God Speaks

Exodus 20:1-21

The church I pastor, Cassidy United Methodist in Kingsport, has a preschool program. It is my job (and my joy, I’ve discovered) to lead chapel for three-year-olds on Tuesdays and four-year-olds on Wednesdays.

Preparing for this 10 or 15 minutes of teaching time really takes some thought, however. It was intimidating to suddenly realize, I am being asked to formally introduce these children to God.

Certainly, some of them had heard of God from their parents, but it also quickly became obvious that many of them were hearing about God’s attributes for the first time. And as I am trying to explain God to little people who are only beginning to learn their colors and letters, I have to keep our chapel time really simple and straightforward.

I’ve had my chapel experiences in mind as I’ve been preparing to preach on Exodus 20:1-21, the account of God revealing himself to the Israelites by way of the Ten Commandments. In many ways, it was as if God’s chosen people were in preschool, discovering the attributes of God for the first time.

Indeed, the Israelites were a people who had forgotten who their God was during centuries of captivity in Egypt. The God who spoke to them from atop Mount Sinai was a mysterious stranger, a great being who had freed them from Egyptian slavery and led them into the desert for reasons not immediately clear.

God kept his reintroduction to the Israelites simple and straightforward, leading preschool chapel on a scale I could never hope to achieve. There were signs to inspire awe, mostly in the form of thick smoke and fire on the mountain. There was a repeating trumpet blast. There was an audible voice like thunder.

And then there was The Lesson, spoken directly by God. Four of the commandments tell us how to relate to God, honoring the Creator’s unique, perfect holiness. Here, God set himself apart, identifying himself as The One, the source of everything else.
The other six commandments serve as a starting point for how to treat each other. Implicit in them is the idea that we each are God’s creation, and that we should treat each other as such.

I am fascinated by the Israelites’ response to the lesson. The phrase “cringing fear” comes to mind. Moses, they said, you talk to God–we’ll listen to you. “But do not let God speak to us, or we will die.”

They were, of course, living at least 1,300 years before the advent of Jesus, who gave us the advanced course on the nature of God. They were seeing God’s love only indirectly, first learning respect and obedience for a being beyond imagination.Thank God for Jesus, who as God among us made our Creator more easily understood as accessible and loving.

But we never want to forget how big God is, how awe-inspiring he is, how incomprehensible the full nature of an eternal Creator should be. It is proper to tremble at God’s holy majesty while at the same time feeling God is our friend.

As Moses told the Israelites: “Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.”

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