October 22, 2023
Scripture Reading Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20
There are, sometimes, sermons we need to preach where the topic is SO familiar that just about everyone assumes they know what’s coming! I think a sermon on the Ten Commandments fits that description.
But this morning, let’s think a little bit about where, in the history of our faith, the Ten Commandments appear. We’ve spent several weeks focusing on the major characters of the book of Genesis: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. They (until Joseph) are all heads of household / clans who struggle with how to lead their families and relatives in such a way as to be faithful to God and honorable leaders / patriarchs. They were mostly good men who were oh, so human.
Along comes Moses who is handed the mantle of leadership, not of a clan, but of a now-large group of people who come from the same background, many distantly related, all more-or-less committed to worshiping the same God. He was called to lead this bunch (probably hundreds of people now) out of Egypt, through some hostile terrain, with inadequate supplies for 40 years, more or less.
Caroline, if you thought leading a bunch of Jr. Highers into the remote back rivers of Russia was hard, try filling Moses’ shoes! You’ve got all of the normal bickering, the care of souls, and the strained relationships to think about.
IT IS NO WONDER THAT SOMEWHERE IN THE MIDDLE OF THIS NEAR IMPOSSIBLE TASK, someone gets the idea that maybe a set of 10 or so written guidelines for how we should behave toward God and one another should be printed out, color coded, and made available for everyone to be able to carry around in their pockets for easy reference! Only problem – no printing
press, no colored ink, and no pockets in their robes or turbans. But we do have plenty of rocks and chisels! And we could all memorize those if they weren’t too many!
Thus, THE TEN COMMANDMENTS! Rules for the Road! Rules for a fledgling people of God. Rules for a gang who wants to be Beloved Community!
Four of these rules are about our vertical relationship – that is our relationship with God. The next six were rules about our horizontal relationships – that is our relationship with the community. They are quite simple in some respects: One God, No substitutes, No misusing God’s name, Keep one day out of seven for God and rest, Treat your parents lovingly, No killing, No violating your marriage vows, Don’t steal things, Don’t lie, and Don’t even let yourself want what doesn’t belong to you.
There you go! Pretty good list, don’t you think? (By the way, notice that it never says anything about how if somebody does these things to you, it’s OK to do them back to them only harder!)
Now these rules were designed by God not to keep people under control, and not to determine who goes to heaven and who goes to hell. But they were designed with love in mind. They were designed to help us live together both with God and with one another under a canopy of love, respect, and a dose of joy. These guidelines would become like the glue that would hold these people together as a loving, sustaining community.
These 10 were the set of rules meant to bind the people together and to bind them to God. These were rules born in a heart of love. They were made IN love and FOR love. We make a mistake when we forget their purpose and start to misuse them.
How can I put this into a slightly different context so that it is easier to comprehend? Your first child is heading off for their first day in kindergarten. Let’s say they have to walk a few blocks to school. What do you talk about in the days before that first day? You try to think of all the things they will need to know and have to cope. You consider clothing, forms, lunch or snack, and some kind of bag. You think of all the things that will keep them from being afraid. You talk about the walk to school, the classroom set-up, the teacher. You think of all the things that will keep them safe and how to get along with others, the role of the teacher, where to turn, how to cross streets safely, all of those sorts of things and a thousand more!
Why do you do that? To find a reason to punish them? Of course not. To frighten them? No! To test them? No! You do it because they are the most precious thing you have! Because you are their protector – it is a job you accepted when they were conceived. Why ever would God do less? The Ten Commandments were NOT meant to be the standard one group of people uses to judge everybody else or to compare how much better I keep those rules than you do!
But we are so familiar with these rules that we seldom think about them and what God really wants from us as we attempt to follow them. This familiarity breeds neglect or trivializing them. We just push them into the background and don’t think about them.
For example take the Commandment: Don’t lie. Look around you and see what damage is done when we don’t live in honesty – when we don’t determine to always live in the truth. The truth about ourselves, and the truth about one another. Look what happens to trust in the community. Look at how the lack of truth divides the community.
Or another: Keep the Sabbath holy. Look around you and see what a driven life without carefully held time for rest does to your spiritual life and your relationships. Think how a regular time for God with God’s people benefits both you and your community. Think how it ties us together and ties us to God our provider. Consider what that means to us all.
Or consider any of the other 8. They sound rather simple, but they are much deeper than they seem. Profound, actually. They are elementary principles. Consider, if you will, that old book: “All I Really Need to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten” by Robert Fulghum, published in 1986 or 89.
- Share everything.
- Play fair.
- Don’t hit people.
- Put things back where you found them.
- CLEAN UP YOUR OWN MESS.
- Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
- Say you’re SORRY when you HURT somebody.
- Wash your hands before you eat.
- Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
- Live a balanced life – learn some and drink some and draw some and paint some and sing and dance and play and work everyday some.
- Take a nap every afternoon.13. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
- Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
- Goldfish and hamster and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we.
- And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned – the biggest word of all – LOOK.” ― Robert Fulghum, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten
Notice how these things parallel the Ten Commandments? God’s principles meant to be embedded in the human heart and lived out daily. Amen