I was out of town last week. But two weeks ago, during our service at Mount Hebron Presbyterian, on our journey though the desert with the Hebrew people, we discovered how God provided for the people manna from heaven and quail meat. (sermon "Bread of Heaven" here). This coming week our sermon series, titled “Wilderness Living,” takes us to a pivotal moment in their pilgrimage. The day God gave to them the ten commandments. (Exodus 20:1-20)
The “Big Ten” have formed a bedrock for morality over centuries and a standard against which moral codes in many different cultures have been evaluated. In today's secular age, there are some who take exception to the specifically religious elements, but even the most irreligious of moralists often come up with similar ideas when it comes to getting along with each other in community.
Killing, telling lies, cheating, stealing and having excessive desire for things that do not belong to us (be that property or people) are things that most everybody agrees are not healthy paths to pursue. Likewise, “Faithfulness” is lifted up as an ideal bedrock for relationships, be that with our families or our life partners.
The distinctly religious aspects of the commandments appear in commands one through four. The first speak of responsibility before God. They basically say that we should make our pursuit of the love of God life's highest priority and should never use our religious beliefs in ways that deny God's love. That seems to be the implication in the summary Jesus offered in the gospels, when He answered a question put to Him about which was the most important commandment. “'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment.” (Matthew 22:37-38)
The fourth commandment has to do with Sabbath observance. Over the centuries this has often been interpreted in a legalistic and repressive way. Jesus did not seem to view things quite the same when He told His critics "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27) A more healthy way to view the “Sabbath” commandment is to suggest that we all need “down time” to renew our lives! Any farmer will tell you that the land itself has to be treated with respect or it can no longer produce good things. Taking time out to renew our relationships, with each other, with our world and with our God, is not an optional extra, but a vital component for a healthy life.
The Hebrews were heading towards their promised land. How were they expected to live when they arrived there? On their journey through the desert they showed, time and time again, they certainly needed some guidance. The “Big Ten” offered to them exactly the direction they needed.
As we visit the 10 commandments afresh in our own time, they can continue to be “Survival strategies” for people seeking a healthy and a balanced life. “Keep taking the tablets!”
For some music Kari Jobe sings “The more I seek You.”
The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.