“The Ten Commandments”
Rev. Sandy Johnson
October 1, 2017
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When I was preparing for the message for this morning, I came across a story about a pastor whose bike showed up missing, or rather didn’t show up! He was soon convinced that one of the members of his congregation must have taken it! Upset that all he had said over the years had not taken hold in the person, the minister decided to preach a sermon on the Ten Commandments, much like I’m getting ready to do. When he came to the “Thou shalt not steal,” he pounded the pulpit and provided example after example of theft as a prime example of the fallen nature of human society and the punishment waiting such transgressors. Satisfied that he had made his point, he moved onto the next commandment, “Thou shall not commit adultery,” and he suddenly remembered where he had left his bike! Lord have mercy!
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. Amen
Last week the Israelites had just escaped from Egypt, guided by God’s hand, through the Red Sea. The epic tale continues as the Israelites began the journey to Mount Sinai. Moses was leading them and it wasn’t long before they began to complain to Moses. They didn’t have enough to eat, they had no water, they complained that they would have been better off as slaves in Egypt, at least there they had provisions for themselves and their families.
Moses approached God and begged for help, and help came in the form of manna, quail and water that came from a spring. They traveled three months, over 190 miles, returning to Mount Sinai, where Moses had had his first encounter with God at the burning bush. It was at Mount Sinai that tradition tells us God met Moses and entered into a covenant relationship with the former slaves.
Exodus 19:3-6 tells us:
3 Then Moses went up to God; the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites: 4 You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, 6 but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites.”
Moses shared this with the elders of the people and they agreed to do everything the Lord commanded of them. A new relationship was forged on the mountain top. This was the “why” for God, his purpose for delivering the Israelites; God intended to use them for his mission, for them to be his people.
Scripture says, Moses brought the people to the foot of the mountain to meet God. There was tremendous smoke, lightening and the whole mountain shook violently. The people were scared, rightfully so, it wasn’t usual that they would be in such close proximity to God. With the people assembled, God called Moses and Aaron up to the mountain top and began to speak.
Our scripture lesson today was God speaking to the Israelites, from the top of Mount Sinai. Then beginning in Exodus 20 through 24 we can read about the ensuing “six-day period when God’s glory covered the top of Mount Sinai, during which Moses received the Ten Commandments, as well as some other laws that constituted a basic legal code that would later be expanded.”
These commandments are for us a “theological statement as well as a vision for authentic human living. As theological statements, each tells us something about God and God’s will for humanity. The statements offer a vision for how we live, love and relate to one another. They help us know life’s God-given boundaries. Ignore them and we cause or experience much pain. Abide by them and we begin to live into God’s will for humanity.
“Far from stifling us, the Ten Commandments are meant to keep us from harm and from succumbing to thoughts and behaviors that enslave. These particular commandments made it to the “top ten list” because they address some of the key temptations or tendencies with which human beings wrestle.”
Let’s look at them one by one:
First Commandment: There is only one God – we are to not make anything else “god” for us – money, power, position, sex, drugs, alcohol, shopping.
Second Commandment: No False Gods – no making things more important than God. No statues, no charms, no allegiance to any of the Egyptian or Greek deities. None! There is only one God and we are not to make idols and worship them. Sometimes this might be when we place other things in a primary role over God. Take a look at your calendar and your check book register…you will see what gets your time and your money. Are they affirming your relationship with God, or have you perhaps fallen into the trap of worshipping another god?
Third Commandment: No cuss’n – God’s name is sacred, it is to be revered. When we reduce it down to an expletive we dishonor God and he is grieved. Jews honor the name of God so much that they won’t write it. They write it G _ D, with the “O” missing so as to not speak it inadvertently violating this commandment. We must do our best to avoid misusing God’s sacred name.
Fourth Commandment: Gather on Sunday – Sunday is Sabbath, a day of rest, time set aside to worship God and be renewed for the coming week. “This commandment is both a gift from God – a reminder of God’s care for us – and an expression of our reverence for God. Sabbath reconnects us to God, honoring God, while at the same time renewing our own souls.
“Our body, our mind, our spirit, our relationships are all built for Sabbath. We need rest, renewal, and worship. How are you doing in observing the rhythm of Sabbath – in honoring God through worship and in practicing rest and renewal?” Sabbath doesn’t necessarily have to be Sunday even though tradition has it on Sunday. My Sabbath is either Monday or Tuesday, depending on my schedule. It doesn’t matter which day, only that you take the time to be alone with God.
