Sermon: October 5, 2014

Sermon                                                                                                       October 5, 2014

St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church                                                                                           World Communion Sunday

Scripture: EXODUS 20:1-20 MSG

Introduction:  Even if you didn’t grow up in the church, I am willing to bet that you were familiar with the Ten Commandments, right?  And I have preached at least two other sermons on them during my sojourn with you, so there is no escaping a test this morning!  I am going to recite the first part of each commandment in order and I want you to fill in the blank:

I am God, your God.

1: You shall have no. . . other gods before me.

2: You shall make no. . . graven images.
3: You shall not take …the name of your God in vain.
4: You shall remember … the Sabbath day to keep it holy.
5: Honor your … father and mother.
6: You shall not  … kill.
7: You shall not commit… adultery.
8: You shall not …steal.
9: You shall not … lie, bare false witness.
10: You shall not covet your neighbor’s … house.
11:  You shall not covet your neighbor’s … wife/spouse.

12:  You shall not covet your neighbor’s . . . servants, animals, or anything else.


Left side: Exodus 20

Right side: Leviticus 19

Choir: Deuteronomy 5


Gracious God – may the words of my mouth and the mediations of our hearts be acceptable to you, our strength and our guide.  Amen.

Our Experience

>      You shall have no other gods before me. This seems to be fairly straight forward, doesn’t it?  In Hebrew times, gods were small statues, about ten or twelve inches high, often made out of wood. I can’t imagine that any of us have small pieces of wood in our homes that we worship. But before we start feeling too smug, we do have material possessions in our lives and in our homes that we do venerate and cling to in some situations more than we revere God.  I am pleased to report that I have closed out my storage unit and my piano is now safely residing in St. Paul’s library.  I do need to get Howlett to show it a little love to make up for all the years it sat shrouded in the dark, but it looks good and sounds fine. Why would anyone in their right mind store a piano for six years?  I mean, really!                        >       And as is spelled out in the next commandment that means no carved gods or goddesses, or plastic trinkets or metal bling or sports equipment of any ilk (not even that set of Big Bertha gold clubs)! I suspect this also means chocolate and coffee, too. . . .                                                     >       So let’s just move on to ”You shall not take the name of God in vain.” Whoa!  Some of us are in deep trouble already – preacher included. This couldn’t be any clearer: you shall not curse or swear. Lucky people that we are we live in a time when folks actually keep track of the outrageous number of swear words in the movies we see and the music we listen to. Even TV is allowing more obscenities to be spoken in its regular programming. The volume of filthy language that assaults us on a daily basis has grown enormously. I am not aware of any kind of movement to change this.  Are you?  It is all about the freedom of expression according to one 19 year old authority (Dayja) with whom I have had this conversation.             >       Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Choir, what does Deuteronomy 5 say about observing the Sabbath? There is to be no work on the Sabbath, including no work for one’s donkey, oxen, manservant, or maidservant. What day of the week is the Sabbath in this text? (Saturday) And as we know our Jewish friends still celebrate Saturday as their Sabbath as do Seventh Day Adventists. Do any of you happen to own a donkey or an ox? Do any of you have servants? Someone who comes and cleans your house, perhaps? How many of us have jobs that demand that we work on Sunday? Ralph George, the Bucks, Olabisi, Goldie, Jonathon – several of us! So this commandment at least as it is spelled out in Deuteronomy clearly refers to another culture and generation, but what does it mean for us today when we have to work on Sundays?                                                     This Commandment teaches us about the importance of rest and being with community particularly in worship. There needs to be a period of time for our bodies, minds and spirits to truly rest. We need a time to focus on this book, the Bible. We need to come together as a community to listen to the word together, pray together, sing together, worship together, and be together in the Spirit of Christ.  It is up to us to make that happen, preferably on Sunday morning at 11, but if not, then sometime during our week.                                                                                                >        Out of all the commandments perhaps the next one has taken the biggest hit.  Honor your father and your mother so that it will go well with you. October is Domestic Violence Awareness month and denizens of LA have just vicariously witnessed the shooting of Daniel Crespo, Mayor of Bell Gardens, by his wife following an argument and the alleged beating of their son by his father.  As more details are leaked to the press and law enforcement, it appears that this was a highly dysfunctional family.                  One of three mission goals established by the PC(USA) concerns reconciliation and peacemaking where there has been violence.  Knowing how important it is to reconcile our differences with our parents, I found myself pondering this week what that would look like for the Crespo family? Our Presbytery sponsored an event last weekend to address this very concern. This is the event that Mary, Lois and I attended last Saturday and it was very good, but we are still left to explore for ourselves what honoring our parents means in today’s world in which families are so badly fractured. >  You shall not murder. Just four simple words, but they hold so much complexity. There were two mothers on a panel last Saturday at the Presbytery event both of whom had lost their sons to senseless, wanton drive-by gun violence. We have been engaged in wars which went nuclear and hundreds of thousands were killed. 54,000 men were killed in one battle during the Civil War in essence brother killing brother. And the United States has far more people murdered than any other developed nation in the world and we have imprisoned more people for murder than any other modern industrial state. What is it about this commandment that we don’t get? And no one that I am aware of is addressing adequately the specter of black on black violence.

