Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Ten Commandments: The Last Six Part I: Relationship with Others - Exodus 20:12-16

One day a lawyer came up to him and asked him, which of all the commandments is the greatest. Many people debated which of all the things God had commanded them to do was the most important. If you were only able to do one thing, which one was the one you should absolutely make sure you did. If you were going to rank the top ten from first to last, which one would be first? Which would be last? It was as hot of a topic as any we have today. When asked, which one would he pick? What would that say about him? Would the people like his answer? Whatever his answer, how can we use it against him.
Jesus paused for a minute and said the greatest one is “love God,” and the second, which is not really all that far behind, is “love everyone else.” In some ways, he did not pick any, in other ways he picked them all. All of the commandments can be summed up in these two commandments. Jesus says that it is important to first of all, love God and secondly to love others. If you are going to boil down what it is we are called to do as the people of God, as followers of the Christ, this is it. 
Last week we went over the first four commandments, which Jesus summed up, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This week we begin look at latter six commandments, which are summed up in the, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” part.
Where the first four commandments deal with our relationship with God, making God first in our lives, not allowing anything to not only stand between us and God, but also not allowing anything to stand alongside of God, competing for our attention or coming to mean as much or more than God does to us. We are not to misappropriate the name of God, using it for our own gain, saying things are “from God” when they are in fact not. And not only does God want to be first and only in our life, but God wants to be in relationship with us and asks for us to take one day, not only for the rest we all need, but also to focus on that relationship; spend time with the people of God, in worship, in prayer and doing things that draw us close to God together. We explored both the individual and the communal aspects of these commandments.
This week, we will begin to look at the latter six commandments, the loving others part, which deals with our relationships with the people around us. We are not called to follow God alone. We are called to follow God together, because God does not simply call a person, but calls people and calls for us to be a people, God cares how we interact with one another. God created us to be relational creatures Not only did God create the desire we have to be in relationship with one another but we were created to live in community, to live together, to thrive on the relationships we build around us. We were meant to live together; we were created to make connections with one another. We are, at our core, relational beings.
I say that today we will begin to look at the latter six, because I am splitting these six into two sermons. Today I will cover the bulk of them, leaving one whole sermon for the final commandment. That’s right on whole week on not coveting, not desiring what is not yours; not wanting what you do not have. But that is next week, and this is this week.
God created us to be social beings; people who seek relationship with God and who are continually seeking relationship with one another. From the moment we come into this world we are in relationship with others. And there is one set of relationships which shapes us, forms us and nurtures us as we grow and become. These are the people in our family. The family is the primary social unit and it is in the family that we first begin to understand who we are, who we are becoming. The primary relationships, our first relationship are those which we form within our family.
When I was a child, I was taught that honoring your parents is about obeying them. Doing what you are told; you know, cleaning your room, making your bed, not talking back; following the rules your parents lay down for your health and wellbeing. But honoring is about so much more than simply obeying. Obeying is a part of the formational part of your relationship but the bulk of our lives is spent in a relationship with our parents where obeying is not really even a part of the fabric of the relationship. Honoring your parents is about so much more than merely obeying, it is about respect; it is about valuing these relationships. It is about nurturing them, doing the hard work it takes to keep them going; being the son or daughter you know you should be, working to be the son or daughter you want to be; being loving in all things, at all times and in all life’s seasons.
It is about treating the people in your family with respect, kindness and care at all stages of life. When we are young, this is primarily carried out through obedience, but as we get older and following the rules of our parent’s house no longer becomes an issue, honor takes on new life. It means continuing to value these relationships, listening to our parents’ point of view, respecting the place they come from even as our thoughts and opinions may vary from theirs. As life goes on, it means taking care of our parents, making the hard decisions that life brings and being the kind of person who respects their best interests as well as their wishes as they move toward the ends of their; always treating them with love and respect when it is hard or they become difficult. God calls for us to honor our parents so that we may live long, so that they may live long and so that when we do live long, we have modelled how we want to be treated those you will eventually be taking care of us, our children.
But not only are we to value the relationships we have with our parents, but we are also to value the relationship we have with our spouse. We do not do anything that would put the relationship with our spouse in jeopardy. We do not form relationships with people or do anything, for matter, that would pull us away from our spouse, nor do we ever seek to put ourselves in a position where our relationship with another person jeopardizes the relationship they have with their spouse. As the relational unit, which begins a new family and from which all other relationships in that family are rooted, we are to do what needs to be done to nurture, to build, to maintain and keep strong, the relationship we have with our spouse. 
