We are going to have a test this morning. A pop quiz. You’ll find paper at the end of the pew and pencils in the pew racks. OK, first question. What are the ingredients in a Big Mac? You’ve got 30 seconds. Second question: List the eight states that border Tennessee and their capitals. 30 seconds. Third question: List Santa’s reindeer. Fourth question: List the Harry Potter books. Final question: List the 10 commandments.
How did you do on the 10 commandments? A couple of years ago, the Supreme Court ruled on two cases involving the public display of the Ten Commandments. Justice Scalia noted that he thought that while 90 percent of Americans probably believed in the Ten Commandments, he doubted that 85 percent of us could name them.
“Last year Promenade Pictures released the animated movie The Ten Commandments. As part of their marketing, they commissioned Kelton Research to poll 1,000 people on their recall of Big Mac ingredients vs. Commandments. It appears that Ronald is keeping Moses in bondage. Eighty percent of Americans knew the Big Mac had two all-beef patties while just over 50 percent knew “Thou shalt not kill” was a commandment. Only 14 percent knew all 10. Even those who attend church or synagogue at least once a week have a bit of trouble naming them all. The top two mentioned commandments — Thou shalt not kill and Thou shalt not steal — were recalled by 70 percent and 69 percent respectively. The Big Mac was more memorable — 79 percent knew of its all-beef patties and 76 percent knew it came with lettuce. Religious people get all bent out of shape if the Ten Commandments are pulled off courtroom walls, but they aren’t able to pull up the Decalogue themselves. ” (Quoted from Homiletics at http://www.homileticsonline.com/subscriber/btl_display.asp?installment_id=93040410)
The confusion doesn’t just include the contents of the commandments. Roman Catholics and Protestants count the commandments differently. Roman Catholics view the first commandment as including all the words from “I am the Lord your God” , “you shall have no other gods before me” and “ you shall not make idols”. Protestants separate the words about having no other gods and not making idols into two commandments. And, in the Jewish tradition, these are not commandments, but the Decalogue, the ten words. The Jewish tradition begins with the first word “I am the Lord your God”.
So, it’s no wonder there is so much confusion about the meaning of the commandments, if Christians can’t even agree on which ones are which. It gets even more complicated when one begins to consider grace and the role of grace in our salvation. If we are saved by grace and not works, do these commandments even have a place in our lives? Because we are saved though God’s love, does it matter what we do. Since we can’t possibly do enough good works to save ourselves, then why should we try at all.
If we begin at the first word, we can find an answer. God begins by introducing God’s self to the Israelites. God says “I am the lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” God did not introduce God’s self by telling the people God’s name. Moses had asked for God’s name and God replied “I Am who I Am” or “I Will Be Who I Will Be”. God didn’t tell the Israelites God’s name. God also didn’t say that God was the God of their ancestors, of Abraham and Sarah, words the Israelites often used to identify their God. God says that God is the one who brought them out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. God identifies God’s self as a God who liberates people from slavery, a God who frees people. Now, that is certainly an interesting way to begin a set of rules that takes away our absolute freedom, our freedom to do as we please, to worship as we please. God liberates us from oppression, but then God gives us a set of rules that God expects us to live by. What is that about? Talk about giving with one hand and taking away with the other.
Glenn McDonald, the author of a book I am reading begins his book by telling of an experience. His parents decided to celebrate their wedding anniversary by taking all their children and grandchildren on a cruise. The parents who were experienced at cruising excitedly told the author that on the second night of the cruise, they would be able to shake hands with the ship’s captain at the reception. The author confidently told his wife that he would find a way to get out of that bit of folderol. As the author slept on the first night on the cruise, he was awakened by the loudspeaker. It was four in the morning, but the captain’s voice blared over the speaker. “We think that someone may have gone overboard. If you are not in your cabins, please return there and make sure that everyone in your party is present. If someone is missing, please let us know immediately.” The captain continued that they had alerted the Coast Guard and were turning the ship around to return to where the person was thought to have gone over. A while later the captain came back on to announce that there were two people unaccounted for. He announced their names and asked them to report to the staff if they were on board. Several hours later the captain announced that the missing man had been located by the Coast Guard and had been taken to a hospital. Evidently the man had entered a restricted area and had climbed on the bow of the ship so he could pretend he was king of the world as the actor in Titanic. While the author drew a different analogy from his experience, it reminded me of our need for rules to keep us safe. We need limitations on our freedom so that we can live in relationship with one another.
Imagine if there were no laws or rules as there are in some places. Imagine if you could not go outside without being afraid that someone would kill you. Imagine if you could not leave your house without being afraid that someone would break in and steal everything. Imagine if you could not trust your spouse to be faithful to you. These commandments provide a structure for us to develop relationships with one another. They provide trust so that we can build relationships with each other.
Almost every society provides rules like the last six commandments: honor your parents, don’t kill, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t covet, don’t lie because any society needs rules like these so that people can live together. What the Decalogue provides is four more rules. These are the first four rules that tell us where God’s place in our lives should be. We need only this God to care for us. We do not need other gods. We do not need the god of money for our security. We do not need the god of status for our security. We do not need the god of popularity for our security. We do not need the god of busy-ness for our security. We need only this one God. God does not want us to make an image of God. Our images of God, whether they are painted, carved, sculpted, or remain in our imaginations are ways that limit God, that constrain God to be either what we want God to be or only the little we can imagine God to be. God tells Moses God’s name: I Am who I Am; I Will be Who I Will Be. Humans cannot constrain our God. Humans cannot fully imagine who God is. God is bigger than we are. God is mysterious. We are to remember that our God is sacred, holy, awesome. And we do not need to work 24/7. Our God provides for us so that we may rest one day a week.
God is a God of freedom and liberation. Judge Moore, the Alabama judge, was a defendant in one of those two Supreme Court cases two years ago. Thomas Long notes that after he lost his case, Judge Moore carted his stone monument of the 10 Commandments around in a flat bed truck. The monument weighed 5280 pounds. Long notes this is more than 500 pounds per commandment. And this, he says, is how most of us think of the 10 Commandments: as burdens, as heavy burdens, as very heavy burdens. They are not burdens, but means of liberation and signs of liberation. We are liberated to worship a God who is in control. We are liberated to live with one another in peace and harmony. We are freed. Long describes the freedom of these commandments
“The Decalogue begins with the good news of what the liberating God has done and then describes the shape of the freedom that results. If we want to symbolize the presence of the Ten Commandments among us, we would do well to hold a dance. The good news of the God who set people free is the music; the commandments are the dance steps of those who hear it playing. The commandments are not weights, but wings that enable our hearts to catch the wind of God’s Spirit and to soar.” (http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=3333) Amen