Friday, September 18, 2015

Commandments toward God (Exodus 20:1-11) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

Today is my first sermon in a three-week series on the 10 Commandments!  How do you preach on 10 commandments in 3 weeks, well, carefully, with some fear and trembling.  We'll hope for the best.  Let's get right to it; the 10 commandments are of divine origin.   They were given by God's authority, not human authority.  They are authoritative for all people, for all time, for all places.   God gave them to Moses who passed them on to the Jews.  Centuries later Jesus reaffirmed their authority for His followers.

They are preoccupied with goodness.  They focus upon our relationship with and behavior toward God and other people.   The 10 commandments are a summary of the will of God, God’s spiritual and moral imperatives for humanity.   I acknowledge author and radio talk show host Dennis Prager for some insights into these commandments.

The foundation of the 10 commandments is captured in the Old Testament book Deut. 6:4.  It is called the mispah, the Hebrew word for hear. “Hear O Israel, The Lord is our God, the Lord is one.  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your might.”  It affirms monotheism or one God as opposed to polytheism, as the one and only God who revealed these commandments.

Our first responsibility is to love God with our whole being - heart, soul, mind, and strength.   We are to love God alone with the unswerving, complete, steadfast loyalty that is the very foundation of the covenant community. 

The 10 commandments are not old fashioned, culturally relative, passe, outdated, archaic religious rules, but rather they are as contemporary today, as they were when God passed the tablets of stone to Moses on Mt. Sinai, in the Sinai Peninsula, over 3,000 years ago.

People picture God in different ways in their minds.  A police helicopter high in the sky spotted a car racing down the interstate.  The officer radioed a patrol car who stopped the speeder and an officer began writing a citation.  “Officer, how did you know I was speeding” the man asked?  The patrolman didn’t say anything, but pointed skyward.  Tilting his head toward the heavens the driver mumbled: “Don't tell me your against me too?”

The majority of people in America say that they believe in God.  I am heartened whenever I hear this.  My question is what do they mean by god.  Which god?  What is their concept?  Is it the God spoken of in the Bible: the God of creation, the God of Israel, the God of the church, the God and Father of Jesus Christ, the author of the 10 commandments or some other notion of god? 

What are the commandments and what is their context?  They are laws, imperatives, mandates given by God to His followers, after God carried out an astonishing historical miracle.  God is saying in them that people are to treat other human beings morally.  God's will in these commands is about decency, justice, fairness, morality and righteousness. 

God gave His people an astounding gift, deliverance, freedom, liberty.   “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.”   God hates slavery.  God hates oppression.  God hates injustice.  God loves freedom.  God's desire is that human being live in political, religious and social freedom.  God demonstrated this by freeing the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.

God says: “Because I did this, you have an obligation to me, you shall have no other gods before me, don't chase after other gods.”  And the right response of people is:  “God because you saved me from slavery, I commit my life to you, I will worship you alone and obey your laws.”  The underlying spirit infusing the commandments is gratitude, thankfulness for God what God has done, for God's act of deliverance.

Further, the commandments pertain not just to Jews, but to Christians, to all humanity who acknowlege and worship this one true God.  Following the commandments is a way of saying:  “Thank you God for delivering me, thank you God for my freedom, freedom from slavery in Egypt and freedom from slavery to sin and evil.  Thank you for my freedom from the power of sin through Jesus' death on the cross.”

The First commandment says no other gods!  Stay away.  Parents say to their children – be careful whom you hang out with.  Exercise good judgment and discretion.  Don't follow the wrong crowd, don't run with that group of kids, resist peer pressure.  I recall Nancy and I talking about that when the boys were little.    Worship, obey, follow God alone, not other gods. 

The Second command says no idols!  Don't worship things, symbolic gods.  Don't worship money or material things or real estate or the stock market or land or technology or nature.

No idols!  Why, because idols are false gods, imposters, frauds and there are many false gods which threaten to lure our devotion today, right?   Why not follow them?  Why not devote our lives to false gods?  Because bad things result, parents know this.  We know this.  Bad things happen, evil things happen, you hurt yourself or others, you can ruin your life, you can end up in the legal system for the rest of your life, whether the false god is money, and how many stories do we hear daily of greed, robbery, theft, embezzlement and stealing, as well as  gods of  popularity or lust or power.   Worship, obey, follow the one true God alone, not idols.

