On September 2nd, I will begin a sermon series on the Ten Commandments. What’s your first response? Be honest. Is it “This is a great opportunity to learn more about the commandments?” Or, is it, “Is this ever going to be a downer? He’s going to be talking about how bad we are?” Or is it, “Oh good, he’s going to lay it on the line about bad people?”
There is no question but that the mention of the Ten Commandments generates all kinds of different responses, from jokes to adamant defense. Despite the fact that it is unlikely that many Christians can actually recite them, and even fewer recite them in the order they appear in Exodus 20 or in Deuteronomy 5, the Ten Commandments have always been regarded as a core expression of our faith, much the same as the Lord’s Prayer.
Over the next weeks we will consider each of the commandments. We will try to understand what they meant in their own time and what they might mean for us in ours. Were the commandments important to Jesus? As Christians, are we obliged to obey them? Some have concluded that the commandments are out-dated and are no longer binding on us today. You may be surprised to find yourself in that category on some of them. If you stay with me through this series you will not only learn the commandments in a way that you won’t soon forget, but you may decide that they have something to say about your life here and now. At least, that is my hope. As we go through these weeks, I welcome your comments and questions on the blog. I will try to respond to questions in the sermons.
That many people have taken the commandments as laws like other laws they have known is understandable, but the Ten Commandments are not just “Law;” they are also “Grace.” One of the ways Christians have most consistently misunderstood the commandments is the way we have often misunderstood the Hebrew Bible, what we call the “Old Testament.” Many of us were brought up to believe that the God of the Old Testament is a God of “Law,” while the God of Jesus and the New Testament is a God of “Love,” or a God of “Grace.” That’s been a temptation to which Christians have often succumbed to set themselves apart from our Jewish heritage. If the commandments are to have anything positive to say to us in our time, I think we will have to rediscover how the commandments are as much about “grace” as about “law.”
You've probably heard the expression: Justice is getting what we deserve. Mercy is not getting what we deserve. Grace is getting what we don't deserve. That word of “grace” is the very first word in the commandments: "Then God spoke all these words. I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery." Just a few years before these words were spoken, the Hebrews were slaves in Egypt. They had no identity and they had no hope. But through Moses, God freed them. Now they were in the wilderness at the foot of Mount Sinai. God calls Moses up on the mountain and gives him the commandments. But before the actual commandments are given to the people, there is a word about the God who is giving them. These “laws” are not simply the requirements of a whimsical superior who demands loyalty just because she or he is bigger and more powerful. They are the commandments of a God who has saved a "nobody" people from slavery. They are the commandments of a God who loved and cared for this people before they could do anything on their own. Those opening words tell us who this God is and who we are. The commandments are given out of the loving grace of God, not the capricious whim of an absent sovereign. We are to obey the commandments out of gratitude for the grace of God who loved us enough to save us from certain destruction and who now gives us a framework for full and creative living.
I am looking forward to thinking with you about these fundamental elements of faithful living. I hope you are too.