SCRIPTURE:  Exodus 20:1-20



In the name of the God who creates us, redeems us, and gives us life. Amen!


          When Andrea and I go to Texas each month, there are certain milestones or turning points along the way during each trip. I measure the trip’s progress at each of these. First, when we cross into Texas from New Mexico ---and a time change where we lose an hour. Second when we get to Wichita Falls, Texas --- we realize we are two hours from our home in Pottsboro. And third, when we turn into our driveway, we realize we have completed the trip.

          On the reverse trip there are other milestones. First, when we cross into New Mexico – and gain the hour back. Second, when we get through the Denver traffic, and, third, when we cross into Wyoming and we realize we are a little over an hour from home. We are always a little sad when we leave either home, but always glad when we reach the other end of the journey.

          There’s a little of this emotion in the Exodus story. The people of Israel on several occasions early in their journey say they want to go back to Egypt. We would certainly assume that near the end they were excited about arriving in the Promised Land. After all it did take them forty years to get there.

          Our passage today is a turning point, a milestone in the Exodus journey. The people have been traveling under Moses’ leadership for about three months. In this passage they come to Mt. Sinai and receive the Ten Commandments. They are three months out and have forty years to go, but this is the most significant stop on their journey. On the road from slavery to freedom, from chaos to a new social order, this is the first major turn. This is the beginning of the Hebrews settling down as a community, a people in relationship with God.

          God has been feeding them on this journey. God has forgiven them, freed them from slavery, given them bread, meat, and water. Now God gives them a new diet for a new life. They receive the Ten Commandments at Sinai, and have forty years during which they can chew on it and reflect on how they will live in the new land as a new people.

          The time of reflection and travel will be a difficult process of teaching, learning, and developing new habits. The gift of the commandments outlines how we are to live with God and each other. They are rich in diet, nourishing a new social order. They point toward healthy relationships and warn against abusive, destructive ways of living.

          We sense the need for the commandments as we read through them and see their correlation in what we know of the people’s history. The First Commandment is, “I am Yahweh, your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other god’s before me.”  The second is, “You shall not make for yourself an idol.’  God self-identifies as the one who has been their liberator in the past and says they should have no counterfeit gods.

          These are needed directives as their two great leaders to this point, Abraham and Moses, have both tried to play God.

          Abraham, when faced with a famine, in the Promised Land, on his own initiative decided to go to Egypt. Then for his own self-protection he lied and married off his wife Sarah to Pharaoh, thus creating all kinds of chaos. Abraham tries to play God. (Exodus 12)

          In Numbers 20:2-13 we read of the people complaining they have no water. It’s one of those times the people wanted to go back to their old life of slavery in Egypt. God tells Moses to speak to the rock and it will yield water. However, Moses says to the people, “Shall we bring forth water?” as though it was by his power, and then he strikes the rock instead of speaking to it. Moses tries to play God and this incident is the reason he is not allowed to enter the Promised Land. The people of Israel and God’s people today need the Ten Commandments, for we all face the temptation to play God.

          During the Civil War in this country there were people on both sides of the slavery issue who were claiming they knew God’s will and thus they were right. President Lincoln could not abide slavery. He firmly believed it was morally wrong. Yet to show an alternative way of thinking to the two warring parties he demonstrated a profound depth of humility when he described our nation as an “almost chosen” people. (Atlantic Monthly, October 2005, p.68) They guide us in seeking God and living creatively with each other.

          God continues with the people of Israel after Sinai for the next forty years. God continues to feed them while in the wilderness. The Ten Commandments will be their sustenance in their new life in the new land.

          Today we gather with brother and sister Christians around the world as we share in the sacrament of Holy Communion. Jesus was asked, “What is the greatest commandment?” His answer was a summation of the Ten Commandments: “Love God and love your neighbor.” Then in an upper room he demonstrated his love for God and for us by breaking bread and pouring out the cup, saying, “This is my body…this is my life blood…given for you.”

          Once again the people of God received a new diet for a new life. The nutritional value of the bread and cup are that they are symbols with point to the fact Jesus not only taught us in so many words, but also modeled for us a way of living which fulfills God’s will and gives life to all god’s people. The Ten Commandments are the bread and the cup are in agreement in their witness to how we are to live, loving God and loving neighbor. They are the new diet for a new life.

          John Crowe Ransome is the son of a Methodist minister and the founder of the literary movement known as the Southern Literary Agrarians. He has written a book entitled, God Without Thunder. It is about how some modern theologians have taken away God. Notice at the giving of the Ten Commandments there is thunder and lightning on Mt. Sinai. God thunders, for the gift of the commandments is the meat of life.

          A Methodist minister left his appointment at a local church and became a faculty member of a church related university. He tells of hosting several students at his home for dinner. One of the students indicated he wasn’t used to such practices. He said that for as long as he could remember his dad had been a drug dealer. He also stated that one summer he and his brother had to protect their father from other dealers who sought to kill him. Then he said, “Professor, this is the first time I have ever sat down for a family meal in my life.”

          A new diet for a new life, God offers it to us in many ways. There is a place for you at the table.