Thou Shall!

I don’t know about you, but as soon as I’m told I can’t do something, I want to do it! Even a sign, telling me to keep out, makes me want to go in. Now, I’m generally pretty law abiding, so I don’t generally act on my impulses, but they are definitely there!

Today’s reading is the 10 Commandments. Full of you shall not! And I confess that even after delving into them repeatedly over the years, my first reaction and feeling is one of constraint and almost shame, as if I’m about to be scolded! So, this time, they are going to be read in a little bit different way. But before we get to them, I’m going to back up and give you a little context:

After God parted the sea and brought the people out of Egypt and into freedom, God led them, as a pillar of cloud and fire, through the wilderness. When they complained about having no food, God gave them manna every morning. When they complained about having no water, God showed Moses a rock to hit with his staff and water flowed. When they were tired, God led them to an oasis where they could camp. We pick up the story in the book of Exodus: (Adapted from Rev. Teri Peterson)

3 Then Moses went up to God; the Lord called to him from the mountain, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob and tell the Israelites: 4 ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now, therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, 6 but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites.” 7 So Moses went, summoned the elders of the people, and set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him. Then God spoke all these words, 2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 3 you shall have no other gods before[a] me.

  1. I am the Holy One… the one that created all life… the one who created you to live with respect in creation. I am the one who liberates you from the bondage that is worshipping things you create. For those things will not give you life.

4 “You 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. 5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me 6 but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation[b] of those who love me and keep my commandments.

  1. Do not put your faith in things that are humanly created. Not your lofty buildings, not your economics, not even your technology. For these things are all temporary, only I am constant. When you put your trust and faith in me, your children will benefit for generations to come.

7 “You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

  1. Use my name only to call upon me. To use it in other ways diminishes its power and awe.

8 “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10 But 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. 11 For 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.

  1. Open yourself to Sabbath healing. The practice of stopping makes you realize that the world continues on without you. You are not a machine, endlessly working, you are created with built in rhythms for rest and work, for business and renewal. Sabbath keeping frees you from consuming or being consumed. Spend time with me intentionally, so that we make become closer to one another.

12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.

  1. Be grateful to your parents, for they gave you life. Forgive the mistake they made, bless them and thank them for your place in the world.

13 “You shall not murder.

  1. Do not murder anyone; do not participate in systems that extinguish life. Do not use violence to try and create peace, it never works.

14 “You shall not commit adultery.

  1. Be faithful in your romantic and sexual relationships, for in faithfulness is the delight of deeper knowing and intimacy. Pain and sorrow will be yours without faithfulness.

15 “You shall not steal.

  1. Don’t take anything that is not yours.

16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

  1. Don’t lie, or cheat or spread rumours and gossip.

17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, male or female slave, ox, donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

  1. Do not be jealous of what others have, jealously corrodes the soul and has the capacity to make you believe that your value lies in how much you possess. Know that you are a beloved child of mine. Inspired by Rachel Keefe –

The rewriting sounds much more acceptable, doesn’t it? They don’t sound constraining at all now do they? And it’s not negating the meaning, just making it more relevant for us today. Remember, Moses is relaying God’s message to a people who had been enslaved… slaves don’t have any control over their relationships… and God was giving them guidelines on how to live in relationship with him and with each other.

Someone shared a story with me this week about how their friends respond to them differently now that they are attending church. I haven’t asked the person’s permission to share it, so I’m not going to identify them, but it was identical to the experience I had when I started attending church as an adult when I was about 35. Those around me seemed to think that my life was getting narrow and constrained, whereas I was experiencing it as opening and growing. The deeper I explored faith, the richer my life became. And we can look at the 10 commandments in the same way.

Jesus said that the two greatest commandments were to love God and love your neighbour as yourself. Neither of those are in the 10 commandments, but… when we look at the commandments, we discover that the first four concern our relationship with God. And then next six concern our relationship with each other. Love God, love your neighbour as yourself.

On this Thanksgiving Sunday, we can give thanks for so many things, and I hope each one of you has loved ones around a table to share them with.

We can give thanks for God who created all things and gave us life. We can give thanks for companions on the journey. We can give thanks for boundaries that encourage healthy connections.

Here’s a short version:

Thanks be to God, this day and always, amen.

Exodus 19:3-7; 20:1-17
October 9, 2022 – SMUC

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