It may be that the Ten
Commandments received as much high profile coverage this year as in the year Yul
Brenner’s film The Ten Commandments hit
the theaters. The Alabama Supreme
Court struggled: Shall the Ten Commandment monument be allowed in the courthouse
or not? Chief Justice Moore lost his
battle to keep it, but the deliberations raised a lot of discussion.
A detail about that
What I’d like to invite
us to reflect on today is how differently the world, and we, might relate to
these commandments if we thought of them in light of the setting in which they
are given in the Exodus 20 text. How
might we relate to them differently if we take to heart the words that preface
them: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the
Conventionally, this was
named the first commandment. But
whether we count it or not, it is important because it helps us see that the
commandments do not start by pointing at us, “You better do this!”
Instead, God points to God’s self and says, “I am the Lord your God
and this I have done for you: I
brought you out of bondage into freedom.”
This self-disclosure of
God is the context in which we rightly hear these commands.
Only when we recognize God first points at God and then at us can we
really hear them! Otherwise, they are too weighty – at least 500 pounds each!
If they are thrown at us out of context we’ll duck; we’ll get out of
the way; we’ll defend ourselves instead of take them to heart.
Who can live up to them
all, all of the time? Keep the
Sabbath day holy, all of the time? Never
covet your neighbor’s anything – even your neighbor’s free-ranging
chickens that visit regularly and make you laugh?
Don’t tell bad things about your neighbor outside of healthy
accountability, even if they are true? Show
honor to who honor is due even when you disagree with them?
But the commandments don’t start with us.
What is of primary importance is who God is. God is naming God’s
authority to speak.
And the authority isn’t
just in name. It’s not just
because God is God. It’s not like
a parent who has abandoned the children all of their life and then comes
knocking on their door saying, “I’m the parent – you are obligated to take
care of me now that I’ve decided to show up in your life!”
God does not command a response from us outside of a lived, concrete,
initiating, generous relationship of friendship and love.
“I am the Lord your God
who! The “who” is important! –
“who” brought you out of the
God, who created the
heavens and the earth speaks with unique authority From
no where else, no one else, do we get our breath, our bodies, the water we
drink, the earth on which we live, the food we eat, the friends and family with
whom we share our lives.
Perhaps you’ve heard
the story about the guy who challenged God to a Better
Garden Contest. The man thought
he had better ideas for growing a garden and wanted to show God how much better
he could do. “OK,” God said.
“You use your soil and I’ll use mine. You bring your own water and
I’ll bring mine.” Well that was
the end of that.
It is from within this
context of creation and gift that the commandments are given.
And from within such a context there is no question of God’s authority.
“I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the
Biblical scholar Walter
Brueggemann says, “The truth of the matter is that the Biblical God is not
“user friendly.” It’s not like
God says, “Oh take me or leave me, I’ll create you and give you every
blessing and the promise of a future – and I don’t care if you respond or
not.” Likewise, God doesn’t say,
“If you obey me, I’ll give you
life.” God does the opposite.
The gift comes first. “I am
the Lord your God who not only created you, but freed you from every possible
kind of bondage! It is because this
is how it is, that this is how life works!”
works to not go off looking for other gods.
It works to talk with me, not talk behind my back in bad ways.
It works to stop your work and your play and your regular rhythm of life
and take time to enjoy our relationship. It
works to care for each other and build each other up.
It doesn’t work when you tear each other down and do all kinds of mean
things to each other – even if your political motives are good.”
I got a big tickle out of
what Thomas Long wrote about the Ten Commandments.
Long is professor of preaching at
Long suggests: “The
good news of the God who set people free is the music.
The commandments are the dance steps of those who hear it playing.”
What a picture! “I am the
Lord your God who brought you out of bondage.” That
is the dance music – that is the landscape – the environment – the
grounding of the life of faith.
This music is going on
all of the time – the music of grace and surprise; the orchestration of God
always doing a new thing. It’s the
rhythm of light emerging in the midst of darkness.
It’s the melodic miracle of life coming out of death.
It’s the waltz and polka of hope emerging where we thought there would
only be despair. It’s the swing of
new beginnings; the hip-hop of life made new.
God provides the music.
And the Ten Commandments
are steps that go well with this music. These
steps fit the life-imbued music. They
are steps that keep us in sync with the one who created us and sustains us day
to day. They are not 500 pound
weights that weigh us down and keep us from the life we long for, but are rather
dance steps for abundant life in God.
Amongst Christians, Holy
Baptism signals that a choice has been made to let this dance shape our lives – whether we make the choice for
ourselves at Baptism or whether it is made for us by those who love us and
promise to help us learn the joy of this life-empowering rhythm.
The world offers other
rhythms, but for a Christian, the music of Christ’s life, death and
resurrection sounds in our hearts and calls us to our feet.
The music is already in full swing. May
we have our dancing shoes ready that we may practice them until they are written
on the soul of our hearts and on the soles of our feet!
+Pastor Peg Schultz-Akerson,
to the glory of God