Summary: A sermon for the 3rd. Sunday in Lent, Series B
3rd Sunday in Lent, March 15, 2009 “Series B”
Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Let us pray: Dear Heavenly Father, you gave us your commandments in order to show us how we ought to live our lives in relationship with you, the source of our very being. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, help us to embrace your will for our lives, and when we fail, give us the courage to embrace your redeeming grace, and the power to amend our ways. This we ask in Christ’s holy name. Amen.
The Ten Commandments are viewed by the Judeo-Christian communities as the basic principles as to how we should live our lives in relationship with God and one another. Of course, numbering the commandments, which is not done in our text from Exodus, has provided some confusion between Lutherans and other denominations. And I believe dear Martin got it wrong, and so I will utilize the more widely accepted numbering of the commandments for my message this morning.
Certainly, the last six of the commandments are not unique to Jews and Christians. From the articles that I have read, all cultures of the world praise or value the fifth commandment to honor our parents. In fact, some cultures, such as the Chinese, place even greater emphasis upon this commandment than Jews and Christians seem to do. However, as Luther points out in his Large Catechism, if we do not learn to respect and honor the authority of our parents, how can we respect and honor those outside our homes?
And as we move out from the home, all civilized societies have laws that prohibit murder, adultery, stealing, and baring false witness against our neighbors. Most societies also discourage the coveting of our neighbor’s possessions, at least on an ideal level. Thus, the last six commandments are known to people quite apart from Biblical revelation, as recorded in our first lesson.
But when we turn to the first 8 verses of our lesson, we find a framework for the commandments that is unique to the Judeo-Christian faith. And there is no passage more important than the first three verses. “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; you shall have no other gods before me…”
In other words, the ethical commandments that form the basis for most cultures of the world, are for the people of Israel, put into the framework of their relationship with God. God first acted in love and concern to free Israel from bondage. God initiated the relationship. Now God enters into a covenant with Israel, of which his commandments are to form the basis of Israel’s response to God’s love already revealed toward them. It is not an earthly culture that establishes these norms of behavior, but the God who set them free. It was out of gratitude for what God had already done for Israel, that they were to embrace his commands.
But how quickly we human beings forget what God so graciously has done for us. As Daniel Schowalter points out in his commentary the “reception of the Ten Commandments is shrouded in mystery, which seems appropriate for such a sacred moment. However, the awe of the people at the time does not prevent them from almost immediately violating the first and second commandments, and breaking all of them on a regular basis.” End quote.
And what were those first two commandments, which Israel immediately violated? “You shall have no other gods before the One True God who acted to redeem Israel from bondage.” And then there is the one that Luther failed to recognize, thinking it an explanation of the first. “You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath… or worship it.” But before Moses came down the mountain, after going up to again receive the commandments, Israel had melted their jewelry, formed a golden calf, and worshiped it.
The remaining two commandments that set the commandments apart for the Judeo-Christian faith, are that we are not “to make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God.” This commandment does not pertain to the use of four letter words, however, as unseemly as they may be. But rather refers to calling on God to curse one who has wronged us, or the opposite, of calling on our relationship with God to help us win the lottery. We are not to use our relationship with God to our personal advantage.
And finally, we are to “remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.” Of course, this is the one commandment of which Luther stated in his Large Catechism, that all Christians are exempt from having to follow. But let me quickly add, that Luther did not mean by offering us an exemption from this commandment, that we should take it to mean that we should consider gathering with the faithful to worship God and his gift of grace in Jesus the Christ to optional to our faith.