Exodus 20:1-17I Corinthians 1:18-25
It’s what a leader is supposed to have. “What is your vision for the institution? Give us your ten-year plan. Tell us your top five goals and objectives. What is your mission statement?”
Vision, in that sense, is the ability to read the tealeaves correctly, anticipate the currents and chart a strong course. Those with vision can forecast the market. They seem to have an innate sense about the competition. At an instinctual level, they know what direction the organization should take.
Vision is an integral part of leadership. And those of you who are in leadership roles, whether it is in your business or in the community or even here at Oglethorpe Presbyterian Church, know the kind of struggle that the molding of vision involves. And none of us envies the kind of leadership task that faced that great leader of the Hebrew Bible, Moses.
Moses, the timid shepherd who brought his people out of slavery in Egypt, didn’t need to have merely a ten-year plan. He needed a forty-year plan! And, if we remove God from the story, Moses’ vision for those forty years looked something like this: • Year one: send down ten plagues and escape • Years two through forty: wander
But we cannot remove God from the story. Without the divine, the story becomes a tale of yet another man who refuses to ask for directions and thousands of children who are constantly complaining: “Are we there yet?” But for Moses and the Israelites, everything in the story, from the escape to the aimless wandering, had everything to do with divine intervention. It was the cloud by day and the fire by night that led them. It was the quails and the miraculous manna from heaven that fed them, and rocks that watered them. Without God, there is no story to tell.
And early on in that story, Moses ascends Mount Sinai to meet with God, returning with these Ten Commandments that we read this morning. And if we drive that earlier metaphor about vision into the ground, these tablets provide the mission statement for that ancient wilderness community. As they prepare to enter the land of promise, God sets these ground rules for their behavior: do not disrespect, do not kill, do not steal, do not cheat, do not lie, do not covet. We see in these the beginnings of the larger category of Law, the moral standards by which this community holds itself accountable to one another and the measuring stick by which they are judged.
However, there is much more to these principles than simply the observant individual’s relationship to the world. These commandments that put us in right relationship with others and call us to put aside contempt, murder, infidelity, theft, deception, dishonesty, jealousy, they are a mere Six Commandments. And they’re the six at the end. The first four have to do with relationship to God: no other gods, no idolatry, no frivolous use of the divine name, remembering of the Sabbath. As this context of Ten Commandments comes into focus, as we see that we begin with God, and God’s saving act of a people in slavery, then we begin to see that vision means something very different from where we started.
Vision is, most simply, the ability to see clearly. It has nothing to do with prophecy or the future. Rather, it has everything to do with clarity and the present.
Let’s put it this way: if our focus is on God, and God’s character, then the rest of these demands, the “shalt nots”, the moral standards, simply fall into place. If we serve a God who creates, then we will not destroy. If we worship a God whose very essence is relationship, then we will not betray our trusts. If we seek a God who is gracious and giving, then we will not hoard and take from others. If we find in God the ground of our being, then we will not search for meaning by trying to keep up with the Joneses.
As Moses leads the people, as they begin their forty years in the wilderness, God gives them vision that is less a pair of glasses than it is a pair of blinders. It is as though God is saying, “Keep your eyes and your hearts squarely focused on me. Put aside all those distractions. I am all the vision you will ever need.”
Friends, it is no accident that the cross sits at the heart of our worship space. Far beyond a simple symbol, it reminds us of the moment in history that is at the heart of our faith as a Church. It demands the focus of our attention, not only during this Lenten season as we anticipate the crucifixion, nor only at Easter when we celebrate the resurrection, but each and every day, Sabbath or otherwise, of our journey of faith. In the same way that Ten Commandments were the focus of those ancient Israelites, so does the cross take center stage for the Church.
In our sanctuary, the cross is surrounded by this elegant stained glass. I don’t know what is intentional in the design, but I will tell you what I see. The circle reminds us of the promises of eternity. The grapes point us to the cup of communion we share. The colors intertwine to show us the rhythms of faith in the liturgical year: contemplative purple for the preparations of Advent and Lent, fire red for the Spirit-filled celebration of Pentecost, natural green for the spiritual growth of Ordinary Time, royal gold for the Feast days where we celebrate. And lest we forget, as these colors intertwine, as they tangle and take shape, they remind us of the horrific thorns of Christ’s crown.
But just for a moment, let us put on those gracious blinders, leave these symbols in the background, put aside the distractions that surround, draw our eyes and our hearts away from this ornamentation, and consider, just for a moment, these two stark pieces of wood and what they mean.
This cross, this wondrous, simple, elegant cross, is, in Paul’s words from our New Testament text, “foolishness.” The cross was a cruel instrument of torture. And yet here it stands, at the center of our worship and praise. It was the means of Roman capital punishment. And yet here it stands for us, a symbol of hope and life. Christ was crowned in thorns and stripped naked. And yet we name him King and consider this cross his wondrous throne. On the cross, Christ was mocked, suffered, and died. And yet we have the foolish audacity to say that he is risen, that the Lord lives. Death becomes life, fear becomes love, defeat becomes victory, weakness becomes strength, foolishness becomes wisdom. Our world is turned upside down.
And if we are seeing this all clearly, if this foolishness is truly the center of our lives together and becomes the heart of our vision, we begin to realize just how out of focus the rest of the world is. And then, just maybe, we might all begin to rethink how it is that we engage the rest of this world as people of this foolish cross: Our relationships with family, colleagues, and friends: how reasonable are they? Our everyday priorities on work, family, financial gain, motivation: does the world consider them rational? Our engagement with our culture’s consumerism, politics, morals, values: are we being logical?
If we answer “yes” to any of these, then we are clearly not foolish enough.
Friends, don’t misunderstand. This is not a call for us to see the world as hostile or to disengage ourselves from life as we know it. But if we are willing to be fools for Christ, if we truly believe in God’s sovereignty and Christ’s Lordship, then this faith will impact every area of our lives, calling us to be fully and foolishly engaged in this world that God created and called good. We do not join the dividing lines that separate our world. Instead, we seek to be agents of reconciliation and accountability across these lines. We do not simply sign on to the priorities that surround. Instead, we engage them as people with a single priority, to be Church in this place in this time.
What we do here is foolishness. May those who have eyes to see, see.