27 May 2017 The Bottom Line Martin Baker
Over the next three weeks we are going to be taking a look at the Ten Commandments. I’ve summarised them very briefly for you in the inside of the order of service.
Interestingly, archaeologists have discovered a number of different legal codes from the ancient world. One of the most ancient and influential were the Codes of Hammurabi.
The Ten Commandments describe some things unique to the Hebrew People. Someone described the Ten Commandments like the 10 fence posts that build the fence that surrounds and protects a community. Many things have frameworks that make them possible. Music has its discipline, art is contained within some kind of frame, and so, with the Ten Commandments, is this community.
In the ancient story, the Israelites, the Hebrew people, have been led by Moses out of slavery in Egypt. They come to Mount Sinai. Moses goes up into the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments.
He’s away for 40 days. People get tired of waiting. And they make a calf of gold and worship that instead.
Moses comes down from the mountains, excited to share these commandments which he has received from God. He is very unhappy about how quickly people have given up worshipping and following God, and so he breaks the stones the law is written on. Then, a while later, the people and Moses repeat the process again – this time with a much better reception.
The people are coming into this new land. The ground rules for this new world. And this morning we are going to hear the words that introduce the Ten Commandments.
Exodus 19:1 On the third new moon after the Israelites had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that very day, they came into the wilderness of Sinai. 2 They had journeyed from Rephidim, entered the wilderness of Sinai, and camped in the wilderness; Israel camped there in front of the mountain. 3 Then Moses went up to God; the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, "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."
Let us pray
Has anyone here ever signed a petition?
About a month ago I signed a petition. A petition to have a pedestrian crossing in Clevedon.
Now imagine I’ve decided to get on with this and I’ve bought 20 litres of white road paint. And I think as a church together (and especially with the extra people who have come to support Alannah and Blake) we will each grab a paint brush after the service. We’ll block off the traffic, and we will paint a pedestrian crossing just across the road over there.
A bit of a poll here.
How many of you think that we should be the ones who decide where a pedestrian crossing should be going?
How many of you would be willing to join me and stop the traffic and paint the crossing?
And how many of you would think this would be an act of vandalism? That we would be breaking the law?
How many of you would visit me in prison?
And would you be more inclined to visit me in prison knowing that I had ended up there for painting the crossing or if I had ended up there because ,I had, say, stolen something, or committed a burglary?
Where are the ten commandments in all of this? The teachings of Jesus?
A few months before he was taken away to be tried and executed, Jesus was asked by the establishment types, the puffed shirt types in his society, teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
So keeping that in mind in our little story today
At what point did we break one of the ten commandments?
When we decided to take the pedestrian crossing on ourselves?
When we painted the crossing?
When I got caught?
When you planned to visit me in prison but changed your mind because you discovered I was really there because I was caught stealing?
The reason I’m asking these question this morning is because they relate to one of the most ancient philophical questions. And also one of the most modern. And its one that we mostly take for granted, but it still behind almost all we do.
Maybe the ten commandments seem far too out of date. But what holds things together? Why do you do what you do? Why doesn’t each of us simply go out and do whatever it is that we want to do whenever we want to do it? Some of those things are hard to explain. Socrates, Locke, and Hobbes, Rousseau, almost every ancient and modern philosopher has wrestled with this thing. Someone called the social contract. This often unspoken agreement we have to work, live, be together. To survive and flourish we have to agree on some principles – and often we never speak about them. Perhaps we need to.
There are hermits on Great Barrier Island. And they mostly do, I assume, whatever that want whenever they want to do it. But recently one of these men became unwell. And so the community got a big grader and they dragged his old bus from where it had been, so called, illegally parked for many years, and they dragged it all the way to a more populated part of the island. Not far from the medical centre.
So on the whole the island community is quite respectful of those who want to live alone and do whatever it is they do. And we might say who cares? But on the other hand they are amazingly good and supporting people in times of need. No legal process is involved, even though it could be. Just a big grader, 6 people and a chain. Something is there. People somehow come together and say it’s time we moved the hermit. (We could say similar things about our community)
What is that something?
Our scriptures celebrate that something. They call it hesed. Kindness, loving kindness. We would use the word grace. And every time that kindness is witnessed whoever does it, the Bible celebrates it as sign of God’s presence. That, as subtle as it is, there is something else at work greater than even our own personal needs and desires.
In fact, ancient Hebrew writing is very uninterested in what is going on our heads. You might have all sorts of thoughts and issues and concerns. But what is going to make a difference?
What matters it concrete. Hesed has to be something real. Some of the best-selling books today are about coming to terms with who we are, how our parents treated us, how we feel about things. Self-improvement. Making more money.
But to the rich guy with all his worry and guilt and issues, Jesus said sell what you have and give it to the poor.
It even sounds harsh sometimes. To someone who was grieving he said, come, follow me.
What difference are your beliefs making? And especially what difference does it make to our neighbour. What difference is it going to make to Alannah and Blake?
So it is really important to say then that as we look at the ten commandments over the next couple of weeks, we need to think of them not first as rules. In fact they are not written as rules. There is no punishment associated here with breaking them. They are more like a constitution for us. Guiding principles. They create a platform for acts of kindness and goodness.
And there are three points in the reading today that explain to us something of the fundamentals.
We read today that the Israelites had gone out of the land of Egypt.
They had been enslaved there, and God, through God’s servant Moses, had led them out of slavery.
So first of all the 10 commandments are for people who know freedom. So whatever the 10 commandments are about they are not about enslaving people again. Jesus said come to me all who are heavy laden and I will give you rest. God is first known as the one who brings freedom, real freedom, that’s at the basis of the relationship “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” “I bore you on eagles’ wings.”
And the second point is that the ten commandments are not about me or you. They are not first of all about us becoming better, more religious, people. The law is not about us -- it is about our neighbours. God gives you the law, not so that you can get more spiritual nor have your best life now, but so that your neighbour can have her or his best life now.
Notice how many times God made this point in the Ten Commandments: Do not bear false witness against your neighbour. Do not covet your neighbour’s house. Do not covet your neighbour’s spouse. When it is the day of rest, make sure that all of your neighbours -- from yours sons and daughters right down to your sheep and oxen -- get to rest just like you do. And for older people-- “your father and your mother” -- are still your neighbours as well.
Paul makes the same point in Galatians: “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’” Paul isn’t saying that if you have warm cosy feelings about your neighbour, then you’ve done all that you have to do. Paul is saying: The bottom line of the entire law is that it is about loving the neighbour. Hebrew thought is seldom abstract.
And that is good news. Good news for my neighbour. God loves them so much that God tells me not to kill, steal, commit adultery, and so on. And good news for me. God loves me so much that God tells my neighbour not to kill, steal, and so on.
So what does our social contract look like? What commitments have we to one another? Now government, no rules, no laws can make us more living or caring...
As Alannah and Blake grow who is there that are going to affirm their worth and value? To tell them how much they are loved. To remind them that following Christ and finding our purpose is about qualities of service and sacrifice.
These ancient people had so many God around them. So many options.
The God we see revealed in Jesus does not promise Blake or Alannah wealth prosperity or ease, or freedom from loss or suffering.
But they and we are promised life in its fullness. A new freedom. A Promise of this thing called eternal life. Not a pie in the sky idea but a reality that starts today as we allow ourselves to be embraced by God’s love.
We can make choices today. To open ourselves to God’s work, and to know as those ancient people knew. God says to them and to us, ‘I have born up you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself.’
Would you like to share in our purpose and mission? We believe that good relationships, open discussion and a genuine desire to seek God’s calling allows us to grow as people and a community together.