Broad Brook Congregational Church
17th Sunday After Pentecost
Worldwide Communion Sunday
Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20
God’s Loving Wisdom
Over the last few weeks we have seen God at work in the lives of the Israelites. God has led them out of bondage in Egypt, fed their hunger with manna and quail, and relieved their thirst with cool clear water. For the moment God’s chosen people have stopped their grumbling.
Today’s reading finds Moses back up on the mountain talking with God. God is giving Moses a precious gift for God’s people—the gift of God’s wisdom. God is giving the Israelites the tools that will allow them to live in a right relationship with God and in peaceful tranquility with their neighbors.
Remember, the Israelites are still in a foreign country whose citizens worship many gods. YHWH is the God who has protected and guided the Israelites with Moses as God’s human partner.
In our reading the first verse, God stakes a claim on the Israelites—“I am the Lord your God…” Throughout the exodus narrative God has spoken with the same powerful formula: “I am who I am; I am the Lord YOUR God.”
To unpack each commandment of the Decalogue requires a series of sermons, but, I have decided to do it all in one worship service. We should be finished by dinner time! Just kidding.
The first three commandments set the foundation for the Israelites obedience to and relationship with YHWH. The remaining commandments are explicit interpretations of those first commandments. It is those first three guidelines that we will look at more closely.
“You shall have no other gods before me,” the first commandment, requires Israel to concentrate its loyalty around one God. This would be tough given the culture around them that worshiped multiply deities.
Just like the Israelites, we are required to put God first in our lives. We in the 21st century are prone to thinking we have our act together, that we have surpassed our faith ancestors, the Israelites, turning our backs on the multitude of false idols that lure us away from being the people God intends for us to be. We exist in a culture that bombards us with options, alternative choices, and idols that make persuasive appeals. Have these gods ever brought about an Exodus or offers a covenant? No, only our Creator liberating God, is the Alpha and the Omega.
The second commandment: ”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. This is linked to our first commandment. God as Holy Mystery who protects and watches over us, who loves us and wants to be in a relationship with us is deserving of our obedience as a grateful loving response to all the wondrous works God has done for us. The God of Exodus is a decisive, active, presence not only in the lives of the Israelites but also in ours.
The third commandment says: “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.” This is a continuation of the revelation of God from the first two commands. This is a frequently misused, misunderstood command when is is taken to refer to crude language.
More is at issue than simply using obscenities. The name of YHWH signifies God’s powerful purpose and presence. For example when we pray in the name of Jesus, we are in effect mobilizing the power and presence of God. That same effect took place when the Israelites uttered the name YHWH. So, what constitutes wrongful use of God’s name? It would be the use of God’s name in order to request God power and presence for some purpose that goes against God’s will.
Using God’s name in such a way turns God into a means rather than an end. It attempts to use God to accomplish what we want and our want would go against the will of God. Using God as an instrument may even be done in a very pious way without anything like cursing. If the ultimate goal is to glorify God and abide in God’s love then it follows that God is sought as the end and not a means.
Using God’s name wrongfully is a huge temptation because the Holy God is susceptible to being turned into a tool. Think of the times God’s name has been uttered by Christians to support wars? This is the ultimate wrongful use of God’s holy name. An ominous threat accompanies this command. God will not acquit those who seek to use God’s name for their own purpose but will hold them guilty to the thousandth generation.
And so the Israelites promise to do what God wants them to do. They will be faithful to these commandments. It isn’t long however before they become impatient and slip. They make a graven image of God—a Golden calf. I love the Israelites! They are just so human. How many times have we promised to do what God asks of us and for whatever reason we have fallen short of the mark? Are we, in this modern world, able to embrace and practice this demanding loyalty?
We are both hesitant and ready, both reluctant and yearning to embrace these commands. Commands that require us to give up the idea that we know better than God—that we can do it ourselves. But here is the good news: God loves us immeasurably and keeps the covenant despite our humanness and fallibility. God desires a relationship with us more than anything and promises to be our God—not just of the Israelites but our God too. We are part of that covenant as descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
We are about to be nourished at God’s table. In the Gospel according to Mark, on the night Jesus was betrayed he was celebrating the Passover meal, which remembers the exodus event. Jesus in referring to his blood as the covenant was renewing the covenant between God and the people—the covenant ceremony on Sinai.
In the Decalogue we have the gift of God’s loving wisdom; the wisdom to live in right relationship with both God and our neighbor. Each time we resist the temptation to stray and choose rightly, the stronger we become. Life lived with God as a real and vital part of it is to have life abundant.
Theses are my thoughts for this morning and I offer them in the greatest of hope.