God is not democratic.  Now I didn't say God isn't a democrat.   God is not all inclusive.  God doesn't offer Himself as one diety among many for us to decide upon, to choose, to listen to like the field of some 6 Democratic candidates and 15 Republican candidates running for President.  God doesn't tolerate rivals.  God doesn't share the stage.  God condemns polytheism and affirms monotheism, one God to be worshipped by all humanity.   Yes, this is highly offensive to some people who want to chose their own god.    The one true God, the God of creation and deliverance doesn't share the spotlight with any other gods.

Jews and Christians are responsible to, accountable to, answerable to one God who revealed  Himself to humanity in historical events and in the person of Jesus Christ as testified to in the scriptures .  Why?   Because God created us in His image, made us for fellowship with himself.   Our lives are incomplete without God.  To refuse to live according to God’s will is to violate our very nature as human beings.  Why? To express our gratitude, our praise, our thanksgiving to God for all He had done, for His gifts and goodness in our lives. 

Why? Because through our obedience God works out his plans and purposes in our individual lives, in our families, in our communities, in our nation and in our world.  God uses our good works, our attentive minds and hearts, our strengths and weaknesse to accomplish his purposes: to change lives, to relieve suffering, to establish justice, to expand His kingdom, to rebuild broken relationships, to bring hope out of despair, to bring unbelievers to a saving faith, to feed the hungry and to establish peace.

The first two commandments are the basis for all the others.  They are the foundation upon which the others rest.   What would the world be like if we didn't chase after and follow false gods?  Imagine it.   How many broken people would be healthy and whole again?  How many burned out people would be full of zeal and energy once more?  How many people would be filled with joy rather than despair and hopelessness?    Peace would replace the violence we daily see around us.

The first two commands call for the reverence due God alone.  Like the Christian woman who took a trip to Israel.  Later in life, she returned to the Holy Land determined to learn Hebrew before she died.  She said:  “I want to be able to greet my Creator in His native tongue.”

Let's turn to the third commandment.  The third commandment in Hebrew can be variously translated: “You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God.”  “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.”  “Don't take the name of God in vain.” 

We often think this commandment is addressing using God's name inappropriately or cavalierly in our daily conversation, like saying: “Oh God I had a rough day today.”  Or using it in profanity, or in our common parlance, or as an idiomatic expression.  And in my view this is bad.  I totally agree.  I cringe when I hear God's name used especially in profanity.  We should not disrespect or profane the holy name of God.

But the third commandment means more.   It means we are not to commit evil by invoking God's name or in the name of God.  The commandment says God will not forgive a person who violates this commandment.  To misuse God's name, to make wrongful use of the name of the Lord God, is to use it as a justification for committing evil.   And extreme radical militant Muslims today are doing just that.  Certainly this commandment pertains to Christians and Jews as well.   This commandment condemns anyone who commits evil and does so invoking the name of God.  It is a great sin and afront to God. 

The Fourth commandment is Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.  The Hebrew word Sabbath or Shabbat means rest.  In this command God elevated human beings.  And God elevated animals.  It showed how the one true God values human beings.  No work.  You must rest at least one day a week.  Can I get an amen! 

And that includes you, your children, your slaves, aliens or foreigners among you, which was unprecedented prior to this command, and your livestock.  Even animals used as beasts of burden merit a rest.  This day was meant strengthen family ties and friendships.  This day was meant to strengthen our spiritual relationship with God.  It was meant to focus our hearts, minds and bodies upon the creator and ruler God and not upon work.  God blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

One night a little boy knelt beside his bed to say his prayers.  He closed his eyes and prayed:  God bless mom, God bless dad, God bless grandma, God bless grandpa.  And please take care of yourself God, cause if anything happens to you, we’re all sunk.”

We gather as God's people before the one true God who commands our deepest respect, devotion and loyalty, the one in whom we live, and move and have our being.”   Amen!

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