Monday, July 24, 2017

Sermon on Exodus 20:1-17, for the 6th Sunday after Trinity (1 Year Lectionary), "The Ten Commandments"

See also the catechetical hymn that I wrote as a paraphrase of the commandments and their explanations, to use as a sermon hymn:

Sermon Outline:
·         The most widely recognized set of laws—often represented with the symbol of two stone tablets. But how well are they known, individually? Name by heart? 1st Table, 2nd Table (Jesus made this division—Love God, Love neighbor). Which is the first? “I am the Lord…out of the house of slavery…” or “You shall have no other gods before me?” Numbering is not so important; content is; don’t reduce.
·         In Proverbs 1, Solomon describes the foolishness of violent and greedy men, and says that their plans for evil are in reality setting an ambush or a trap for their own lives (Prov. 1:18-19). The point is that they are greedily pursuing their own interests, but as it turns out—disobeying God’s commands is actually against our own interests. Whether in the short run, or the long run, the consequences of disobeying the 10 Commandments are proven through thousands of years of human sin. We disregard God’s Word at our own peril, and the Truth is that He has set down the commandments for our own good, and not for our harm. He threatens to punish those who hate Him, but promises steadfast love to thousands of generations of those who love Him and keep His commandments.
·         But in our short-sightedness we often judge things differently. We make excuses for our sin by calling God a kill-joy, or trying to claim that commandments run against our nature, or that His commands are arbitrary. And so we treat them as “suggestions” or “advice” that can be ignored—but not seeing that disobedience is actually against our own interests.
·         But to say that disobedience is against our own interests, is really only to name our second biggest problem. Sin is not just harmful to us, or others—but in reality, as David confessed after sinning with Bathsheba—“against you O Lord, against you only have I sinned.” Our biggest problem is the offense against God. When we break any of the commandments, what we really have done is dishonored and disregarded God’s authority. It’s just doubling down on the trouble that this makes things bad for us as well.
·         Let’s consider an example from each of the commands, how it goes against our own interest. #1. Worshipping false gods, however satisfying it might briefly be to worship money, fame, or some fictional god of our own creation—is against our own interests, because as God tells His people in Isaiah 45—false gods have no power to save or hear our prayers. #2 Taking God’s Name in vain can mean to curse someone by God’s name, or to teach or act falsely using the Name of God. This really is dangerous, because God will not be mocked, and allow His name to be dishonored. #3: Failing to remember the Sabbath day deprives us both of physical and spiritual rest that we need. Both are vital to our health.
·         #4. Dishonoring parents or authorities—God warns that this shortens our life and our blessings—in other words, a life of respect, honor, and obedience trends much more towards happiness, peace in the home and society, and fulfillment. The alternative leads to bad choices and bitterness. #5 Murder, or taking of innocent life has predictable outcomes—haunting guilt for most, and crime leads to punishment for most. Taking innocent life also diminishes us. #6 Adultery, goes against our interest in many ways—not only sowing the seeds of bitterness, jealousy, and worse passions—but also when sex is taken outside of God’s designed context of marriage, it undermines the foundation of family. Serving our own passions seems attractive in the short term, but in the long run, it also is against our interests #7 Stealing also makes our own possessions less secure, as we expect others to do unto us as we do unto them. #8 Lying or slandering others destroys reputations, but it also taints us, as the ones who carry evil on our tongues, and destroys our integrity. #9 & 10, coveting our neighbor’s house, wife, workers, etc—this sows the seeds of discontentment and greed in our hearts, and leaves us continually dissatisfied with what we have.
·         Obviously these are just quick examples, and each commandment could be explored much more thoroughly for the reasons it goes against our own interests to break them. But even more importantly, why is it against God’s will for us? Because the commandments aren’t given for our harm, but for our good. God wants to reward those who keep them—because aligning our lower desires and passions with the higher virtues and noble things to which He calls us, is actually what’s truly in our own interest. The whole book of Proverbs explores the dynamic of wisdom and foolishness, and how wisdom is found in the pursuit of God, of His word and commands, and what is good.
·         The author of our Sunday Bible study has described the 10 Commandments as God’s “House Rules,” playing off the words that begin the commandments: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” Egypt was a “house of slavery.” Now God had given them ten good commands that would govern a life meant for freedom and blessing. But how did they get into the “house of freedom?” It was completely by grace. God elaborates on this many times to them, but basically God says they didn’t deserve what they got, but God did this because He loved them! He redeemed them out of the bondage of Pharaoh. It’s no coincidence that the New Testament considers Jesus’ deliverance of us from the bondage of sin, to be a New Exodus. Note that we don’t get into the house of freedom  on the basis of our obedience to these ten commands—but that our entrance is by grace! Sadly, like ancient Israel, we often, against our own interests, set out to return to the house of slavery. Freedom is not easy—but slavery is—and when Jesus tells us that whoever sins is a slave to sin—we know where that road leads. But only the Son can set us free.
·         So who lives in this “house of freedom” that we’re describing? God our heavenly Father. And what does Jesus tells us that His Father does, when a lost son or daughter has run away from home, and squandered their life in reckless living…what does God do when they return home to Him? Go scrub the toilets? Go be my slave till you prove your worthy? No, God runs out to them with open, rejoicing arms, embracing us and rejoicing that the lost is found.
·         You see, the 10 Commandments describe God’s perfect will for our lives. But we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Our score is none too impressive on the Ten Commandments. But God hasn’t been keeping score, or every last one of us would be forever ruined. Rather, He is gracious to forgive—therefore we fear, love, and trust in Him above all things. Rather, He invites us home by grace, restoring us to become His children once again. And furthermore, He does not abandon His desire for us to keep the commandments, but takes away the fear and dread of their punishment, by laying every curse and judgment of the law against our sins, upon Jesus Christ, who willingly bore it all on the cross. Jesus paid the full price for our disobedience. But that’s not all the good news! There’s still more! He not only bore your sin, but He perfectly obeyed the Ten Commandments through and through, and God credits His righteousness on your behalf! That’s what the beautiful truth of justification is all about. God counts the righteousness of Jesus to those who believe in Him. By faith, His righteousness, innocence, is yours! But that’s still not all! Because God knows you and I will daily wrestle and struggle with our sinfulness, and still hopelessly fall short of pure obedience to the 10 Commandments—He gives us His Holy Spirit to live in us, and to create the fruits of faith and obedience. He steps inside and begins a good work in you, that He promises to bring to completion in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ!
·         Are you ready for more good news? In baptism, He has joined you to Christ Jesus, so that His death is the death of your old sinful nature. Walking with Him in daily repentance, we crucify and suppress our sinful desires. And baptized into His resurrection, He’s given you the source of your new life, and your new nature/identity in Him. And living in the house of freedom, God pours His precious blood and serves His living body as the Supper of forgiveness and refreshment, to be our daily manna through life’s journey. As God sustained Israel in the wilderness on their way to the promised land, so does Jesus provide and sustain you on the way to His eternal promised land.
·         All this transforms how we look at the Ten Commandments, from a dread symbol of our doom, because we could not keep them, to a godly way of life described by our Loving God, who has already kept them on our behalf, and transforms us into new creatures, who begin to learn to walk in His ways. And all to His credit, we claim that no merit or righteousness of our own can stand before Him, but only the pure and innocent, perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ our Savior. In His Name, Amen!