Our Experience Expanded

>      And we could ask the same questions about the next commandment: You shall not commit adultery. I can’t tell you the last time I performed a wedding for a couple that was not already living together.  I remember finding my mother crying in the bathroom one morning.  This was years ago.  I asked her what was wrong.  She sobbed that my brother was living in sin.  I ask her, “Which one?” meaning which brother.  She sobbed back “Adultery”. I sat her down and asked what was going on.  It seems that my brother Phil had moved in with his girlfriend Karen.  Before it was over all of my brothers lived with their girlfriends without benefit of marriage.  My mother was never truly OK with this but bless her heart, she claims to have eventually gotten used to the idea.        It helped when she liked the particular girlfriend!                                                                                          >       Is the next commandment just about shop lifting? Or does it have anything to do with 10% of the world’s population owning 90% of the earth’s resources? Do the rich steal from the poor when they keep the poor down and poor?  It is really clear to me that Jesus had very high expectations of those of us who have means and live well.  Do we always recognize that everything we have comes from God? How good are we at sharing what we have?  Our Stewardship and Finance Ministry Team has been asking us that question in various forms for the past five weeks as we commit to our annual St. Paul’s pledge campaign.                                                              >       When I was a small child we had a saying:  Liar, Liar pants on fire hanging on a telephone wire.  It was a way of calling someone out when we either thought they were lying or hoped that they were; decidedly an era before Wi-Fi and cyberspace!  I am not going to stand before you this morning and preach about bearing false witness against your neighbor. There isn’t anyone sitting in this sanctuary this morning who doesn’t know how wrong it is to lie to anyone about anything.                                       >       And the same thing could be said about another injunction: You shall not covet your neighbor’s spouse. Lusting after or getting involved with someone who is already in a committed relationship has never made sense to me. Even having counseled with a number of my single, female friends who have gotten involved with married men, who then dumped them for someone else, I still don’t get it. Particularly when my friends act surprised! I have been told on a number of these occasions that the heart wants what the heart wants, to which I reply, God gave us heads to temper our hearts and some really good rules that it is terribly wise to follow.                  >      And last but by no means the least we are told not to covet that which belongs to our neighbors. I can remember as a twelve year old wanting a Barbie doll because several of my friends had them.  They had just come out in toy stores everywhere and they were very popular.  I was told that I was too old for a Barbie doll, any dolls for that matter. I learned years later that my mother also didn’t like the image that Barbie projected.  We didn’t have this conversation until well into my adulthood, but my mother knew Barbie would become a less than desirable icon for women and she was right. Possessions like cars, homes, clothing, boats, jewelry, vacations, cabins, and an opulent life style all become objects of our desire and, I fear, we are taught to be envious at any early age.

Our Traditions

Does anyone care to guess how old the Ten Commandments are?  (3400 years). How many times have these commandments changed or been edited during the past 3400 years? (They have been tweaked, but there were no significant changes.) Why? (Because, it seems, human nature has not changed noticeably over the course of history.) Now, there have been all kinds of changes in the lives of human beings. Civilizations have changed. Knowledge has changed. Medicine has changed. Science and technology have changed. Politics and political systems have changed. Nations and borders have changed. Government has changed. Indeed, perpetual change is the mark of the human experience whether we like it or not.                              Meanwhile, even though all these social changes have been going on for 3400 years, human nature has not changed. Today, 3400 years later, as we have just been discussing, people still worship various gods, still swear and cuss, still don’t find time to worship, and we still have problems honoring our parents. Today, people still murder, commit adultery, steal, lie, and we still covet other peoples’ spouses and property. Change is all around us, but human nature seems to stay pretty much the same. People still need the Ten Commandments; the Ten Principles for human community, as much today are people did 3400 years ago.                                                       Every century, generation, denomination and society applies these Ten Moral Laws differently to their particular time in history. We find such differences of application within the scriptures themselves:

