Commands and Communion
A sermon on Exodus 19:3-7; 20:1-17
Throughout our journey throughout Genesis and Exodus so far God has been busy making promises, making covenants with the people of Israel. Deliverance has been given to Noah and Joseph, and the entire people of Israel. Promises have been made to Abram and Sarai. Covenants have been spoken about stars and blessing and descendants, and about not harming the earth ever again.
And now… on the other side of the Red Sea, having wandered around the wilderness, manna all gathered up, the Israelites set up camp at the foot of Mt. Sinai. And it is here at the foot of Sinai where the Israelites will stay for awhile, no longer wandering in the wilderness.
So camped out here at the base of the mountain, Moses goes up to meet God in the cloud. To receive some instruction about how the people of God are to live together there on the other side of slavery and captivity.
And God speaks to Moses. Giving commandments for the people to follow. And if the people were to follow God’s commandments, if they were to follow and obey how God directs them to live, then they would be God’s people.
In his commentary on this passage, Brent Strawn writes,
In verse 5 we see the truth of G.K. Chesterton’s quip, “all morality hangs on an ‘if.’” The results on the other side of this “if” – clause are profound: Israel will be God’s treasured possession out of all peoples (verse 5a), a priestly kingdom, and a holy nation (verse 6). But there is a contingency, or, in truth, two contingencies: the first, most prominent one is that the “if” in question depends on obeying God’s voice and keeping God’s covenant. These are no easy things. The great irony of the Godlen Calf debacle is that Israel finds itself in violation of God’s covenant at the very moment of its instantiation.
If… It’s a big if too. If we are to be God’s people, we must obey the commands that God has given us. But it’s not always the easiest thing to do. Especially when they are worded so negatively. There are just too many “Thou shalt nots…” to be able to follow how God wants us to live.
But what if we rephrased them… What if we flipped the “thou shalt nots” into something a little more positive. What if the 10 commandments from God read like this:
- Put God First
- Honor God’s Name
- Work 6, Rest 1
- Honor Parents
- Harm No One
- Keep Love Pure
- If It’s Not Yours Don’t Take It
- Don’t Lie
- Don’t Be Jealous of Other People’s Stuff
- Don’t Be Jealous of Other People’s Family
With the exception of the last two, those sound a little more positive, and as a whole, they sound a little easier, and more people friendly, than what was on those two tablets that Moses brought down the mountain.
It’s an amazing testament to faith when we are able to so easily follow what God asks us to do. But more often than not, it is not so easy, and we find our newspapers, social media, and evening news broadcasts full of stories of people living in ways that are displeasing to God.
Pulitzer Prize winner, Chris Hedges, in his book Losing Moses on the Freeway writes:
The commandments do not protect us from evil. They protect us from committing evil. The commandments are designed to check our darker impulses, warning us that pandering to impulses can have terrible consequences. “If you would enter life,” the Gospel of Matthew reads, “keep the commandments” (Matthew 19:17). The commandments hold community together. It is community that gives our lives, even in pain and grief, a healing solidarity. It is fealty to community that frees us from the dictates of our idols, idols that promise us fulfillment through the destructive impulses of constant self-gratification. The commandments call us to reject and defy powerful forces that can rule our lives and to live instead for others, even if this costs us status and prestige and wealth. The commandments show us how to avoid being enslaved, how to save us from ourselves. They lead us to love, the essence of life.
Keep the commandments, that is what we do when we love God and want to serve God faithfully. But we also break the commandments. We do the very things that we think that God doesn’t want us to do. We lie, we cheat, we steal. We give anything but our whole selves to the things God calls us to.
But what if the commandments were something different…
What if instead of the law that must be followed, they provided an alternative way to live, an alternative way to love and serve God…
Walter Brueggemann puts it this way:
Imagine that God has called a people to live by the commandments as an alternative to the distortion. Imagine that Jesus called his disciples to organize their life differently according to his teaching. Imagine that Jesus has called the church to be a people in mission, the mission of subverting the dominant distortion of social reality, that the neighborhood might be reconstituted. What an enormous call, to work as alternative to a social system gone crazy. It is an incredibly upstream vocation, to live a different kind of life in order that the world may come to know that the pathologies in which we get caught are not the truth of our life.
When asked about how to faithfully follow God, Jesus answered by saying, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and mind, and strength, and spirit, and love your neighbor as yourself.”
When we gather at table together, we find ourselves following believers throughout history in an attempt to live that simple, but difficult path that has been laid our before us.
For in gathering together to break bread and pour out the cup we do indeed show an alternative way to live in the world that is not entirely bound by the things we should not do. For here, at this table, our Savior says take, eat, this is my body, this is my blood, given for all of you. Because sometimes, when we get wrapped up in following too many rules, we forget that the Son of God was one of the best rule breakers in history.
So on this world communion Sunday, may we join with the saints and angels throughout the world in proclaiming God’s ultimate command. That we are loved, forgiven, and reconciled to the one who came to reestablish every last rule.
Alleluia, and Amen.
 Brent Strawn, commentary on Exodus 19:3-7; 20:1-17 on workingpreacher.org accessed on October 1st, 4:51pm
 God’s Top Ten as seen on Facebook, Saturday October 4th
 Chris Hedges, Losing Moses on the Freeway p.7
 Walter Brueggemann, The Collected Sermons of Walter Bureggemann p.313