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Eucharist Service for the 2nd Sunday of Lent with the congregation at St Thomas Church, Minnis Bay
Rev Peter’s Sermon:
The Ten Commandments; the bedrock of the Old Testament, the defining image of Charlton Heston’s career. Over the centuries they have literally been at the forefront of our Christian faith, in fact they used to be displayed on boards at All Saints to the side of the altar and in the same way in many other churches across Britain, but no more. For many folk the Ten Commandments are seen as a list of judgements so that we can focus on avoiding doing wrong, but they are not, they are far more than that.
Here’s a little story for you that I hope might take us a bit further in our understanding of how we view them.
There was once a very sincere man who simply wished to live a holy life. He went to see his rabbi to seek advice. The rabbi congratulated him on his ambition, then asked, ‘how have you been getting on so far?’. ‘Quite well’, I think,’ the man replied. ‘When you say quite well, what do you mean?’ the rabbi asked. ‘Well, I haven’t broken any of the commandments,’ the man replied. ‘I haven’t taken the Lords name in vain. I haven’t profaned the Sabbath day. I haven’t dishonoured my mum and dad. I haven’t killed anyone, I haven’t been unfaithful, I haven’t stolen, I haven’t borne false witness against anyone. And I haven’t coveted my neighbour’s wife or goods.’
‘I see,’ said the Rabbi. ‘So you haven’t broken any of the commandments.’ ‘That’s right,’ the man replied with pride. ‘But have you kept the commandments?’ the rabbi asked. ‘What do you mean?’ said the man. ‘I mean have you actually honoured God’s holy name. Have you actually kept the Sabbath day holy? Have you loved and honoured your parents? Have you sought to preserve and defend life? When did you last tell your wife that you loved her? Have you shared your goods with the poor? Have you defended the good name of anyone? When did you last put yourself out to help a neighbour?’ On hearing this, the man was a bit taken aback. But to be fair to him, he went away and thought deeply on what the rabbi had said, he realised that so far, he had only been focused on avoiding doing wrong.
I think there may be many people like this man. We live in world governed by rules and regulations, there are so many of them that it can become overwhelming to the point that we forget why they are there in the first place. Now and again we need to pause, stand back and take a look at the bigger picture otherwise we simply run the risk of doing the bare minimum just to keep on the straight and narrow.
So, let’s have a look at this bigger picture with regard to the Ten Commandments and look at them, not as a regulatory tool for judgment, but instead, as a set of teachings that guide us into a life-giving spirituality.
Actually, they do construct a space that should help us on our spiritual journey towards what we call self-transcendence, that is an understanding that we belong, interact, and connect with something far greater than just ourselves and that what we do, say and believe really matters.
If we look at the first commandment its underscores our exclusive relationship with God, however, this and all the commandments are often listed without the all-important prefix, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.” This preface is necessary to frame the intentions of all that follows. You see, the God who desires our love, and desires us to keep His teachings is the same God who heard the cry of the Hebrews in Egypt, and He is committed to liberating us too from every kind of captivity.
We know from the story of the exodus that He demonstrated His power in real-time by intervening to rescue the oppressed Hebrew people. He is the One who helped Moses stand against Pharaoh, and He is the one who has helped and inspired generations since, to stand against any political or economic system that seeks its own well-being to the detriment of others.
If we think about this and what God has done for us, why would we ever want to put other things in God’s place and worship them, why would we ever want to blaspheme and why would we never want to make a day of the week special for God? We must remember that He is still the One who provides for us, even when we resist and ignore Him. His generosity towards us is all encompassing, and he wants us to show that same generosity to our children, and in thanksgiving and honour to our parents for their generosity towards us.
So, if we now add the remaining five commandments, we will see the core aspect of all of them, an aspect that is frequently forgotten and overlooked. It is what makes the commands different from other ancient codes of law. It is what has made the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament a revolutionary document, that has shaped the entire world.
You see, the Ten Commandments, as well as acknowledging our loving relationship with God, centre on how we behave towards one another, they teach us how to care for one another: We shall not steal, murder, or lie. We shall not covet, and we shall honour those who brought us into this world. And in keeping these commands we honour God too.
So we can see that although the commandments spring from the mouth of God, they convey an intensely human message. Which, when followed with honour, dignity and love take us on a path of spiritual awareness that not only enhances our relationship with God but our relationship with one another as a community that belong. That is, belong to each other and God.
And here lies a very sobering thought, our decisions as individuals shape our destiny as a community. The commandments show us the way and remind us of God’s concern for how we treat one another so that we can be a community in communion. By living responsibly with one another, we honour the God who Is the parent and creator of us all.
Now I did mention at the beginning how the 10 commandments used to be written on boards and displayed in churches. Well, I wish to finish with a prayer that was once found written over the door of a church, for even the passer by to see, a prayer that not only captures the essence of our 10 commandments, but is one that is framed within the summary of those laws, a summary which we inherit from the New Testament, that is, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it, You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets, so let us pray.
Lord, make the door of this house wide enough to receive all who need human love and fellowship, narrow enough to shut out all envy, pride , and strife. Make its threshold smooth enough to be no stumbling block to children, nor to straying feet. Make this a house of prayer and a gateway to your Kingdom. Amen.