God speaks to us about our relationship with our parents and our relationship with our spouse; it might seem odd that the commandments do not cover the relationships between parents and their children or between children who are siblings. I think this is because God knows that children are not something that comes into every family. Some parents choose to not have children and others long for them but are unable to have them. And siblings are also not a given as a part of the family either. Not including these relationships in the commandments is an acknowledgement that these relationships may exist but are not necessarily a part of familial life. We are all children, we all have parents we need to honor. And although not everyone has a spouse of their own, not getting in the middle of someone else’s marital relationship is something we all need to avoid, whether we have a spouse or not. What makes it into the commandments are the relationships that apply to everyone.
The relationships parents have with their children and children have with one another even though they are not specifically mentioned, but it are implied, in that the reason we work hard to honor our parents and to adhere to our marital relationships because all the relationships within the family are valuable and should be protected, and nurtured. There is an assumption that all these relationships take precedence in our lives. God includes commandments about our marriage and about honoring our parents because God values families and the relationships we have within our families. Honoring the relationships we have with our parents leads into valuing all family relationships. We seek to live in good, nurturing, healthy relationships with everyone within our family.
Families are important to God.
So, for instance God would not side with a system, a law or a practice divides up families, separates loving parents from their children.  
These next three commandments are pretty intuitive. Once you have these primary relationships, the relationships within the family, in order, the commandments move on to more general rules on how to deal with all people whether they are part of your family or not. Do not murder. Do steal. Do not bear false testimony. To put it simply we work to bring peace within our community, as well as within our family. We do not bring harm to one another. We do not take from each other and we do not malign those around us with our words.
Every person, no matter who they are, what they have done, or where they are from is valued by God, and we are to treat them as a person of value and this begins by not killing them.  We all have the right to lives the life God is calling us to live and when we prematurely end another’s life, we are stopping God’s ability to work in their life, to use them for kingdom work. God is always seeking to work in a person’s life and if we end their life we are inhibiting the very work of God.
It is pretty intuitive that we do not murder but we also do not take what is not ours, we do not steal. Again this is pretty basic stuff. If it is not yours do not take is. It does not belong to you, it is not yours, do not take it. To take from one another sows distrust and distrust breaks down the bonds of relationships. It is important for us to live in good and healthy relationship with those around us, do not do things that break down those relationships, work to strengthen them, build trust with one another, do not take each other’s things.
Jesus would add that we should share. If you have more than enough, give the extra to those who are lacking. Don’t take what is not yours, is paired with do not keep what you do not need.
The final commandment is about not bearing false testimony. We do not lie about other people; about what they have done; about what they have said; about their motives. But is more than just lying. We do not seek with our words to degrade other human beings. Language matters, what we say about other people matters. They are also human, God created us all. God breathed God’s own breath into each of us giving us all life. We are all loved and valued by God. Not only are we to treat everyone as such, but our words, our language about others should always show that we not only realize they are valued by God, but shows that we value them as well.
We do not, with our words, turn others into less than. We do not use language that allows us or others to begin to see another human being as an object, as someone who does not at all times deserve to be loved, respected, and cared for. God loves each and every person created and we are to treat everyone we meet with the love God show and has for them.
We are to treat everyone, no matter who they are, no matter what they have done, or are doing, no matter where they come from, with the love and respect God has shown to us. We are to value all other humans because God values them. God created us to be relational beings. God expects us to live in relationship with the other people on this planet, with the people all around us. We are to value those relationships, beginning with the relationship we have at home but with each relationship we have beyond the home, every relationship should be valued, and every human we encounter is loved by God and should be treated as such.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

The Ten Commandments: The First Four: Relationship with God - Exodus 20:3-11

The Ten Commandments are traditionally depicted as two tablets. When the commandments are split up between those two tablets, they are not split up with five on the first and five on the second. They are split up with the first four on the first tablet and the last six on the other. This is because there is a shift in the commandments following the fourth commandment.  The first four deal with our relationship with God and the latter four deal with our relationships with others.
