[Exo 19:3-7 RSV] 3 And Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him out of the mountain, saying, "Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: 4 You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now therefore, if you will obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my own possession among all peoples; for all the earth is mine, 6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel." 7 So Moses came and called the elders of the people, and set before them all these words which the LORD had commanded him.
[Exo 20:1-17 RSV] 1 And God spoke all these words, saying, 2 "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. 3 "You shall have no other gods before me. 4 "You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; 5 you shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. 7 "You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. 8 "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work; 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your manservant, or your maidservant, or your cattle, or the sojourner who is within your gates; 11 for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it. 12 "Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which the LORD your God gives you. 13 "You shall not kill. 14 "You shall not commit adultery. 15 "You shall not steal. 16 "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. 17 "You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor's."
Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,
Good News: God’s rules for us are about our relationship, the strength and boundaries keep us safe and help us prosper.
Every year we sit down with the children attending the 4-6th grade Sheep Shack Bunch program and talk about our shared covenant or set of rules that guide our time together. It is a great time, but also a bit of a nervous time because we don’t know what the children will say. I am mentioning that today because I am going to ask you all what our rules are here at church. I don’t know what you are going to say and I want Britt our youth ministry coordinator to record them on the white board so that as we give suggestions we will have a written record. In “church speak” we call this a covenant because that is the Biblical language for such a list of agreed upon rules. A covenant is a group of rules that two different sides agree to abide by—each side does their part and the covenant is upheld. The Sheep Shack Bunch this year filled out their rules on a plate—I have it up here, it lists some of the expectations, rules, and punishments that affect our time together.
I will admit I am a little nervous here because I am breaking one of the covenant expectations that I know has existed in this church, namely that the Pastor speaks during the sermon and you do not have to. Britt, please write that as the first covenant expectation. So what are our shared covenantal rules?
During this time different covenant expectations were given, among them were:
-Loving like Jesus loves us
-Clean up when you are done using something because it is communal space
-Take part in the life of the church
-If you are reading this you may be able to add your own expectations
Thank you for all of those answers. We continue with the other question we talk to Sheep Shack about, so why have rules?
During this time again there was discussion among the points these were given
-That is what Jesus would want
-So we know what is expected
Wow we made it through that time and I will take over the speaking from here on out. Thank you all, everyone who spoke you are literally the answer to my prayers for this service.
Why these rules? Here is where it gets more interesting and also gets more than we talk about in Sheep Shack Bunch. The answer to why we have these rules is really twofold. The first relates to who God is. This place is not ours. It belongs to and is led by, according to our constitution, Jesus Christ. So I do not own it, you do not own it, instead it is a space that Jesus has shared with us so we can gather, learn and worship. So when we are here it is about what God wants for us. These rules reflect God’s will for us and our time together.
That is not all. They also reflect who we are. After all, if we didn’t have a kitchen we wouldn’t have a rule about use of the kitchen. Because we like to share food together and built a kitchen we have rules about the kitchen. It also reflects what we are likely to do. I realize none of us said that we were not allowed to use a bullhorn during the sermon. No one has ever done that, and most of us could not imagine doing that so we didn’t state it—it’s not a rule because of who we are. We can’t imagine anyone doing it so we don’t think about that rule. When I was writing this sermon I worried about someone suggesting a rule that there would be no using a bullhorn during the sermon. If someone suggested that then I would have to dig deeper and talk about something equally outrageous like a rule there would be no firecrackers during confirmation. Whom we are and what we are likely to do (or not do) is a big part of the rules. If different people had been here this morning we would have gotten a very different list of rules. Not because God is different, but because we would be different.
Why do we follow them?
1) Fear of Punishment
2) Joy of Reward
3) Have internalized them!
4) Because of the Relationship
Sometimes we follow rules because if we don’t we will be punished, maybe the punishment is just social pressure. In community sometimes the thought that people will look at me funny is enough to ensure that the rules are followed. Sometimes there is a fear of punishment like prison or fines levied. In the Ten Commandments we hear today that, “for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me.” In other words if you worship other gods there will be consequences!
Then there are also times when if we follow the rules we get a reward. My thought here goes back to kindergarten. I remember times when the teacher would say, “If everyone can listen we will get to go outside and play!” How much I wanted to get on that playground so I would listen extra carefully and give the stink eye to anyone who would think about not listening! We hear specifically in the Fourth Commandment, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which the LORD your God gives you.” Why do we honor our parents? At least partly because they have lived longer than we have and if we listen we will do better—but more than that, if you treat your parents well, your kids are watching and there is a much better chance you will be honored too!
Those are the two promises or punishments attached. What about the rest? Well, for many of us we have just internalized them. We do them because that is what we do. I bet none of you have really asked yourself why you don’t push people down the stairs. I mean we have stairs in this church and you could on many occasions just push people down them, but you don’t because, well, you don’t. You don’t think about the rewards for not pushing, or the punishment if you do push—you don’t do it because you simply don’t do it. It has been internalized, and it is just your practice. That works well until it doesn’t. I mean you do the right things, but when someone challenges why you do them, you don’t really know. It is just something that you don’t do.
So the final and the most important reason we follow these rules is because of the relationship that we have. God’s statement to the Israelites is not, “Hey, we just met, but I have some rules for this relationship.” Instead it is, “I have saved you from slavery and fought for you giving you victory over the Egyptians, now here are the rules I have so you can continue to prosper.” These are not some rules in a vacuum that are given, but rather rules given to a people whom God loves and whom God has already saved. This relationship is solid and both sides are bound to one another. These rules should be followed then because God loves the Israelites and wants what is best for them and these rules are what are best for them! Following them does not mean everything will go well for you; but not following them does mean that you will have a lot of chaos in your life.
Because of that communal nature of the commandments and the relationship that it springs from, some rabbis interpreted them as less of a monologue than a discussion. God would give each of these commandments and then the whole assembled people would answer indicating that it was part of their agreement on how to live together. So because we are another community of God and in recognition of our relationship with God and its impact we are going to do that today. I know I said your part was over. But this we all say together so it should be on common ground.
I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other Gods before me:
We trust you Lord
You should not use the Lord your God’s name in vain
We praise you O Lord
Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy
We rest in you Lord
Honor your father and mother
We thank you Lord
Do not Murder
Let us love instead of hate
Do not commit adultery
Let us be pure in you
Do not steal
Let us protect each other
Do not bear false witness
Let us be truthful
Do not covet your neighbor’s house
Let us be content
Do not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor's.
Let us be connected in you.