Obstacles to God

Obstacles to God

The Third Sunday in Lent

Sermon starts at 14:15 in recording

Service Booklet

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Gospel: John 2:13-22

13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.14In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money-changers seated at their tables. 15Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16He told those who were selling the doves, ‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a market-place!’ 17His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’18The Jews then said to him, ‘What sign can you show us for doing this?’19Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ 20The Jews then said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?’21But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

Afterthoughts: The Obstacles in Front of Us

The gist of what I said Sunday was to pay attention to the obstacles that keep us from God.

To me, one of the main things that Jesus communicates in the Gospel reading is how strongly He felt that the market was an obstacle to God.

Between the (literal) costs to participate and the rules set in place,
people were being spiritually disenfranchised by the system.
Jesus’ focus here is on the systemic issues that act as obstacles.

But there can be personal obstacles that keep us from God.
We, because we are learners on this journey of faith,
have things in our personal life that act as obstacles to God too.
And I wanted to look at both the Old Testament reading and the Epistle reading from last week for some guidance on what this might look like for us, personally.

The first reading was from Exodus 20:1-17

Then God spoke all these words:

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.
You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. For six days you shall labour and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
You shall not murder.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

The reading from Exodus is the first hearing of the Ten Commandments and they were broken up into two parts:

· Our relationship with God.
· Our relationship with others.

In relationship to God, the Ten Commandments tell us that that there are three things that can be obstacles:

· The first obstacle is having a split allegiance.

A split allegiance is showing loyalty to two competing persons (or entities) when both relationships call for singleness of heart. And so this split allegiance has to do with both the first and second commandments where having other Gods and idols are addressed.

In God’s covenant with Israel, the agreement was He would be their God and they would be His people. This meant that they would not worship other Gods like their neighbors did (Asherah, Baal, Chemosh, etc) and that they would not make anything that represented God in the form of an idol (which would be worshipping a created thing instead of the Creator).

It would have been problematic in their relationship to God if they were to worship something other than God.

Many nations around Israel went to different Gods to get what they needed (rain, food, fertility, victory in battle, etc), which is why they were reminded in Deuteronomy 6:4,

“Hear, Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!”

There are not many Gods for the many needs you might have.
There is one.
And worshipping something other than Yahweh would be an obstacle to your relationship with God.
Matthew 6:24 says this to us:

No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

So, it is the same for us: split allegiances are problematic for a relationship with God.

· The second obstacle is misrepresenting God

The Commandment that forbids taking the Lord’s name in vain has always been a little confusing.

Simply put, it means that we are not to misrepresent who God is through our thoughts, words and actions.
We should not to misrepresent God to ourselves or to others.

Why would this be an obstacle?
For the people of Israel, their modeling of God was meant to be an outreach to the foreigners around them. If they misrepresented God, then those around would get the wrong idea about God.

If they didn’t care for their neighbor,
then those around them would assume that God did not care for them.

If the Israelites put in systems that oppressed others,
then their neighbors would think God did the same thing.

And when we misrepresent God,
those around us can get the wrong impression about God.
Like when we don’t care about our neighbors.
Or if we are not involved in the community.
Or if we were to limit those who could come to services.

· The third obstacle is failing to rest.

Why would this be an obstacle?

For the Israelites,
the Sabbath taught them to trust God to provide for them.

In subsistence-level living that came with being people of the land, one day missed working could mean the difference between eating and not eating, or being able to store food for the Winter.

And when you are living day to day, your practice becomes about providing for yourself instead of recognizing that God is the one proving for you.

Now take a day off.

Could the Israelites keep from worrying about how their crops would be?
This was an act of trust towards God.
Which taught them to trust in other areas too.

And it is the same for us.

Have you ever been too busy with your life to give attention to anything or anyone else?

Has your life ever been so full that the routine of it dictates what you do instead of the intentionality of your devotions?

It is an unfortunate fact that parents can be so busy during their children’s formative years that they miss the investment of relationship that is so very important to their growth and maturity.

And it is also an unfortunate fact that we can be so busy in our lives that we miss our own spiritual formation without realizing that busyness is an obstacle for us.

Transitioning to our relationship to others, the Commandments tell us that that there are four things that can be obstacles:

· The first is not having a healthy respect for traditions.

Much has been made about the commandment to honor parents. It is the only commandment with a promise,
“so that your days might be long.”

