The Best Possible Life
Mar 07, 2021
Third Sunday in Lent
Text: Exodus 20:1-17
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
The older I get, the more I will need your help writing my sermons. There are certain things I just cannot remember, like the name of a game show. Now, I probably could have googled it, but why bother when I have all of you? So, it is the show in which the host gives the contestant an incomplete phrase or a question and then checks to see if the answer matches what others thought by saying, "The survey says…." What show is that?
Thanks! What if on _____________ the statement was: “Name one of the 10 Commandments.” We just read them in Exodus 20; which do you think is the one people would mention the most? I think it's Commandment #5, #6, or #7 – thou shalt not murder, commit adultery, or steal – because they are easy to remember and often broken. Then again, given the state of religious connectedness these days, someone might say that the most familiar commandment is, "Thou shalt not text while driving." Actually, that fits into the role of the 10 commandments in our lives, but we'll get to that momentarily.
The reality is that the 10 Commandments of today's Old Testament reading play a significant role in God's relationship with people, both then and now. That is what we have been focusing on in Lent, using the concept of covenants or promises.
First, we were reminded of the unconditional covenant made by God with Noah, Noah's family, and all of creation. God promised to never again use nearly complete destruction as a means of restoration. Then, last week, Pastor Sandy Selby focused on God's covenant with Abraham and Sarah. God would be their God, they and their descendants would be God's people, and God would make of them a great nation. However, as they faced years of questions, doubt, and the unknown, as we all do too, it was/is clear that humility, trust, and endurance were/are required.
Today we have moved ahead at least 500 years to three months after the people of Israel were freed by God and Moses from slavery in Egypt. There were miracles, destruction, jubilation, complaining, and needs met during those months. In today's text, the company of God's chosen ones, freed from bondage, has arrived at Mt. Sinai. There, God renews the covenant made with Abraham and Sarah. He has Moses tell the Israelites: "You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on Eagle's wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all people's. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a hold nation." (Exodus 19:4-6) They answered as one, the Bible says, "Everything that the Lord says we will do." Then, God gives them the 10 Commandments.
As one commentator asked, do you suppose they thought, "We knew there was a catch somewhere; this sounded too good to be true. We get freedom, but also rules to obey. What kind of freedom is that? (1)
The fact is, though, that the 10 Commandments are a gift to help them.Guidelines for living a common life. Another way to look at it is to say that the Commandments guide our behavior toward God and toward each other. In her sermon "Words to Live By," Pastor JoAnne Taylor writes that "God shows them what the ideal arrangement would look like: not only would the children of Israel worship only God, but their dealings with one another would reflect the same loving protection they receive from God the Lord; they would honor their elders, be honest, respect one another's life, family and property. But, (doing it) is up to them." (2)
The Commandments guide us to what is needed for the best possible life. The two keywords in reference to the Commandments are "life" and "trust." When we strive to follow them, we honor the source of life, and we treasure the gift of life. We are trusted to treat words, relationships, and possessions in ways that place God first in our lives and result in what's best for people around us and ourselves.
To be more specific, the first three commandments have to do with our relationship with God: worship no other gods, do not use God's name disrespectfully, remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. The remaining seven have to do with our relationship with other human beings. Honor your parents, do not murder, commit adultery, steal, lie or slander and do not want, or try to get, what others possess.
They really are not that complicated. But, in case 10 are overwhelming, we could draw on the theology of John Wesley of Methodist fame. He developed three general rules for discipleship. They are 1. Do no harm; avoid evil. 2. Do good. 3. Stay in love with God. That last one encourages those things that strengthen our faith – worship with other believers, scripture study, prayer and receiving Holy Communion. (3)
But, if 10 guides for living are overwhelming, and three is too, we can always turn to Jesus. Who summed up the 10 Commandments into two after the Pharisees, one an expert in the law, tested him by asking which commandment is the greatest. Jesus said, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." (Matthew 22:24-40) Love God sums up the first three. Love others sums up the remaining seven. That covers a lot of territory, including not texting while driving and putting the lives of others on the road in danger.
I think, though, that the detail of the 10 Commandments instead of two is a good thing; we people need all the help we can get when it comes to doing what is best for our community and us. That's why, no doubt, God included the 10 Commandments in the covenant made with Israel at Mt. Sinai – God wanted to be in a relationship with them and wanted what was best for them. That is true for us too.
SO… What do you think of this question for _____________________? The rules for living that guide us to the best possible life are? The survey says: the 10 Commandments. AMEN
(1) "A Light to my Path" by David Bailey, October 5, 2014, Central Presbyterian Church, www.centralpresby.com
(2) "Words to Live By" by JoAnne Taylor, October 11, 2015, www.pastorsings.com
(3) Same as #2