So Simple So Complex 3-4-18

In this sermon, based on Exodus 20:1-17, I explore the 10 Commandments. They are given to God’s people as a gift of covenant, not just a rule book.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen
Many of you out there know that I’m not much a sports guy…I often joke that if its not a little white ball with dimples I don’t really pay attention…but golf…man I love it. It’s a wonderful game, both to watch and to play. Its amazing simple and yet utterly complex all at same time.

Now I don’t claim to be an expert by any means, though I’ve got an okay swing…and I’ve tried at different times to teach someone how to swing a club…and every time I try this, I gain more respect for golf coaches…for swing coaches…for those who manage to actually teach this uniquely wonderful and challenging maneuver.

And as per usual…there’s a movie scene that I think of in this instance…comes from a great film called Tin Cup staring Kevin Costner as a skilled but flawed golf pro who’s giving Rene Russo her first ever golf lesson…and they begin with the question “How do you hit a golf shot.” He walks over, smacks a shot off the range and says “Like that.”  And she responds “Well I process verbally. Can you break down into words how you just did that?” And so he does.

It begins with the grip, the hands combine together to form a single unit…overlap the pinky. Lowly and slowly the club head is led backwards, pulled into position, not by the hands, but by the body which turns away from the target, shifting weight to right side without shifting balance, tempo is everything, perfection unobtainable as the body coils now to the top of the swing, there’s a slight hesitation, a little nod to the gods for he is fallible, and now the weight begins shifting back to the left, pulled by the powers inside the earth, its alive this swing a living sculpture, and down through contact always down, striking the ball crisply, with character, a tuning fork goes off in your heart, such a pure feeling is the well struck golf shot, and then the follow through to the finish always on line…

She just kinda looks at him at this point…and they go back forth a couple times before he says “there’s only one other acceptable theory on how to hit a golf ball…grip it and rip it.” (pause)

I love this scene because it highlights an important point about golf, its both incredibly simple…and its utterly complex all at the same time…and this same truth applies to life as well doesn’t it? (pause)

Now I bring all this up today, because today’s lesson features something else that falls in this same category of incredibly simple and yet utterly complex…the 10 Commandments…the beginning of what we have come know as the Law…specially Jewish Law or Old Testament Law…its got a lot of different names within different traditions…but one thing we can all agree on is where it came from.

Now this story is the third covenant story that we’ve hit upon here in the season of Lent. We started two weeks ago, about 10 generations following the creation and fall of humanity, and we found God making a covenant with Noah, post flood, that never again would the earth be destroyed by flood water. Last week we shifted ahead about another 10 generations….the covenant that God made with Abraham, that despite all logic, his descendants would become a great nation, and all the earth would be blessed through him.

And now we shift ahead once more, covering roughly 500 years of history since Abraham…his descendants have grown…becoming not only a family but eventually an entire culture…an entire nation known as the Israelites…a nation that came into being under the yoke of bondage…in slavery in the land of Egypt…but following some amazingly miraculous signs from God…signs that show them that they have a God who is not okay with enslavement…that their God is one of freedom from oppression, they follow the great deliver Moses out of Egypt, through the waters of the Red Sea…and onward through the desert to Mount Sinai where they camp out for a pretty lengthy amount of time…spending about a year here at the base of the mountain…a period of time that starts off with Moses up on top of the mountain for 40 days receiving what has come to be known as the law.

Now this long teaching…this long period of instruction that the Lord gives to Moses on behalf of the Israelites is utterly complex…all told, between what God gives Moses, and what their later interpretations would establish…there are over 600 articles in the Jewish Law…it takes up a ton of Exodus…a bunch of Leviticus and a fair amount of Deuteronomy to cover it all…and you know what, its not unlike golf in that respect either…serious side note…the official rules of golf include 34 separate rules broken down into 126 sub-sections…its super complex…but can be narrowed down to something as simple as hit the ball repeatedly until it falls in the hole. (pause)
But now back to the 10 Commandments…and the law. I wrestled around with this quite a bit this week…because it seems, at first glance anyway…that this one doesn’t quite fall under the category of covenant like the previous readings.  Those came right out and said it…and for the most part, the action in those seemed like it fell on God, and not so much on the people…but this ones different isn’t it? (pause)

Now I’d like to think that the 10 Commandments are pretty well known…many of us here have studied them in the past…it’s a very common topic in our confirmation tradition…and pretty much every time I’ve worked on this topic with a group, our initial conversation goes the same direction…at face value, the 10 Commandments come across like a rule book…like God is some cosmic life judge who’s giving us pointers on what is and isn’t acceptable…like the Lord is just trying to take away our personal freedom and control everything.

