The Family Research Council reported that only 14% of Americans ‘can accurately name all ten yet 78% of Americans are in favor of public displays of the Commandments but cannot name them. Consequently, the greatest tragedy is not that the Ten Commandments are vanishing from public schools, courtrooms and government buildings, but that they are disappearing from the minds, hearts and lives of most Americans.
On one day, ten years ago, our Supreme Court declared that a monument on the grounds of the Texas State capitol that displayed the Ten Commandments was constitutional and three similar monuments in the State of Kentucky were not. It seemed at the time quite confusing. The swing vote on the court that issued what appeared to be contradictory rulings wrote that the Texas monument was donated by a secular organization and intentionally employed a text of the commandments that was of a secular nature and included symbolism that wasn’t of a religious nature and were found to be of an ethical nature. It had also stood on the ground among many other monuments for forty years without complaint. The monuments in Kentucky were newly erected with government funds, specifically carried a text from the King James Bible and were found to be erected to serve an essentially religious function. More recently the Oklahoma Supreme Court removed a similar ten commandments monument from it’s capitol grounds. They tell me most Americans are aware of the ten commandments but can recite only three. A U.S.A Today poll demonstrated that fewer than forty percent of us can name five of them while we have no problem naming the ingredients of a classic McDonald’s hamburger.
A couple of years ago, on a national television show, the member of the U.S.Congress who was sponsoring a bill calling for the Ten Commandments to be displayed in the House and Senate Chambers, when asked, was only able to name three of the ten. The Family Research Council reported that only 14% of Americans ‘can accurately name all ten yet 78% of Americans are in favor of public displays of the Commandments but cannot name them. Consequently, the greatest tragedy is not that the Ten Commandments are vanishing from public schools, courtrooms and government buildings, but that they are disappearing from the minds, hearts and lives of most Americans. This morning we are going to visit the version of the Ten Commandments found in Deuteronomy 5:5-21
5Moses convened all Israel, and said to them: Hear, O Israel, the statutes and ordinances that I am addressing to you today; you shall learn them and observe them diligently. 2The Lord our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. 3Not with our ancestors did the Lord make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive today. 4The Lord spoke with you face to face at the mountain, out of the fire. 5(At that time I was standing between the Lord and you to declare to you the words of the Lord; for you were afraid because of the fire and did not go up the mountain.) And he said:
6I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery;
7you shall have no other gods before me.
8You 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. 9You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and fourth generation of those who reject me, 10but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.
11You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.
12Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. 13Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 14But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. 15Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.
16Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you, so that your days may be long and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
17You shall not murder.
18Neither shall you commit adultery.
19Neither shall you steal.
20Neither shall you bear false witness against your neighbor.
21Neither shall you covet your neighbor’s wife. Neither shall you desire your neighbor’s house, or field, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
To start with the Bible gives us two versions. Adding to the confusion is the fact that Protestants and Mormons have traditionally separated the seventh and eighth verses to get to ten. The Catholics delete the eighth verse and divide verse twenty one into two. The Jews, traditionally include verse six as a commandment, combined verses seven and eight as one. Islam acknowledges the Torah and the Gospels but prefers a series of verses similar to the Ten Commandments drawn from various places in the Qumran though they make accommodations to perceived necessities. This moral map or Ten Principles for human civilization are preserved with slight modifications in all cultures and societies and in all generations of the world as the way we protect language, family, sexuality, property, reputation and more.
Last week we took a look at Moses, his common heritage, his privileged life and his escape to the wilderness. Then we looked as how God called him to challenge injustice and to emancipate his people. There is a wealth of stories we didn’t explore that led to what had to be the high point of his service to God, his presenting the Ten Words, the Ten Commandments to all people.
They’ve been around for thirty four hundred years. In that time the world has changed in more ways than we can imagine. What we know has changed about the universe God created and we inhabit and we keep learning more. Technology and science has changed. Civilization itself has changed. How we treat illness has changed. Politics and geography has changed. Some how, with all these changes taking place, for these thirty four hundred years, human nature hasn’t changed. People still worship other gods and don’t find time to worship. Care for our parents continues to be a problem and people still kill, commit adultery, steal, lie and covet.
