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Blueprints for Life


Speaker: Elizabeth Baril, Director of Youth

Fourth Sunday in Lent
Exodus 20: 1-17
Matthew 5: 17-20

I wonder how many of you have done a renovation on your house. Maybe some of you are even in construction and know what it’s like to look at a blueprint. Well a few years back my family decided to put on a massive addition to our family home – extended double the width of our house and adding that ever so popular first floor master suite. I was away at college for most of this process, but I remember before the whole ordeal started that my mom had hundreds of blueprints all over the kitchen table. I was amazed by the size of a roll of blueprints. There are so many layers of papers, and countless instructions on every facet of constructing a building, from the underground foundation to the last shingle on the roof. If even one aspect of the blueprint is overlooked, tweaked, or ignored, the entire structure of the building is compromised. And yet, there on paper was a clear path to building this beautiful new addition to our forever home.

For all of our church members who have been on WoodsWork, if you built a wall, then you’ve seen a blueprint. Although I saw from a distance all of those blueprints sitting on my kitchen table, at my first WoodsWork I had never actually “looked” at a blueprint.

Now for a little perspective, my first WoodsWork was maybe my 5th day working at Woods, so I was definitely baptized by the firehose. There were already so many moving parts happening; first walking into that gym in Harrisburg, PA with 200+ people, my eyes must have been like deer in headlights. I was coming from a church with 20 kids max in the youth program. It was normal for us to have 1 or 2 kids show up for youth group on a Sunday evening. But here I was holding my air mattress and suitcase looking at over 100 high schoolers on one mission trip. I had so many things bouncing through my head … meet as many of these kids and learn their names … meet all of the adults in the room … what am I wearing tomorrow … where am I going to put my air mattress … I wonder what’s for dinner.  But it never crossed my mind that in the morning I would be given a blueprint for a life-size wall and told, "GO."

My first work crew was made of 4 youth, and except for our team leader, we were all new to WoodsWork. It could have been a scene from a movie; there we were standing in a little huddle all looking at this blue sheet of paper and not one person said anything. We slowly all looked up and looked to see who was going to take the lead on this. Our team leader quickly sprang into action, and like most of us on our first day of WW, we all needed a little refresher on what the blueprint is actually saying. Seeing the fear in her eyes, not wanting to fail her team, I looked over the sheet of paper and thought to myself…well I have no clue what I’m looking at, but maybe that guy Andrew who was passing them out has some helpful tips.

Andrew Wiley has been on so many WoodsWork trips that he is a certified expert in my eyes when tackling a blueprint for wall building day. Did you know after a team finishes a wall he is one of the two advisors who can clear your wall for final nails?... the other person being his dad…Scott Wiley.

So Andrew, being very patient, began to explain how to construct this wall, and something clicked. I chimed in and asked him…"Is this like building legos?” I had been a nanny for years and built my fair share of lego ships and princess castles. And there it was, the hidden clue. My work crew was off to the races, and we finished 3 walls in the first day, something none of us in those first few minutes thought we’d ever accomplish.

So whether you’ve built an addition onto your house, made lego princess castles, or been on WoodsWork, you have a basic idea that the blueprints an architect creates are the master plans for a complete structure. I tell our Confirmands that God has many hats, and one of them is being an architect, drawing the blueprints for life.

Today we heard our lector read the Old Testament passage, something familiar, the Ten Commandments. When you first learned about the Ten Commandments in Sunday School, they probably came across as a list of 10 dos and don'ts … a blueprint for how to be a Christian in God’s eyes. And I’d tell you that you’re right … for the most part.

The confirmands spend time in the beginning of the year learning all ten. I would place all ten … plus 40 other commandment-like rules of society, on a table, and ask them to pull out the true Ten Commandments, and then put them in order. This task is a hoot. Last year we ended up with maybe 6 of the true 10 and 4 silly rules I made up!

