Life of Moses V: Because They Are God’s Own

10 CommandmentsBecause They Are God’s Own

Exodus 20:1-17

A couple of weeks ago we talked about Manna.  Specifically the two lessons that Manna teaches us.  Now, just to see if anyone was paying attention.  Does anyone remember what those lessons were?   Manna teaches us about trusting in God’s provision and about ordering our lives.  This morning we are going to expanding on this second lesson, order. I hope that you have not grown weary on illustrations from my time with ASP, because I have another one for you… When I was working at the Appalachia Service Project, I had a unique opportunity to dig my hands into and live in Appalachian poverty.  In this region, poverty is double the national average. One in four live below poverty line. 19,000 homes don’t have an adequate kitchen, and nearly 21,000 lack functioning plumbing. And, while I was serving there… my team and I would try and salvage these homes by fixing the leaky roofs, the saggy floors, and suring up the crumbling foundations.  And it was in that work, while getting my hands into it, and experiencing this kind of poverty, that I learned about the task of ‘order’. … For those of you who have raised children, or have worked with people in your life, you might know that establishing rhythms in life, finding sense, or maintaining priorities can be a bit of a challenge… In my ministry in Appalachia I found that there are 3 types of order.

A couple of weeks ago we talked about Manna.  Specifically the two lessons that Manna teaches us.  Now, just to see if anyone was paying attention.  Does anyone remember what those lessons were?   Manna teaches us about trusting in God’s provision and about ordering our lives.  This morning we are going to expanding on this second lesson, order. I hope that you have not grown weary on illustrations from my time with ASP, because I have another one for you… When I was working at the Appalachia Service Project, I had a unique opportunity to dig my hands into and live in Appalachian poverty.  In this region, poverty is double the national average. One in four live below poverty line. 19,000 homes don’t have an adequate kitchen, and nearly 21,000 lack functioning plumbing. And, while I was serving there… my team and I would try and salvage these homes by fixing the leaky roofs, the saggy floors, and suring up the crumbling foundations.  And it was in that work, while getting my hands into it, and experiencing this kind of poverty, that I learned about the task of ‘order’. … For those of you who have raised children, or have worked with people in your life, you might know that establishing rhythms in life, finding sense, or maintaining priorities can be a bit of a challenge… In my ministry in Appalachia I found that there are 3 types of order.

The first was controlling chaos.  It was my team’s responsibility to purchase building materials for our projects (so we spend long hours in meetings calculating, and eventually, guestimating the amount of lumber, fasteners, quickrete, singles, bits/bobs/blades/ bottled water and the like… that we would need to complete our task).   We were also responsible for the high school and college-aged volunteers that would assist the staff on given projects.  So when we were not in project planning meetings, we were recruiting volunteers, teaching basic construction skills, answering questions about power-tools, and putting out fires (sometimes literally).  We were about order, everything was tracked, monitored, cared for, and made to run as smoothly as possible.  For chaos would ensue otherwise.

The second kind of order what we encountered was that of sacrifice.   One of the hardest, and most life giving, parts of this job was going into the community to meet with families in need of help.  We would meet with a couple hundred families every year.  But on an annual basis, our staff of five completed about 25 projects.  This meant meeting with families who homes were crumbling around them and saying “I’m sorry but we just don’t have anything to offer you at this time, please apply again next year.”  Meanwhile their homes continue to fall apart, and their electric bills continue to climb because there is no one able to make simple weatherization changes.  My team would mourn their burdens and fears right along with them, but we had to make sacrifices to maintain the order of our ministry.  We wanted to help nearly every family that we came across… but some days (most days) we just didn’t have enough.  Order was our task and our tragedy.

The third kind of order was that of care.   If you have ever had home repair done on your house, you may know that the time table tends to elongate on occasions…  so sometimes repairs took place over a series of weeks or even months.  We would turn into counselors, financial consultants, pastors, nurses, social workers… And this was intentional.  We were trained to care for the lives and souls of our families for as long as we could.  To be whatever it took to encourage and love them right where they were at that place in time.  We were first their pastors and cheerleaders… and then we were their contractors.

