Exodus 19:1-6; 20:1-2
(watch here: https://youtu.be/99n-grzY-DY)
1At the third new moon after the Israelites had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that very day, they came into the wilderness of Sinai. 2They had journeyed from Rephidim, entered the wilderness of Sinai, and camped in the wilderness; Israel camped there in front of the mountain. 3Then Moses went up to God; the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, ‘Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites: 4You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, 6but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites.’
1Then God spoke all these words:
2I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
One of the downsides of this narrative lectionary that we’ve been following since last fall is that the readings often don’t follow the ecclesiastical calendar. Instead of lifting up a passage that celebrates the Holy Trinity for this Trinity Sunday, our lectionary has us embark on a 4-week series on the Ten Commandments. Perhaps we can find some correlation between the commandments and the work of the Trinity. If anything, the commandments help us to live in harmony with God and with each other in much the same way that the three entities, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, live in perfect harmony with each other. No doubt there are commandments or laws governing the Trinity that allow for such perfect harmony, we simply aren’t aware of them. I think that’s the whole purpose of commandments and laws: to stabilize relationships. Without laws, there are no relationships, at least no fruitful relationships. We need laws to help structure and stabilize our relationships with God, with each other, and with our world around us. By the grace of God, there is an order to our world built on the foundations of laws and commandments. God gave us the Commandments as a gift, not as a punishment, and we should celebrate them and give thanks for them. Try to imagine our world without them and it would certainly be a very different place.
But before we get into our passage for this morning, I want to lift up another set of “commandments” I came across this week in preparation. These rules have to do with dogs. Now anyone who has ever owned a dog knows that it’s crucial to establish the household rules very early on in the relationship, rules about going to the bathroom or chewing or climbing on furniture and such. I came across this funny set of rules that offers an all-too-familiar progression of rules:
1. The dog is not allowed in the house.
2. Ok, the dog is allowed in the house, but only in certain parts.
3. The dog is allowed in all rooms, but has to stay off the furniture.
4. The dog can get on the old furniture only.
5. Fine, the dog allowed on all the furniture, but is not allowed to sleep with the humans on the bed.
6. Ok, the dog is allowed on the bed but by invitation only.
7. The dog can sleep on the bed whenever he wants, but not under the covers.
8. The dog can sleep under the covers by invitation only.
9. The dog can sleep under the covers every night.
10. Humans must ask permission to sleep under the covers with the dog.
I suspect my wife understands this progression all too well and refuses to let the dogs anywhere near our bedroom. When it comes to our pets and our children, it’s funny how the rules progress in similar ways. We’re left asking who exactly the rules are benefitting!
Nevertheless, the rules illustrate the importance of having rules in the first place: to establish right boundaries in right relationships. We need to know how to behave in relationships so that all parties can stand to gain from them. Without rules and guidelines, relationships tend to crumble and fall apart. Rules and guidelines help to order our relationships and with that order comes trust and security and hope and love. These are the elements of fruitful relationships, relationships that give for the betterment of the world. When we trust and love someone or something, we feel safe and hopeful and we’re willing to share that with the world around us. I’ve always said that love begets love. Love is a compounding emotion—love grows into more love. I’ve witnessed its growth in so many ways and in so many situations.
Our reading for this morning has us gathering with the Israelites at the foot of Mt. Sinai. Recall that Mt. Sinai, also known as Mt. Horeb, was considered the Mountain of God throughout scripture. The prophet Elijah fled to its safety from the evil pursuit of Queen Jezebel. Moses had his first encounter with God through the Burning Bush on top of Mt. Sinai. It was from there that God commanded Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egyptian slavery. It was only fitting that Moses led God’s freed people back to its foothills after wandering through the wilderness. Moses went up top of the mount to reconvene with God and gather a new plan for leading the people. God tells him to remind the people of how He had brought them out of slavery and the importance of continuing to listen to him and obey his commandments. God said, “If you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples.” If they wanted to continue to be God’s treasured then they would obey his commandments.
These words speak to us as well. If we want to continue to be God’s treasured people, we must heed his word and command. Does this mean we won’t be his treasured people if we don’t listen and obey? Not necessarily. It means we’ll be in right relationship with him and those around us and his love and blessings will become more apparent to us. When we are in right relationship, we are able to see and share his love and blessing with those around us. God blessed the Israelites with freedom from their Egyptian slavery. God blessed us with freedom from our own slavery to sin and death through Christ. We are already blessed! We must simply live in that blessing…live in that love…share in that blessing and love. We keep his commandments because they enable us to live in his love and blessing. What a gift to live in love and blessing! Jesus tells us, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!” (Luke 11:28) We are blessed because his Word leads to true and everlasting life and his commandments structure such life. As James notes, “But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.” (1:25)
Over the next three weeks, we’ll look further into his Ten Commandments and we may rehash some material we covered last year as we explored what Luther had to say about them in preparation for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. They are foundational rules that we’d be wise to honor and respect. Indeed, we’d be blessed by honoring and respecting them. Let us heed God’s wisdom in order to live in harmonious relationship with him and those around us. God’s Word and Law is true and his grace and mercy is endless. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.