March 7, 2021, Meditation on the Commandments, Exodus 20:1-17 – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell
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God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses at the beginning of Israel’s wanderings in the wilderness. He inscribed the words himself on tablets of stone on the top of Mount Sinai when he made his Covenant with the people of Israel. Moses carried them down to the people, and those tablets were kept in the Ark of the Covenant, which lay at the heart of the Tabernacle, where God met with his people.
In our time, Christians still hold fast to the Ten Commandments. We inscribe them ourselves on tablets of stone. We put them up in churches and courthouses and other public places. But we sometimes forget, I think, that in our day God has made a new Covenant with his people, and that in this new Covenant, as Jeremiah tells us, he doesn’t inscribe his law on tablets of stone any more. Instead, he has carved it deep into our hearts, as Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “you are a letter from Christ, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not inscribed on tablets of stone but on the fleshy tablets of our hearts.” Paul summed it up for us in his letter to the Romans, when he said, “Love is the fulfilling of the whole Law.”
The meaning of the whole Law and the Commandments, then, is love. The measure of our words and actions and thoughts is not a matter of rules and regulations, but of love: love of God, love of our brother or sister, love of our selves. But I think sometimes that is too big a concept for us, too broad. It can be helpful for us to break that down for ourselves, to consider carefully and honestly how our individual words and thoughts and choices stand up in the light of God’s Law of Love. And since self-examination is one of the main focuses of this season of Lent, I want to use the Ten Commandments God gave to Israel to help us join together in a kind of heart-inventory this morning.
God spoke all these words:
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.
God began by reminding the Israelites of his powerful hand in rescuing them from bondage, and leading them out into freedom. As we begin, let us first call to mind our own personal histories under the loving hand of God. How he has set me free from the bondage in which I was suffering, and sometimes even accepted so willingly? What yokes has he lifted from my shoulders? The yoke of guilt or shame or insecurity…the yoke of bitterness and unforgiveness…the yoke of self-pity…the yoke of addiction…the yoke of harmful relationships…the yoke of greed…the yoke of fear. Let us remember now, the kindness of his hand in leading us to freedom.
Have I sometimes forgotten him, and turned instead to other gods? When have I set my hope in other people…in my own strength…in my own understanding….in financial security….in political powers or ideologies…in my own religious practices or traditions?
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.
Have I given to any human being, even to myself, the honor and respect that belongs only to God? Have I given to any created thing the devotion and love that belongs only to God? Have I given to any authority or nation the obedience and trust that belongs only to Him?
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.
Most of the time we remember not to use the name of God as a curse word. But as His people, calling ourselves by His name, let us consider if we have misused his name in our words or our actions. Have I brought shame or dishonor on the name of Jesus Christ before those who know me as a Christian? Have I gossiped and taken part in jokes or cruel speech? Have I treated dishonesty or lies lightly, as if I belonged to a God who didn’t care about such things? Have I held my fellow human beings in contempt as if I didn’t represent the God who is love? Have I used natural resources wastefully and greedily as if I didn’t care that He is the Creator of all? Have I indulged in self-hatred as if I didn’t really believe in His love for me? Have I treated His Word and Sacraments lightly, as if I didn’t really believe He was present in and through them?
Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. For six days you shall labour 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.
We are under the grace of God, not the law of Moses. And yet, Jesus tells us that God created the Sabbath rest as a gift for his children. Let us consider: have I despised the gracious gift of God by giving my work or my career priority over my time with God or my family? Have I carelessly and thoughtlessly participated in a system that requires my brothers and sisters to work without rest for my convenience? Have I ever been annoyed when I am unable to run to the store to pick up something I want? Am I willing to give up my convenience so my brother or sister could have a day of rest?
Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
Sadly, many of us here have already lost our mothers and fathers. Let us consider, however, how we might have played a part in the tendency of our culture to despise and neglect the elderly. Have I been amused by jokes and comments that make fun of older people in a cruel and disrespectful way? Have I failed to love myself as I am in the process of growing old? For those who have a parent or a relative or a friend in a nursing home – especially in this year of isolation – have I remembered to seek out ways to reach out to them?
You shall not murder.
Jesus said: “You have heard it said, ‘You shall not murder.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother or sister will be liable to judgment.” Have I allowed my anger at my brother or sister to become sin? Have I looked at any fellow human being with contempt? Have I passed judgment on my brother or sister? Have I withheld forgiveness for someone who injured me? Have I considered another person as less valuable than myself, or less valuable than the people I care about? Have I treated another human being as an object, and not a fellow child of God?
You shall not commit adultery.
Jesus said: “You have heard it said, ‘you shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at another person with lust in their heart has already committed adultery.” Have I allowed myself to look upon another person with lust rather than respect…in a magazine…on television…in a movie…on the computer…in person? Have I considered my brother or sister as an object for my pleasure, rather than a being of eternal worth? Have I indulged in pornography? As a married person, have I been unfaithful in any way to the vows I made before God at my wedding?
You shall not steal.
There are a lot of ways we are able to take something away from another person. Have I been dishonest in my financial dealings, taking more than I was due in any way – even if it was technically legal? Have I stolen the joy or comfort of my brother or sister by my unkind or careless words or actions? Have I stolen the good reputation of another person by malicious gossip? Have I withheld from my brother or sister the respect due to every human being because of my prejudice against them, or my feeling of superiority?
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
This is not simply a command that we should not tell lies. The focus of the command is the harm we do when we spread rumors about another person, or when we deliberately injure the reputation of our brother or sister by our words. Have I, then, done harm to my brother or sister by speaking ill of them? Even if I haven’t told an untruth, have I chosen certain truths to ‘share’ with the intent of causing my brother or sister pain, or making others think badly of them? Have I failed to speak out in defense of someone, because I was afraid, or embarrassed, or for any other reason, when it was in my power to speak a word of truth or healing or peace, or encouragement? Have I wounded my brother or sister, or have I caused harm in any way, with my tongue?
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
To keep this final commandment is to have the gift of contentment, accepting with gratitude the particular provisions of the Father for our lives. Have I found myself looking at the good fortune of my friend or neighbor with jealousy or resentment? Is my sense of contentment or gratitude disturbed when I see some new thing I want and don’t yet have? Is it hard for me to rejoice when my brother or sister is blessed, to rejoice with them, and not give in to envy? Do I doubt or despise the loving provision God has for me? Am I threatened by the success of my neighbor? Have I remembered to be thankful for the blessings in my life? Notice how we begin and end the commandments with thankfulness to God.
Hear the word of God to all of us who are saddened and disheartened by our sins:
“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
Let us confess our sins to God and our neighbor….