Order.  What comes first?  What hat do I wear in this situation?  How do I triage this gushing wound known as Appalachian poverty?  Order!  In this room there are parents, grandparents, volunteers, professionals… we all thrive on “to-do lists” and priortizing!  When do I have the kids next?  When are their school events?  When is that next presentation?  What do I need to bring to the next potluck?  Who is it that needs some of my attention, and when do I have time to provide?  Order!  Its desire and necessity is a common goal for all of us that work, serve, and worship. And likewise, disorder, that unbearable chaos… is a common threat…

The section of Scripture that we read today is the Decalogue, or the Ten Commandments.  Many of us probably have had these verses memorized since forever as they are frequently drilled into the minds of Christian children everywhere.   And even if you were to ask a secular family… I’m sure that they would be able to list for you at least half of the big Ten…

For the Ten Commandments are:

Known for being problematically posted on courthouses across the country.

Known for being delivered by the almighty and powerful Charlton Heston.

Known for being taught in Sunday school classrooms across the globe.

Known for being embedded in the ethical and legal code of many modern civilizations.

And for me, they are known for being posted on a little plaque in my childhood home… positioned just a little bit too close to the gun cabinet, thus scaring the beejeebes out of my sister and I.  (We grew up in the sticks where hunting was a way of life…)

What does our quest for order, have to do with the Ten Commandments.   Isn’t this simply a list of the non-negotiables?

These commandments… these guidelines, prohibitions, rules… this covenant… are not simply a list of laws to be obeyed, but rather they are of one theme, one message, one code.  And that is of right order… The Ten Commandments tell us that one relationship that is more important then any other… and that is the relationship between God and you.  And we must put that relationship first.

Image with me for a moment.  As an Israelite, you were born into a life that held no will or right of its own.  You were a commodity, your parents were a commodity… your brothers/sisters/ friends are enslaved. But all your life, you have heard the stories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, you have heard rumor of One who created this ground and declared it as free…  Then one day you meet this God (this One), not through the legends that you have heard, but through the wrath of plagues.  A troubling first introduction. You saw people grow sick around you, you saw the land starve, you prepared with your family for the terrifying night we call Passover.  You have meet this terrifying God.  This liberator…

But who is this God?  Really.

And now… you have followed a man named Moses, into the desert, away from the captivity that you at least understood… you have seen tunnels of fire, walls of water… You have meet and played witness to this gigantic God.   And you have now had three months of desert travel to process what you have seen… but also to worry over the fact that no one seems to know where they are going.  As you travel, you begin to hear stories about this man Moses and the God that you have witnessed.  We learn that it was here in the desert that he had a rather significant encounter with a burning bush.  We learn that God called out to him by name, with a task, with a request to free God’s people the Israelites, to free you.  We know that Moses did as God asked, witnessing the full power of our mighty Lord in the process.  We know that Moses gathered God’s people and led them away from the place where they knew nothing but slavery.

And it is here, in the aftermath of this upheaval, that we find ourselves, in the charge of this man Moses who seems to know God for more than just the doer of giant and terrifying deeds.  Three months into our flight from Egyptian captors, we settle at the based of Mount Sinai.  We stop for the first time, and it is here that we encounter God once again.  And it is long past time for a little bit of self-disclosure.

Who is this God?

At the base of Mount Sinai we hear that it is God’s desire to be known, finally, by the Israelites.  Exodus 20 begins with, “Then God spoke all these words:  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.”

These are God’s own words.  All of them were offered to Moses and the Israelites. These are intentional words delivered by a God that states that now is the time to be known.  Now is the time to set the ground rules for the most important relationship that these people will ever have.

In the passage that we are studying today, we learn two things about God’s character.  The first being that here is a jealous God.  All ten of the commandments lead back to the idea that we are all claimed by God.  We are God’s creation.  We belong to God.  The first half of the Ten Commandments address the relationship that we are to have with the divine.

We are to have no other gods

No images of idols

We are not to invoke God’s name wrongly

We are to honor and nurture time with our Lord.

These are not the demands of an insecure God, but of one that desires, and has the right to demand to be the focus of our lives. This is a God that wants nothing to stand in the way of our relationship.  No idols like money, power, self interest… no idols of work, or family, or church buildings…  God and I.  God and you.  And like all relationships, this is one that takes time, focus, honor, and priority…

We are claimed by a vast, profound, and jealous God.  The first four commandments are a call to order God as first in our life.  God above all things.