  • How many basic commandments are there? (Ten?) It depends on how you count. We have three recitations of the basic commandments in scripture: In Exodus 20, Leviticus 19, and Deuteronomy 5. In both Exodus and Deuteronomy, we do not have Ten Commandments but twelve. In the Lutheran Church list of the Ten Commandments there is no mention of the commandment about not making graven images.  How do you suppose they pulled that off?  Someone read us the fourth commandment from Exodus (20:8-11).  Now Deuteronomy (5:12-15). Now what happens to no graven images in Leviticus 19?  (It is one sentence [verse 4] and is elevated to the third commandment.)
  • The commandment not to kill can be either the 5th, 6th or 7th commandment, depending on how you number them. You shall not murder or kill, took merely four words in both Exodus and Deuteronomy, but what does Leviticus have to say about murder? (nothing)  In Leviticus commandments 1, 6, 7 and 10 are omitted but the commandment related to the Sabbath is mentioned twice (verses 3 and 30). Leviticus 19 starts with an admonition to “be holy because God is holy.” Now what do you suppose happened between Exodus and Deuteronomy and Leviticus that could account for the differences? (The emphasis shifted, new editors came on board with new or different problems to be solved.)

Re-mything Our Traditions

What I am suggesting to you today is that every generation and every culture needs to freshly apply the Ten Commandments to their own situation and wrestle with what the meaning of the commandments are for our daily lives. And I will be the first to admit that it is not always easy doing this.              In the first five books of the Bible, which are called the Law, (Torah) there are 613 laws, rules and regulations (mitzvoth) for human society. Would somebody from the Leviticus reader’s group like to take a guess at how many rules are mentioned just in this one chapter? (There are 34 very different and extremely varied rules including the rules for breeding animals, instructions about not cutting the hair on the side of men’s heads and no tattoos, rules not found in either of the lists from Exodus or Deuteronomy.)               Who can tell us how Jesus interpreted the Ten (or the Twelve) Commandments? Jesus said that there were only two commandments and the whole Old Testament rested squarely on these two commandments. “You shall love God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” For Jesus, “This was the first and greatest commandment.” Now, which text was Jesus sighting when he made this declaration?  Exodus, Deuteronomy or Leviticus?  For Jesus, this is the first and greatest commandment. But what is its source?  (Deuteronomy 6:5) And the second was like it for Jesus, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Now where did Jesus find that commandment?  (Leviticus 19:18) This is a classic quid-pro-quo:  We cannot do for others what we cannot do for ourselves, so if we don’t like and take good care of ourselves we cannot possibly take care of others, but we also cannot take better care of ourselves then we are willing to take of others.  How radical and different do you think that sounded to those following Jesus?                                                                                  When God handed Moses the Ten Commandments all equally displayed on two tablets, Moses was really clueless about the impact that they would have on him, on the wandering Israelites, on their oppressors or on the rest of the world.  The fact that the Ten Commandments have endured seems to me to speak volumes both about their validity and their value to us.  God was in essence saying to us:  Take these two tablets and then call me in the morning.                                                                                                        The tablets that God gave to Moses and lots of consistent, daily prayer can indeed be used to cure the ills of the world; we just have to learn how to be faithful to them.  On this World Communion Sunday 2014, the world is a mess.  There is fighting everywhere and gun violence surrounds us.  3400 years later we still struggle with knowing what is right and acting on it.  Perhaps for just a moment as we participate in the Lord’s Supper with faithful people around the world we can be at peace both within ourselves and with others.  May that be our hope and our prayer.  Amen.


We are good at rules: making them and then breaking them. Paul reminded us that, when we gain Christ Jesus as our Savior, we receive exactly what we need – forgiveness, grace, hope. Help us to be more faithful to God, that we might know God’s healing love for us! In God’s good grace we pray. Amen.