Exodus 20:1-18 Ten Ways of the Kingdom July 4, 2010
A couple of weeks ago we finished a series of 8 Sunday mornings that emphasized our core values as a congregation.
It was a series where we tried to highlight who we are—or at least who we are trying to be as a community of faith here in Millersburg.
We did that series because Christine and I thought each of the core values was worth devoting a Sunday morning to. It was a document that got us excited to come and serve at this church, with this group of people, so it seemed natural to bring those concepts back to our attention.
Doing that series got me thinking a lot about identity, how we say who we are.
And I’ve come to think that it’s easy to fall into the trap of negative expression—defining yourself by who you’re not, or in relation to what you’re against rather than what you’re for.
Sometimes that’s justifiable.
For example, I can’t escape the fact that I’m a white male.
We white males have done a lot of bad things to the world in our own self-interest—I know that. I have privileges other people could only dream of.
So it’s tempting to define myself by what I’m against—or how I’m different than other ‘white males’.
The stereotypes and the abuses that go along with being a white male are easy to fall into, sometimes without even knowing it.
So I like to talk about how I’m different.
I’m against violence. I’m against individualism. I’m against sexism, racism, materialism…and I go down the list proclaiming what I’m not, because I can’t escape the reality of who I am.
The problem is, at the end of the day it’s hard to find much substance in that kind of identity.
Building an identity on what you’re not is like trying to nail jell-o to a tree!
It’s messy, pointless, and in the end it destroys the jell-o!
So my hope is that the core value series got us thinking about what we’re for rather than what we’re against. Who we are rather than who we are not.
God is the Great I Am—not the Great I am Not….
So this morning we’re starting another series—it’s called ‘the things that make for peace’—but keep in mind, when I use the word “peace”, I’m talking about a lot more than the absence of violence
I should mention too, that Christine picked most of the scriptures for this series. Most of the scriptures for this series are from the Old Testament. She deliberately picked Old Testament scriptures because I don’t preach from the OT very often and she wanted to make me work! J
So, this morning we’re looking at the Ten Commandments.
They’re kind of like the core values of the Jewish people. J
The Ten Commandments were God’s picture of who He wanted his people to look like. So He called Moses up to the mountain and spoke from cloud and thunder.
My favorite part of this passage might be the end…where we’re told
…all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, 19and said to Moses, ‘You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.’
They were afraid.
It reminds me of another story where people were afraid—in the beginning, after Adam and Eve broke the only commandments God had given them.
They were afraid and so they hid in the garden, leaving God to call and not find them.
That story and this one have to do with sin—how to recognize it, how to avoid it, how to live in peace with God and with each other.
In both stories, we are given a picture of what is ideal. He says these are ways you can please me.
And you know, in both stories, the commands are mostly in the negative.
I think that’s because God knows that life can be so full, that it’s more useful and efficient to tell us what to avoid rather than listing everything we can do!
So in the garden He tells us to avoid this tree and that one.
That’s it! It’s for our own good! Everything else you can imagine is fair game! Make me a part of it and let’s have fun! The sky is the limit! Just not this tree or that one.
And on the mountain He says something similar, but because we didn’t listen to Him the first time the list is a little bit longer.
So He gives us four basic ways to relate to God, and six basic ways to relate to the other people on the earth. Ten basic commandments.
Ten core values that God intended to use in order to set His people apart—to show the world a better way, to reconcile everyone unto himself.
But they didn’t really get it then, and I don’t think we get it now!
They were afraid, because the smoke and the lightning and the thunder are scary things.
But what we find so hard to understand is that even these were spoken in love, which is greater than fear.
I wonder sometimes if our capacity as human beings is just so limited that we can’t really experience love on this world—I mean real love—God-sized love.
I wonder sometimes if the love God wants to show us is so huge that we can only experience it as a kind of fear because of our limited perspective—you know?
(do I think too much?)
But like I’ve said before, perception is more powerful than reality; in fact perception becomes reality. So for a couple of thousand years, we’ve responded in fear when all that’s needed is a loving response to these loving directives!
I clicked with the skit this morning. I thought it helpfully demonstrated how many of us approach the Bible—specifically the Ten Commandments.
What I mean is, we treat it like a cookbook.
We tell ourselves that if we put all the right ingredients together in the right way, if we just follow the directions and do what we’re told—then in the end we’ll have a successful product for everyone to enjoy!
In this way of looking at life, failure is easily avoided. All you have to do is follow the recipe. Pay attention to the cookbook.
Maybe it’s just who I am—but I think that’s a pretty shallow way to cook.
And since we’re obviously not here to talk about cooking, let me just say I think it’s a pretty shallow way to read the Bible and to interact with God, too.
There are no guarantees in life.
Job was a man who followed the recipe. Jesus was a man who followed the recipe.
Eleven of the twelve disciples followed God’s recipe…and all of them went through hell because of it!
There are no guarantees that if you follow God’s recipe your life will be easy or good, or you’ll get what you want.
More often, the guarantee seems to be that the more seriously you take the good news of Jesus, the more seriously your life will get screwed up! The more your priorities change.
The more seriously you take Jesus the more abundantly you will experience life—abundant joy combined with abundant pain.
But like Jesus said, those who lose their lives will find them.
Well, obviously we had a hard time with the Ten Commandments, or the Ten Core Values as I might start to think of them. J
It was hard to be different—it was hard for God’s people to live as a people who were ‘set apart’. They wanted to be like other people who had idols and who served other gods,…they wanted to sleep with people who weren’t their spouses and steal from their neighbor. They had a hard time not wanting what wasn’t theirs.
And so the consequences came, you know?
They were defeated as a people. They lost their way. They lost their identity.
God intended to bring us life and wholeness through these ten commandments, but instead, we started using them as just one more way to fear Him.
But then God tried one more time. J
I don’t want to get into whether or not God has the ability to learn—but it seems like God learned something; instead of telling His people what to do, He sent His Son to show them what to do.
God is not standing over us, waiting for us to break a commandment so he can smack us with a stick.
Neither is there a quick and easy formula to follow in order to secure God’s favor in this life. I often wonder how the martyrs would respond to that claim.
No, God somehow fit all that God-sized love into a human body so that we wouldn’t fear him as much. And then he lived here for awhile!
We maybe should have feared him a little more, because we ended up killing him—but the size of that love was so big that death couldn’t hold on to it!
And then, instead of fire and smoke billowing from the top of a mountain, like what happened with the Ten Commandments, that same guy got up from the dead, rolled his gravestone away, and continues to live among his people!
So today we’re not defined by the rules we follow—rather we’re identified with the Living Christ! There’s still a perfect vision, and we still suffer consequences for our sins.
But it’s interesting, that in the book of Matthew, the first part of Jesus’ teaching isn’t the Ten Commandments as we know them. It’s not the “Thou Shall not’s”…instead, it’s the “Blessed are the’s” …we are not defined by how we’ve failed or by what we’re against. Rather we are defined by the Blessing that began in the garden, descended on the mouintain, and continues to live among God’s resurrected people!
Therefore, Blessed are the poor in Spirit. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness…
Blessed are you when people insult you…Rejoice and be glad. You are Blessed.