Sunday Worship at Black Forest Community Church
Black Forest, CO
January 11, 2015
© Rev. Diane Kay Martin
Scripture Reading: Exodus 20:1-17
Then 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. 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. 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. Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor 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. Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. 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.”
You may have read in my Footprints article this week that today I am going to begin a series of sermons on the Ten Commandments. This series will take us right up to Palm Sunday, so hang on for the ride. I’m not sure what insights God will give me through my study, research and prayer. Please pray for me during these weeks, that I may faithfully live out the directive in 2 Timothy 2:15: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.” That is truly the desire of my heart.
The Ten Commandments. I’m sure thousands of sermons have been written about each one of them. But as our world changes at lightning speed with the use of electronic devices and social media and digital data, are those old rules still relevant? Or are they just antiquated, outdated relics from a much simpler time? I don’t think so. I believe the Ten Commandments still have a lot to say to us. I believe that’s their beauty—their radical relevance, their timeless truth.
Let’s review the scriptural context of the Ten Commandments for a few minutes, to set the stage for this entire sermon series. Remember that the people of Israel had been enslaved in Egypt—cruelly treated for more than two hundred years—until, the Bible says, God raised up an unlikely deliverer: Moses, a murderer in exile who had a speech impediment; and God told him to go to Pharaoh to tell him, “Let my people go!”
There’s a key point in the story here—from which I have drawn my sermon title: “I Am.” You see, Moses was hesitant. He was self-conscious. After he committed murder as a young man, he had fled from Egypt. The people of Israel—his people—didn’t know him. How could he convince them that he was legitimate—that their God had really sent him? He didn’t even know this God’s name! And everybody knew that all gods had names! Molech and Asherah and Baal and hundreds of others in the Greek and Roman pantheon. So Moses asked the God of Israel, “Who shall I tell them has sent me? What is your name?”
And God answered, “Tell them ‘I Am’ has sent you. Tell them ‘I Am Who I Am,’ and I Am the God of their ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”
This is significant because this is the first time in our Bible that God’s name is revealed—not really a name at all, but more of a statement about who God is to them—not really a name at all, but more of a promise of whoGod will continue to be to them. Because that same word that’s made up of four Hebrew letters that are pronounced Yahweh or Jehovah and are translated here as “I Am” has the past, present and future tenses all rolled together. It means “I was, I am, I will be,” and I will continue to be for all generations just as I am for this one. In those four letters, God promises to be faithful to us!
How many here have seen Cecil B. DeMille’s epic 1956 movie, The Ten Commandments, starring Charlton Heston as Moses and Yul Brynner as Pharoah? If you’ve seen it, a couple of images may come to mind. The first scene you may remember (later parodied by Jim Carrey in Bruce Almighty with a bowl of tomato soup!) is the parting of the Red Sea and the crossing of the people of Israel into the Promised Land. The other scene is Moses coming down from Mount Sinai carrying the two slabs of stone that bear the Ten Commandments. Moses went up as a young man, but he came down gray and wizened, glowing and full of the mystery of God.
God had raised Moses up and given him a new start he didn’t deserve—who does, really?—and through Moses, God delivered the people from slavery. And this is the deliverance that God repeatedly reminds them of—in his preface to the Ten Commandments, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery”—and all through the Old Testament: “I am the Lord your God who delivered you from bondage. I am. That was me. I was that God. I did that. Remember. Don’t forget. I did that. No other God but me: I am.”
The people of Israel lived in a culture where all kinds of gods were worshipped. Molech, Asherah and all manner of Baals—and hundreds of other gods who each had their own particular area of divine expertise—all of them vying for the attention of the people. A god of music, a god of fertility, a god of rain; a god of the hunt, a god of intelligence, a god of war; of wine, of the dead, of fire, of travel, of sea, of home, of air, of sleep, of pretty much anything else they wanted some deity to be in charge of. None of those gods promised to love their followers. But none of them sought to be in relationship with humans. They only sought fear. And blind obedience.
And here comes the God who calls himself “I Am,” saying, “Look! Look what I have already done for you! You no longer have the whips of your masters tearing at your backs! You no longer have to work all day, trying to make bricks hold together when they won’t even give you any straw to bind them with! You no longer have to worry about being separated from your family at the whim of someone who thought you looked good and offered your master a good price for you! I have given you freedom! I have given you dignity! I have made you a people! I did this because I love you and it hurt me to see you in such pain. I couldn’t bear it any longer, and I had to intervene. And now … won’t you enter into this relationship with me? Won’t you reciprocate?”
Yes, along comes the God of Israel—Yahweh, Jehovah, “I Am”—ready to make a covenant with the people. If you get nothing else out of this sermon, it’s this one word: covenant. In a covenant, both parties make promises. Both parties agree to be bound to the other. Both parties basically say, “I do,” as in a marriage. God—the great “I Am” whose nature is love—said “I do” to the people of Israel, and it took them forty years of wandering around in the wilderness to figure that out, because it was so radically different from the way any of the gods they had ever heard of related to humans. This God sought to bind himself in loving covenant with these people, and he seeks to bind himself in loving covenant with each one of us!
And this God who said “I do” to the people of Israel (and still says “I do” to us) gave them/us his first command—one that is totally reasonable in an “I do” type of situation. God said, “You shall have no other gods before me.” Nobody besides me. I’m it. I’m your number one, your main squeeze. No Greek deities on the altar of your heart. No Roman ones either. No gods of money, work, popularity or success. Those things do not last. I do, because I Am. No putting sports stars, movie stars or television stars up on pedestals—you know they will fall off eventually. I won’t, because I Am. But I will put you on my pedestal, and I will make sure you do not fall off. And I want to be the only one on yours.”
Partners, spouses, married or unmarried—isn’t that the way you feel? No other gods or distractions had better come between you and your love. I was in a relationship once in high school where my boyfriend didn’t see any problem with going to community events with another girl—walking around, even holding her hand—and he was surprised when I gave him back his class ring! He later said, “Well, you’re the one who broke up with me.” Nope, that doesn’t work. That’s not the kind of covenant I was looking for.
It’s not the kind of covenant God is looking for, either. God wants to be our Number One. But how do we do that? We take the time right now—every day—to nurture a relationship. And how do we do that? Well, there are nine more commandments to come, and I truly believe that we will find some guidance there. Maybe that’s the reason we have Ten Commandments: nine more just to help us follow the first one.
Because it’s not enough to just say I love you. We need to know how our partner wants to be loved. What if Nathan said to me one day, “Honey, I love you so much, I’m going to buy you a Humvee”? I don’t want a Hummer; I want a hug. God gave us nine more commandments to tell us how to love him.
But to me, the most encouraging thing is that God has already taken the biggest steps toward us. Compared to what God has done for humanity, all down through the history of the world—delivering the people of Israel from the bondage of slavery; sending his son Jesus to show us, in the flesh, how much he loves us; sending his Holy Spirit to walk with us, guide us, comfort us—the steps we need to take in God’s direction are relatively small. When I consider all that God has been, all that God is, and all that God will continue to be in my life, it fills me with praise. It fills me with joy. It makes me want to shout: “Great is thy faithfulness, great is thy faithfulness! Morning by morning new mercies I see. All I have needed thy hand hath provided; great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!”
Will you sing that wonderful old hymn with me right now? It’s number 189 in your green songbook. Great is God’s faithfulness, indeed. Amen.