“Why All the Rules?”
Exodus 20: 1-4, 7-9, 12-20
October 8th, 2017
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Let us now open our ears and our minds to the hearing of this ancient writing from the Book of Exodus, chapter twenty, verses 1 thru 4, and 7 thru 9, and continuing on with verses 12 thru 20.”
20 Then God spoke all these words: 2I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 3 you shall have no other gods before me. 4 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 that is in the water under the earth.
7 You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name. 8 Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work.
12 Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. 13 You shall not murder. 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 male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. 18 When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, 19 and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.” 20 Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.”
“Let us allow God to open our hearts to grasp a deeper understanding of why God, through Moses, established these early commandments. Then let us consider why rules are so important – even in the Twenty-First Century!”
“Why All the Rules?”
As youngsters, most of us learn that there are rules. Rule number one: “Don’t sneak cookies from the cookie jar between meals!” The consequences can be catastrophic to a young lad or a young lass! Rule number two: “Don’t even think about skipping Sunday school!” My grandfather was the pastor and we only lived a short mile from the church! Rule number three: “When it is your turn to wash dishes… don’t try to sneak off before the job is done!” It astonishes me when I find my grandchildren are not being taught these same rules! Rule number five: “Don’t believe the misunderstood!” Rules were not made to be broken! Rules are made to keep our families, our communities and our very society from falling into chaos and confusion.
When I grabbed for my freedom, from the rules and restrictions which my parents imposed upon me, I sought out the United States Air Force as my new found ‘free’ lifestyle. Unbeknownst to me, I was in for a rude awakening, as the military has even more rules, regulations and procedures that I was forced to learn. The first being: how to take care of my own personal needs, which my mom and my dad had always handled for me. Then came learning to care for all my new outfits, my new uniforms, work outfits, casual dress uniforms and formal military “Dress Blues” they called them. Learning how to polish my shoes was a real challenge! Seems they needed to shine even in the mud and rain! Then keeping my closet (well a metal locker really), I needed to keep it just so and be prepared for the sergeant to inspect it at any hour of the day or night. I quickly longed for the easy days when I ‘only needed’ to follow mom and dad’s directions. At that early age, I didn’t understand the complexities of freedom!
By the time most of us finish school, go to college or join the military or simply set up housekeeping in a place of our own, we learn the realities of rules, laws, and the consequences for not following them. Once we become mature and responsible, we begin to realize why rules are set. Some of us even chose lifestyles with extra layers of rules. Perhaps it is in the deed restricted properties which many of us chose to buy into, as we pick the lifestyle we wish to be a part of, here in Florida. Many decide on this, simply because we do not want our neighbors to have uncut grass or purple striped mailboxes, or bright pink houses or have them raising pigs and chickens in their front yards. With these concepts in mind, we select the more restrictive structure of gated communities; meaning of course… there are more codes or rules. Many of these self-contained communities have rules, such as a condo association does, dictating the color of one’s house and the style and color of one’s mailbox, etc. We each have choices in what level or structure of living we want to invest in. Each has consequences and each has its own set of rules that govern it.
As we look to our scripture lesson we encounter a set of ancient rules. These are just ten out of the 613 rules or commandments which are recorded in the Jewish Torah, (the first five books of our Bible). We are told how Moses, after leading the population of Israel, whom had been in slavery for generations, leading them out into the desert where they encountered all kinds of new issues and realities. These Ten Commandments (and as time went on more were added), these were set forth as rules, plain and simple! Moses was dealing with a whole nation whom were set free from bondage in Egypt. They were now heading for what has become known as the “Promised Land!” Yet, before they would reach their destiny there was a huge desert, a wasteland and wilderness region to be crossed. There were countless obstacles and issues to be dealt with along the way. Just like the challenges of a young adult, venturing off to college, or to the military, or simple to set up and establish their first home, for them there are many basic things which must be overcome and dealt with! Oftentimes, these lessons are not easy and are learned the “hard’ way. Such was the plight of the newly freed Hebrews of what was to become known as the nation of Israel.