There’s the story of a seminary graduate called to minister to a congregation. The For his first sunday the seminarian choose to preach on the Ten Commandments. The people found his sermon captivating, exciting, illuminating. They couldn’t help talking about it. The second sunday, he preached the same sermon and the third as well and it continued until the Elders of the congregation called him on the carpet. They admitted that it was a great sermon but they expected others. He explained that he would keep preaching that one until the people got it right. People still need to hear the Ten Commandments as much of did the people 3,400 years ago.
Every generation has to revisit these same standards and compare their lives to it. You are right, with a constantly changing world we will need to reinterpret these Commandments anew.
What does “you shall have no other gods before me” mean today? Is it talking about a whole pantheon of gods or the divination of elements of nature or it is about carved pieces of wood or molded items of precious metal? Probably not. More fitting for us is our worshiping power that comes from legal tender and the goods that we can purchase with it. And the extent that it’s accumulation takes all our time and energy. Our dwelling place, our modes of transportation. Martin Luther said that our god was anything we fear, love and trust above all things.
Have you listened to us lately. Despite 3,400 years of being told otherwise we still have foul mouths and, maybe its just a natural function of aging, I think things have gotten worse over the last few decades. Listen for where God or Jesus is referenced in our conversation. And what about the Sabbath, with all due respect for the Jews and the Seventh Day Adventists, there is to be no work on the Sabbath and the Old Testament text gets quite detailed: “Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. 13Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 14But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. 15Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.
O.K. the details in Deuteronomy 5 refer to another day and time. So, what does it mean for us? Does it teach us the importance of rest and community worship? Does it suggest setting aside quality time to reflect on our relationship with God, with one another and with the world? To spend time in a community of friends and pray together, sing together, and be together in the Spirit of Christ.
The fourth commandment is an increasingly challenging one. We are growing older. By being blended families or fractured families our pattern of serial monogamy further confuses the matter.
Compared with the commandment about keeping the Sabbath, the fifth commandment is very straight to the point: the English does it in four words. You shall not kill. Does that speak to issues of death with dignity, capital punishment, abortion? What about drones armed with deadly weapons that can be deployed remotely? What about nuclear weapons or chemical weapons? Does it refer to driving while intoxicated or texting?
Today ninety percent of our young live together before marriage. Birth control and antibiotics have made that practical. Between a survey taken in 2005 and one taken in 2010 the number of unmarried sixty year old and older living with a partner increased by fourteen percent. What does that say about how we interpret the sixth commandment. We’ve strictly defined the word adultery to mean “sexual intercourse by a married person with a person not their spouse.” We’ve also been busy redefining the meaning of marriage and spouse.
Does stealing have anything to do with the growing divide between the rich and the poor – that question has implications for the international and well as individual agenda. Do developed nations steal from the underdeveloped? Do the wealthy, as nations or individuals, take more than what is rightfully theirs and thus violate the seventh commandment?
With the political scene heating up it’s got to be uncomfortable for some to raise the implications of the eighth commandment. But on a person level have we solved the problems of simple spreading of rumor and innuendo?
And covetousness? Some would call this the American commandment. With men and women both having to work outside the home to make ends meet and having to work in close proximity with other than their own spouses can find themselves drawn into illicit relationships. That’s the neighbor’s spouse piece of it. But covetousness goes beyond the sexual and causes us to want the things that others have acquired by their effort or by inheritance or by having to have been at the right place and the right time. Our whole culture teaches coveting. It’s called getting ahead.
Jesus highlighted the two commandments upon which the rest rest. From Deuteronomy 5 he said the first and greatest commandment is ” You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind “ He followed that by quoting from Leviticus 19 “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Both are serious challenges to a narcissistic society. He invites us to love God in such a complete way that it takes precedent over every other relationship – and thus puts all those other relationships in perspective. He invites us to care as much about the needs of others as we do for our own. Do these, and you shall live. Do these, and you will understand what it means to find life.
Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. 5You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. 6Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. 7Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. 8Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, 9and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.