Into the Darkness – August 10, 2014 – Exodus 20: 1 – 21

The Ten Commandments
1 And God spoke all these words:

2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

3 “You shall have no other gods before[a] me.

4 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

7 “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

13 “You shall not murder.

14 “You shall not commit adultery.

15 “You shall not steal.

16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

18 When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance 19 and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”

20 Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”

21 The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was.

The darkness existed before the light.

We associate the darkness with sin, evil, Satan, but the darkness came before the light. The Bible tells us about darkness before the light. Genesis begins this way: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” The darkness existed before the light and God was there, in the darkness.

Often, we think that God is not in the darkness, or even in the night. We like to think of God in the light. After all, the first thing God created was the light. Genesis starts the creation story with: “And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and He separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness He called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning – the first day.”

The Bible does not say that the darkness was bad. God was in the darkness. The darkness existed before the light. God created the light and called it good, but He never said the darkness was bad. God called the darkness night. He allowed the darkness to continue. He separated the light from the dark, the day from the night. And, still today, there is darkness and night.

So, where do we get this idea that everything dark is bad and everything light is God?

The Bible uses the word light 263 times in the New International Version, which is the translation in the pews and which many of you have for personal reading. The Bible has nearly as much to say about darkness. The word dark is used 202 times. So, why do we focus so much on light and neglect the dark? The darkness existed before the light.

Jesus said He is the light of the world (John 8:12). In the prologue of the Gospel of John, the writer gives his thoughts on Jesus and the light. It reads: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made. In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Throughout the New Testament, the light and darkness are contrasted as good and bad. Staying with the Gospel of John, Jesus said that “whoever follows [Him] will never walk in darkness.” The first letter of John is especially critical of the darkness. There is a section of chapter 1 called “Light and darkness, sin and forgiveness.” In it John writes: “God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another…”

But, what if the darkness isn’t so scary? What if we can encounter God in the darkness? The darkness existed before the light.

In our reading from Exodus, God gives Moses the 10 Commandments…from within the darkness.

On the first day of the third month after the Israelites left Egypt, they came to Mount Sinai. Moses went up the mountain to God. God said He would come to Moses in a dense cloud (Exodus 19: 9). God was not coming as light; God was coming in a dark, dense, cloud so that the people could see that God was talking to Moses.

The people and Moses had 3 days to prepare for God’s coming in which they consecrated themselves. They had strict instructions not to go near the mountain when God had come, only Moses could enter the presence of God.

On that third day, there was “thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain” (Exodus 19: 16). The Bible says: “Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently” (Exodus 19: 18). Not exactly, the bright, light of a beautiful day. Moses ascended the mountain and God gave him the 10 Commandments. The people stayed at a distance for fear of the Lord, but Moses “approached the darkness where God was.”

Maybe we shouldn’t be so afraid of the darkness…because God is there.

There’s a problem in the church. Barbara Brown Taylor, in her book, Learning to Walk in the Dark, calls it “full solar spirituality.” We, Christians, “focus on staying in the light of God around the clock, both absorbing and reflecting the sunny side of faith.” We like to stay positive and think we need to have unwavering faith. Whenever something bad happens, we have nice sayings like “God won’t allow you to be tested beyond your strength.” Through any darkness, we need only keep the faith and soon we will again be living in the light of God as if the light is closer to God. We believe that if we keep believing and following Jesus, then He will help us turn away from the darkness, survive the night, and live with Him in the light.

Those times, when bad things are happening, we like to call them the dark nights of the soul. We think God is absent. We think that God has allowed something bad to transpire. We think we are being tested. We think we just need to keep our head up and this too shall pass. We think God is not there.

But, God is there, in the darkness. God does not turn the world over to Satan when darkness falls. Some of God’s best work happens in the darkness.

On the last two Sundays, I preached about Jacob. Jacob had 2 life transforming experiences with God at night. As Jacob fled Esau’s rage, he stopped to rest for the night in Bethel, which means house of God. Genesis chapter 28 says that he had a dream that night “in which he saw a [ladder] resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. There above it stood the Lord.” That night, in that dream, God blessed Jacob and the next morning Jacob vowed that the Lord would be his God.

On Jacob’s trip to return to Esau, he had another life transforming experience, again, at night. Jacob wrestled with God all night. At daybreak, Jacob was given a new name, Israel, which means he struggles with God. In those 2 experiences, Jacob encountered God, at night, in the darkness, and was forever changed.

God’s nightly work doesn’t stop with Jacob. The Exodus from Egypt happened at night. God parted the Red Sea for the people to cross at night. Manna fell from the sky to feed the people at night. God is in the darkness and does some of His best work in the darkness.

The two most holy days for Christians come from God’s work in the darkness. In Bethlehem, Mary gave birth to the baby Jesus. We know it was at night, because the angels announced His birth to the shepherds watching their flocks at night. Into the darkness of night, from the darkness of Mary’s womb, God brought forth the light.

Easter too comes from the darkness. When we think of Easter, we think of the sunrise and lilies. We think of angels in dazzling white clothes. We think of Jesus meeting Mary in the garden. But, all that is post resurrection. The resurrecting power of God was in the darkness, in the absolute darkness and silence of the tomb. It was in the darkness that death was transformed to life.

We need not be so quick to equate the darkness with Satan, sin, debauchery, ghosts, death, goblins and ghouls. We need not think about the darkness as a time of testing, failure, or punishment. We need to stop thinking about the darkness as the absence of God.

We are too quick to try to turn on a light in the darkness. We want to pass whatever test we think we are facing. We want to atone for whatever sin has brought us punishment. We want the darkness to end so we can get back to our “full solar spirituality.”

But, we need to embrace the darkness. Sit in the silence of the darkness. Let our eyes adjust to the darkness. Search for God in the darkness. When we’re in the darkness, our “full solar spirituality” doesn’t work. The beliefs we held to be true about God seem to fail us. Our faith may seem to wax and wane. But, in the darkness, we encounter God in a way that when we emerge into the light we have a new understanding of God and of ourselves. We just might find that we are transformed…in the darkness.

Enter into the darkness. It existed before the light.

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