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. Read Exodus 20:1-17, the Ten Commandments. (cf. Deuteronomy 5:1-21, the second place they are recorded; and Exodus 34:28, where they are referred to by number). The Jews count the first commandment as “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” Even though this isn’t a “command” in the sense we usually think—how does it define and set the stage for what follows?
  2. Why can it accurately be said that when we disobey the Ten Commandments, we are acting against our own interest? How does it load us down with trouble, even in this life? Give examples for each of the Ten Commandments. Read Proverbs 1:17-18. Which commandments does this passage provide examples for?
  3. Read Proverbs 2, especially verses 1-5. How does receiving and treasuring (and doing) God’s commandments give us wisdom and good rewards?
  4. How is sinning against any of the commandments, first of all a sin against the first (“You shall have no other gods before me”)? Cf. Psalm 51:3-4. When we disregard God’s Word, what are we really saying about Him and His authority or power?
  5. Consider the thought that the Ten Commandments are His “house rules” (what “house” had they left behind in Exodus 20:2? What “house” would that make their new “home?”). Do we gain entrance to God’s house by grace or by works? Who lives in this “house”, and how does He regard repentant sinners come home? Luke 15:11-32
  6. We all fail and fall hopelessly short of the glory of God: Romans 3:23. Who gives us the free gift of redemption? How did He achieve it? Romans 5:19; Philippians 2:8; Hebrews 5:8.
  7. Why does Christ’s death on the cross remove the fear and dread from the commandments, and free us to love them and strive for them out of joy? Colossians 2:14; Psalm 119:47

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