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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Pentecost 10/02/2011

As I talked about last week, Moses’ life couldn’t have been all that easy. He had those YES moments but that certainly wasn’t the whole story. One of his moments of glory though, had to be finally coming down from Mt. Sinai with the two tablets of stone on which the very finger of God had written the Ten Commandments. If you’ve ever been close to someone famous that you really admire you know how you feel after that, you kind of bask in their glory for awhile. Imagine being that close to God himself; that’s where Moses had been. It didn’t last long, his basking in glory. While he was up on the mountain the pain in the neck people of Israel had made the Golden Calf because they didn’t trust Moses or the God he said was leading them, but that’s next week’s story.

Today we have the Ten Commandments to consider and they are worthy of consideration. You know though that in recent years they have been at the center of one of our many culture wars as certain politicians trying to win points with certain constituencies have made a big deal about having the commandments visibly displayed in public buildings. One of those people was Judge Roy Moore who was the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama (he has since been removed). But while he was chief justice he commissioned the construction of a monument that included the Ten Commandments that he wanted displayed in his courthouse. He was told it couldn’t be there so he began a campaign of protest in which he carted his monument around from one public appearance to another on the back of a flatbed truck. The thing weighs over 5000 pounds! That’s over 500 pounds per commandment. It takes a 57 foot crane to load and unload the monument from the truck.

Judge Moore has a right to protest, and I think his protest goes on, but my point isn’t to vote yea or nay on his protest but to use this an illustration of the commandments as heavy burdens, heavy weights and obligations which is how I think many people view them, 5280 pounds of heavy burden in the case of Judge Moore’s monument. Thou shalt not; that’s how eight of them start and that does sound burdensome. It does sound threatening, the finger of God wagging at us as individuals or at a rebellious and wayward society; Thou shalt not, and it’s hard not to hear an implied, or else at the end!

To be sure, it’s not necessarily bad that we hear the commandments that way, at least some of the time. But understanding them as heavy burdens to be obeyed, or else, overlooks the context in which they were given. Seeing them as burdens you would think that they were prefaced by an order; “Here are the rules; you’d better behave!” But if you look at the first half of verse 2 in today’s reading, that’s not what you find. Instead, it’s an announcement of freedom; “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” We could learn something from Jewish people here; they include those words as their first commandment; they intentionally connect the commandments to the story of the exodus, a story which is central to their identity. That connection highlights the context of freedom in which the commandments were given.

Now maybe you say, “What difference does it make? It’s still a bunch of things we aren’t supposed to do.” But I think it does make a difference to see the commandments as part of a story about freedom. We’re free from needing any other gods; we’re free from the lifeless idols of money and possessions being the be all and end all; we’re free from having to establish or promote ourselves by exploiting others through lying, stealing, coveting, even committing adultery and murder. It starts though with a story, a story about what God has done to care for his people, and that does make a difference.

As Christians we have a story too, the story of Jesus which is our story of being freed from the burden of guilt and sin.  We talk about the gift of grace we’ve been given which frees us to live according to Jesus’ teachings, teachings which are mostly interpretation of the Ten Commandments. We respond not to earn God’s favor, that’s already been given. We respond in freedom and in thanks for what we’ve already received. Just as Jewish people connect the call for obedience to a story, we also connect our response to God’s grace to a story, our response to God’s grace being our call to obedience.

The stories are important; that’s why reading and hearing them is central to what we do in worship every week. Jesus himself told stories because he knew they could affect people in ways that simply being told what to do or not to do couldn’t. The stories affect us and our obedience to the ethical implications of the stories transforms us; it changes us; we become more Christ-like as we share in his attributes of care and compassion and forgiveness and justice and welcome and so forth. We are transformed by the spirit of Christ at work in us and the result is that our response becomes a real extension of who we are and not just grudging obedience to burdensome commands.   

Again though, it starts with a story. It starts with a story of the good news of the God who sets us free, whether it’s the story of the Lord using Moses to bring the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt or if it’s the story of Jesus that we focus on as Christians. It starts with stories that help us experience care and deliverance, love and forgiveness.

Recently, several of you have told me of seeing a video on the news of people who lifted a burning car off of a trapped motorcyclist, risking their lives as the car could have exploded at any time. I watched it on You Tube the other day and it was pretty amazing. I found another story very much like that that happened a few years ago. The guy’s name was Jack Casey, he was and probably still is a volunteer fireman and ambulance driver. As a child though he had to have some of his teeth extracted and it required him to undergo general anesthesia and for whatever reason, as a little kid that just frightened him to death; he was terrified. At the hospital though, there was a nurse who said to him, “Don’t worry, I’ll be right here beside you though the whole thing. I’ll take care of you.” When he woke up after the surgery, the first face he saw was that nurse, still standing beside him.

Twenty years later his ambulance crew was called to an accident scene with a driver pinned upside down in his pickup truck. Jack crawled into the window of the cab of the pickup to tend to any injuries the driver might have. There was some smoke coming out of the front of the truck and he could smell gasoline and there was gasoline dripping on both of them so there was a real risk of fire plus others in the rescue crew were using power tools to try and open up the cab to get the driver out. The whole time the driver was crying out, “I don’t want to die; I don’t want to die,” and Jack kept saying to him the same thing the nurse had said to him years ago. “Don’t worry; I’m right here; I won’t leave you.” Later, after the driver had been safely rescued, he said to Jack, “You were an idiot. The thing could have exploded and killed us both.” Jack just said he didn’t really think about it, he just did it. He mentioned that in the middle of it all, his own experience of fear and the response of that nurse had run through his mind.

You see though, his response in that situation was just who he was. He had been shaped by the experience of being cared for when he was afraid, and I’m sure by other things too. In the end though, his response was not an obligation, it was just who he was and that’s kind of how the commandments work when they’re connected to stories of being cared for, of being set free. The commandments aren’t arbitrary burdens placed on us to keep us in line; there is a context.

The psalmist today extends that context to the very order of creation itself. The first 6 verses proclaim the majesty of God revealed in creation but then it quickly shifts to praise for the perfection of God’s law. So what the psalmist does is to use the story of creation to provide another context for the commandments as a joy rather than a burden. The middle verses of the psalm are a good way to end.

The teaching of the Lord is perfect and revives the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure and gives wisdom to the simple.
The statutes of the Lord are just and rejoice the heart; the commandment of the Lord is clear and gives light to the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is clean and endures forever; the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold, more than much fine gold, sweeter fare than honey, than honey in the comb.
By them also is your servant enlightened, and in keeping them there is great reward.

Rev. Warren Geier


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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