Faith United Methodist Church

October 8, 2017

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Rev. Kristabeth Atwood

Scripture: Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20

Prayer of Illumination:

The weight of your words, your laws, your commandments and decrees can become an impossible burden, Lord, if we allow them to overwhelm and crush us.  Yet they were meant to be life-giving, vital and alive – the foundation for our lives, the chief cornerstone of your church, the living temple of God.  As we reflect upon your laws, guide our words and our thoughts.  Amen.

Sermon:  Rule of Life

Sometimes it feels good to break the rules, doesn’t it?  Swimming next to the “No Swimming” sign.  Speeding down the highway when no other cars are around.  Eating that candy bar after the sell-by date.  As Katharine Hepburn is thought to have said, “If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun.”

In our Confirmation class last summer, we talked a lot about rules.  We set up Ground Rules at our first class.  Things like be respectful; give everyone a chance to talk; don’t use your phone during class.   We studied John Wesley’s General Rules.  And we even tried to create a game where the only rule was that you could have no rules.  In the end, we decided that a game with no rules was really no fun.

The purpose of our no rule-rule game, though, was to demonstrate that rules ~ guidelines, laws ~ are important for living a meaningful life.  Rules provide a framework in which to enact our faith and live out our days.  Without rules, it’s just chaos.  For example, John Wesley’s general rules are:  Do no Harm, Do Good, and Stay in Love with God.  Those are rules that I can get behind, rules that can shape a faithful life. 

The truth is, though, that we sometimes chafe at rules.  We like to leave our phones on in the movie theater and chew gum in class.  It was probably this kind of human rebelliousness that drove Moses crazy as he led the Israelites through the wilderness.  God told them not to collect more manna than they needed for the day, but you’ve got to know there was that guy with the stash in his tent.  God told them not to worship any other Gods, but we know what happened with the golden calf.  In today’s Scripture God, through Moses, tried to lay down the law, set the boundaries, establish the ground rules for these people who God decided to save and make his very own.   

Some have described the Ten Commandments as God’s gift of law.  We often think of rules as burdens but what if we, instead, think of rules as blessings?   The Ten Commandments present the kind of life God wants for us, a life of honoring God and honoring each other.  The Ten Commandments lay out the boundaries for healthy relationships.

And the Ten Commandments are very ~ how do we say it ~ down to earth.  They speak of jealousy, revenge and adultery, lying, swearing and obsession. Things that make a good plot for a soap opera and, if we are honest with ourselves, things with which we struggle throughout our lives.  As preacher Dianne Bergant affirms, “Reverence for the law seems to promise the best that life has to offer.”  The Ten Commandments aren’t archaic rules, irrelevant to us in our modern lives. They are a way of life that leads to peace, reconciliation and wholeness for those who follow them.

Yet, to understand the relevance of the Ten Commandments, we must recognize that they form the foundation of the Jewish law that we find in or Old Testament.  And Jesus, coming from the Jewish culture and tradition, grew up with the law and was taught the law as a child. The law informed Jesus world view and teaching.  In the Gospel of Matthew we hear Jesus affirm, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”  Jesus came to live the commandments of God.  And he came to show us the way, through grace and love, to live them for ourselves.

As such, the Ten Commandments are not just words to be studied, but are meant to be lived.  The people of Israel lived the Ten Commandments in relationship with each other and the living God.  D. Brent Laytham shared his opinion in The Christian Century when he wrote, “The appropriate display of the [Ten Commandments] is not a plaque on the wall….but the faithful people of God.”  When we live faithful, loving lives we embody God’s law.

Despite what common sense might tell us, following God’s rule of life doesn’t give us a greater burden to bear.  In fact, it is quite the opposite.  When we reject jealousy, revenge, lying, and abuse we are set free.  This is the wisdom of God.  We are set free to love, to serve, to be witnesses to all that God has done for us. As Amy Erickson put it, “The commandments mean to sketch out a space where human beings can live fruitful, productive and meaningful lives before God and with one another.”  When we are free from jealousy and vengeful thoughts and greed we have more energy for joy and love and service.  When we acknowledge that God is the source of all that we have we become generous in our dealings with others and creation.

God shared the Ten Commandments not as a burden, but as a gift.  Living the Ten Commandments as a rule for life is a way to live in responsible relationship with God and with each other.  When we live the commandments we show others the joy that is living in relationship with God.

As our Seasons of the Spirit puts it, “Such wise laws expand our understanding of God’s intent for community.”  They reflect God’s vision for the world.  Our obedience to the Ten Commandments reflects our gratitude for all that God has done and continues to do.  So maybe obeying the rules isn’t so bad.  Maybe obeying the rules is actually the way to have more fun!

After all, they are commandments.  They are not suggestions, good maxims, options, principles or electives.  We don’t call them the Ten Recommendations.   They are commandments.  They are God’s rule of life.  They are the living words of God.  Living the Ten Commandments is a practice of living in relationship.  Because of the Ten Commandments we are free to live loving God and loving neighbor.  What a wonderful gift!