31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
October 11, 2015
Deuteronomy 5:1-21; 6:4-9
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
3 minute video clip of God writing the ten commandments on the mountainside and giving them to Moses: Cecile B Demille’s The Ten Commandments.
Cecile B Demille’s version of the Ten Commandments might be a little melodramatic however isn’t it how most of us think of the Ten Commandments – as COMMANDMENTS, as rules written down in solid rock by the finger of God, not to be disobeyed or trifled with.
This morning, our children are also hearing the story of the Ten Commandments however their story is entitled the Ten Best Ways. In his book, Channel Markers, William Enright writes that the Ten Commandments are really “channel markers given to guide us in our quest for the good and holy life.” (Enright, 5)
Calling the Ten Commandments the ten best ways or channel markers guiding our lives is more true to the intent of this passage. These words from Deuteronomy are a reminder and a covenant. As the people are nearing the end of their journey, as they are about to leave the wilderness behind and enter the Promised Land, Moses is reminding the Israelites of their covenant with God, of the covenant they themselves made with God.
Moses reminds them of God’s faithfulness, of everything God has done for them. He’s not doing it to guilt them. He doesn’t remind them how God freed them from slavery in Egypt so they will feel obligated to follow God’s commandments. Moses is reminding them of God’s goodness, reminding them of God’s faithfulness so they will know that even these commandments are about us, about God wanting goodness, love, and life for us.
In the passage from Mark, when the scribe asks Jesus which is the greatest commandment, did you notice that Jesus really gave him two? The first is to ‘Love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind and with all our strength’ and the second is to ‘love our neighbor as ourselves.’
Six of the Ten Commandments have to do with loving our neighbor. They are honoring our mothers and fathers, not committing murder, not committing adultery, not stealing, not bearing false witness – which means giving false testimony under oath, and finally not coveting or wanting our neighbors’ stuff.
If we were taught these commandments as a child, all we often take away from them is “Do not.” Do not do this. Do not do that.
These commandments are not about God drawing an arbitrary line in the sand and saying, “Don’t step over it. I dare you to step over it. Just try and I will smite you.” This covenant is not about God testing us. This covenant is about God loving us.
Murder, broken promises and relationships with family and with lovers, coveting and wanting what we cannot have, dishonoring our own integrity. These things create guilt. They create anger and hurt and envy inside us.
Hurting and dishonoring others, wanting what we can’t have, being untrustworthy – these actions create emotions that eat us up from the inside out. God freed our ancestors from captivity and forced labor in Egypt, and every day, God seeks to keep us free from captivity, from the prison anger, guilt and hurt put us in.
God knows the best way for us to live – to love our neighbors as ourselves. To act with integrity, to be content with our blessings, to honor the dignity of human life. And to put God first.
The last six commandments have to do with loving our neighbor, and the first four have to do with putting God first, with loving God with our heart, and soul, and might.
Loving God by resting and taking care of this body God has given us, taking time out to praise God, keeping the Sabbath day holy. We would never contemplate murdering someone or stealing so why do we think it is okay to praise God only when it’s convenient or to fill every single moment of every single day with activity?! Why do we think we can ignore this part of the covenant?
It’s time to reorder our lives and put God first.
Orthodox Jews recite these words from Exodus every morning:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)
They recite these words daily to remind them what is important, what is first. God is the most important thing in our lives; God is first.
We need to put God first – not because God needs us to, but because, again, it is the best way for us to live. It makes our lives better. Not because putting God first makes life easier.
Putting God before all idols, honoring God’s name, will not free our lives from all difficulty. People will still hurt us. We will still get sick. We will lose jobs and relationships and loved ones, but when any or all of those terrible things happen to us, we will be able to weather the storm. We will have the spiritual resources to get through it because having put God first in our lives, we know we can trust God; we know that God is walking beside us or carrying us; we know a deep sense of peace and love that only comes with loving God and knowing we are loved by God.
I have a challenge for you this week. I challenge you to take this little slip of paper with the words of Deuteronomy written on it and to say it out loud at least once every day. I challenge you to keep these words in your heart, to recite them to your children, to say them at home and to say them when you are away from home, when you lie down and when you rise.
I challenge you to say, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. “ every day. I challenge you to put God first, every day.
And I’ll be curious to hear what happens. Maybe after seven days, you will go back to life as usual or maybe your heart and soul will be a little changed. Maybe you will be a little more trusting, a little more open, a little more peaceful, a little more something you can’t even name yet.
God knows the best way for us to live. God has shown us the best way to live – to love God first, to love our neighbor as our self.
And when we live that way, we discover that when our hearts and minds and souls are filled with love, everything changes for the better.