Sermon 5 October 2014: “10 Commandments: ‘for’ or ‘from’?”

Text: Exodus 19:3-7; 20:1-17

Ok…so I want to see who was paying attention: can you name them all?  All 10 Commandments?  Let’s do a quick pop quiz……no cheating, no looking at your bulletin.  Let’s try to name them now.

(I had folks try to name them off collectively….but here they are for you, in case you need your memory jogged too)

  1. No other Gods/ no idols.
  2. Don’t misuse God’s name.
  3. Remember the Sabbath, keep it holy.
  4. Honor your father & mother.
  5. Don’t murder/kill.
  6. Don’t commit adultery.
  7. Don’t steal.
  8. Don’t lie/bear false witness against your neighbor.
  9. Don’t covet your neighbor’s house.
  10. Don’t covet your neighbor’s stuff (wife, slave, ox, donkey).

The 10 Commandments are “The Law” for Christians.  It’s part of our heritage and tradition.  Jesus said as much in the gospel of Matthew: “Do not think I came to abolish the Law….I have come to fulfill them.” (Matt. 5:17) The 10 Commandments matter; they’re important. In fact, I’d even say it’s a really good idea for us to follow them all the time.  The Israelites understood that through the Law, God was making them holy.  And in keeping the 10 Commandments, God is also making us holy today.

That is what these few short verses in Chapter 19 of our reading are about today.  God reminds the people of Israel how God has freed them from slavery, and draws them into a relationship of trust – the covenant.  God reminds them that he will protect and provide for them….all they need to do is keep up their end of the covenant by simply trusting God.  And in doing so, God will make them a priestly kingdom, a holy nation, just as God did with Abraham: “you will be blessed to be a blessing to all the families of the earth.”

Another way to think of God making us holy is that God is setting us apart.  God does this – God makes us holy, and just as God did with Israel, God does so for us today.

But why are we set apart?  To answer that question: we have to take a look at two little words, but words that make a huge difference – “from” and “for.”  

If we’re set apart “from,” then that means we’re to distance ourselves from the world.  If we’re set apart from, we’re supposed to think and behave and live in a way that rises above all the crap and the mess of the world.  We keep ourselves pure, blameless, innocent, good….or “Christian,” as I heard it a lot since I’ve moved here.  If we’re set apart “from,” then all those people out there who do bad shit and aren’t bothering to show up to church ever – they’re not worth blessing.  And definitely not God’s blessing.

But if we’re set apart “for” then that means something completely different.  It means that God’s set us apart for a special purpose; for a distinct reason.  And if the covenant is true, that God wants to bless “all the families of the earth,” then perhaps God sets us apart so that God might do that through each and every one of you.  We’re set apart, we live and act in faith, trusting in this God of promise so that others might see that God’s promises are in fact, for them too. We love and serve our neighbor, so that they might know the God we love and serve…..the God who through our love and service, is blessing them for a life of faith too.

That takes me back to the 10 Commandments.  If they’re 10 rules for how we set ourselves apart “from” the rest of the world, then they’re simply just that – rules.  Rules that we keep to make ourselves holy.  Rules that as we struggle to keep 100% of the time, much less remember all of the time.

But if the 10 Commandments are 10 words from God on how to we set ourselves apart “for” the rest of the world, then they become about acts of love and service to our neighbor…for their sake, rather than ours.  These 10 Commandments become words that shape our lives of faith so that they might know the God of promise we serve – and that God’s blessing is for them as well.

I figure this might be a good time for an example…..and for the sake of time let’s just take one of the commandments.  “Do not take the Lord’s name in vain” or as the text says more accurately, “You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God.”

For a long time, I used to think this was about setting myself apart “from” – about not swearing, or saying “Jesus Christ” or “God” when I get pissed off.  I thought it was about maintaining a standard – a rule – of “nice, appropriate” language, and that’s about it.  I’ve found over the years that I’m about 60% successful at that – and that’s on a good day.  I certainly fail…over and over.  In short, it’s pretty hard for me to take on a “holier than thou” attitude, much less think of myself holy before God.

But over time, I’ve come to understand that this commandment is really a word that holds me accountable for what I say about God – especially to others.  It holds me accountable for my words with others when I talk about God, and how God works.  When someone asks me, “What does God think of my….divorce? drug use? doubts about faith?” OR “Where is God in my….miscarriage?  homelessness & poverty? divorce? the suffering and death of my loved one? my chaotic life?”  What I say about God matters, because in those moments, people need to know about the God of promise and covenant.  They need to know the God revealed in Jesus Christ.  They need to know that God wants to bless them.  In this commandment, God is setting me apart “for” others….so that they might know these things – God’s blessing for their lives.

I have a copy of the 10 Commandments here for you this morning…..and I invite you to take one.  And I invite you to think about how these commandments are words that shape your lives, setting you apart for others, so that others may know of the God of promise and covenant, the God of Jesus Christ how frees from sin, saves by grace, and blesses all people.  And if you’re feeling brave, I’d invite you to write some of those thoughts down and email or drop them off at the office for me to read.

But if you don’t feel that brave, I hope at least that you’ll reflect on how these commandments are setting you apart “for” – and in that task, may you know the God that is drawing you to godself…..and making you each and every day, holy.  Amen.


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