Summary: The Israelites reach Mount Sinai and the Lord declares that they are his treasured possession. We, too, as children of faith are God’s precious possessions.
Exodus 19:1-6, 20:1-2 “Precious”
The world is filled with strange, ridiculous and useless laws. For example:
• In Missouri it is illegal to drive with an uncaged bear, and in Alaska it is improper to wake a sleeping bear for a photo opportunity.
• In New Jersey you cannot wear a bulletproof vest while committing a murder, nor can you ever have personalized license plates if you’ve been convicted of DUI.
• It is against the law in Idaho for a man to give his sweetheart over fifty pounds of chocolate.
• In Connecticut you can get jail time for walking across the streets on your hands.
I didn’t think much about strange rules and regulations until we started working with the City of Surprise and the State of Arizona during our preparation for building. For me the most absurd was having an archeological survey done on a piece of land that has been used agriculturally for over one hundred years.
Some people think that the Ten Commandments are as ridiculous as some of the laws that are on the books. For the next four weeks, we’re going to be studying the Ten Commandments seeking to discover their purpose and usefulness in our lives today.
NO PATH TO SALVATION
Even though the Protestant Reformation took place almost five hundred years ago, with the rallying cry, “The just shall live by faith,” there are still people who believe that they are saved by keeping the Ten Commandments. If you ever want to see a Lutheran minister cringe, say to someone during a funeral visitation that George was obviously in heaven with Jesus because George was such a good person. We don’t need to debate whether or not George is in heaven, but he didn’t get there by being a good person. Being faithful to his wife, not taking more than ten minutes for a break at work, always driving below the speed limit, and never saying anything more vulgar than “heck,” is not the path to heaven.
This truth is clearly seen in the passage of scripture that we have before us today. In chapter nineteen, God recounts what God has done for the Israelites. In verse four God declares that God has defeated the Egyptians and carried the Israelites on eagles’ wings to bring them to himself. God had already established a relationship between the Israelites and himself. The Ten Commandments came after the relationship.
The Apostle Paul stressed the idea of grace and faith instead of works in many of his writings. When the early church struggled to accept Gentiles without first converting them to Jews, Paul argued that all people were brought into God’s kingdom through the work of Jesus rather than their own work. Thus following Jewish laws and keeping Kosher were not helpful to the Gentiles. In one of the favorite verses for the Reformers, Ephesians 2:8-10, Paul celebrates the truth that we have been saved by grace through faith and this is not a work lest anyone should boast, rather it is a gift from God.
NO PATH TO REWARDS
If the Ten Commandments are not needed in order to achieve heaven, then what are they good for? Some people opt for a plan “B”. They stress that keeping the Ten Commandments are a path to be rewarded. They pick up on verse five, when God says, “If you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples … you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.”
People point to the covenant God made with Abraham—that God was going to bless Abraham with land, descendants and riches. Throughout the Bible it was understood that the righteous were blessed by God and such blessings would be shown in riches. These people turn a deaf ear to Jesus when he talks about “blessed are the poor,” in the Beatitudes on the Sermon on the Mount. They also ignore the fact that Jesus never accumulated riches, land or descendants, and that he said if anyone wanted to be his disciple they would need to deny themselves, take up their cross and follow him. We are too surrounded with the reward system—too immersed—to believe that life can work another way. Certainly, God doesn’t go by the reward system, and we can be thankful for that.
Not only do we understand this is how the world works for us as individuals, we also see it as a country. There are many people who believe that the United States is going down the tube and that God will only bless America if we get our act together. Such thoughts beg the question, “Hasn’t God already blessed America?” The path suggested by many toward “righteousness” appears to deny justice for several groups of people: For women and their ability to make reproductive decisions, for gays and their ability to enjoy equal rights under the law, and for the human treatment of the poor, the homeless, and undocumented immigrants. We want God to bless America with power and wealth and to keep us number 1. More likely God’s blessings would be seen in peace and in a nation where all people experience and enjoy liberty and justice.