In our Gospel reading this morning, Jesus is asked which of the commandments was the greatest, wanting Jesus to weigh in on a discussion that divided many in his day, hoping that in giving his stance on this topic, they could use it against him. Instead of picking one he says that the greatest is “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” And then goes on to say that the second greatest commandment is to, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” It might sound like Jesus is side stepping their question and not picking any of the Ten Commandments at all, but what he is essentially saying the greatest commandment is the first four and the second greatest commandment is all the rest.
The Ten Commandments begin with God saying that we are to; have no other gods before me.” As people who have heard this so many times before, this sentence does not sound odd to us, because we are so familiar with it. But what does it mean when it tells us to not have any other gods, “before” God? What does it mean to have God before me and none else? When I hear that phrase I think of a line, like when I was early elementary school, when we went from place to place in a line, or here in Cambridge when you see the classes of preschoolers heading to the park each day; each one holding onto their own loop with their teacher going before them. Our lives are a line of small children who easily wander and the one who goes before, leading and guiding the way, assuring the path is clear and the way is safe, is God and no one else is to stand at the front of the line. God gets to be line leader every day.
This is a great image and it true in every aspect, but it does not get the heart of what God is actually requiring of us here in this passage. This is a directional word. How many of you have flown over the Midwest? Have you ever looked out the window? What do you see? You see large squares all laid out beneath you like a giant patchwork quilt. This is because the entirety of that part of the country is laid out in a grid; the roads basically only go in two directions; north and south, or east and west. When giving directions, you tell someone to go north on Rock for 3 miles and then turn west 21st street. In the ancient near east when giving directions you did not use north or south or east and west, this was before cardinal directions but after getting lost. When they gave directions they spoke of going right or left, going before or going behind. Directions were relational words. And dealt with where you were in relationship to the things around you. When you go to Jerusalem from Bethlehem you keep the rising sun before and Bethlehem behind you. When it comes to where you are in relationship with God, God is to be always and only before you, but no one or nothing was to stand between you.
When it comes to having no other gods before you, the concept of God in front, like a line leader is not wrong, but it too impersonal for what is actually being said here. This is God standing before you, facing you. You, standing before God facing God.  You and God standing there face to face. This is a two people standing in relationship with one another, facing each other, looking into one another’s eyes. It is beautiful, this, this is what we do in a wedding ceremony. Two people there facing the one they love, looking them in the eye, with NO ONE standing in between. A couple, in love, facing each other, so the only one they can really see is the other, so that the rest of the world falls away and the only one there, the only one that matters is the one they love.
God says, “You shall have no other gods before me.” God wants be in that kind of relationship with us, no one standing between. Having no other gods before you, is not so much about hierarchy, about God being at the front, but is about being in relationship with God and having no one standing in the middle of the relationship, mucking it up. God loves us enough to not want to have anyone or anything to stand between you, to get in the way, messing up the relationship, taking your eyes off God, obstructing your view of who God.
God first, means that there is nothing or nobody in your life that matters more to you than God. Nothing means more to you than God. This does not mean that you do not love anyone else. Just as a married couple stands face to face, loving one another as they love no one else, this does not mean they do not have other loves. They still love their parents, their siblings, their friends and their children, if children are to be a part of their lives. It is the same with God, although God is the one who is to always before us, this does not mean that we neglect all others, or that there can be no other loves in a person’s life. No it means, the love we have for God is always and only “before” us, and all other loves are essentially behind us, to our right or our left, relationally speaking. Everything else is there, in relationship with us, but not before us, not front of us, not the one whom we are facing at all times, the focus from which all other relationships are derived.
But not only does God want to be forever and only before us, but God also says that we are not to make or have any idols. Not only is God to be always an only before us, but there are to be no other gods in our life, no other gods, to our right or our left. Nothing that looks like a God, nothing we have made or was made by someone else is to serve as god alongside of God in our lives.
This is sounds like the easier of the first two commandments. Not once in my life have picked up something that I have made, or that someone else has made and said to myself, “This is my god, or this is god too.” Since I was born into a Christian household and have been raised knowing this commandment, never have I had a thing called an idol, an object that I have purposely and actively worshipped, either alongside of God or instead of God. And although I know this was a very real problem in the ancient near east, in “bible” times, when they were constantly making golden cows and calling them God or setting up temples to Ba’al or erecting Asherah poles in the sanctuary, I know this was a constant problem with Israelites and those early Christians who were coming out of pagan religions, but this is not a problem for us Christians today. We all know better than to make an idol, to buy and idol or to worship anything that has been made by our own hands or those of another, calling it “God.” This is simply not a problem for us.
