March 4, 2018
Exodus 20:1-17, Psalm 19, 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, John 2:13-22
Most folks who grew up in Christian homes and churches learned a false narrative that continues to be told today. It says that Jews are all about Law and Christians are all about grace! This has been taught in Evangelical and mainstream protestant churches for millennia. It was the message in mainstream Biblical scholarship until E. P. Sanders in the mid-1980s pointed out this narrative was self-serving and false. Self-serving because we feel virtuous when we have a strawman to attack and false because it misses what is right in front of us in our passage from Exodus today. The presentation of the 10 Commandments begins this way:
“Then God spoke all these words:
‘I am YHWH your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery….’
If we miss this we miss the meaning of everything that follows. This God is not some strict, angry, schoolmaster with a switch in his hand, ready to lay into his students, eager to punish the first child that steps out of line.
Who is the God in this passage: our translation calls God The LORD, but the Hebrew reads I am YHWH your God: remember it is YHWH who calls Moses over to the burning bush and says to him:
“I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”
YHWH is relational, calling the ancient ancestors of Moses into YHWH’s purpose for creation.
7 Then the YHWH says to Moses, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, 8 and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey….”
YHWH is the One who hears the cries of women and men under cruel backbreaking bondage. This is the One who loves even slaves.
Now, God speaks again to Moses after they are free from Egypt and reminds Moses: ‘I am YHWH your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery….’
So before any of the 10 commandments are given, we learn that YHWH is the God of grace and liberation, the God who loves the slaves and sets them free.
It all begins with grace! To be a Jew is to be a member of that community called by grace, led by grace, and nurtured by the grace of YHWH who loves them.
When we see this we are in position to hear what follows. The 10 Commandments are God’s Word for how Israel is to maintain its freedom and not slip again under the destructive ways of other gods and beliefs and thereby remain faithful and true to YHWH and the call to be a blessing to all people.
So YHWH begins the commandments with: you shall have no other gods before me.
It is said this is the only commandment and everything else is commentary: you shall have no other gods before me.
When we have YHWH as our only God, then we grow in likeness to YHWH’s character, purpose, and love. We will not make idols of lesser things, we will not misuse the Holy Name for our own purposes, we will rest as YHWH rested on the Sabbath and never again let the demands of empire or economy make us work without a day of rest, we will honor our parents even when they become old and unable to contribute to my financial wellbeing, we will not murder because unlike Pharaoh we hold all life to be sacred, we will honor our marriage commitments as YHWH honors the commitment made to us. We will not steal or lie to our neighbor for they are also loved by YHWH. And lastly we will not covet—because we will rest content in YHWH’s providence for our lives and not be driven by our desires.
The Jews are called in grace and they follow the law in order to reflect the grace of YHWH into the world as a community different from Egypt.
I love how OT biblical scholar and pastor Walter Brueggemann puts it:
“The god who enacts life-sustaining wonders is the god who summons the recipients of those life-sustaining wonders to complete, uncompromising response in obedience. ” In short hand he writes: “The God who gives is the God who commands.” Into to the Old Testament, page 44
The rest of the Old Testament is the story of Israel struggling to remain faithful to YHWH even as YHWH remains faithful to Israel. They are a lot like us in this respect. We too like to think it’s no big deal to have a hyphenated religion: A “God AND” religion.
If my pagan neighbor’s crops are growing while mine are shrinking, then what’s wrong with also worshipping to my God AND my neighbor’s pagan gods?
What could be wrong if I worship God AND my white race, God AND my southern heritage, God AND my economic concern.
All these are good things, right? My race is good, my southern heritage is good, your New England heritage is good, our economic well-being is a good thing. We should celebrate all these things right up to the point we turn them into gods.
How do we know when we’ve turned them into gods? The moment we demean and oppress others in the name of these false gods.
The most violent and deadly God AND religion is God AND Nationalism. When Israel decides it needs to be like other Ancient Near East countries and have a king who goes out to war every spring, they are back under the slavery of the needs of empire.
When God and the Roman Empire are linked in 4th century when the Emperor Constantine makes Christianity the official religion this thing called Christendom is born. In too many cases kings and Bishops begin to think of God and Empire as the same thing, so that they could use all the power of the empire to oppress those who do not follow their religion.
This produces the most grotesque pictures of Christianity—like slave owners and their political leaders who were also slave owners, teaching slaves the 10 Commandments so they would be well behaved slaves, yet neglecting to teach that the God of the Commandments is in fact the God who liberates from slavery.
We need to be on the lookout in the current climate for signs that nation and God are being linked together as one.
It is a wonderful thing to be able to live in a nation we love. It is a dangerous thing to live in a nation we worship.
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.”
Did you see the photos of that Unification church in Newfoundland, PA where the worshippers were in deep prayer while some had crowns made of bullets and others were hugging their AR-15 rifles as if it were their child. (Just google this and see for yourself!)
To paraphrase Jesus in the Temple: “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace of false gods!”
Easy to pick on them, but I’ve got my list and you’ve got your list of those things that pull us into “God AND” worship. The problem though is that we’re usually unconscious to these things. In fact you could say we are enslaved to them—the fact that I get anxious when I pull up my bank account on line should tell me something.
Which is why it is such good news today to hear that the our God continues to bring us out of the house of slavery through Jesus Christ who loved us and gave himself for us, that we too might know the grace that passes all understanding.