A sermon for Proper 22
Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20, Psalm 19, Philippians 3:4b-14, Matthew 21:33-46
We all know the Ten Commandments. Don’t we? It’s a giveaway since Exodus 20 is the biblical source. Except we’ve got to deal with the second set in Exodus 34, that’s not quite the same; and a third in Deuteronomy 5 which has some notable differences. But there are still ten and we know them? unless your Christian tradition is different than mine. There are some five or six, different ways of counting; read closely, there is no numbering, (Sampey 2880) and several have multiple parts so just how many are there? In any case, there some other interesting bits you may not know, which I think are, if not important, then at least intriguing; and who knows, what follows may stir up some thinking, and that is never bad.
Unlike other legal codes of the day, and in the Bible, the Ten Commandment in Exodus 20, are grounded in covenant community (Brueggemann 5217) and creation rather than a judicial setting. (Fretheim 2761) The rare structural form, which doesn’t specify any consequences for noncompliance, (Plunket-Brewton) focuses our attention on divine intention to protect the covenant community, “against every kind of exploitative social relation” (Brueggemann 5224) such that, as Terence Fretheim writes: “to obey [the commandments] is to be what one was created to be.” (Fretheim 2762-2766) They call Israel, call us, to “match God’s single-minded devotion to them, [us] with a single-minded devotion to God.” (Plunket-Brewton)
It all starts with the familiar “I am …” we’ve heard from early on in Exodus, that should always take us back to the burning bush. Especially here. Remember God’s answer when Moses asks God “Who am I to go to Pharaoh…?” (Ex 3:11) God tells Moses “Ya’ll will worship me on this mountain.” Well, here they are, back on Sinai / Horeb, that Mountain, where God is.
The first commandment is to have no other gods. It doesn’t say there aren’t other gods, just that Israel, we, aren’t supposed to give them any credence. For ancient Israel the competitors were Baal, Ashtoreth, Molech, (Elder) and others, for us the competitors are most likely a political, economic, ideological, or some other predisposition that determines how we relate to each other. Much of this is encapsulated in the second commandment’s prohibition against idols. Listen carefully, there are 3 commands here:
do not make,
do not bow down,
do not serve.
In short we are not to give anything else any theological significance. (Brueggemann 5237) Remember ‘theo’ means ‘God,’ so we are not to give anything god status. But there is another bit that arises from trying to capture the form of God; the attempt to locate and thereby domesticate Yahweh. (Brueggemann 5237) It also maintains the distinction between the created (us) and the Creator. (Petersen and Beverly Roberts Gaventa) A similar principle applies to the use of God’s name.
The prohibition is not about using bad words, and this is not permission to be less conscious of what we say. The concern here is the connection between name and reputation, and we should not speak God’s name in any way that diminishes or tarnishes God, (Fretheim 2788) and that includes who or what we associate or disassociate God with. Secondly, God’s name is powerful, and we should never invoke divine power for our own self-centered purposes. (Brueggemann 5240) God’s name belongs to God, and so does time.
The forth commandment, is the middle, the connection between guidance concerning our relationship with God, and guidance to come about relationships with each other. But it’s more than just a hinge. Once again there are multiple instructions: work six days rest one day; and oh by the way, everyone gets to rest too: spouses, sons and daughters, animals, slaves, and the foreigners. And yes, it puts a divine kink in productivity models, because there is a divine limit to the use of people, animals (Brueggemann 5269) and the land. (Leviticus 25) Here the commandments are tied to creation (5260) God created, worked, for six days and rested one; God rests, Israel rest, we rest. In resting, in keeping Sabbath, we remember not only the rest, but also the creation, and not just that it is, but that we are creation’s chief stewards. (Gen 1:28) And note, there is no mention of worship; (5260), (Fretheim 2793) we still owe God a day.
Keeping Sabbath is more complex than we think, perhaps more than we’d prefer. The same can be said for honoring our mothers and fathers. To honor comes from the root meaning ‘to be heavy’ or ‘give weight to.’ It is not coincidence that ‘to curse’ is also means ‘to take lightly.’ We are to give weight to our parents; it’s very likely this is to ensure parents are properly feed after their productive ability is gone. Given the practice of Corban, declaring you’ve given produce of the land to the Temple, while keeping it, to avoid giving it to your parents, which Jesus chastises, (Matthew 15:5, Mark 7:11) (Baur 709) the necessity of such a commandment, is clear. Today, that biblical social responsibility includes housing, health care and all other necessities of modern life. Notes that these commandments are given to Israel as a covenant community; in other words they are commands the society as a whole is responsible for. All of us are responsible for each other’s parents.