We read in the second half of the Ten Commandments our responsibilities towards God’s beloved creations, our brothers and our sisters.  We read that

We are not to hurt people

Not to take from people,

Lie about people

Abandon people

Or want from people…

Because these people are creations that are beloved by our Lord.  And to hurt, take, lie, abandon, and want from God’s creations would harm those that are claimed.  They belong to our God, so God demands that they are honored and loved, and allotted dignity and worth.  We belong to our God, so we must be honored and loved for we are God’s creations. And our God is a jealous god.

Also, to offer you a bit more context and flavor from this passage, because our social understanding of these commandments tend to leave our view of Scripture lacking… When we are commanded to honor our father and our mother.  The Hebrews, who were the original audience of these commandments, would not have understood that as we would have.  The nuclear American family didn’t exist in their minds.  Our father and our mother would have been interpreted in a broader sense.  As adults in the culture of Hebrew refugees, we would have known that all the children running around and all the young people who are growing, learning, and maturing… were our responsibility.  If a child was misbehaving, you couldn’t blame the parents, because that child was your responsibility to.  We have all heard the saying about “It takes a village…” and this culture would have embraced that.  So when God says, “honor your father and your mother.”  God is saying honor all those who have come before you.  Honor your heritage.  Honor the wisdom of others, all that came before you… Keep that in mind, next time you are see a child that needs guidance, or when you see a teen that needs to be nurtured, mentored, or may need encouragement especially.  And also know that this commandment still applies to us as adults.

The other big commandment that has lost some important context is “you shall not commit adultery.”  We understand this in light on the marriage commitment.  And, yes, marriage is a covenant of fidelity and love.  But the concept of adultery is a broader one of breaking covenant.  This means that we are to honor our commitments, our agreement, to honor all the covenants we make.  Not just in marriage, but in all other relationships: friendship, church, business.  All those places that we interact with people.  We are to live up to our commitments and be truthful.

In the second half of the Ten Commandments we are taught about how to treat other creations of God.  These rules need to be interpreted a bit more broadly and more encompassing.  That is why I have translated them into: we shall not hurt, or take, lie, abandon, or want from people… these are a bit broader, and more honoring to our God’s call to take great care in how we interact with one another.

The second adjective that is ascribed to our Lord is steadfast.  The word used here is hesed.  This is the steadfast love of Ruth and Naomi, of Gomer and Hosea…  This is a massive fidelity.  A character of hesed is of a very personal mercy. In this passage God promises wrath to those that disobey, and we have seen God’s wrath in Exodus…  but a thousand times more, God is promising to be faithful and steadfast.  The Ten Commandments are not to be obeyed simply as laws, but obeyed in honor of a hesed centered love.  Faithful, true, enduring.

The people of God were chosen long before the introduction of the Ten Commandments, so these are not to be pursued as a means of obtaining an assurance of God’s favor, to win brownie points…  for God was working on Israel’s behalf long before this scene, but these commandments are a gift in response to having been chosen already.  These are instructions on an ordered life.  One in which God is the focus and the center.

As we mull over the Ten Commandments we are not left with the feeling that these are open for discussion, or that they are in some way incomplete.  But these are a final word given by a jealous and steadfast God.   These commandments are a covenant.  A covenant in which God is saying, “Love me and have care with what is mine.”… That is our task as Christians to love God and have care in how we love and tend to God’s creations.

Thousands of years later God’s love fulfilled these commandments to the full measure by the offering of Christ. This offering of Christ was a redemption of the times where when we as God’s creation failed to return fidelity.

To redeem us in moments when we have hurt God’s people, when we have turned our back on God’s call to bring dignity, worth and value to those that have suffered in this world.

To redeem us from moments when we have taken from God’s creation, plundering its earth, exploited the free will of our brothers and sisters.

To redeem us from moments when we have abandoned or disobeyed those that have raised us.  Bringing hope for a new relationship and forgiveness.

To redeem us from wanting to lay claim on all that is already God’s own.

To redeem us from lying and damaging the reputations of those that are known and called precious by God.

Christ brings a new fulfillment to the Ten Commandments.  But the expectation is the same.  As those who are claimed by our God, there is only one heart, focus, center for our life.  And that is God.

Amen.

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