Think about it…is that your response to this list? Is that how you view it? How you hear it? Let’s go down the list…I am the Lord your God, have no other gods before me…Don’t take the name of the Lord your God in vain…Honor the Sabbath and keep it holy…honor your father and mother…do not commit murder, don’t commit adultery…don’t steal, don’t bear false witness, don’t covet your neighbors stuff…don’t covet your neighbors people or animals…sure enough, it’s a lot of do’s and don’ts. (pause)

As covenants go, this one sure seems to put the pressure on the people doesn’t it? But here’s the thing…while its become second nature for us to consider this a drag…a how-to list for acceptable living…just another notch on the board of what we have to…for the original recipients…it wasn’t a drag…it was a gift.

The 10 Commandments were given to a people as a physical reminder of the promise that God had made to them all those generations before…a promise to be with them, and the bless them…but not only that…that they would be a blessing to the rest of the world. And this is the next step in how all that works.

All too often we hear rules…regulations…the list of what we have to do in order to be considered “in”…acceptable…good. But what if I told you that God has intended this for something way deeper…what if I told you that the covenant that God has made with these people is intended as a way for them to be an example of how to live in harmony in this world that God has made…because that’s what God says to them before this whole carving the law out on stone tablets thing happens.  You shall be for me a priestly kingdom…a holy nation…

God intends for the Israelites to be an example for the rest of the world…an example in the way that they live with one another and for one another…and we see it in the recipients of the Commandments themselves…I often bring this up when teaching on the commandments…that the first 3 are aimed at our relationship with God…and the rest are aimed at our relationship with our neighbors…a distinction not lost on Christ by the way…for when Jesus was asked “what’s the most important commandment, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He responded Love God and love your neighbor…all of the law and the prophets can be hung upon this.

But why? Why is it important…that is perhaps the big question both for the Israelites back then…and for us now…and to answer that question, I need to point out a distinction that pops up repeated in this passage.  I am the Lord your God….anyone catch that? 5 times it shows up…5 times we are reminded that the Lord is our God, and if that is true, then so is the reverse…God belongs to us, but more importantly we belong to God, because God is the one who made us in the first place.

If we go all the way back to the beginning, we find a God who creates our world…our entire existence, bringing chaos towards order, and calling each and every step good. God created all of this out of delight and it culminated when God created humanity, each member of the human race bearing the divine image of God…a creation that God calls VERY GOOD.

But this work of bringing chaos towards order isn’t done yet…and I believe that bearing the divine image of the Lord means that we are capable of being invited into this work alongside God…and that means that we are called…we are invited…we are blessed to be able to live in harmony with the one who made it all in the first place…and to live in harmony with the good life that surrounds us in every other person…because all life is precious…all life is good…and we share the ability to recognize that.

But…we also share a different distinction…that we each have the capability for great destruction…and I believe that this is why God has given us a reminder of how to live…not as a way to curry favor…not as a way to try and buy ourselves into divine good graces…but as a response to the divine love and favor that has already been shown to us, simply because God delights in you.

Let me be clear…the law…the commandments…whatever we want to call them are not intended to be viewed as the way to earn God’s favor…and if we only see them in that way we have missed the mark…but rather…they are intended to reveal the way to live in gratitude for the love of God, and in harmony with one another.

And as we consider this, we must also recognize that the Commandments themselves…are utterly simple, and yet utterly complex all at the same time…take number 5 for instance…you shall not kill…no brainer…unless someone threatens you…unless someone threatens your children….what then? Is it okay? Can we justify it? Maybe, maybe not? (pause)

And does it go even deeper than that? If Jesus is to be believed…and I think he is…then it would seem so…remember that little ditty when Jesus says “You have heard it said in ancient time you shall not murder, I tell you that if anyone is angry with a brother or sister, they have committed murder in their heart.” Not quite so simple anymore is it?

Here’s the take away…as we travel through the season of Lent…as we continue to move closer and closer and closer to the betrayal, the arrest…the torture and death of Jesus…as things continue to get darker, we are reminded that whatever it is that God is slowly moving this existence towards…whatever the eventual order is that God is pulling us towards…its not done yet…because there is bad that still occurs right alongside the good.  And yet, the kingdom comes near as we live in a way that brings honor and dignity to those around us…because by doing this we honor the divine image that lies within them as an individual…and when we do this, we honor and respect and love the one who made it all in the first place…and who is this? Who is the one that gives us a way to live that is both utterly simple and yet utterly complex…He tells us several times today…I am the Lord your God.

Now you can take that and try to make it really deep…really complex…really difficult…or you can just grip it and rip it.


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