Creekside Church
Sermon of March 7, 2021

"God Rules"
Exodus 20:1-17

Pastor
Rosanna McFadden

 

Good morning! This morning we are continuing our Lenten It is Well by hearing stories of God’s faithfulness and God’s covenants. A little review, and some context which may help you see the big pictures here. We are leaping through the Old Testament, and just briefly landing on some familiar characters and stories. We didn’t start at the very beginning with the Creation story unless you count Ash Wednesday and the reminder that Adam and Eve were made from the dust of the earth. The first Sunday we talked about Noah, starting just after -- the Great Flood, and the God’s covenant that God would never again destroy all living things. Scholars have added up dates in the Bible, and date the Great Flood to about 3950 BCE -- more than 6000 years ago. Next we talked about God’s covenant with Abram and Sarai: God re-named them Abraham and Sarah to give them identity and purpose as the father and mother of a multitude of nations: God’s own people. Abraham and Sarah participated in that covenant by conceiving and raising a son. That covenant with Abraham was around 1550 BCE -- 2300 years after Noah. You can see how much territory we’re covering here.

This morning we are fast-forwarding to another giant figure of the Old Testament, Moses.Moses has a fascinating backstory -- Hebrew boy raised by an Egyptian princess, exiled as a sheep and goat herder, encounter with God in a burning bush, back to Egypt to confront Pharaoh, Hebrew people fleeing in the night pursued by the Egyptian army -- you can read this all in the book of Exodus, or watch the movie with Charlton Heston. All of this happens around 400 years after the birth of Abraham’s son Isaac. This morning we’re going to focus on just one of the significant parts of the Exodus story: the covenant that God made with Moses in the form of words written by God: what we Christians call the Ten Commandments.

In Jewish tradition, these are called the Decalogue, or Ten Words. They have been the subject of a lot of study by scholars, especially in the later centuries of Christianity, and more recently the subject of some civil suits because of their display in or on public property. These commentaries can be interesting and thought provoking, and I want to share some from some of these Old Testament commentaries this morning:

There’s plenty of comedic material about the Ten Commandments -- there was a lot of stuff I didn’t include, as you might imagine. But behind the satire are some serious issues; and I’m not the first to note this. Some of you know that my father wrote a book called The Mad Morality, illustrating the precepts of the Ten Commandments with excerpts from MAD magazine. 2020 was the 50th anniversary of Dad’s book.

But if we look at the covenant character of the Ten Commandments in the broader context of the covenants God has made with Noah and Abraham, there is an interesting progression in terms of the relationship between God and God’s people. God’s covenant with Noah included all of creation, every living thing, and humanity benefitted from that without having any requirements put on us. The sign of that covenant was the rainbow. The covenant with Abraham required Abraham and Sarah to participate, and to keep listening for God’s commands -- to be faithful even to the point of being willing to sacrifice their son Isaac. The sign of that covenant was that male children would be circumcised.

And now we have this covenant with God and God’s people mediated by Moses. God has already been faithful to the promises made to Moses and the Hebrew people: God has brought them safely out of Egypt and the house of slavery, and they are on the way to the land which God has promised. But in the meantime . . . there are these things which God expects them to do. The first three of these commandments relate directly to the people’s relationship to God: No other God’s before the One God; no physical images of God or worship of other gods (small g); No wrongful use of the name of God. Keeping the Sabbath is a way of honoring God, and dedicating a day for holiness and rest; this affects our relationship to God as well as the structure of society. The fifth commandments is to honor your parents, and then the last five commandments don’t mention God at all. Even if you don’t have these memorized, they should sound familiar -- or at very least make a lot of common sense: do not murder, do not commit adultery; do not steal; do not bear false witness; do not covet things which belong to other people. These are rules about how we should treat one another -- covenants we make with the people in our community.

God doesn’t give the Hebrew people a choice about whether they sign up for this agreement: God tells Moses, I have kept my part of the bargain, here’s what you all have to do. And, as you probably remember, the people make a mess of these laws -- making an idol to worship before Moses can even return from the mountain with these commandments, thereby disrespecting the first two commandments, and having a wild party where they likely blew through some of the others. Probably by drinking caffeine and such.

The question I want us to consider this morning -- spoiler alert, I already know the answer -- is this: what is the sign of the covenant of the Ten Commandments? Noah: rainbow; Abraham: circumcision; Moses and Ten Commandments: ? The sign is the behavior of God’s people. The Hebrew people, yes, but all of us who are inheritors of God’s covenant and God’s promise. The sign is us. God’s faithfulness has never been the problem here. God brought the people out of Egypt, God delivered them to the land which God had promised, and we Christians know that God did a whole lot more than that in the new covenant of his Son, Jesus Christ. But we have an active role in this covenant, this contract. That contract is between each person and God, to worship only God and respect God’s name, but that contract is with other people. We agree to respect their lives, their marriages, their integrity, and their property.

Tim McFadden shared how he has seen God’s faithfulness in the courage and resolve of other people: his co-workers and his patients. Our relationship with God, and especially our commitment to Christ may be a personal one, but our covenants are never just private agreements; they always affect how we live in the world and interact with other people. Worshiping one God means I don’t worship anyone or anything else; being married to one person means there are behaviors which are off-limits with anyone else. The public and communal nature of our commitment to God is significant, because it is a sign of the covenant: our behavior, unlike circumcision, is a sign that other people ought to see. It is how others know that we are God’s people: saved and redeemed by the power of God.

Of course, our behavior is never perfect. Despite our best efforts -- and frankly because of our lack-luster efforts -- we have not kept up our part of this agreement, our covenant with God. That is why God needed a new covenant, a more radical and costly way to reach humanity; a way to make it well with us, even when we can’t fulfil that commitment by our own efforts. Even God’s power cannot force us to keep up our part of the covenant, so God found a more radical way to save and redeem us, even when we have sinned and fallen short. It is because of Jesus Christ that we can say, “It is well with my soul.” You’ll be hearing more about God’s faithfulness and God’s Son next week. It is well. God bless you.

 

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