When I was a small boy, every Saturday morning, my father would tell me to get dressed because we were going on an adventure.
He’d load me up in that big sedan or station wagon, and he never really had to tell me where we were going — I don’t know if he always knew — and I never really needed to ask.
We would just start driving out of our town and into the mountains, taking backroads that to this day, many of them I can’t remember how to get to.
We would fish, we would hike, we would explore…
He always knew where the Indian tomahawks were buried. In what pond the best large mount bass lived. By what creekside the sweetest blackberries grew.
The experience not only primed my own imagination and my love for nature, but it helped me see my father as someone who I didn’t merely have to love and trust simply because of the fact that he was my father;
But I saw that I loved and trusted him for the person he was.
Enough so that I never had to question those journeys we took.
If a complete stranger or someone you didn’t know all that well approached you and said, “Let me take you on an adventure,” I hope you would say no.
But when it’s someone we love and trust, it’s easy to go willingly.
God’s relationship with the Israelites was still new as they were called out of slavery in Egypt and brought out into the desert, where they wandered for years.
All the while, God has provided.
God provided them safe passage from Pharaoh through the Red Sea.
God provided them with a leader in Moses, whom God directly talked to.
And God provided food and water for the Israelites every day.
The people started to understand better this nature of God.
They began to trust God more.
And now God wanted to take their relationship to another level.
God wanted their love. Eternally. Because God eternally loved these people.
And God had a plan for them.
You know, so many times, we see God in these two ways:
The First is that God saved us — rescued this people from slavery in Egypt and created a lineage that would bring forth Jesus and then save us in a whole different way: Save us from death.
The second way we see God is that we somehow owe God for doing this.
Even though we can’t possibly pay back that grace and we surely never deserved it and still don’t.
But the truth is not that we have to do something for God, but that we should want to.
Do you see the difference?
As a friend of mine says, we don’t got to do it; we get to do it.
Now, since Christmas, we’ve been almost exclusively spending time with the New Testament and Gospels to show how we are called to follow Jesus.
Today, we’re going to back up — maybe 1500 years before Christ — and look into a key point of the Exodus.
The Exodus was simply this: The Israelites — whom we would call the Hebrews at that point — were enslaved in Egypt under Pharaoh.
We don’t know for sure why they were in Egypt or where they came from, but that’s where they were.
God had mercy on their suffering.
And God had a plan for them.
So God called Moses to lead this group out of Egypt, and escaped Pharaoh’s hands, ultimately, with the parting of the Red Sea.
The people, immediately happy to be freed from slavery, grew wary once they got into the desert of Sinai and began wandering what seemed endlessly.
But God provided. Protection, direction, food and water. God was always with them.
About three months after God started dropping bread — or manna — from the sky in Exodus 16, God called Moses up to the mountain in Sinai to talk with him.
And that is where we pick up our reading today in Exodus 19.
God says this beginning in Verse 5: “…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.”
Here we have a condition: An “If/then situation being offered by God to the Hebrews.
IF you be mine, THEN you will be my treasured people.
This is covenant language, and it’s also basically what God tells Moses while the Hebrews were still in Egyptian bondage.
That’s what motivated Moses.
Three months later, God asks Moses to go to the Hebrews and offer them this covenant.
And we can think this covenant like the journey we were talking about a moment ago.
The physical, literal journey had already begun as soon as the Hebrews packed up their belongings and turned away from Egypt into the wilderness.
But God is now asking them to go on a different kind of journey.
A journey with God.
And so we see in Verse 7, Moses summons the elders and tells them what God offers.
And they agree to begin this new journey with God:
“Everything that the LORD has spoken, we will do.”Verse 8.
What, no directions?
They didn’t get a roadmap did they?
They didn’t ask, “OK, so what does that mean?”
They didn’t know exactly where they would be going, how long it would take, what dangers they would come up against, whether they would live to see that destination, or what it meant in the grand scheme of things.
They simply had to trust.
And the roadmap for this journey would come soon — the Decalogue, or The Ten Commandments, as we call them.
But what is really happening here?
We get the story so far:
I will be your God, you will be my people;
If you trust me, I will give you everything.
Hard to say no to, isn’t it?
Especially standing there in the middle of the desert fresh with the memory of the chains that shacked your wrists and ankles;
in the middle of the wilderness, where the only food you have is falling from the sky each morning, and water being drawn from stones;
and a cloud that swirls around you day and night, leading you and protecting you…
Our own wilderness
And isn’t this our very lives today?
