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To The Thousandth Generation of Those Who Love Me

  • March 4, 2018
  • 08:00 AM

Sermon for March 4, 2018 (Lent 3, Year B – Faith Family Sunday)

Offered by Nathan Ferrell at The Episcopal Church of Saint Mary

Texts:             Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19; John 2:13-22

Title:               To the Thousand Generation of Those Who Love Me

“For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God…showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Exodus 20:5-6).

My friends: how is your life shaped and guided by these 10 commandments? How do you demonstrate that you are one of those who love God and keep God’s commandments?

Today we put our focus on these 10 Commandments, one of the most famous texts of the Bible. Truth be told, it is better actually to say the 10 Words. That is literally what the Decalogue means – the 10 Words, coming from the Greek words for 10 and Logos, the Word.

These 10 words set the foundation for the people of Israel in their new identity as a free, redeemed community. Remember that Moses received these words on the mountain of Sinai soon after the crossing of the Red Sea.

And ever since those days, these 10 words have been foundational for everyone who has sought to live a life that is pleasing to God.

In fact, do you know that Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson both proposed that the Great Seal of the new United States of America contain an image of Moses leading the people through the Red Sea and into a new land of freedom?

A different idea was chosen instead, but it shows the power of this image of the march to freedom which shaped even the founding of our own nation.

During the time of the Protestant Reformation, all of the Reformers were keen to make sure that these 10 Commandments were read every Sunday, along with the Lord’s Prayer and the Creed as the three basic elements of the faith that everyone needed to know by heart.

Perhaps some of you had to memorize the 10 Commandments as you prepared for Confirmation. Anyone? A show of hands? I did as well when I was in grade 8.

Since the days of Benjamin Franklin, our own American Book of Common Prayer included a requirement that the 10 Commandments were to be read once on each Sunday in public worship  – that is, until the 1928 Prayer Book, which loosened that requirement to only one Sunday each month.

But why exactly are these 10 words so important, so foundational? Why have they been read and memorized for thousands of years? Perhaps it is because this text gives us the complete outline for the new life of freedom with God.

“I am the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Exodus 20:1)!

It all begins by pointing back to Egypt – a reminder of that place of horror and slavery under Pharaoh from which God had just delivered them.

Understand this! The way of Pharaoh is the way of fear and anxiety. This was true in the days of Moses, but it is true today as well! Because the way of Pharaoh is still with us!

“Be afraid!” Pharaoh says, “because I need more! And you will never have enough. So you had better covet your neighbor’s stuff, and you might have to go and steal some of it for yourself! Or kill someone who stand in your way!”

But perhaps more often, the way of Pharaoh is far more subtle than that. It may be that voice telling you that you are not good enough, or not beautiful enough, or not young enough, or not smart enough. It’s just a little, small voice inside, but so it is VERY persistent.

ALL of this represents the way of Pharaoh which is the path of anxiety, scarcity and fear.

However, by contrast, the way of God is the path of freedom and trust. I am the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt. Earlier in the text they are reminded that God carried them out on eagle’s wings, soaring over the troubles of the world below.

This is the where it all begins! With a God who makes us, and who sees our suffering, and who comes to deliver us, and who leads us into a new place of freedom and hope and peace – into a land flowing with milk and honey.

But how are we to live like free people in this new land? And how do we make sure that we stay free, that we don’t fall back into the ways of Pharaoh?

That’s what these 10 commandments are all about – about maintaining our freedom!

These 10 words are NOT a form of bondage to keep you from doing what you really want. That’s what many people seem to think – people who do not understand what God has done in liberating us from slavery.

So, to turn it around, these 10 words are, in fact, the underlying structure which enables you to do what you really want! To live a life that is free and whole and complete.

Let’s look briefly at just one of these Commandments in particular to see how this works: “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. For six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. You shall not do any work” (Exodus 20:8-10).

“Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8). This word is about time. TIME as the sanctuary in which the blessing of God is found.

It is a remarkable part of the Bible’s vision that the blessing of heaven comes NOT from a special image which must be carved or decorated in a certain way. And it does not come from a special place which must be visited.

First and always first, the blessing of God is found in time. In special time. In set apart, different time. And the people of God set this time apart together. It is a sign of their freedom.

Do you know why? Because Pharaoh never stops for sabbath rest. Pharaoh keeps working all the time, building more and more, getting more and more. In the land of Egypt, the work never ended, because Pharaoh always demands more.

Pharaoh never rests. His hunger is insatiable and those who follow that way are always working, always afraid that they will never have enough.

But the people of the covenant are free to stop and rest. Why is that?

Because their life depends on the goodness of God who has set them free. The people of the covenant can trust that God will provide, because they know what God has already done, and they know that God is faithful.

And so the people of the covenant gladly keep the sabbath day – out of love and gratitude for what God has done.

Because if they do not, they may surely fall back into the fear and greed and anxiety of Pharaoh. And they would thereby – sadly – give their own freedom away.

So, my friends, I am wondering: how is your life shaped and guided by these 10 commandments?

Have you embraced these 10 words? Do you treasure them as signs of the new life that God has given to us? As vital guides for the life of the Body of Christ?

May it be so. And may we always be among those who love God and keep these commandments. Amen.

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