Sunday, March 8th, 2015 – Sermon on Exodus 20:1-17

Exodus 20:1-17

1 Then God spoke all these words: 2 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 3 you shall have no other gods before me. 4 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. 5 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, 6 but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments. 7 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. 8 Remember the sabbath day, and keep 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; 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. 11 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. 12 Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that 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 bear false witness against your neighbor. 17 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.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

The past couple of weeks, we’ve been talking about God’s covenants with God’s people. Two weeks ago we were reminded of God’s covenant with Noah and all of creation, promising to never again respond to human sin through violence. God hangs up God’s bow.

Last week we were reminded of God’s covenant with Sarah and Abraham, promising that they will have offspring and that their descendants will be as numerous as the stars. And their descendants will be a blessing to the world. This is the vocation, the calling of God’s people – to be a blessing to the world.

Today, we move to God’s covenant with Israel, which comes through the 10 Commandments. Now that God has promised to be our God and we God’s people, now God gives us the gift what it looks like to be God’s people. How shall we live?

Now, what do you think of when you hear the phrase The 10 Commandments? Or when you see an image of Moses carrying down the stone tablets? What comes to mind?

For many of us, I imagine Confirmation comes to mind and needing to memorize them. And I certain you all just loved that. Maybe you think of Charlton Heston in the movie. I don’t know about you, but I hear them as rules. As laws that have to be followed.

In 2001, Roy Moore, a chief justice of the Alabama supreme court, had a 5,280 pound granite rock statue of the 10 Commandments installed in Alabama State Judicial building. Of course, quickly after that, there was a federal lawsuit against Roy and his statue, because it broke the law of separation of church and state. When Roy refused to remove the statue, he was removed from office. And he and his statue of the 10 Commandments went on a nationwide tour.

But the statue was so heavy, that Roy had to drag along a 23-foot crane on a flatbed trailer just to move the statue from place to place.

And this 5,280 pound granite rock statue of the 10 Commandments is a pretty good representation of how I tend to feel about the 10 Commandments.

I don’t really have a happy feeling, when I think about the 10 Commandments. And it isn’t a bad feeling either. But they just seem so heavy. And intimidating. They just sort of feel like God’s rule book. The Law of God – follow it or else!

Which is entirely different from how the Psalm described the law of God. I don’t know if you caught it or not, but Psalm 19 said the law of God is perfect, and it revives the soul. The psalmist even says that the law of God is more desirable than gold, even fine gold. And it is sweeter than honey.

Have you ever felt like the law of God revived your soul? Or that it was more desirable than gold? I haven’t.

So, maybe I need to take another look at the 10 Commandments because maybe I’m missing something.

If we begin at verse 1, notice what it says, “Then God spoke all these words.” It doesn’t say commandments. These are words, statements. They are not threats. And God’s first word is – I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. The first word is God reminds the people of their already existing relationship with God. I am your God, God says. And I freed you from slavery.

You see the Israelites lived in slavery in Egypt for over 400 years. They didn’t know what it was like to live as a free people. They didn’t know how to live period. And so God, who freed them, says, “Let me teach you how to live- and it will look nothing like being enslaved in Egypt.”

But before God can teach them, God first reminds them of the relationship.

When I was in high school, my sophomore year was quite difficult. You see, some of my friends decided that they didn’t really want to be friends with me anymore. They stopped calling. They stopped inviting me to things. So, I asked a friend what was going on. Why was this happening?

He said, “Okay, I’ll tell you. But you need to know this first – you and I are okay. We are still friends.” And then he went on to tell me the reasons why some of my friends didn’t want to hang out anymore. And they became like little 10 commandments for me. Thou shalt not ask people what they got on their math test, because it just looks like you are comparing scores. Thou shalt not stick your nose in other people’s business because no one likes that. Those we hard things to hear. And I’m sure they were hard for him to say. But my friend knew that before I could ever hear those guiding words, he first had to assure me of the relationship. You and I are okay. To this day, he is still one of the most important people in my life, because he told me the truth.

Have you ever needed to learn a new way of life? Have you ever needed to change part of your life so that your life might be better? And maybe you had a mentor or someone you looked up to who helped you through that? Their words of guidance, helping you to live differently, don’t sound like rules. They sound like wisdom and gift.

