Selling Out

First Presbyterian – Lafayette, Louisiana
March 11, 2012 – Lent (3B)
Exodus 20:1-20
1 Corinthians 1:18-31
John 2:13-25

Have you ever noticed that there are certain words and phrases that mean different things over the years? Take the phrase “selling out” for example. A generation or so ago it referred to scarcity, and - depending whether you benefited from it or not - it could be good or bad.

Either way, things used to be less disposable, and because of that you either worked harder to maintain what you had or you figured out how to do without. Many people still live that way, but most of us act as though there is no end to the supply. To some extent that is true. Globalization has provided many opportunities, not the least of which being the idea that labor or products can always be found cheaper somewhere - except when it can’t.

The truth is that no one’s hands are clean in the chain of supply and demand, and the best we can do is to become as aware as possible of the sources of our goods and services - knowing that some can only come from people and places that we would rather not know that they come from.

That is what selling out means to most people today - it means denying our principles in some way, shape, or form. There’s a song on the college scene by Butch Walker and the Black Widows called Synthesizers that speaks to the anxiety of this age over authenticity and the degree to which we live under the expectations of others. The lyrics pine:

For once, once in your life
Won’t you do what feels right
Instead of waiting for the next big compromise

The satire of the song and the corresponding music video is the idea that living without compromise means living with reckless, hedonistic abandon (at least once). Have you heard this anywhere else? What happens in Vegas... doesn’t really stay in Vegas. As tempting as it sounds, the result of living without compromise is a life that has been compromised. Life is filled with compromise. Living without compromise results in alienation and loneliness - a compromise in and of itself.

A compromise implies an agreement. It requires both parties to give and take. The Ten Commandments, believe it or not, were a form of compromise. The Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of all things seen and unseen agreed to become known to all nations through a relationship with one group of people who had nothing - politically they were nothing. They were less than nothing. They were slaves. They were the property of another nation.

Yet God agreed to be known through them - through presence and relationship - regardless of land and nation. God sold out, and so did they. Selling out for the Hebrew tribes meant absolute devotion to God. And absolute devotion to God was expressed in their relationships with one another - and you can see it in the Ten Commandments. The first four commandments are all about their relationship with God. I’ve modified them slightly based on the work of Thomas A. Stobie and restated them as “shalls” instead of “shall nots”.

1. You shall worship God alone.

2. You shall only make things that glorify God.

3. You shall respect the Lord’s name above all others.

4. You shall devote time on the Lord’s Day to worship, praise, and rest in the providence of God.

I like thinking in terms of shall instead of shall not because it seems a little more permission giving to me. The other side of it is that not complying puts the weight of condemnation on me. God is not waiting for me to mess up so that God can condemn my children and grandchildren. God is letting me know the natural consequences of my actions. Forgiveness is not easier to gain than permission. Permission to be in this relationship has already been given. Breaking the trust of any relationship takes time and shared experience to heal.

The relationship God has offered through the covenant of the Ten Commandments is one that offers the experience of God’s presence in our relationships.

5. You shall respect legitimate authority, fulfill your responsibilities, use authority wisely, and love your family.

6. You shall respect all human life.

7. You shall be faithful in covenanted marital relationships.

8. You shall respect the property of others and only use goods entrusted to you.

9. You shall respect and honor the truth in your words and deeds.

10. You shall live humbly, thanking God for all things.

Of course the obvious myth in all of this is that the Ten Commandments were followed. The reality is that they were not - not completely - and they never really have been. Yet God has remained faithful to God’s covenant to be known in their relationships - and in ours!

It is no wonder the Jews demanded signs in Paul’s day - as they also did with Jesus. That is how they knew God - through God’s active presence. It is no wonder the Greeks wanted wisdom - for the claims of gods using people as pawns had confused their understanding of the relationship between creator and creature. And since the reasonable experience of God was being turned into a religion that limited that experience to certain occasions and rituals, God did something unreasonable. Since the prevailing understanding of God was manipulative, God became malleable.

The Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One of God was supposed to be a conquering hero. Instead he died a horrible, publicly humiliating, and political death. He knew it would happen, too. According to John, Jesus practically dared them to destroy him in the early stages of his ministry. He was not reckless. He simply knew that his death would be the natural consequence for speaking truth to power.

All of this - the covenant of the law, the foolishness of the gospel, and the zeal of Jesus to protect the relationship between God and humanity - all of this means nothing to us, unless we are willing to find ways to let it into our lives. It means nothing unless we are willing to compromise. It means nothing unless we are willing to accept Paul’s challenge to look in the mirror and see what it is that makes us special.

And what makes Christians special? Nothing - unless we are sold out. There is nothing uniquely wonderful about us other than the devotion God has for us. There is nothing particularly good or inherently better about a follower of Jesus other than the relationship that we can point to. And when we point to the grace of God that we have received through Jesus Christ, when we point to the experience of a God who is never manipulative and ever faithful, when we point to the knowledge of God found in the space between us - well, that is nothing short of everything!

I felt God creep into that space - I saw God creep into that space - on Saturday in the opening ceremonies for the Lafayette Little League. It wasn’t during the opening prayer - though that did set the tone. It was later, after all the teams of all ages had assembled on the field. There were at least two teams of kids who were differently abled (or with special needs, as we used to say). A few of their members were called forward as representatives from the pantheon.

They ran with reckless abandon and waved their hats to the delight of all. A few people laughed, but not maliciously. It was overshadowed by the applause anyway. I found myself clapping louder for them than my own son’s team, as did a lot of people. As they frolicked to the front I realized that this is one of the few times and places that these kids will be treated with dignity and praise, and I wanted them to milk it for all they could.

And so did God. I believe God was right there in our midst showing us what special was all about. Special was not about being an all-star. Special was about being authentic and true and vulnerable, knowing that God will take care of the rest. Special is not about having land or control over governance. Special is living with God in a covenant we know we cannot fulfill and trusting God to love us, forgive us, and be faithful to us no matter what. Special is not about big buildings, or worship attendance, or money, or anything other than being a community that experiences, explores, and expresses the grace of God together!

I think we can do that. I think we can agree to be a people who are absolutely devoted to God’s grace - if we are willing to make a few compromises here and there. I think we can make compromises without losing our principles - if we can love others as we have been loved. I think we can be sold out without selling out, and I think there is no shortage of the love, grace, and mercy that we so desperately need.

God’s covenant is to bless all nations. God’s covenant is to be merciful. God’s covenant is to offer grace. This, we know. This, we have to share. This, we have to share. May God give us courage for the days ahead, for this journey is far from over. Amen.
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