Pentecost 18th A.
Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20
And God spoke all these words:
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
“You shall have no other gods before me.
“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.
“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work,
“Honour your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.
“You shall not murder.
“You shall not commit adultery.
“You shall not steal.
“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour.
“You shall not covet your neighbour’s house. You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.”
When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”
Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”
I wonder whether you have done a deal with someone lately? You renegotiated your bed time with the parents. You signed up for a Uni/TAFE course. You bought a car or a house. You got married! You took on a volunteer job. You made a commitment to do something or pay something and the other party promised to deliver something to you in return. You do your part. They do theirs, and that’s the deal.
That is what is going on here with these famous ten commandments. The commandments are part of new deal…. But a deal with a difference that makes all the difference.
The arrangement is between God and his people. The commandments are the finer detail of how the ongoing relationship needs to work for it to be kept in good faith.
And that is the big thing to get. These rules are not just random rules. They are rules with relationship in mind. These commandments are all about relationship way more than rules. But the rules enable the relationship to survive and prosper.
Here are the newly free people of God on their desert journey from homelessness to a new home, from being nobodies in the world to being somebodies, from having nothing much to offer or do for the world to being the lynch-pin for the whole world when it comes to a living relationship of blessing and life with the Creator of all things.
And God really wants them and this relationship!
“You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possessions. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nations” (Exodus 19:4-6).
We hear that God gives people these rules:
- So that people could be his very own treasures belonging with him, and
- So that through his treasured people, God could love all other people.
In this relationship, God’s people get to be treasured by God and given a job.
Their new job in the world is to be priests for the whole world – bringing God’s promises to people and bringing people to God.
Here’s how they keep the deal:
“Love God with all you are and have and love each other in all aspects of life”. That is the way Jesus would sum up these ten things later on.
Sounds so simple. Sounds like a good deal. God does his bit. We do ours. And it is all good. What could go wrong?! Answer? Plenty. “No deal”!
Truth is, we cannot do this deal. We cannot keep our end of the bargain. Our wayward, searching, broken, rebellious heart makes this impossible. God calls for complete love and devotion to him and other people and we can’t love God as he is to be loved or love each other so fully.
The biblical story is brutally honest about this. We are dismal at keeping up our end of this bargain! Worse. We are less than dismal. We are incapable.
If you read on from this high moment, you will see how quickly the people break the relationship. It has to do with a certain golden calf…
If you read on you will know just how many times God’s people and all people break this agreement.
Or in New Testament terms:
“All have sinned (against this agreement) and fall short of God’s glory” (Romans 3:23).
“we do the very things we know we should not do and leave the things we know we should do (according to these commandments) undone”, says Paul in Romans 7.
You know the struggle. As you hear these ten rules for life with God, do you sense your failure? I do.
So, what do we do with our failure, our inability to keep this deal, and the guilt I feel?
We have two choices.
- Get angry with myself or with God or both, and leave the relationship. Many have. Many still do.
- Give up and become a crushed needy person always apologising for everything hoping one day I will be good enough somehow…..
Which is it this morning? Angry at God or crushed by God or both?
But, there is something very different about how God does deals with people. That difference is our guilt remover and life saver today.
“You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself……. (Exod 19:4-6).
God is doing a lot. God is actually doing everything. This a different kind of deal.
Let me explain…… In the ancient world there were two kinds of deals between nations. One was a deal between two equal powers. EG. Two countries do a deal about a section of land. Two people of equal standing agree on a price and ownership of the land is transferred to the other.
But then there was an unequal agreement. EG. When a nation was defeated by a stronger one, a deal is made on what the defeated country has to pay the winning country for all the damage and costs etc. Often, the price was unjustly high – like a whole nation being wiped out or turned into slaves for the stronger nation.
Now which kind of agreement do you think God is making with his people here at Mt Sinai? Equal or unequal? Yes. Unequal and hopelessly so!
This is not a deal between two equal parties, this is a one-sided agreement by God with God doing all the work to make it work! That is how God does ‘deals’ with us.
God does pretty much everything for the people while the people don’t do much at all for him. In other words, this ‘deal’ is actually ‘no deal’ at all!
This is a RELATIONSHIP made from love; deep love for us incapable, unequal creations.
Here’s the good news: Our God makes unequal agreements because of love for people who can’t make the deal.
He chooses to relate to and love people who have no hope of loving back the same way. God actually does it all, and the other party – his people, us, can’t do a thing to make this agreement happen.
- He is the one who hears his people’s suffering in slavery.
- The Lord is the one who defeats evil in those ten plagues.
- He is the one who opens up the Red Sea in which his people are baptised into their new relationship with him.
- He is the one who shows them how to love him, worship him and love each other.
He is the one who gives them a job in the world and promises land and future in him, DESPITE THEIR INABILITY to love him; to keep up an end of the deal.
Are you hearing Jesus yet? I am!
In Jesus, God did his kind of unequal dealing again.
Jesus was obedient to God’s way, even to the extent of giving up his life for the world on that cross. This changed the deal. He did is all, paid it all, suffered it all so I could have it all and be loved in it all. He lived the perfect life so I could have a life.
- It was he who entered our struggle and pain to remove our shame.
- He rose from the grave smashing our slavery to self and to things and people.
- He buried you and resurrected you in your own Red Sea at the font.
- He gave us the same mission he has always had – to draw all humans into a relationship of love with him and each other.
Friend, in these 10 words which are for us now a curb to keep you from wandering out of his grace, a mirror to tell you the truth and drive you back to grace in Jesus and a guide for loving, sense him carrying you back to your place of being his treasured person. Trust the Spirit reinvigorating you in your priestly job – representing the Lord’s love to people and representing their needs and their lives to God.
Hear Jesus, now. He speaks to you his treasured person;
- No need to trust anyone or anything else for your life – you can trust trust me.
- No need to use my name as something cheap – you can use it to give thanks, pray and praise.
- No need to neglect my Word – you can regard it as holy and listen to it and apply it gladly.
- No need to treat your parents or others in authority badly – you are free to honour them all and serve them.
- No need to kill – you can help people in all their physical needs.
- No need to sleep around or be unfaithful – you can respect your partner and honour people.
- No need to steal – you can help people improve their lot in life and help people look after their possessions
- No need to betray people – you can put the best construction on things; do your best speak well of people
- No need to deceive people or long for what others have – you are free to help people remain loyal and help people keep their possessions.
In the name of Christ