Third Sunday in Lent, Year B, March 4, 2018
Exodus 20.1-17; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 1.18-25; John 2.13-22
Pastor Renee Splichal Larson
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
I will never forget my first Valentine’s Day date with Ben, who would later become my husband. We were in seminary together and had been dating for about 6 months. We were looking forward to a nice dinner and a break from homework, class, and talking theology. We went to this great restaurant in Dubuque, Iowa, on the shores of the Mississippi River.
It was very romantic … and then, the 10 Commandments came up. I can’t remember who brought them up, but for the remainder of supper we got into an intense debate about the legitimacy of the 10 Commandments in the Christian life.
How much emphasis should we put on them in our teaching? How are we supposed to interpret them in light of Jesus’ death and resurrection? How do the 10 Commandments function in relationship to God’s grace?
Round and round we went and never came to an agreement. How we felt about the 10 Commandments obviously wasn’t a deal breaker because we ended up getting married, but to this day I can’t think about the 10 Commandments without thinking of that Valentine’s Day date.
Even if one did not grow up in the church, most people have at least heard of the 10 Commandments or could recite one or two. Sometimes they are posted at courthouses, or on billboards, or people’s front lawns. One time I entered a town in Nebraska and there was a huge sculpture of tablets with the 10 Commandants etched into it. I wondered: What is trying to be communicated by displaying them like this?
When we see or read the 10 Commandments there are all kinds of different emotions that can arise within us:
Confusion as to what they mean;
Guilt because we know we are failing at keeping them;
Negativity because they have been used as judgment towards people;
Nervousness because we were made to memorize them in junior high;
Appreciation because having order and boundaries in our lives are a good thing;
Reverence because we know they came from God.
In the first verse we learn that “God spoke all these words.” The story and tradition goes that Moses, who led the Israelites out of slavery from Egypt, received the commandments from God on Mount Sinai. They were a gift from God for the people.
It’s important that we hear the word “gift” in relationship to the 10 Commandments because that is what they have always been intended to be … a gift. They are more than just a good way to live our lives. They are a covenant (or promise) between God and God’s people.
God speaks: I am the Lord your God, meaning I am YOUR God, and you are MY people. I like how Luther Seminary Professor, Terence Fretheim puts it: “These are words given to you by your God. The law is a gift of a God who has redeemed you (www.workingpreacher.org).”
There is relationship implied. This is not a terrible dictator saying, “Follow these laws or else.” God is saying, “I have saved you, I am committed to you. Follow these words and you will have shalom (PEACE!), and balance, and goodness in your life … and so will those around you.”
We often don’t think enough about how our way of being in the world affects other people. If we did, perhaps we would live a little differently. What Scripture makes absolutely clear is that God cares about your neighbor, so much so that the 10 Commandments were given.
I won’t talk about all of them for the sake of time, but a couple need a little more focus today. What is commonly known as the first commandment is the most important: ‘You shall have no other gods before me.”
When I was growing up and learning the commandments for the first time, I thought, “Well, I don’t worship a statue or anything, so this one is quite easy. Check.”
It wasn’t until I learned more about what a ‘god’ or and ‘idol’ could be in our lives, that I realized this is the most difficult commandment of all to follow. Anything can become a god in our life if we let it.
Again, I find Professor Terence’s explanation helpful: “Other gods” could include any person, place, or thing that we hold to be more important or as important as God.”
Jesus talked all the time about money, for instance. He knew that money, almost more than anything, has the potential to become an idol or a god in our life. If we have it, we think it’s ours. We have a hard time giving it away. We think about it, we worry about it, we try and obtain more of it.
Yes, we need money to live, and in and of itself, money is not evil, but it has great potential to become more important than God in our life. That’s why Jesus said, “You cannot serve both God and money.” The best cure for greed, or when we notice money is becoming too important in our lives is to give it away.
So, money can become a god, but so can power, fame, possessions, drugs, or even a person. When there is something else at the center of our life other than God, we suffer, and those around us suffer as well.
The other commandment I’d like to highlight today is: “Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy.”
God leads by example and rests after creating all things. So what does resting have to do with our neighbor?
Sabbath is not just physical rest, but rest from buying things, from our hectic schedules, from video games and TV, and from our phones, in order that we can be with people, go for a leisurely walk, eat with friends, go to worship, heal, and pray.
Notice in this commandment that no one is to do any work—you, your family members, servants, immigrants, or even livestock. Think about this … the commandment is for EVERYONE to get a break. Even the earth and animals are included and in need of rest. Remember the Sabbath and observing it is really about nurturing our relationship with God, as well as social justice.
There are those who are forced to work day in and day out because of low wage jobs, or the need to pay off debt, or take care of family. There are people out there who are bone-tired. If I don’t demand to shop on a Sunday, than maybe, just maybe a retail worker might get to be home with their family or even take a nap.
This first and third commandments are not as obvious on how they affect our neighbor as some of the others. Do not murder, or sleep with someone else if you are married. Don’t take anything that isn’t yours, don’t spread rumors about someone else, and don’t desire what someone else has.
If we violate these commandments and go outside the boundary they give us, people get hurt and God doesn’t like that because God cares about you and your neighbor.
If we could think about the 10 Commandments not so much as rigid laws we have to begrudgingly follow, but rather a safeguard against me hurting someone else, perhaps they would become more relevant in our lives.
When Ben and I went on our Valentine’s date, we wondered: As Christians, do we scrap these ancient “rules,” or do they still have meaning for us?
Jesus certainly thought they did, but he sums them up into the greatest commandment: “Love God, love neighbor.” If we want a manual for how to do that, the 10 Commandments serve quite well.
How we think about God will deeply affect how we think about and act toward others. The truth is, each one of us is also a neighbor, and God cares about you too. What God invites people into through the 10 Commandments is a way of being in relationship with God and with other people. As we keep these commandments, we experience wholeness and life through God, who loves you.