Ten Commandments – First Tablet

Lessons About the Lord for Gen Exers. Exodus 20:3-11 Matthew 22:34-40

Then 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; 3you shall have no other gods before me. 4You 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, or that is in the water under the earth. 5You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lordyour God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me,6but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments. 7You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.8Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

Today we are going to look at the first set of commandments, the so called first tablet, which describe our relationship with God. These words, were we to take them seriously instead of using them for political posturing, would dramatically change the landscape of our lives.  To do so would be extremely difficult, especially for we Americans.  They show us what is required for a life of faith attuned to God. They show us that in order to be attuned with God there are things from which we need to turn away,  things that we prefer instead of God. And they show us that we are to use some of our time and to use God’s name in order to tune into God. Did you catch the consequences of failure? for I the Lordyour God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me….

To start with, we Americans detest being ‘lorded over’.  What fueled our nation’s birth and continues to propel our political life is our unquenchable desire to be the king, to be the international super power that is able to exercise dominion over the people and resources of the whole globe.  Lord is the word used to describe one who has authority, control or power over others. Through one’s Lord one would have a livelihood and protection.  The word derives from a tribal chieftain who provides food for his followers.   In the Bible, where in the New Testament alone it is used over 700 times is refers to a person who exercises absolute ownership rights. We’ve decided that “we the people” can do that for ourselves. How can we tolerate the very idea of having a Lord?  For many law and order folks this part of the Ten Commandments has less meaning than any other bumper sticker. Thank you God, but we don’t want or need your Lordship.  Let me show you what happens were you to let God be Lord of your life.      

The first commandment is the ultimate one – nothing should be in our lives ahead of God. As Moses says in Deuteronomy 6:5 and Jesus says Matthew 22:34-40, this means we are to love God with all our heart, and all our soul, and all our might or mind. If we center our lives around things other than God — whether it be money, fame, power, pleasure, beauty, even religion, — others, and more specifically our progeny will suffer.  But isn’t that like the threat of global warming and environmental deterioration?  That can’t be considered in how we do business.  Future generations will get to find solutions to their own problems, like building ever higher levees to keep rising sea levels out of cities.  We can’t let future degradation get in the way of our bottom line, seeking money, fame, power, pleasure, beauty and religion is what it is all about.  

The second commandment means not having idols in our lives. We all know what an idol is.  It is a statue made of wood, stone or metal worshipped by pagan people or maybe an amulet that we hope will give us protection against evil, danger or disease.  Martin Luther said  “A god is anything upon which you set your heart and put your trust.” Anything!  An idol can be anything we love, worship, or center our lives around that isn’t God.

How about an economic system in which we put our faith​? How about a stock of precious metals just in case the economic system we say we trust fails?  How about weapons to protect your household from invasion, or on a much larger scale an enormous military ostensibly to protect our boarders but used to bully other nations into compliance wit our economic interests.  Not having our idols, not having anything substituting for God just doesn’t fit well into our way of life.  It is almost audacious of God –imagine, suggesting that as a person of faith I might have to say “no” to some things in order to say “yes” to God. Why can’t I just believe in God and other things, too? Why do I have to turn away from other gods? In Japan I can be both a Buddhist and a Shinto. Can’t I trust free market economics and trust God? Can we hold as a belief at the same moment that we were created, redeemed, and empowered to serve what God created and loved and at the same time believe that some other power has done these things. God demands we love God alone.

But we cannot do this — we cannot love God more than things or ourselves. Our lives are cluttered with other gods, many things that we love and trust more than God.

The third commandment is that the Lord has given us the divine name “The Lord” in order that we might call upon God for forgiveness, sing out in thanksgiving and praise, and cry out for deliverance and healing. God’s name is poured over and into us with the coming of Christ’s spirit. That’s what Pentecost is all about.  The life of faith consists of learning the implication of using God’s name. What does it mean for you to use someone else’s name?   Have you ever let someone use your credit card?  That’s sort of what this is like.  God let’s us use God’s name.  How we live then reflects on God.  I know of one person who insists that if you said grace in a restaurant you shouldn’t stiff the waitress. I wonder if that has implications on how you drive, especially if you have religious stickers on your bumper. Flying under the banner of God, we are expected to live up to certain expectations. You might have caught the less than veiled consequences for misusing the name.

Fourth, loving God means keeping the Sabbath. Of course it includes a time of worship among us as participants in a community of faith but it’s quite a bit more than that. Keeping the Sabbath isn’t about constraints we put on ourselves during a 24 hour period.  It is living in the awareness that every moment is sacred, every moment is an opportunity to serve our Lord. The broader meaning implied is more like the Day of the Lord.

Francis Howgill, an early Quaker trained as an Anglican priest, wrote this of the Day of the Lord. The appearance of God, who is eternal life, in his day, in his immeasurable Light, is a great joy, and source of rejoicing to the righteous. For he is to his people an everlasting light, and in his light they come to see light. He reveals the secret mysteries of his kingdom in those who see his day appear in their hearts, which makes all things manifest, even the secrets of the Lord, and his hidden treasure, and his durable riches which never canker or rust, but are fresh, and keep their pure image and impression. By this Light all the righteous, who have waited on God’s appearance, come to see Him. As it is written, “Lo! This is our God, we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice and be glad in his salvation.” Does he indeed come that you have waited for? Yes, Come, “and his reward in with Him;” … What was the witness of his disciples? “the son of God has come and has given us an understanding.” Of what? Of God, of his day, of his appearance, of his power, of his wisdom, of his kingdom, of hope, of faith, of assurance, of peace, of joy, of comfort and consolation. What? In his life? Yes!

The reason we keep the Sabbath, according to Deuteronomy, is that our people used to know what life was like when we had a lord named Pharaoh who did not allow days off. Put yourselves in the feet of the Exodus generation. For years they served Pharaoh, a burdensome master who gave no days off and when complaints arose, who said, “Now make bricks without straw.” God graciously intruded into that reality and said to the people, “You will no longer serve Pharaoh, you will serve me. And to serve me means that once every seven days, you, your kids, your workers, even your animals get the day off.” Why? Because God’s gracious intrusion into human existence was not a one-time event, but a regular, ritualized reality.

On one very simple level “The Sabbath” was the first fair labor law. Not only were the heads of households to rest, but also the working poor, the undocumented workers, the slaves, and even the animals were to be given rest. Keeping the Sabbath, first and foremost, is about lives that are captured by a God who keeps faith with us and who keeps on intruding graciously into our lives. But again, every day, in relationship with God should be a day of peace and justice.

In the Old Testament laws God offers a series of other sabbatical laws. Once every seven years, the land is given a rest — “the seventh year you shall let it rest …so that the poor of your people may eat.”  God’s gracious intrusion now spreads over the course of years and it is for the sake of the poor. Once every seven years, all debts are to be forgiven God announced. Why? For the sake of charity and stewardship.  And it gets even stickier.  Every seven years slaves are to go free – it’s God’s gracious intrusion to free those in chains. God’s gracious intrusion ensures that the means of life are not monopolized by the few. How does that square with the gods of our world? How do we deal with thirty year mortgages? How do we in good conscience purchase goods manufactured by the economic slaves?  What about persons sentenced to make restitution for damages done to their victim and while they are incarcerated the interest on their indebtedness continues to grow. What about people sentenced to jail for indebtedness? Is there no forgiveness?

Keeping the Sabbath is about an entire way of living. A way of life that is in keeping with the One who keeps faith with us. 

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