There are many ways to speak about these ten commandments. A theologian named Alan Brehm, speaks to their being put in place by a loving God seeking to assist them in this new challenge of which they have begun. “The directions for living we find in the commandments are intended to be put into practice in real life to make that life more whole, more peaceful, more joyful. When we live this way, we are allowing the life and love of God to flow through us, healing the broken and wounded world around us.” /Alan Brehm/ Pastor Brehm is moving us to consider how crucial it is to have some clarity about what type of moral laws we may want to work toward living into. Rather than simply be a broken people wandering around in the wastelands of that region of the world, these commandments were meant to bring this unique community of people together, under a set of basic rules, basic laws, by which they could begin making order out of chaos. They had lived under the immoral actions of others, whom had forced them into doing their bidding, with no consideration for who they were. They had been slaves, forced to do the labor of a nation that did not have a set of moral laws to govern how they would care for the rights and well-being of others.
If you read the old texts, the writings surrounding the adoption of the Ten Commandments back in the time of Moses, you will find it was a difficult and challenging time for this Hebrew nation. Yet, they persevered, they kept at it, they pressed on and these commandments became the central stabilizing structure of their society. This nation that has its roots in these early writings we refer to as our Old Testament lessons, they did not have an easy time of it. Even now in the Twenty-First Century, as a nation, they are still struggling. Yet, the foundation of these moral principles is still in place. History speaks clearly about their journey. The documents and books are written and they are available to be studied – by any who want to learn more from their history. Clearly, if they had not had ‘The Ten Commandments’ to guide them along the way, there is reason to believe that they would have ceased to exist; at the very least their identity would have been gravely altered. So, how are we to view these documents, this set of commandments which are put forth?
Surely, life in our time is radically different then at the time of Moses! Perhaps this is true, yet has human nature changed all that much? This is a question worthy of our discussion. In Moses’ time, people were still struggling, we know this. Are not people in the world today still struggling! Of course, they are! Mother nature has brought destruction to many communities, we know this! But it goes deeper than this single observation! The struggle between families, communities and nations, is still very much a part of human existence! This is the point of which we must address! Where is the ‘moral fiber’ which people use as a basis for their existence! Thank God, we know of the Ten Commandments! They at least give us a ‘rallying’ point, a place of reference to begin a discussion about what is right, what is proper and honorable, and what is wrong, immoral and wicked!
Most of us have learned to accept that Mother Nature cannot be forced to conform to our needs. On the contrary, we must conform to the ways of nature. Sadly, or better stated, unfortunately, many have not yet accepted this as it is. But, human nature, surely, we have made headway over the ages! Have we not! If we have, why is it we still allow our brand of prejudices and our pet biases, within our own neighboring communities, to tear us apart – rather than bringing us together based on our common needs and understandings of what is moral and virtuous in the sight of God? If we have progressed, why are nations still building bigger and more powerful weapons? Is it for defense purposes only? And if so, why is there a need? Or, is it in preparation to attack their neighbors!? If the nature of humanity has shifted why is there so much strife between folks, even in our own communities? As I am writing these words, I read of yet another massacre, fifty plus people killed in Las Vegas. Gunman had multiple weapons, police say. That is just the headline! Folks just gathered together for a country music festival! How has the shift of times changed this reality! By now we will have learned more about this. Over fifty-nine innocent lives murdered, hundreds wounded! Whatever we learn, will we finally respond by using the moral fiber, which we as a people were given way back in the time of Moses. Will we, as a society come to terms with our responsibilities and become more in-tune with the needs, the safety of those around us? Will we have the willingness to write a few stronger guidelines, rules, in-order-to protect the innocent? Once again, it boils down to having rules and finding ways to enforce them for the greater good!
Clearly, Moses understood how important it was for his nation of Hebrews whom needed structure, for their own well-being!
13 You shall not murder.
14 You shall not commit adultery.
15 You shall not steal.
16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
Basic stuff! Stuff which we still must deal with, despite the vast advancements in technology and communications. Science is so far advanced since the time of Moses. We have traveled into space itself! Yet, we still do not know how to fully live with each other, in peace and harmony! We still have so, so much work to do!
Rules and moral guide lines set us free. For the greater good, we all are asked to give up something, if we do not want to live in utter chaos or in total moral decline! Reasonable and justifiable rules, commandments, and covenants between God and our neighbors, they do not enslave us or hold us back from being all which God has envisioned! Only those whom live in the ‘sight’ of God and live ‘fully’ into their God given potential, only these, will be able to lead the way, the way to true shifts in the nature-of-humankind! Humanity itself, stands at the crossroads! Which road is God beckoning for you and me to take.