“Our Journey’s Road Map”
Exodus 20:1-7
Dr. Robert J. Anderson
March 8, 2015

 

This season of Lent we continue looking at passages not usually associated in our minds with Lent.  The first two weeks of Lent we looked at passages from Genesis: the first week, it was the flood story and God’s covenant with Noah sealed with rainbow in the sky; the second week, it was the story of God’s covenant with Abraham and Sarah – new names for them and God – where God promises that they will be parents of a multitude of people.

 

Today we turn to the book of Exodus.  Here our reading is the Ten Commandments, or the Ten Teachings as I have been reading lately.  But, before we turn off at hearing the Ten Teachings instead of the Ten Commandments, let's look at that a little closer.

 

First of all, we should appreciate the setting of the Ten Teachings.  These Ten Commandments or teachings presuppose Israel’s history and its understanding of what it means to be in a covenant with God.  God has already entered into a covenant with Noah and Abraham.  Israel is already a people of the covenant.  God loves his people and pledges to guide, provide, and protect them and, in return, the people are to worship and obey.  These teachings lay before the people what it means to live out a covenant relationship with God.

 

Often times, The Ten Commandments are reduced to moral principles when the Ten Teachings really map out what it is like to live as a people of the covenant.  There are two tablets: the first one is about how we are to live before God; the second tablet is about how we are to live with one another.  However, we cannot separate these two tablets, because we cannot love God without loving our neighbor, and we cannot properly love our neighbor unless we are deeply rooted in our love for God.  Faithful worship of God leads to proper love for our neighbor.  Praise for God shapes our social responsibility toward our neighbor.  Good theology is good ethics.  “Having no other God’s before me” means that money, sex, and power are not to wiggle themselves into the place of God in our lives and won’t be used to exploit others.  Keeping the Sabbath is a reminder that creation is a gift and we are to be creation’s stewards.  Honoring our father and mother reminds us that we are not self-made, and we stand on the shoulders of those who went before us.  Not bearing false witness reminds us that we are to build up the community rather than tear it down.  Not murdering someone reminds us that others are a gift of God and bear his image.  Not taking the Lord’s name in vain invites us to a life of praise and thankfulness, rather than one of anger and criticism.

 

John Calvin wrote of three uses for the Ten Commandments.  The first use is to show us how we are to live with God and neighbor. These teachings cut open and expose our self-deception that we are “really good people.”  These teachings show the many ways we don’t live our lives before God and neighbors as we should.  The second use of The Ten Teachings is a civic one.  They restrain sin which isn’t simply individual but is also corporate.  The way we live with one another is social, corporate, and institutional.  The third use of the Ten Teachings is they are what the bible tells us.  They are “a lamp unto our feet.”  They guide us as we journey in our life with God.  They guide us as we journey in our life with our neighbors.  They DO NOT show us what we must do or how we must live in order to receive God’s covenantal grace.  THEY DO light the way to show us how we should live with God and our neighbors as people already given freely God’s grace in Jesus Christ.

 

Understanding the Ten Commandments as the Ten Teachings makes an important distinction.  They are not so much a list of moral imperatives as they are ways of living.  Jesus embodied the life lived out before God and live with our neighbor.  Jesus shows us what it is to live and love before the one he called Abbawith one’s whole life.  Jesus shows us what it means to live with our neighbor loving them as we do ourselves as we see his passion and death.

 

We shouldn’t see our reading of the Ten Commandments or Ten Teachings as a burden, but a gift.  It is an opportunity for us to deepen our faith and relationship with God.

 

In Lent, we are called to reflect on all the ways our lives don’t embody the kingdom and fall short of Christ-likeness.  Here, our reading gives us a road map to follow on our journey.  The Ten Teachings give us God’s vision of how a covenant between God and the people of Israel is to unfold.  This vision comes long after God heard the people’s cry in slavery in Egypt, the exodus, and feeding with manna and quail in the wilderness.  God already displayed his passionate love for the people.  God already displayed his love by liberating the people.

 

The teachings come to us as a gift from God to us.  The gift structures our common life together.  The gift shapes our individual lives so they are worthy of the God who rescued them and with whom we are in covenant.  The teachings are not divine “finger waving” or moral hand-slapping.  They are God's gift to set us free to live as the people of God.  God’s gift protects the community and opens a path to a flourishing life: the life of the individual and the community.

 

The Commandments, The Teachings, and Lent aren’t about religious moralism no matter how much we think they are.  Lent is about a journey of deepening our spirituality and shaping our lives in the image of Jesus Christ.  The teachings are a road map for our journey showing what it should be like to live our lives before God and with one another.  Following the map, we live lives that praise God and we live in friendship with our neighbors.