Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20
So much has happened in the last three days. It is hard even to know where to begin. Of course, we will continue to pray for the President and his family as he recovers from this horrible virus that, as it turns out, is worse than the seasonal flu and will not go away on its own. But we also remember in our prayers the almost 100,000 people who have faced the same diagnosis as the President, and many of those will have inadequate health care or will have to wait their turn to gain entrance to a hospital. But we also need to remember the 7.2 million Americans that have contracted this virus since it began and the 211,975 who have lost their lives, two of that number, by the way, were friends of mine. And we remember with joy those who have recovered and continue to pray for their recovery.
Today we heard the story of the giving of the 10 Commandments. Many of you will be familiar with Cecil B Demille production with Charlton Heston in the lead role of Moses with his long robes and flowing white hair. He climbs to the top of Mount Sinai, the place where God lived, and there, along with the burning bush, God wrote those commandments on tablets of stone with lightning bolts from the sky. In the movie, while Moses is up on that mountain, the people rebel against him and do exactly what God does not want them to do. They doubted, and they built a calf of gold and began to worship it, and when Moses sees this, he gets angry and throws the tablets at them, and they all perish.
Ignorance and willful disobedience to the law led to their destruction; it was not God that did this. It was themselves. In the face of knowledge, they turned to their own ways, and in the end, it brought their destruction. Moses paid the price as well; he was their leader, but he could not cross over with them to the land that God had promised them. He had to stay on the other side as a punishment for his anger; Moses did not get to see the promised land.
Willful disobedience, willful disregard for best practices, and the law never turn out well for the willfully disobedient.
I do not usually stroll back into the Hebrew Scriptures pages, for I believe there is much to discuss and learn from in the words that Jesus and the other Christian writers left for us. Sure, there is much in those Hebrew Scriptures that link with those words of Jesus, but I think we Christians tend to spend more time with the rules and the smiting, and we miss all that Jesus came to say and do.
Sure, the laws of most societies today were built around those passages that we heard; they are, in fact, some of the oldest laws on the books. Still, they have to be taken into context with the entirety of Jewish law. We simply do not have the time today to go into all of that but suffice it to say, those of you wearing clothing made from two different clothes should be grateful that particular law has been removed.
But today, I wanted us to begin with that passage of the law, so we have an understanding of what Jesus means when he says I have not come to abolish the law but to fulfill the law. Jesus fulfilled the law and the Prophets and gave us a new law, a new Commandment love God and love your neighbor. But Jesus did not just pull this out of his hat; Jesus’ words are very much based on what we have read today.
The Commandments we read from Exodus can be broken into two parts: those involving our relationship with God and those involving our relationship with our neighbor. Do not have any gods before me, do not make images and bow before them, do not use the Lord’s name in vain, and keep holy the sabbath day. All of these involve our relationship with God.
Then the tone changes: honor your father and mother, do not murder, do not commit adultery, Do not steal, do not give false testimony (that means no lying by the way), do not covet anything that does not belong to you—all these points to our relationship with our neighbor.
If you have a chance, read the pages that follow this passage in Exodus and the parts of Deuteronomy where this story appears, for what follows can be described as the law books. God gave them laws, and then comes the explanation. Pages upon pages of do this and not that and what the penalty is for not doing what you are supposed to do. It’s not a very edifying read, but it was necessary for people who were just starting out.
Many of you have raised children, so you know that when children are young, the rules you establish must be firm yet straightforward, and there are usually many of them. On the other hand, I am quickly learning that neither Nicky nor I am the lawgivers in our house; that role belongs to Oonagh! But one day, soon I hope, that will change. Children need structure and guidance. If left on their own, they will not do well. Before starting seminary, I was a middle school teacher; classrooms need order, structure, and discipline to enhance the learning environment.
However, as we get older, the rules shift a bit and begin to change. More emphasis is placed on making the right decisions for ourselves, and we do not need as much supervision, well some of us don’t anyway. Our ancestors in faith were just starting out; they were spiritually children, so they required rules, guidance, and structure, so God provided the law and the prophets. When Jesus came along, they had grown up, and although they still needed rules, what they really needed was to learn to make decisions for themselves.
So, Jesus summarized the rule, love God, and love neighbor. Those listening to him would have understood that he was talking about the law of Moses; they were as familiar with that as they were with the grocery list. But what comes next is what shocked them. And for this, we turn to John 13:34-35:
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.”
The new command is love! Love each other as God has loved you. Love one another and treat others as you wish to be treated. Don’t focus on the law of don’t do this and don’t do that, just love, and the rest will work itself out.
How do we do this? We love one another by wearing a mask. We love one another by washing our hands. We love one another by keeping proper social distance. We love one another by staying at home as much as possible. We love one another by only congregating in small groups. We love one another by listening to science. We love one another by not making fun of people. We love one another by working for a society that is just and merciful. We love one another by giving to those who have less then we do. We love one another by standing up for what is right, for what is just, and for what is true. We love one another by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and working towards a day when all will be fed, and all will be clothed. We love one another by denouncing hate in all its forms, racism, white supremacy, anti-Semitism, nationalism, sexism, xenophobia, and all the rest.
Friends, the wisdom for the way is to treat people how you wish to be treated, without exception. We love God by loving our neighbor because that is what Jesus told us to do, and that is how the world will know we are his followers. If what we do or what we support does not show love, justice, mercy, and compassion toward our neighbor, it is not from God, and it is not worthy of our support.
Let us resolve to go from this place today and show a little more love for one another.