God’s Word for Tuesday, August 1

Good evening from Liverpool, New York! Our reading for this Tuesday, August 1, 2017 is Exodus, chapter 20.

Moses was called up Mount Sinai to receive the instructions God wanted the people to follow. We know them as the Ten Commandments. They are also repeated in the book of Deuteronomy, chapter 5, verses 6-21. The reason they are found twice is due to the fact Deuteronomy is written later before the people were about to enter the land God promised to provide them. Deuteronomy consists of various speeches Moses gave for the purpose of reminding the people of what had transpired and renew their commitment of obedience to God.

What is important is to realize Jesus confirmed their inspiration and also approved the reduction of the commands into two simpler statements which are found in Deuteronomy 6.5: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” The command to “love your neighbor as yourself” we find in Matthew 22. 37 actually is found in Leviticus 19. 18. The synthesis is natural as the first four commands pertain directly to our treatment of God and the remaining six address responses to others.

The Ten Commandments are foundational to defining our morality. The first command demands primary loyalty to the one God of creation over that of other gods. This mention of gods is a reference to the various gods believed and followed by other cultures. These were polytheistic nations who recognize and a plethora of gods and goddesses most frequently associated with nature or fertility. The Jews stood out amongst other cultures as a monotheistic religion professing allegiance to one God.

By the mention of other gods does not legitimize them, only acknowledges that humanity is prone to identify various gods each centered upon addressing a human need. Critics of religion are correct in their assertion that humanity created religion to suit their own needs and purposes. They are mistaken however to assert this applies to the one true God of creation. It is more natural to elevate human need and the powers of nature to worship as these are forces which dominate us and with which we strive. The suggestion of the existence of one God who created humanity in his own image and endowed humanity with certain giftedness and shared authority was exceptional in ancient societies. The difference is God initiated the revelation of his existence and the values for humanity to adopt.

While there are some today who worship various gods in nature most are viewed as primitive and outdated. They have been replaced by human achievement in science and technology or other humanistic or naturalistic concerns. What I find significant is that while we claim we have progressed or evolved beyond the ancient religions of cultures past we still create value systems from which we derive purpose and direction. These are the gods of our modern world. Whatever we value and prioritize to define meaning, purpose or direction becomes our god. It may be technology, sensual pleasure, nature, human personalities, fashion, music, or other human concerns, if they dominate or define our existence they are gods.

The first and foremost command is to have no other gods before the one true God. The second naturally follows the first being a restriction of making anything that is created into an idol. This is where it becomes sticky for us. We can make an idol out of a famous person (even a religious person), a political party, a possession, a cause or any number of personal interests or possessions. You take it from here. There is nothing wrong with enjoying and appreciating something; the problem comes when they own us and displace God who assists us in prioritizing any interest, relationship or concern.

Often the third commandment is read as saying “Do not swear” when actually is reads “do not abuse the name of God.” I’m not in favor of profanity however the abuse of God’s name pertains how we might profess faith in God and God’s revealed values only to live or speak contrary to those values. To do so reflects poorly on God and can draw people away from trust in God and godly values. The apostle Paul wrote “Let your ‘yes’ simply be ‘yes’ and your ‘no” simply be ‘no’!” To swear a pledge in God’s name or to claim to follow Christ and no be true to one’s word defames God.

The fourth command pertaining to keeping of the Sabbath has understood by Christians as dedicating Sunday to worship, rest and relationship building. The problem with this is that since the first century Christians have not kept the Sabbath. The Jewish Sabbath is defined as sunset Friday to sunset Saturday. What we call the Sabbath is actually the day of the Lord’s resurrection or the first day of the week. Does God care? No for as the apostle Paul asserted one day is as another in importance. The principle of the Sabbath is important to keep.

Jesus struggled with the teachers of the law and their insistence on the regulations created by humanity to keep it holy or special. The legalistic approach to it made it abusive to human need. Jesus taught that the Sabbath was made for humanity and not humanity made for it. This being said, the principle of keeping a Sabbath is essential to social and personal wellbeing. We need to take a break to assess what is really worth valuing in life and celebrate life’s greatest treasures. These include our relationship with God through whom we learn what to value and direct our living.

The “treasures of heaven” include family, friends, neighbors and service to the good of others which is service to God. The problem within our contemporary culture is we have eroded a time to observe a Sabbath by imposing work and personal pleasures to the neglect of God and service.  The abandoning of a culturally defined Sabbath day has contributed to social erosion of marriage and the rise of relational dysfunction, depression, anxiety, and mental illness.

What can we do about this dissolving of the Sabbath day? We cannot go backwards, but where we can we can guard a Sabbath by limiting conflicting involvements. Where Sundays cannot be set aside families need to wrestle with identifying another time or times to schedule investment in relationships, worship and service. As churches we need to offer alternative venues for worship, fellowship and service. In this area the church needs to be flexible to meet the needs of people remembering how Jesus said the Sabbath was made for us rather than being institutionalized to pressure us into its mode. God created the Sabbath to serve us, to bless us.

This does not at all mean we can ignore the command. We each must wrestle with creating one with our family and we each must daily define a time where we invest in God who guides us and the relationships that bring abundance to life. I’ll continue the rest of the commandments tomorrow.

Blessings!  Dr. Brian Homan, pastor Liverpool First UM Church