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Third Sunday of Lent

A few weeks ago, I came across an article that stated that Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski dismissed Duke guard Rasheed Sulaimon right in the midst of basketball season. Sulaimon was an important player, not a Bobby Hurley or Grant Hill but I knew his name and he was a great 3-point shooter for the team this year.

There were not many details immediately released to explain this sudden dismissal. Coach K, in his 35 years of coaching the Blue Devils, has never dismissed a player from the team. And although more recently there have been reports that Sulaimon had been accused of sexual assult and that has thrown into question the handling of the situation, this is what Coach K initially said about the player’s dismissal from the team:

“Rasheed has been unable to consistently live up to the standards required to be a member of our program. It is a privilege to represent Duke University and with that privilege comes the responsibility to conduct oneself in a certain manner. After Rasheed repeatedly struggled to meet the necessary obligations, it became apparent that it was time to dismiss him from the program.”

Think about that for a moment...as a Duke basketball player, one enjoys the privilege to be part of a powerhouse program and be coached by one of the best coaches ever. But as a Duke basketball player, there is also a responsibility to act in line with a certain standard because one is a representative of the Duke basketball program and the University and anything one does will reflect upon the program and institution.

This is the case with many teams...many organizations...many clubs and groups and even countries. Individuals members of a group are a reflection of the overall nature of the group itself. Keep this in mind as we look at the covenant for this week. But first, let’s recap...

Week one was the covenant between God and all creation to never destroy creation by flood in order to start over again. The sign of that covenant was a sign for God to remember...it was God’s bow hanging in the sky.

Week two was the second covenant, with Abram and Sarai...God promised to be their God and give them descendants and land. The sign of that covenant was for the men to commit to and remember...circumcision. This symbolized that they were God’s people. And once this couple was committed to being the father and mother of God’s promise, it changed their names...it changed their lives.

This week is the third covenant. This passage is probably familiar to many of you because it contains the 10 commandments. We all know some segment of the 10 Commandments even if we can’t recite them all in order. But what you may not have realized before is that the first commandment is not only a commandment, but it is the covenant, the promise of God: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”

Part of God’s promise is an action that has happened already. God has brought the people out of slavery in Egypt. Today’s passage is set in the wilderness after the people of Israel had fled Egypt, after the Egyptians tried to pursue them and bring them back, after God parted the sea and saved the people from the Egyptian pursuit. God has done a lot for the people of Israel up to this point. So God declares, I am the Lord your God who is responsible for giving you your freedom. I heard your cries, I saw your suffering, I saved you from oppression. I’m the one who cares about you, so don’t turn to any other gods looking for anything, because I have given you freedom.

After that, the list continues. But we do this covenant a great disservice if we look at this as a list of dos and don’ts. Remember that so far, with the previous two covenants, there has been a promise made by God and then a symbol to go with the promise. The first covenant was made solely by God and the symbol was God’s reminder. The second covenant was made by God, but there was some part for humanity to play...to walk before God and be blameless (Gen. 17:1). The symbol of that covenant required action on the part of the men, to be circumcised.

The symbol for this third covenant, after God declares that God is the Lord their God and has already given them freedom, will be the way they live their lives. The commandments that follow God’s promise in verse 2, the guidelines for life that make up the whole of this passage will be the symbol of the covenant for God and for the people of Israel. The symbol that the people of Israel acknowledge and receive God’s promise is that they will worship only the Lord their God, they will honor only the Lord their God, they will respect the authority of their elders, they will not kill, harm, or in any other way threaten the life or livelihood of the rest of the community.

Now we would be wrong to consider these the only guidelines that God ever gave or the first laws that people ever heard. This word from God outlines a new vocation, or purpose for God’s people, the way of living for a nation associated with God’s name on their jersey. It’s like being chosen for God’s team. God’s team has a code of conduct... God’s team worships only God, respects God’s name and position, respects those that God puts in authority, values the life of the people around them, refrains from inappropriate dealings with neighbors like lusting over their wives or their stuff, speaking lies to or about them, taking what does not belong to them. These are the standards for God’s team. When other nations saw how God’s team lived, it would inspire them to give glory to the God of Israel as well.

Yet all obedience to this code was grounded, not in the promise of the people or their will power but in God’s act of saving God’s people, which is the first word here that God speaks. That is why the people are told to worship only the Lord their God. Through worshiping the Lord their God, who saved them from slavery, they are constantly reminded of whose team they are on and what expectations go with being part of God’s team. God gives them a life to live, built upon their relationship with the Lord God who saved them. By worshipping the Lord their God and living out God’s ways of life, they are living as God’s holy people.

This was God’s 3rd covenant, God’s 3rd way of relating to humanity...save the people from slavery and give them a new life as God’s people living according to God’s ways. I hope it is obvious to you by now that part of God’s character is perseverance in relationship with God’s creation. God really doesn’t give up on us. God really does go to all lengths to reach us, to show us a better way, to convince us that God really does love and care about us and that loving and caring is the way to live. God WILL move heaven and earth, using even what seems risky and ridiculous to us, whatever it takes, to reach out to all men and women God created. Amen.

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