Fifth Commandment: Mind your ma and pa – Beginning with this fifth commandment the Ten Commandments turn from our relationship with God to our relationships with, responsibilities toward, and ethical treatment of others. The fifth commandment addresses our most foundational human relationship, the relationship with our parents. This idea is that your parents take care of you when you are small and you return the favor when they are old and need help, “honor your mother and father.” This isn’t always possible in today’s society and not all parents behaved honorably to their children and it can be difficult to find ways to honor a dishonorable parent. Sometimes talking with a pastor or therapist can help to heal and bring peace.
Sixth Commandment: No Kill’n – This commandment reminds us that “life belongs to God and it is not ours to take. Keep in mind, however that the Old Testament did make provision for the death penalty. It allowed for self-defense and for war.” The commandment was meant to demonstrate the value of life and to discourage any indiscriminate killing. Jesus of course took it a step farther in Matthew 5:21-22:
21 “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.
He continues in Matthew 5:44, 44 But I say to you, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” What kind of crazy commandments is Jesus offering us? The bottom line is that human life is sacred and it is not ours to take. We are to love one another. Period. What a beautiful world we would live in if we could actually pull that off!
Seventh Commandment: Cheatin’ is forbidd’n – God wants us to be with one person, one spouse and only one. We are not to step outside of our marriage or covenant relationships and get involved with others. Jesus takes it a step further in Matthew 5:27-28 where he says, 27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman (or man) with lust has already committed adultery with them in their heart.”
This one is tough, right? How often do we see an attractive person and think, now that’s a mighty fine-looking man, or woman? The challenge is that it is a short step from looking to getting in over our heads. We must protect ourselves from ourselves! “Both the commandment and the words of Jesus affirm the concept of covenant loyalty and faithfulness within the bonds of marriage.
The seventh commandment requires fidelity to the marriage vow. Jesus extended the concept to the thoughts of the heart. The commandment isn’t intended to keep us from enjoying life; rather, it is meant to keep us from hurting ourselves and others by pursuing what is emotionally and spiritually damaging to us. Having this commandment helps us in difficult and tempting areas of life to know what is and isn’t God’s will.”
Eighth Commandment: Ya’ll don’t steal – This seems pretty straight forward, right? No B&E! Breaking and entering! But it isn’t just active thievery. It is about stealing time from our employers, coming in late, leaving early. It’s about the fraudulent insurance claims we have filed, it might be fudging on our taxes, claiming more deductions that is factual or true. “Years ago, I heard the story of a man being considered for a promotion at work. A member of the Human Resources team was behind him in line at the cafeteria and watching has he picked up the various dishes that would comprise his lunch. Near the end of the line, the HR director noticed that the man slid a five-cent pat of butter under his napkin where it couldn’t be seen as he approached the cash register. The HR director later called the man to her office to explain why he didn’t get the promotion: “I saw you hid that pat of butter under your napkin in the cafeteria line today. I learned that your integrity had a pretty low price tag – just five cents.”
Ninth Commandment: No white lies or gossip’n – This one is a tough one, isn’t it? Does this dress make me look fat? Tell me honestly, you like my mother, don’t you? I don’t think this is what commandment nine is about. We are supposed to tell the truth! Particularly in a court of law, but also in the broader community. Our yes must mean yes, and our no, no. We must be people of integrity.
I remember to this day when I was a little girl when my mother told me to lie about my age when we were walking through the hospital on the way to visit my dad. The visitor minimum age must have been 10 and I was on 7 or 8. She told me that if anyone asked, I was to say I was ten. Thankfully no one asked, but I was horrified that my mother had asked me to lie.
Our children are watching, our employers are watching, our family is watching. At the same time, we have to avoid passing on juicy stories we hear about other folks. We can become part of a horrible commandment nine debacle when we get excited when someone shares a sordid tale and then we share it just a quickly. “Did you hear about Suzie??” God tells us to watch our mouth! Especially with social media!
Tenth Commandment: No hankerin’ for others stuff – Finally, the tenth commandment. Sometimes we call this, “keeping up with the Jones!” Although I don’t know what it was that the Jones had in the first place that everyone wanted, but it must have been pretty good!
The challenge for us is that our entire economy is tied up with cultivating discontent. Media and advertising constantly paints a picture of what we “need” to feel successful, to look handsome or beautiful, it is the image we project through the car we drive, the house we live, the phone we carry and the jewelry we wear.
They try to convince us that what we really need is bigger, brighter, better than what we have now. We must fight the marketing gurus and trust that we don’t need “stuff” to be happy and fulfilled. What we need is Jesus.
With Jesus we receive a new commandment. John 13:34 says, 34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” Sisters and brothers, we can go a long way in making our world a better place when we follow the commandments God laid out for us. When we practice this most important commandment from Jesus our lives become a little better, a little brighter, a little more fulfilling. We don’t need the iPhone 10, or the cabin in the woods. We don’t need a new, faster, shinier, more expensive car. What we need is a relationship with the Son of God, what we need is Jesus. Amen.