Exodus 19: 3-7, 20:1-17
October 9, 2022
Last week, the people were saved from the pharaoh’s chariots and had made their way through the Red Sea.
Between then and now, the people journeyed the desert … periodically, complaining and showing a distinct lack of trust in God … even after all God had done for them.
Still, God fed them with manna and ensured they had water to survive. God remained faithful during the people’s sojourn in the wilderness.
Today, we find the freed slaves encamped at the base of Mount Sinai. God calls Moses up the mountain.
On the summit, God instructs Moses to remind the Israelites of what they have witnessed as they were delivered from slavery and to remind them of the power that is present through their faith.
Once again, God makes a covenant with the people, if they follow God’s instructions, they will be a priestly kingdom. So, God first enters into the covenant and then God offers the law … the guidelines that will mark life in this priestly kingdom.
The people are to listen and observe these commandments … an inclusive act that will make this community. God reaffirms that the people will be treasured and a blessing to the world.
This kingdom that they form will be the polar opposite of the one they had just left … rather than be a kingdom focused on wealth and power for the privileged … theirs’s will be a priestly kingdom … a holy nation … where all are blessed … treasured for a thousand generations.
As Callie Plunket-Brewton once wrote … “The covenant takes the relationship one step further in seeking to create a nation that is empowered to respond to God’s generous and faithful care.”
If they choose to reject the law, then punishment will last for four generations. Some rabbis like to point out that this means that God’s love is 2,000-times greater than God’s anger.
The commandments that God sets down each flow from God’s statement: “I am the Lord your God…”
To live into this relationship, the people are obligated to follow these commandments
The elders … on behalf of the Israelites … agree to the rules that God places on them.
One verse that not included in today’s reading says, “The people all answered as one: ‘Everything that the Lord has spoken we will do,’ ” after all the commandments were offered.
When rabbis in the ancient world shared this story, they said that all the people responded to each individual commandment after it was proclaimed.
Rather than a monologue, the Commandments are accepted as an invitation … each one an affirmation of a desired relationship with God and the people.
The commandments set down our portion of the promise… our responsibilities under the covenant. They are the traits that mark a right relationship.
The first portion of the laws that God laid out for Moses and that Moses shared with the elders of the tribes … and then with the Israelites, are how our relationship with God is supposed to work.
The commandments instruct the people not to worship other gods … nor are they to build idols to other gods … nor are they to misuse God’s name.
The other half of the commandments set down how we are to approach the people around us … to show respect … to avoid envy and jealousy … not to steal or to kill… and to take a day each week and remember that God has saved us.
The Sabbath is a sign of the covenant, just as a rainbow is a sign of the covenant God made with Noah.
In today’s reading from Matthew, Jesus tells the assembled crowd that his teachings are intended to fulfill the laws that had been set down by Moses and the prophets.
Jesus is the promise of love fulfilled.
Law and gospel… both hold love within them … the promise of a right relationship made possible through grace.
Blogger John Robert Dobbs once wrote that we ought to be commandment keepers rather than commandment wreckers.
In an essay on today’s passage from Exodus, he wrote:
“What God does intend for us is life, love, and hope, and the covenantal promise that God is our God.”
In short, God is faithful.
One of the central points of the commandments is that following them is not for our personal benefit … it’s about our neighbours.
Following the Ten Commandments is not intended as an exercise to guarantee salvation … we already have the gift of grace … but rather, the commandments are intended to serve as a guide for a healthy, live-giving, affirming relationships with God and with one another.
They are there to help those around us live a better life.
If we keep the commandments, if we live a life as a priestly community, we become a means for others to feel God’s presence … God’s love … in their lives.
A loving, respectful relationship is at the heart of who we are as a faith community. It is who we are called to be.
We each have a personal relationship with God. Through this relationship, we are loved and called to love.
This unconditional love calls us to be in relationship with those around us … to seek to understand our differences … to see other perspectives … and to act when healing, feeding and comforting are needed by those around us.
And through our loving relationships … through right relationships with grace at their heart, the priestly kingdom that God spoke of when Moses climbed Mount Sinai comes closer to reality.
While we give thanks this weekend, perhaps we can take time to reflect upon how well we have kept the law within ourselves … and how well we share the promise of the gospel with others… and to be thankful for those times in our lives when others shared the promise … the promise of God’s unconditional gift of grace … with us.
To remember those times when we helped others feel treasured and when we felt treasured ourselves.