You shall have no other gods before me.
You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.
You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.
Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it. Exodus 20:3-11 (NRSV)
Grace and peace to you from our jealous God, and from our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Last week was the first of four Sundays that we are spending in studying the Ten Commandments or, better, God’s Ten Words given to Israel as they entered into a covenant. An agreement. A mutual agreement.
These Ten Words are God’s vision of what an ideal society looks like. A society that is well ordered. Where it’s people are tuned into God and into each other.
Today, we are moving more specifically into the commandments. Jewish tradition has it that the Ten Words were given to Moses on Mount Sinai. Now let’s remember the context. Israel had been enslaved in Egypt. Through Moses, God delivered the people from slavery, across the Red Sea, through the wilderness, and to Mount Sinai.
This journey to Sinai has not been easy. In fact, there are times when it has been downright hard. After Israel successfully came through the Red Sea, escaped the Egyptian army, and then celebrated on the other shore, it was not long before they began to regret leaving Egypt. It was not long before, in their fear and bewilderment, they began to have second thoughts about all of this. And they began to quarrel with Moses. “Why did you bring us out of Egypt?” they challenged him. “Why?” they cry out in their fear and bewilderment.
These past few days, Bill and Chris and I were in Fort Wayne attending synod assembly. We listened to several speakers, attended workshops, worshiped, listened to wonderful music and had a pretty good time. One of the first speakers was a woman named Peggy Hahn. She is an assistant to the bishop in the East Texas-Louisiana synod of the ELCA. She is also the executive director of LEAD, an organization that works to grow the Christian leaders who grow faith communities.
In her address to the assembly, she talked about the three R’s of Christian leadership: Resistance, Relationships, and Remarkable. I actually think that they also describe the Christian life.
Resistance. This is what Israel was in the midst of when they began to quarrel with Moses. “Why did you bring us out of Egypt? It would have been better if we had stayed in slavery!” This is what happens with change. Whether it is change in our personal lives or change here in this community, we resist it. Why? Why do we resist change so much? Because it is scary. It is unknown. And when we move into the unknown all of that fear and bewilderment begins to grow and we begin to resist. To push back. To argue just like Israel. Why? Why do we have to change? Let’s just go back or stay the way we are.
The interesting thing is about resistance to change is that is can actually be resistance to the one thing that can bring hope. Look at Israel. In each response to their fear and bewilderment, God was right there. Working. Bringing water out of a rock. Delivering quail and manna each day for food. Bringing them safely to Sinai, into God’s presence, and into a covenant relationship with God--this jealous God. This passionate God. The word that is used in Hebrew for this covenant relationship is the same word that is used in the marriage covenant. Where two people express their love and fidelity to each other.
And, that, after all is what the first table of the commandments is all about--these first four commandments. They are an expression of love and fidelity in our relationship with God. God is saying to us, as Luther wrote, “...Let me alone be your God, and never search for another.” And if you lack anything, “look to me for it and seek it from me.” Or whenever you suffer misfortune and distress, crawl to me and cling to me. I, I myself, will give you what you need and help you out of every danger. Only do not let your heart cling to or rest in anyone” or anything else.
It’s about trust.
Luther, in writing about the first commandment, says that “to have a god is to have something in which the heart trusts completely.”
What do you trust in? Who or what is your god? Is it money or property? Your bank account? Those are pretty easy to identify as things that distract us from God.
Or perhaps it’s your family. Or your hobbies. Or church. Or religion. Things that we think of as good but that can still become all-consuming because they, too, can take us away from our relationship with God.
There’s that second R.
Relationship. It’s about how we order our lives and whether or not they are ordered first around our relationship with God. Because if our relationship with God is not healthy, then our relationship with others will also not be healthy.
This is why God gives us God’s divine name. For us to call out to God. For forgiveness. To sing out in thanksgiving and praise. To cry out for deliverance and healing in the midst of our fear and bewilderment. God’s name. Poured out and marked on us in our baptisms. That we spend a life of faith learning how to use properly.
Relationship. It’s also why God gives us the Sabbath. Not necessarily Sunday. But, any day during the week when are to be unbound by work and from the power that others have over us. When we are unbound by technology, which keeps us working 24 hours a day. To be unbound and to have full and free lives in the presence of God and in community, where we continued to be formed and reformed as God’s people and then sent out to love our neighbor. One day each week. Because God’s gracious intrusion into human existence was not a one-time event, but to be a regular, ritualized reality to experience and deepen our relationship with God and with each other.
But, see, here’s the thing. It is impossible for us to keep these commandments. I know, right? Crap.
But that’s where the third “R” comes in.
You see our jealous God, our zealous God, our passionate God, loves us so deeply and desires us so much and is so tuned into us that, when we fail to tune into God through our distraction or our doubt, or our failure or our sin, God, through Jesus, steps back in. Fixes it. And draws us back to God. Back into relationship with God, so that we can then be in relationship with our neighbor.
Today, we are commissioning a new Vision Team to begin a process of imagining where God is calling our congregation to further ministry here in Goshen, Kentucky. It is a process that will very likely result in change. And times of fear and bewilderment, where we may not know what the future will bring.
But, this is where the Three R’s can remind us of the promise of these first Four Commandments, these First Four Words of God. That in the midst of our resistance to change, God will be steadfast in God’s relationship with us, even in our doubt. Because God is simply remarkable.
Thanks be to God! Amen.
Preached June 3, 2018 at Grace & Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY.
Readings: Matt. 22:34-40; Exodus 20:3-11