In comparison to what we like to think about the Ten Commandments, this is all a might complex. Thank goodness we are to six, seven and eight; ~ except they aren’t just about murder, sex and theft. The linguistics of ‘kill’ and ‘murder’ are complex and much debated. However, the basic point that life belongs to God is not. In summary we are to respect life. (Brueggemann 5277) Sexuality belongs to the community as a means of procreation and pleasure; but only within the bounds of respect and restraint; otherwise the enormous dangers over whelm the enormous wonders. (5278) It is another form of respect for life. The prohibition against stealing is grounded in recognizing the necessity of goods to a life of dignity. (5280) To steal material goods, is to diminish life. For the third time, respect life. R-E-S-P-C-T goes a long way.
In fact, respect gets to the heart of not bearing false witness. This is not about lying, which is still not a good thing to do. False witness, is a matter of communal confidence in the judicial system. A covenant community’s, any community’s “life is not possible unless there is an arena in which … social reality will be reliably described and reported.” (5281) Moreover, as God’s name is not to be used for our self-interest, neither is our neighbor to be use for our self-interest. And remember a couple thousand years from this story, Jesus will teach, that everyone is our neighbor.
One, two, three, and half of four are about our relationship with God. Half of four, and five, six, seven eight and nine are about our relationships with each other. And I suspect, if Israel, or us for that matter, had any propensity to listen all of them could be rolled up into the tenth: “You shall not covet.” Yes, it mentions specifics, nonetheless, the issue with covet is the “destructive power of desire” (5283) Because of the list, we associate it sexual desires, and frequently recall Jimmy Carter’s “lusted in my heart” line. However, in ancient Israel desire was primarily an economic concern. (5284) In a true covenant community accepting what one has as adequate is the norm. (5286)
And such are the Ten Commandments. Until we read verse 18 when all the people are terrified, concerned about the future, and all but run away. That should give us cause to remember where this is ~ more or less at the site of the burning bush; ~ more or less at the site where God gave Israel
The Ten Commandments, and Torah, the Law, that flows from them, like water, that flows from the rock, are a source of life, for Israel and for us. (Hoezee)
Christians spend so much time, thinking, worrying, arguing about redemption, life with God, out there somewhere, sometime, we forget the heart of the prayer Jesus taught “… thy Kingdom come thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven …” which is life with God right here, right now. So yes, in the midst of our own fear and trembling about the future, we are called to proclaim Jesus as the Christ, and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2) in the Episcopal tradition in the Delta in the 21st century, we are called to be the church right here, right now. A part of that calling is how we live with restraint for our self-centered desires, with respect for:
God, for life,
for each other,
for all creation;
trusting that God through Jesus provides the way to life right here right now, for ever and for ever more.
Baur, William. “Corban.” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Ed. M.A., D.D, James Orr. WordSearch Corp, 2004.
Brueggemann, Walter. The New Interpreter’s Bible. Ed. Leander E Keck. Vol. Exodus. Abingdon Press, 2003.
Elder, Gregory. Baal, Ashtoreth and Molech – God’s Old Testament rivals. 10 1 2007. 10 2014. <Ashtoreth and Molech >.
Fretheim, Terence E. Interpretation A BIBLE COMMENTARY FOR TEACHING AND PREACHING. Ed. Patrick D Miller, Jr. and Paul J. Achtemeier. Vol. Exodus. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1991.
Hoezee, Scott. Old Testament Lectionary Text is: Exodus 17: 1-7. 28 9 2014. 10 2014. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php>.
Petersen, David and Beverly Roberts Gaventa. New Interpreters’ Bible, One Volume Commentary. Nashville TN: Abingdon Press, 2010. e-book.
Plunket-Brewton, Callie. Commentary on Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20. 5 10 2014. 2014. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2244>.
Sampey, John Richard. “Ten Commandments.” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Ed. M.A., D.D, James Orr. WordSearch Corp, 2004.