I think there is a failing in thinking this commandment is not for us, because it is not a temptation for us. We may not make golden cows, or anything else of that sort but there are a lot of things we make with our hands, with our time, with our money, a lot of things we make ourselves to which we all too freely give our allegiance, our honor, our respect. We may not bow down and worship any thing in our lives, but there are plenty of things that are vying for our worship, calling for our praise and honor, that are in essence desiring to at least be on par with God in our lives.
Our idols today are the things to which we give our attention, our time, our money, our honor allegiance. Jesus tells us that no person can have two masters. God is the primary relationship in our lives anything that attempts to vie for that position in our life, whether it be our marriage, our children, our job, our hobbies, or our love for this great country in which we have the privilege to live. Nothing is more important than God. Nothing stands next to God. Nothing is to take our focus off of God. Our love is first and foremost for God.
This has to do with where our attention is, where our time is spent, what is important to us. What takes priority in our lives? There are things you know you need to do, read your Bible, spend time each day in prayer, and in worship of God, taking time to spend with other Christians studying the Bible, in prayer, as well as coming to worship each week. We know we are to share the truth of the gospel with our friends, our colleagues and our neighbors. All this is a part of our relationship with God, all this (over simplified, yes, but in essence) is what it entails to standing before God and to have God stand before us. Doing these things and living a life that exemplifies the love Christ lived while here on earth, is what it looks like to stand in relationship before God. It is when other things unseat these things in our lives that we begin to make them gods for us. What stops you from reading your bible daily? That is a god, unseating a part of your relationship with the one true God. What keeps you from praying, from reaching out to your neighbor, from gathering with others who are a part of the body? Those are gods, taking over parts of your relationship with God. To whom are you giving your allegiance alongside of God? That is an idol in your life. What stands alongside of God in your life? Whatever that is, it is taking part of the priority off of God. All of these things, taking the place of and stealing parts of our relationship with God away, are the graven images. All of us are making for ourselves graven images, putting in to the house of our lives idols, worshiping other gods alongside of and sometimes instead of God, just as assuredly as the Israelites, did with the golden calf, Ba’al, Asherah or any of the myriad of other gods we know better than to worship. Idols, other gods, graven images we all have them, the key is to identify them, to admit that they are there and work to remove them, so that God can not only stand before us, but so that God can stand alone in the position of god in our lives. First and only in our hearts and our lives, so that we can indeed love the Lord our God with all our hearts, with all our souls and with all our minds. God first, God only.
The next two also deal with our relationship with God, but they come out of the first two. The first two have to do with relationship to God, where God stands in our life. They tell us, God first; God only; God before, with none other standing alongside of God. The next two build on that relationship. “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.”
As I was growing up I was taught that this commandment basically meant cussing, Not saying the ½ dozen to dozen words our culture has set aside as crude; words that we hear peppering other people’s daily language but we should never hear in common usage among those who are saved and sanctified. We all know which ones I am speaking of, I do not need to make a list of the words we have all been taught are not to be a part of proper or formal speech but may by some be used in day to day communication, but not by “us.” I was taught that that kind of cussing was included in this commandment but also that this commandment included exclamations such as, “Oh, My God,” or the more simple, “Jesus,” with or without the “Mary and Joseph.” (Which was supposed to soften it and make it more acceptable, less offensive?)
And if you want to I have my own opinions on what kind of language is acceptable, as well as what is good and proper for a person who calls themselves a Christian to use, I do not believe any of these things are actually what this commandment is about.
This commandment is about misusing the name of God. Saying, “Thus says the, Lord.” Claiming that something is the word of God, are the words of God to the people of God, to the world, when in fact they are not. To be clear, to use the Lord’s name in vain is when Pat Robertson says that God has cursed Haiti because they made a pact with the devil, declaring that the economic difficulties and natural disasters that have befallen this country are the actions of God punishing this country.  Using the Lord’s name in vain is saying standing on the corner with a sign speaking of God’s hatred of homosexuals in language I could not even bring myself to quote in this sermon. And I hope that all of us here know better than to misuse God’s name in this way. I think we all know that declaring God’s hatred of anybody is blasphemy and in direct violation of this commandment.