Can we see it?
Close your eyes for a moment, and think of what that looks like, what that feels like, to be standing there in the middle of nowhere.
It should be easy for us to imagine — we so willingly visit this place over and over and over again in our lives.
What is that desert place for you?
What road have we traveled, what journey have we been on?
God is there in the distance always saying “I will be your God, just take my hand and let me lead you.”
We are here, we have provision, we have community, we have providence, we have proof.
We don’t always acknowledge it; and I get it, it’s really hard sometimes to trust.
I’ve wrestled with that, too, and probably will again.
“Take my hand,” God says, “and let me lead you through this journey.”
“Do you trust me?”
“DO YOU TRUST ME?”
Do you hear those words? They are a question.
And this is as huge for us as it was for the Hebrews.
Why the question?
Couldn’t God just have assumed the Hebrews would follow simply because of what they’ve witnessed so far being released from Egypt through the 10 plagues?
Or the miracle of the parting of the Red Sea?
Or the bread falling from the sky and water pouring out of desert stones?
Or the big cloud vortex that leads them throughout their journey?
What does God have to prove?
Still, God doesn’t demand they follow, love or trust.
God asks them: “Do you want to trust me? Do you want to follow me? Do you want to go on this journey together?”
How crazy is that?
Imagine when we are babies, just learning to talk and comprehend.
Our mothers and fathers have been feeding, protecting, loving and nurturing us all this time.
And one day they ask, “Do you want to be my child? If you do, I will be your loving parent always.”
The Hebrews are those infants at this point.
And every day, we can read this passage or simply stand in awe of the Creator and say “Why did you choose me?”
and even more: “Why did you give me the choice to choose you!?”
Isn’t that amazing?
God wants your love; God never forces you to love God.
And so when we’re standing in that desert, whether we are living high on the hog or jealous of the scraps that the hogs leave behind, we are constantly given that same choice!
Again, how do you love somebody, how do you follow somebody, how do you call somebody father or mother if you don’t get the choice?
We can’t force love on another person.
We can’t force them to love us.
That’s not what love is.
Love has to come from our own free will.
If you’ve been or are trapped in an abusive situation, that person might be your spouse or your parent, but not because you love him or her.
And I’d also argue that that covenant has been broken, so that they are not your spouse or parent…
And what’s with all these other gods that people worship?
Where is the free will having to serve, having to sacrifice, having to do X amount of things to get to some destination.
That isn't love.
God’s love isn’t contingent upon whether we can pass some kind of test in this life.
Only this God, the One True God, gives us this choice so that God knows we truly love God.
Not that we were forced to love God.
Do you see that?
That’s why God tells Moses to ask the people whether they want to take part in this covenant.
Because God wants love from their own free will, not a coerced love.
God is the destination
So what is this journey that the Hebrews have been set upon, and what is this journey that we are on right here today?
Do you think it’s the physical destination?
Did it really matter where the Holy City, the Promised Land, was?
No. The journey wasn’t really ever about the physical location;
because the destination wasn’t a physical place.
The journey’s destination is God.
God is the destination.
Isn’t that beautiful?
That God offers love.
God offers protection and provision and providence.
And we get to go on this journey and understand who God is, and witness what God has done and is doing and then watch as God fulfills all those promises!
And we get to go on this journey.
We don’t got to; we get to.
Otherwise, God could have told Moses there on Sinai, “Here are the 10 commandments. Follow them, and you will see what you have to do to love me.”
The commandments come in a little while.
And they aren’t conditional.
Instead, think of them as they should be: “You know me, and you love me; this list will help you.”
Or how about this: “I am God: I know your heart, and I know everything you need since before I created you, before you were born. Here is what you need to know about me.”
The covenant comes first.
Today, we sign all sorts of contacts.
We read the fine print, then we sign on the dotted line.
But do we have to sign contracts with people whom we truly love and trust? No.
Because we know their character.
We know if we enter into some kind of agreement with them, that we trust them based on their character and who they are in our hearts.
This is what God is saying here.
It’s the same for us each and every day.
We call it faith, but it’s trust and love together, isn’t it?
God’s saying, “Joe, I’ll do that for you, if you will be my child.”
“Mary, you be my child, I will be your God.”
“John, trust only me, and I will lead you.”
“Wendy, love only me, and I will never, ever let you go.”
“Church: Follow me on this Journey, and I will take you places you could never, ever imagine.”