That’s how it is with God and the Israelites. God is teaching them how to live because they do not know how to live. These 10 commandments are God’s guiding wisdom for the people God loves so much. These aren’t just a rulebook handed down from a judge.

That’s the first thing God does before giving the 10 Commandments. God reminds them of the relationship – I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

But that’s not how we typically view the 10 Commandments. We tend to isolate the 10 Commandments, to carve them into stone and plop them down in front of a courthouse like a rulebook. But we forget that the 10 commandments are first and foremost carved into God’s story of undying love for God’s people. And we are called to live into them – why? Because it’s what a free life looks like. And God wants nothing more for God’s people than for them to live in freedom.

Another thing to note is that there is no punishment listed with these commandments. There is no “Do this or else…” So, what are the 10 Commandments then? Well, they aren’t exactly rules, because they don’t list any consequences for not following them. I’ll often refer to them as the 10 suggestions for a good life.

The first three have everything to do with loving God.

  • You shall have no other gods. Do not put trust in anything above God – not money, not power, not fame…those things can’t save you. And in fact when you center your life on those things, it will hurt others around you.
  • You shall not take the Lord’s name in vain – You shall call upon God’s name and use it properly
  • You shall honor the Sabbath and keep it holy – Every seven days, you shall take one day of rest. Why? Because when you were enslaved in Egypt, there were no days of rest, and so every one gets a day off once a week, because God’s grace is not a one-time event. But it continues to happen every week.

The rest of the commandments – the other seven – have everything to do with loving your neighbor. Honor your parents, do not kill, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not bear false witness, do not covet your neighbor’s house or wife or anything that belongs to the neighbor.

What I want you to notice is that they don’t exist for our own good. They don’t exist to shine up Christians for holy living. They exist for healthy living. “They actually prepare us to love others.  They propel us toward other people.  They exist so that others can live freely, not just us.  They exist to protect our neighbor.”[1]

This is what it looks like to love God and love your neighbor. Which was an entirely new way of living. They didn’t learn this way of living in Egypt. To be primarily concerned about what is best for my neighbor. To ask – what will help my neighbor have their best life now? The Christian vocation is to be oriented towards the needs of the neighbor. And while you are looking out for them, you’ll trust that they are looking out for you.

Now, if you want to hear something really wild, listen to this – the 10 Commandments change in the Bible. Today we read them from Exodus 20, but they are also listed in Deuteronomy 5. And when you read the 10 Commandments from Deuteronomy, you’ll notice that one commandment has been promoted. Given higher priority than it has in Exodus 20. In Exodus 20, the wife – the neighbor’s wife – is part of a list of property and is listed after the neighbor’s house. But then in Deuteronomy 5, the wife list above the house and given her own commandment. This might reflect a change in the role of women in that culture.[2] So we learn that the 10 Commandments were never meant to be etched in stone forever, but rather that they made space for adaption and change depending new times and places.

We might ask, what changes might we make to the 10 Commandments in light of today? Maybe there should be a covenant of “You shall not covet your neighbor’s husband.” What commandments might you add?

What’s the point? The point is that the 10 Commandments are to be viewed as a gift given by God out of love for God’s people. God has set the people free and God wants them to remain free, so God says, “Here – this is what a free life looks like. Live this way.” The 10 Commandments are not meant to be a heavy, burdensome threat that hangs over our heads, like a 5,000 pound stone – Obey me or else. But rather they are given to bring life and health to the community – which you have a very important role in. There are to give us purpose. This is what it looks like to live as God’s people. Remember our calling as God’s people – our purpose – is to be a blessing to the world. God’s says this is how you will be a blessing to the world – when you commit to one partner and don’t commit adultery, when you do not use our words to hurt others.

They are more about God’s relationship with God’s people and God’s hope for their life rather than God’s requirements for God’s people. If we experience them as confining or limiting or restricting, then we have forgotten that they are the gift from God who has already freed us, and they are what a free life looks like.

God gives you these commandments out of God’s great love for you. And out of God’s great trust in you to go and care for your neighbor, God’s people, with the kind of love that has been given to you. It’s how you be the blessing to the world that God calls you to be.

And that’s incredible news. In fact, that kind of news is more valuable than gold. And it can revive your soul. May it be so. Amen.

[1] Laura Aase Sermon on the 10 Commandments, http://riverofhopehutchinson.org/god-said/#more-1570

[2] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2368

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