Those are the easy ways to avoid misusing God’s name. Whenever we say, “Thus says the Lord,” we better be certain it is. This is why we end our scripture readings with “This is the Word of the Lord,” and not my sermons. Even still each time I stand here in the pulpit I do so carefully and prayerfully, no wanting to speak to in such a way that says, “Thus says the Lord,” when in fact it is not. Each week when I stand here, it is my hope and my desire that nothing I say ever misuses God’s name. But I am not the only one who can regularly stand up and speak for God when God is not speaking, thus misusing God’s name. I would guess most of the times a young person turns to their boyfriend or girlfriend and says, “God told me to break up with you,” they are misusing God’s name. It sounds like the spiritual way to break up with another person, and saying God told me to do X or God want me to not do Y and most especially God told me to tell you Z, sounds holy and gives a certain about amount of gravity to your words and your actions, but unless you God really came to you and told you to do this thing specifically then you better had not say that God told you this thing. It may be the right thing, it may be a good thing, it may be the best thing for you to do, but do not mix God’s name up in it.  God told Elijah to cook his dinner over some dung, but God did not tell me to break up with my long term high school, so I could date someone else. I fully and whole heartedly believe that God called me to this congregation to be your Pastor, but I do not believe the God called me to go on vacation to South Carolina at the end of the month. We do not use God’s name to make something we are doing more holy, we do not use God’s name to make what we are doing sound more serious or more important and when we do so, we are misusing God’s name. When we do so we are breaking THIS commandment.
This brings us to the final commandment that we have before us this morning, remembering the Sabbath day, taking one day out of our week and setting is aside for rest and for worship. In January, our congregation celebrates Sabbath month; one whole month of cutting back and refocusing, a month during which we focus on rest and we talk a lot about the value of rest and God’s call on our lives to pause. Our need for rest our need to stop doing one day a week, so can remember that it God is ultimately in control. Stopping our rush and our busy, our need to work and complete, so we can remember God is the one actually at work in this world and that the work of the creation, the work of the world can go on without us.
And although it is right and good to focus on rest, we must also remember that the call to Sabbath is two pronged; a call to rest and a call to worship. This God that wants to stand face to face with us, that wants to be the only one before us, that does not allow not only anything to stand between us, but also does not wish to stand alongside of anything else. This God, who sets into command the intimacy of our relationship, calls for us to stop, to set aside one day out of every seven, to spend on that relationship, strengthening it, nurturing it and helping it grow. God wants to spend time with us. Because this thing we are doing together with God is a relationship, the most intimate of relationships, the most exclusive of relationships and because God loves us and wants our love in return, wants to us to spend one day, on that love, set aside to nurture that love, to help that love grow and God does not desire for us to do that in seclusion, alone on a mountaintop, or deep in a cave, but God want not only to be in relationship with you or me, but God wants to be in relationship with US, this commandment (and in fact all of them, if you think about it and look at them closely) are just as much about God’s relationship with US, the body of Christ, the gathered people of God, the community of Faith, as it is about God and you, or God and me.
God want to be your God, God wants to be my God, first and alone, but God also wants to be OUR God, first and alone. The people of God, the Church, the Body of Christ, can have nothing that stands between them and God, nothing that hinders our view of God that distracts us from OUR relationship with God. The Body of Christ cannot have anything that matters so much to us that is stands alongside of God or distracts us from the heart of what it means to be the people of God, called by God. Nothing is more important than the kingdom work or making new disciples and growing together in our faith, NOTHING, no matter how important, no matter how good, not matter how much it needs to be done, or should be done, Nothing can distract us from loving God, loving one another and loving our world, so that we can make and be disciples in this world.
We cannot as the Church, as Christians ever misuse God’s name. We cannot say God says things, when God does not. We cannot say, “God hates you to anyone.” We cannot tell women that God tells them to stay in abusive marriages or relationships. We cannot declare that God’s will is for a people to suffer, for anyone to be systematically used and abused by a society in anyway. We cannot declare the will of God over anyone lightly and only do so with fear and trepidation. We need to stand for what God stands for in all things at all times and when we fail to do so, we need to admit it, we need to ask for forgiveness, work to make it right and work to do better. Just as we would expect a person to do individually, we should do so communally.