Do these things... Because you're worth it. (Exodus 20.2-17)
Relationships are a tricky business aren’t they? I’m lucky in that my Mum and I have a very good relationship, I mean like all children and parents we have ups and downs, I can be very blunt, and she can be incredibly irritating. There are a couple of stories that sum up our relationship.
Imagine the scene, enters young Graham about eight years old, stage left, with Mum, walking through a forest. Mum is behind me and sees something, a twig in the undergrowth, she pauses, and in her devious mind thinks aha this will be funny, I’ll play a trick on Graham.
She sticks a twig up her sleeve that looks like a withered hand and yells out “ooh HELP! My hand!” I turn around, see it and it looks so realistic that I scream and run away crying, mum breaks into hysterical laughter, follows me, tries to console me, and what’s worse, Dad took a photograph of me crying. We’ve still got that photo.
Obviously it was meant as a joke, and we’re always playing tricks on each other like that.
This isn’t the end of the tale though, fast forward to last year and we were walking along, mum found a stick and did the same thing! And I still fell for it! Granted this time I didn’t run away screaming, but it did give me a bit of a fright.
The point is, there are all kinds of relationships in our lives, contractual, familial, loving, platonic, and our relationship with God, which we call faith.
In each of these different types of relationships, there are rules, rules that have to be abided by in order that a proper relationship is maintained, that we don’t violate one another. In marriage for example we pledge to look after our partner in sickness and in health, and be faithful to them for the rest of our lives. Solemn promise, solemn vows, important relational values.
Our faith is a relational one, it isn’t a private matter, it should affect how we treat one another, and how our relationships with other people work. God is all about relationship, and that’s what the ten commandments are all about, restoring right relationship with God and with one another.
Right relationship with other people affects our relationship with God, when we violate others it mars the image of God in us and the other person.
If you want to be in right relationship with God, do these things. That’s what the ten commandments are all about.
These basic rules have underpinned Christian and Jewish society since the beginning.
This passage is the primary and central expression of God’s demands of the covenant, of Israel’s relationship with God is and means. And furthermore, still, of what our responsibilities, what our side of the contract is as human beings. If you’re gonna be in relationship with someone, then there are rules, sometimes unwritten and sometimes written, and relationship with God is no exception. It’s only fair that we know what our obligations are.
I’m not suggesting we sit down and write a contract of friendship, right so you must call me on a Wednesday every week, and we must go for dinner on a bi monthly basis, no of course not, but in good relationships we know where the boundaries stand.
What’s funny is that this passage isn’t written like a legal text, like a contract, it’s not written how laws in ancient Israel were, but as instruction and It’s addressed personally to the individual reading or hearing it, YOU shall not steal, YOU shall not commit adultery. It’s a challenge and an obligation.
It’s an expression of exclusive loyalty, to God, and a commitment to be in right relationship with one another.
We’re not perfect though, I mean that much is obvious. Who among us here can say that they have never taken God’s name in vain? I certainly have, and yet I’m still in relationship with God. God understands and knows we slip up, and when we come to him in sorrow for our wrongs, he will forgive us.
The point of this passage isn’t condemnation if you don’t always live by these rules, but that the consequence of not living by them is a breaking of relationship between our neighbours, and God. It’s not that God goes anywhere, but that we lose sight of God, we loose sight of that which made us and loves us when we violate one another, and ourselves.
When we lust after another, we make ourselves unhappy and damage relationships, when we worship the idols of nice things, of our own bodies, spending without cause or thought, then we break relationship.
These commands are also a statement of our worth to God.
It’s a bit like L’Oreal, Sabbath: Because you’re worth it. God says, you are human beings, and you are worth a rest. You are not made to work until you drop, you are made to be in relationship with me, and with one another. I command you to take a load off, pop your slippers on, and enjoy the company of your friends and family. As long as you don’t watch Bargain Hunt, for that is an abomination.
We often forget this, that we are commanded by God to be humans, to live in community. God has breathed that into our humanity, we are not alone, and it’s not good for us to act like we are entirely self-sufficient.
We are dependant on God, and on one another for care, for dignity and for the nurturing of who we are.
The temple money lenders and traders in our reading from John, had forgotten the meaning of the commandments. They were exploiting people. They were extorting money by charging vast commissions on the special temple currency, that had to be used to pay for things in the temple. They were blocking people from relationship with God through their own selfishness. That is what sent Jesus into such a fury.
I’ve had the privilege this week of working with a variety of charities, as St Peter Mancroft opened its doors to homeless people, to give them shelter. The amount of donations we’ve had has been incredible, people have responded to the need in this time of crisis admirably. I have felt God’s Holy Spirit working through the actions of others. People have been getting the relationship right this week, by caring for those in need, by acting uncovetously over their own belongings, by being able to see beyond the idols of success and nice things, seeing the humanity in the person in need.
The religious leaders in Jesus’ time lost sight of what covenant, what relationship with God meant. In the end, they killed Jesus for what he was saying, about relationship, about money and about the temple.
In God’s kingdom, the Market doesn’t rule, but relationship does. God has given us these commands to live together well. It’s simple, but also extremely hard, if you want to be in relationship with God, do these things.