“The Commandments Work”

Sermon – 02-16-20 – Epiphany VI – Cycle A
Scriptures – Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Psalm 119:1-8; 1 Corinthians 3:1-9; Matthew 5:21-37
Sermon Title: “The Commandments Work”

God is leading these tens of thousands of Israelites toward the Promised Land from Egypt where they have been slaves of the government. Instead of leading them straight from Egypt to the entrance to the land of milk and honey, he leads them in circles through the wilderness for 40 years! Yes, God is upset with these people, to say the least, because, right out of the gate, they complained. Actually, I would have been among the complaining, ungrateful people. No food, no water to drink. No shelter! I could be wrong about the “no shelter.” They may be carrying tents. More reason to complain during the day but a blessed help at night.

Well, God has assigned poor Moses and his brother Aaron to lead this nation of people for 40 years. Imagine! We wonder where our life has gone! Forty years wandering without a clear goal. Complain, complain and more complaining. Several generations are born during the wandering. This is a massive movement.

First off, God says to Moses, “Come up to the top of this mountain! I want to talk to you.” So Moses climbs up and up into the clouds to listen to what God wants to say. God greets Moses with something like this. “I need to give you these rules for your throng of people. They need to know how to make their new society work.” Moses leaves Aaron in charge at the foot of the mountain. This is not a quick trip. God keeps Moses in the clouds for quite a few days.

You can imagine that the people are getting restless and getting into all kinds of trouble. This is a long story for another time. God actually makes a second set of tablets engraved with the Ten Commandments because Moses becomes so angry when he sees the behavior of his people that he throws the first set of stone tablets on the ground and they break. This story is in Exodus 20 to the end of Exodus.

The Hebrew lesson we heard today is from Deuteronomy 30 just before the Israelites are led into the Promised Land by Joshua. God does not let Moses enter the Promised Land because God is upset with Moses. Another long story for another time. However, Moses is given the privilege of repeating the Ten Commandments to the Israelites before they set foot into the Promised Land.

Then our gospel lesson from Matthew today is Jesus espousing on these commandments in a detailed way. At first we think of these sins belonging to someone else. We mentally use our pointing finger at someone we know or of whom we have heard. Well, as we are reminded, when we point one finger at someone else, the other fingers are pointing to ourselves. If you are really curious about this passage from Matthew, grab your Bible at home and find Matthew 5:21-37 and see how much it hurts.

My own personal guideline for what behavior and thoughts are approved by God and what is not approved by God is “Does it work?” Does whatever I say hurt someone even if I do not mean it to hurt the person? Am I not careful before I speak? Do I neglect to do something that would make the other person feel good?

I need to be more aware that some people appreciate hugs. I need to be more aware that people are waiting for a note from me and it is all sitting on my desk in a huge pile. My head and heart are full of regrets of things done or said that hurt someone; of things unsaid or undone that would have been so appropriate. I can picture God in heaven coaching me and cupping his hands to his mouth so I can hear, urging me to do this or that and he lifts his hands in despair, saying, “When will she ever get the hang of this?”

We tend to think of actions or words being either good or bad with a strict line between the two.  If we are open-minded we can accept that things are not on opposite sides of a division – right or wrong; pure or impure. I am relieved. As I think about that idea, I feel loved and accepted. I feel hopeful about a solid relationship with God. If my heart and mind are in pain because I did or said something hurtful, I can know that God is with me in that pain. It is not alright that I sinned but it is alright in that God is finding me regardless. God finds us in our pain and claims us as his own again and again and again.

Holy God,
As we feel your forgiveness over and over, mold our ways, draw us to yourself so tightly that our every word and action becomes pure kindness. Amen

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