1st Scripture Reading: Exodus 20:1-17, & Psalm 19 (p.740 VU)
“The precepts of our God give joy to the heart.” So here we are this morning at the heart of Jewish Law. Sometimes called “the Ten Words”, the ten commandments of the Book of Exodus give us a blue-print for living a joyful life.
As Christians we sometimes downplay the importance of this covenantal law found so early in our scriptures, as we tend to focus on Jesus and his new commandment, “that you love one another as I have loved you”.
The ten commandments are, according to scripture, the only laws spoken directly to the entire people by God – the rest were mediated through Moses. These constitute the laws written on two stone tablets by God alone – God’s gift to us. Even after Moses broke the tablets, they were re-written by God on new tablets prepared by Moses. Moses was not the author of the ten commandments.
The tone of this covenant law is set in the first three verses. “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.” Remember who I am, God seems to say, and what I have done for you. By God’s grace alone this people have survived. Now God will tell them how to live as God’s people – not in fear of repression or persecution, but held in the arms of God’s grace and love. Remember…no other god was able to do this for you. So there is no other god worthy of your worship.
Respect my holy name, says God. Remember who I AM. I think we are in mortal danger these days of forgetting this one. Our secular society has little regard for religion, and our hope now is in those who are spiritually oriented. But there is no consensus amongst these as to who or what God might be. And I fear outside of Judaism and Christianity and possibly Islam, there is no knowledge of the ten commandments. And on another level, there is a lot of loose, sloppy language that disrespects the names of God and of Jesus. We are woefully unaware of the power of language – the power of the words we choose to shape our thinking and our lives.
“Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy.” Remember when you couldn’t shop on Sunday? When families had meals together on Sundays, and most kinds of entertainment were shut down? We like it that we can go to a restaurant on Sunday for a nice meal we didn’t have to prepare – but somebody had to work to make that happen. When did the thinking shift so that it was OK to expect someone else to work for us on the Sabbath, so we could shop, or eat out, or go to a movie on Sundays? If we don’t do it on Sundays, how many of us give any thought at all to God and God’s works during the rest of the week? Can we imagine how our lives might change if we actually tried to practice Shabbat? Some people are doing it – trying to reclaim the day of rest, to take time to pay attention to the things of the Spirit.
Honour your parents. We all need to give thanks to our parents for giving us life and protecting us to maturity. It may not have been especially good, but here we are and we have the privilege and the gift of life from them, and so we give back to them in their old age.
You shall not murder – the body, the reputation, the livelihood, the self-esteem, the soul of another. Love one another, Jesus said. Treat each other with respect: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” (the Golden Rule)
You shall not commit adultery. In this age of relaxed codes of sexual conduct, we still need to remember that adultery destroys trust, relationships, families, and damages children. It is disrespectful of the spouse, and dishonest to the new partner. There is little joy in a family where adultery is present.
You shall not steal. We need to look beyond the obvious kinds of theft here. What about the rampant exploitation of the earth’s resources, vital to future generations? What about the indigenous people displaced and their culture destroyed by irresponsible resource development? What about our pension funds invested in such lucrative ventures? Are we not stealing?
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. How can we live harmoniously in our communities if we are gossiping maliciously about our neighbours? Back to our concern about how we use language – how we choose our words. Negative thoughts and words have a way of coming back on us! And they often say more about us than they do about the person we are maligning.
And you shall not covet anything that is your neighbour’s. Our misbehavior begins in our minds. First we think it, then we talk about it, then we take action on it. Covetting is a form of lust – and when we allow our minds to focus on wanting something that isn’t ours, we are essentially already committing the crime of theft.
When we observe these ten words, or ten commandments, then I believe we have the roadmap to healthy communities. Breaching any one of these can be the downfall of individuals and of whole societies. When we act in love, as Jesus instructed us, I believe we will find that these basic laws for living are congruent with his thinking, and form the structure that we need to feel safe and happy. And God who is with us now, as in those days of old, wants only our happiness and well-being.
Hymn #238VU “O Lord My God”
2nd Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 & John 2:13-22
“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.”
I have worked most of my life in the health care field, and now in this ministry. I have worked with many, many people who have been ill or injured, or are suffering in some way. I have seen many people who believe themselves to be victims continue to suffer long after they should have made good recovery. Similarly, I have seen those who are angry and bitter at someone else for some perceived injury or ill-treatment, literally make themselves ill by the poisoning of their mental state.
I have seen people healed by the power of prayer, and by a faith in the medical profession as we know it today. I have seen people who have no belief that anything can save them wither and fade away.
Jesus said to the Jews after he drove the money-changers out of the temple, “Destroy this temple (his body), and in three days I will raise it up.” Jesus, understanding himself to be under God’s direction, believed very strongly in his mission and how it would unfold. Knowing our foolishness, and our lack of mature wisdom, Jesus came to prepare a Way for us – a system of belief that would bypass the foolish beliefs of the world, and lead us back to God – back to the ways of Love and community in God’s kindom, here on Earth.
Hymn #657VU “He Leadeth Me”