But why is that?
Because those who have gone before have seen things and dealt with things that those younger have not.

As a parent, when I see one of my boys going through something that I myself have been through, I will counsel them based on my experience.

Now, they have the right to either take that counsel or discard it.
If they take it, they will have learned from their father and the traditions (learned experiences) that have been passed down to them.

So what does this have to do with obstacles to God?
If we are not willing to listen and respect the traditions and teachings of God, we are essentially telling God that we know better than He does.
Not a good place to be if your goal is to grow closer to God.

· The second is stepping into the position of judging

The commandment against murder seems like a no brainer to me.
I can’t imagine why it had to be brought up other than the fact that killing those around you made for bad relationships with those still around. But I think the point of it is really about stepping into the position of exercising your judgment over another.

When we find ourselves in that position,
we are not allowing ourselves to see things from God’s perspective.
When we won’t allow ourselves to see things from God’s perspective, then we will have a hard time in our own spiritual growth.

· The third is abandoning relationship

On the face of it, adultery and bearing false witness wouldn’t seem like they are related, but, I think, they are related.

Adultery is the abandonment of the marriage relationship.
Bearing false witness is the abandonment of our community relationships.

Both are, in a sense, going against what has previously been decided.
Israel was called adulterous for its abandonment of its covenant with God.

This issue of abandoning relationships leads to bad precedent.
If we are willing to abandon our significant relationships for whatever reason we choose, it makes us less likely to be willing to stick through the hard things that God may have for us.

Towards the end of John chapter 6, Jesus is teaching hard things about Himself and what would be required of the disciples.
(To be honest, I am not sure how I would have responded in this scenario).
The hard things, for some, were too hard and caused them to abandon their relationship with Jesus as is recorded in verse 66:

Because of this many of his disciples turned back
and no longer went about with him.”

After the leaving of some of the disciples, Jesus turned to those still around and asked what they thought? Peter responded with the words, “Where else are we going to go?”
Peter was willing to stick it out.
And he continued to do so.
Even when it was hard.
Which, ultimately, made him a very strong leader.

But something like this could be an obstacle
if we are quick to jump ship.

· The last is harboring jealousy.

When we covet and when we steal, we are, at some level, jealous of the fortunes of another. God intended that Israel be happy with their lot in life, both in terms of comparing themselves to the surrounding nations and also in comparing themselves to their fellow Israelites.

Contentment has always been an issue for humanity.
Think about the Israelites complaining about being in the wilderness.
They were discontent and complained to Moses.
They looked at their lot in Egypt and thought it better than the provision that God had provided in the wilderness: manna, water, shelter, protection.

And we can be like this too.

It could be that we over-admire someone’s house or car.
Or that we are jealous when someone gets to go on vacation.
It might be envy over a person’s position in church or their job.
Or the success of someone’s child versus yours.

Really, it could be anything that denies the blessings that God has afforded us.
And if we are unable (or unwilling) to see God’s blessings,
We have created an obstacle to seeing God.

Let’s transition to, quickly, to the second reading from yesterday.
The second reading was from 1 Corinthians 1:18-25.

The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

The 1 Corinthians reading adds this important obstacle to watch out for: pride.

Pride, in this instance, is thinking that we know better.
So much so that it makes us stubborn.
Which will keep us from God.
James chapter 4 reminds us that,
“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

By being prideful,
we quit receiving the grace in life that we need to grow.

So, that was a lot.
I know.

Let me sum it up.

These are some obstacles to God:
· Pride
· Jealousy
· Abandonment
· Disrespect toward tradition
· Judging
· Busyness
· An unwillingness to slow down
· Poor witnessing
· Split allegiance

And as I thought of these things,
my mind went to this passage from 1 John.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; or all that is in the world the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches comes not from the Father but from the world. And the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever.”

1 John 2:15-17

A favorite line from a song by an obscure Christian group called the 77’s says,

"The lust, the flesh, the eyes and the pride of life drain the life right out of me.”

And friends, this is a good summary of the things which are obstacles to a healthy and right relationship with God.
These things don’t motivate us to growth, but motivate us to be other than who God calls us to be.
It keeps us stuck and moored to the posts of our inadequacies.
It is a stalled life.

Let us push past this.
Let us allow ourselves to fully see the Father.
Let us submit to the calling of Jesus.
Let us go forward in the power of the Spirit.