1Then God spoke all these words:
2I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 3you shall have no other gods before me.
4You 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. 5You 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, 6but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.
7You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.
8Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9For six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10But 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. 11For 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.
12Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.
13You shall not murder.
14You shall not commit adultery.
15You shall not steal.
16You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
17You 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.
A man loses his favorite hat. He is devastated…. He wore that hat everywhere! But instead of buying a new one, he comes up with an idea. He decides he is going to go to the church down the road a steal one out of the vestibule while everyone is worshipping and praying.
So this man, he gets to the church, and as he opens the door the usher greets him, hands him a bulletin, and before you know it he is sitting in a pew, listening to the pastor’s sermon on “the Ten Commandments.”
After the service, the man walks up to the pastor and shakes her hand vigorously, and says to her, “I just want to thank you for saving my soul today! I came to your church to steal a hat, and after hearing your sermon on the 10 Commandments, I decided against it.”
The pastor smiles—she loves to hear that people are actually listening—and she says to him, “I guess the commandment, ‘thou shall not steal’ really made an impression on you?”
“Naw,” says the man. “When you got to the one on adultery, I remembered where I left my hat…”
Ten Commandments. Gotta love them. I have to admit, every time I read them, I am reminded of my little brother. When he was Amelia’s age, he used to get awfully angry at my sister and I for bossing him around, and when he couldn’t take it anymore he would yell at us, “DON’T COMMAND ME WHAT TO DO!”
We thought that was pretty hilarious—I mean, who uses the word command like that? Well, my brother did. As far as he was concerned, commandments are bossy pronouncements from your sisters.
But what are the commandments, really? As Christians, I think many of us have it in our heads that this is a part of “the Law” with a capital L. They certainly SOUND like laws, right?
Perhaps that is because we are so used to hearing that Jews are the people of the Law.
This past Friday, I joined two of our confirmation students and their parents on a visit to Ohev Shalom, the local synagogue in Richboro. Turns our their Rabbi lives right here in Ivyland. We spent an hour with him learning about the basics of Jewish faith and practice, and there is one word that I didn’t hear a single time while we were there. Do you want to guess what it was? Law.
But there was something else that we heard a whole lot about, and that was relationships. According to Rabbi Perlstein, the heart of Jewish faith is all about relationship—between you and God and you and your neighbor. Which is another way of saying that the heart of faith is covenantal life, those promises we make to one another and to God for the good of us all.
And that is the intent of the ten commandments. They are relational arrangements, best practices from a God who knows that we humans could benefit from some guidance on how to cultivate good and healthy relationships. Given our history, God decides perhaps we need reminders like:
And so God says to us:
Love the God who has continually had your back,
Be content with what you have
Remember to rest so that you can delight in the world God has made for you.
If we wish to think of these as laws, then they are the sort of common sense laws that are intended to give us MORE freedom, not less.
Here’s an example: some of you may know that I like to brew beer. Well, I also have dabbled with making bread over the years. And one thing that beer and bread have in common is that, despite the sheer variety of options, there is a very simple process. As long as you follow the rules and use the right ingredients, you will end up with a drinkable, edible, product. At first, those rules can seem constraining—it can seem like there are an awful lot of them. But once you are comfortable with those rules, once you have lived with them until they are second nature, THEN you find that there is an incredible amount of freedom in the process of creating something delicious.
The ten commandments are not all that different. They are the ingredients and the instructions that make for delicious living. To honor one another, to respect one another, and to rest in God’s blessings makes for one heck of a life-affirming recipe, one that produces a people at peace with one another and God.
But there is more. These results of covenantal living—peace, life, freedom—it turns out that they are also the same things that we describe as the fruit of a relationship with Jesus Christ We tell one another that if you follow Jesus, then you will be formed into the sort of person who will love God and be a blessing to the world. You will seek peace and reconciliation. You will be a light to those living in the darkness.
This Jesus, whom we meet this morning driving out the moneychangers, has put on flesh amongst us so that we may see what freedom within God’s constraints looks like. He has shown us what it looks like to live a covenantal life, one that honors God and our neighbors. The Word Incarnate is the fulfillment of these commandments.
Except for one thing. When the Israelites were out in the desert, they see Moses speaking with God and they are so utterly terrified that they practically beg Moses to spare them from ever having to speak to God themselves. And so Moses becomes an intermediary, running up and down Mount Sinai with the Word of God for the people of God. But the people are always one step removed from the source—God is always veiled in cloud, or within the tabernacle in the desert.
But all of that changes with Jesus. For in Jesus, we come face to face with God’s Word. In Christ, we are no longer one step removed from God—the covenantal relationship that God desires for us is freely offered to us in the Temple of Christ’s body, what Paul called “the power of God and the wisdom of God.” We don’t have to go to a Temple or make a sacrifice or wait on a priest to speak with God—God becomes as close to us as breath, as near as our next prayer. In Jesus, God has moved into the neighborhood.
Here on the midpoint of Lent, let us give thanks for the One in whom we meet God face to face and by whom we are reconciled. And let us live the life of freedom that God intended for us as we honor one another and the Creator who made us and the world. Amen.