house. Sometimes God says, “Okay, you want to do that even though you know it’s wrong. You go ahead and try that and see how it works out for you. And don’t come crying to me when you fall in the toilet because you’re the one who opened the lid.”

God makes us accountable for our actions. He loves us unconditionally but that does not mean that we get a free ride and can do whatever we want.

And let’s understand something else. God has been pretty clear about what he expects of us. That’s why he gave us the Ten Commandments. That’s the measuring stick, the set of rules by which God wants us to live. That challenge for us is to decide whether to follow them or not. That’s our choice.


This leads us back to the concept of trust. Remember that one reasons for the Exodus journey from the slavery of Egypt to the Promises Land is so that the people will learn to trust God. They need to know that if they are to move forward in faith. What I want to tell you is that this story of the Ten Commandments is also a story of the people learning to trust God.

It starts with God giving the people the ten basic rules to live by. Then comes the theophany that we talked about earlier – the thunder, lightning, trumpets and smoke from the mountain. The people’s reaction is that they are afraid of this show of power and tell Moses to speak to the God on their behalf. Now we get to what Moses says in response. In Exodus 20:20 (NIV) we read these words: “Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid. God had come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.'”

What Moses is saying is that God is serious about these Ten Commandments. Those are the rules by which he expects his people to live. If they choose to live by them, then they can trust God to protect them and provide for them in any and every situation. The other side of that, of course, is that if they choose not to follow the rules they can trust God that there will be consequences.

That theme is echoed throughout the Old Testament. There were times along the Exodus journey when the people trusted God and did what they were supposed to do. When they did that, they were blessed. But there were also time during that journey and even beyond in the Promised Land where they turned their backs on God and for that there were always consequences. The writings of the prophets are filled with examples.

But even when God made the people pay for their poor choices, it wasn’t about being punished. The purpose of the disciple was quite clear. It was to bring the people back to God so that they would trust him again.

Ultimately the thunder and the lightning, the trumpets and the smoke are all there to let the people know that God is serious about the Ten Commandments. It is about getting the people to choose the right was, the holy way, the righteous way. As Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God had come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”

I want to close by saying this. One thing we have to understand is that God does not expect us to be perfect. While God wants us to follow the rules and does not want us to sin, we all know that we do. But when we do, we can also be assured that God will do whatever is necessary to bring us back. That’s because God’s greatest desire is to mend our relationship with him and bring us back into his amazing grace. And so God always has a plan to do just that.

For the people of Israel, God gave the rites of sacrifice. This will come later on in the Exodus journey when God tells the people that he has given them a way back to him. When they sinned – and they all did – they could be forgiven by offering the appropriate sacrifice. Maybe it was a pigeon or a dove. Or maybe it was a lamb or an ox. That all seems very strange to us but you have to remember that this was thousands of years ago and they saw the world rather differently than we do.

Those animal sacrifices, however, came to an end when God accepted the final sacrifice. That’s where Jesus comes in. That’s why he’s sometimes called the Lamb of God. He was the only person on earth who ever followed the Ten Commandments completely. He followed the rules always. He was the only person on the face of the earth who, during his entire life, never sinned. Because of that, he alone could offer himself as a sacrifice for us. Even though he was innocent, he was arrested by the religious leaders of the day and their Roman allies. Then he was given a mock trial and sentenced to die. He was nailed to the cross on Good Friday where he died for our sins. Then his body was laid in a tomb. But on the third day, the stone that covered the entrance of that tomb was rolled away and he rose from the dead, victorious over sin, defeating death and opening up the gates of the kingdom for all who put their faith in him.

Because of what Jesus did for us on the cross, we are forgiven when we confess our sins and put our faith in him. In that, too, we can trust in God.


God of the Ages, hear our prayers. Look upon us with your eternal love and remind us our your constant presence.

As we come to Thanksgiving, we offer our thanks. The fields are being gleaned the gardens gathered, the harvest is coming in for another year. We give thanks that we have enough to eat. We thank you for plentiful food and grocery stores. We give thanks for farmers and processors and transportation. We give thanks for the great variety of foods that we enjoy every day. By them, you feed our bodies and fuel our missions for your Kingdom.

We offer our thanks for our other blessings. For freedom and peace, warm homes and affordable clothing, family and friendship. If we were to count our blessings, we would spend all day remembering what you have done for us. Perhaps on this day, we will be reminded that all things come from you. Perhaps as we use an article of clothing, a piece of furniture, or an electrical appliance, we will remember to offer thanks for the abundant resources of your Creation. In the midst of our thanks, we are keenly aware that there are those who do not have enough. Turn us around as individuals, as a church and as a community, that all people may share in what you have given to your children.

We pray for those who were affected by the Los Vegas shootings last Sunday. We would pray for healing for those who are injured and peace for those who lost loved ones. We also pray for our American cousins as a people that they may take clear action to stop this slaughter.

We pray for those who are sick at home or in hospital; especially Sharon, Millicent, Helen, Don and Lou-Anne. Bless them with a special measure of your Healing Spirit.

Finally, we pray for ourselves, tossed by the winds of change, inspired by the acts of kindness shown by others, encouraged to share your Good News, enlivened by your love. What more can we ask then what we already have? You are a Great and Awesome God and into your hands, we commit and recommit our lives in Jesus’ name. Amen.


October 18, 2017 / Thanksgiving


Deuteronomy 8:7-19; Psalm 19; Luke 17:11-19; 2 Corinthians 9:6-15


Give thanks to God for God is good!

His love endures forever!

Give thanks to God for God is good!

Let us lift our voices in praise!

Come, let us give thanks for the gifts that we have been given.

Let us come and worship God.


Loving God, we gather to worship and offer our praise. You are good and your love truly does last forever. In our weakness, you make us strong. In our moments of fear, you give us courage. You replace our doubt with a faith that can move mountains. How great and holy you are, O God of Creation. Your works are wonderful and your blessings are abundant. We praise your name and give you glory. Amen.


Merciful God, forgive us when we forget your goodness. When we try to take matters into our own hands, remind us of our sinfulness. When we try to control our own future, remind us that you alone know what tomorrow brings. When we turn away from serving you, turn us back to serve others. Thank you that in the midst of our sinfulness, your love and forgiveness abound. In Jesus, our Brother, we are able to walk by your side.


Give thanks to God, for God is good! God’s love endures forever! It is a love that transcends the darkness of our sin and cleanses us from all unrighteousness. Be assured that through faith in Christ, we are one with God.


We offer our thanks for your many blessings to us. May our tithes and our lives invite others to your Table where both gifts and burdens are laid down, in Jesus’ name. Amen.


Give thanks to God for God is good. God’s love endures forever. Let us share that love with those whom we meet. May our lives be an example of the Good News working within us.

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