Many people know exactly what you’re talking about when you bring up the Ten Commandments, but I rarely come across someone who knows all ten and in order. You may even be sitting at home right now testing yourself … do you know all 10? And I’ll tell you exactly what I tell the Confirmands, yes, we should know them, but what you really need to know is something different.

What you need to know when looking at the Ten Commandments is that they are a list of 10 laws that show us who God is. So if we look at these Commandments from that perspective we’ll find in the first law, “You shall have no other gods before me,” that our God we worship is confident. But that is pretty simple. What if we took this approach to maybe a harder one like number seven, “You shall not commit adultery.” This tells us that God is totally faithful to us. There is no one human or creature God cares for more on this earth than you and so God promises to be faithful to you and in return asks that in your relationships you show the same faithfulness. But the next one may be my favorite to look at from this new perspective, “You shall not steal.” We have no reason to steal from anyone because God will provide everything we need. He wouldn’t ask us to keep sticky fingers away from the candy aisle if he wasn’t going to provide us with the joys in life we need. And so I challenge you to take a look at these 10 laws and instead of viewing them as the dos and don'ts of our faith, perhaps look at them as a window into understanding who God is.

But here is something we missed, God revealed these laws to Moses and asked him to lead his people, and then hundreds of years later, God’s only son was born on earth to share a new covenant with us. And without Christ the laws can be frightening, “Since through the law comes knowledge of sin." (Romans 3:20) But with Christ our sin is wiped away and the laws become a great gift, revealing to us God’s holy and true nature.

Listen to the words from Matthew’s Gospel:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.  For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

And so, the master architect’s plan is complete … with the new covenant in Jesus Christ. We are told that with these two new laws, to love God above all and to love your neighbor as you love yourself, that God isn’t just creating a dos and don’ts list. Often, we do look at the laws as blueprints or a plan we teach in Sunday School because that is how God taught Moses. But I think God also wanted Moses to tell the people of Israel to follow these laws because they are a window into who God is…a picture of God.

Today you could leave this service and be satisfied that the Ten Commandments have been taught to you in a new way. You could go about your business and think maybe, hmmm… I wonder what coveting my neighbor's new speed boat tells me about God’s character. But I think there is more here in this text when we read the Old and New Testament together.

Earlier I shared that God is our master architect, the one who creates a blueprint for our life. And I shared that God has many hats.

At WoodsWork, we aren’t just building a house out of blueprints but we are building a home for a family. We are building something with purpose. So rather than thinking God has been making the plans for our lives, let’s recognize that God is building a “purpose” for our lives. See, a plan ties us down to precise demands; a purpose provides us with direction and a goal.

A plan is unforgiving. Make an error at the beginning – while you are laying the foundations perhaps – and all the following work and effort could be wasted; the whole building might collapse because of that one error. In contrast, a purpose is like a stream that flows to a distant sea. The stream may be diverted from time to time. It may even wander aimlessly in swamps for a period. But it can also recover its way further down the valley and still have the potential one day to become a great river.

You, who were created in God’s image, were made for a purpose. I wish I could look at each of you this morning and convince you of this truth, see the realization of God’s plan … that you were created for a reason.

This past month, our community experienced a tragedy. A student from Severna Park High School died by suicide. Imani Sawyer was a bubbly and caring friend, someone who lit up the room and showed what it meant to be a friend. She was thoughtful.

If I had the attention of every teenager in Severna Park, Arnold, and Annapolis, I would tell them – your life has a purpose. You were made for something greater than yourself.

If I could hold all the hearts of those teens who are grieving, I'd say to them, life is more than the tests and college applications and friends you have. Life is more than the pressures you feel in this moment.

If I could be with the parents of our teens and tell them to hold tight, be gentle and loving.

If I could just tell one of our teens that you have a purpose. – God, would that be enough?

Remember you are loved by God – made in the image of God – and created for a purpose.

And all God’s people sang, Amen, amen, amen