Sunday, October 06, 2019

Not With Our Ancestors — a sermon on the Ten Commandments, for a baptism

Rev. Teri Peterson
Gourock St. John’s
Not With Our Ancestors
Deuteronomy 5.1-21, 6.4-9
6 October 2019, baptism, NL2-5

Moses summoned all Israel and said:
Hear, Israel, the decrees and the laws I declare in your hearing today. Learn them and be sure to follow them. 2 The Lord our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. 3 It was not with our ancestors that the Lord made this covenant, but with us, with all of us who are alive here today. 4 The Lord spoke to you face to face out of the fire on the mountain. 5 (At that time I stood between the Lord and you to declare to you the word of the Lord, because you were afraid of the fire and did not go up the mountain.) And he said:
6 ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
7 ‘You shall have no other gods before me.
8 ‘You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 9 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 10 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
11 ‘You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
12 ‘Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labour and do all your work, 14 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns, so that your male and female servants may rest, as you do. 15 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.
16 ‘Honour your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the Lord your God is giving you.
17 ‘You shall not murder.
18 ‘You shall not commit adultery.
19 ‘You shall not steal.
20 ‘You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour.
21 ‘You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife. You shall not set your desire on your neighbour’s house or land, his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.’

6:4 Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the door-frames of your houses and on your gates.


In some ways, it feels a little bit strange to have a baptism where we focus on how God’s grace is given to us before we can respond, before we can try, before we can understand...and then to read the Ten Commandments, which have so often been used as a measure of who is good enough for heaven. But in other ways, it’s the perfect reading for a day like today, because both baptism and the Commandments are all about God choosing us and then calling us to a particular way of life that reflects our identity and our community.

Today’s reading is actually the second reading of the Ten Commandments — the first is found in Exodus, right after the people come out of Egypt and arrive at Mount Sinai. Today’s is nearly 40 years later, when they stand on the edge of the promised land, and nearly everyone who was at the foot of the mountain that first day is gone. It’s a new generation that has grown up in the wilderness, learning how to be free people rather than slaves. Yet at the beginning of the reading, Moses said to them: “it was not with our ancestors that the Lord made this covenant, but with us.” God is the God of the living, and we don’t get to simply rest on the work of those who came before us. We, here and now, are the people God chooses, the people God loves, and the people God calls—and God does not call us to be carbon copies of the past. We give thanks for those who have come before us, but we don’t re-live their lives, and we can’t expect that their ways will continue to be our ways forever, nor can we simply allow their faithfulness to stand in for our own. Instead, we pick up the mantle of grace ourselves and go forward into God’s new future.

Then, at the end of the reading, we are told to teach all these things to the next generation. One day we will be the ones who are gone, and they will stand there and hear the words, “not with our ancestors, but with us.” Until that day, it is our responsibility — all of us, not just parents or grandparents or godparents, but the whole church — to pass on the good news in ways they can hear, to talk about what it means to be God’s people, to live faithfully, to keep our focus and attention not on ourselves and our traditions and desires, but on loving God with all our heart, soul, and strength, to have God’s word constantly in front of our eyes as we go about our lives in this world. The children learn from what we do, as well as what we say, and our choices will speak loudly to them of our priorities.

In between these two reminders that it is our job to be tending the seeds of a church and a world that we will not be around to see, we find the Commandments which are meant to shape our lives into reflections of God’s glory...not so that we can earn our way into heaven, which is impossible, but rather so that we can, with every aspect of our life, heart, soul, mind, and strength, demonstrate that we belong to God. After all, the first commandment says “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of slavery.” The first words are a reminder that God started this: God chose us, rescued us, loves us, before commanding anything at all. 

And then the instructions teach that God cares about every area of our lives, not just the religious hour of the week. In every sphere of activity, whether that’s our family relationships or how we use language or how we participate in the economy or what we do with our time and money, God is asking us to be the holy people that we were created to be. God loves us, chose us, saved us...and in response, we live a particular way. And that way is toward fullness of life for the whole creation, with no need for gossip or untruthfulness, no room for jealousy or greed, no tolerance for violence or objectifying’s a way that includes all, regardless of their age or gender or immigration status or economic’s a way that recognises the impact of our choices on future’s a way that entails keeping the love of God at the forefront of our mind, life, and attention, no matter what activity we are engaged in, or who we are talking to.

This way of life is so different than what the world normally asks of us, it cannot be lived alone. Throughout this text, God addresses the whole community together. We are not meant to try to manage by ourselves. This is for the whole Body, supporting each member, holding each other up when we bear the consequences of refusing to participate in the world’s ways, reminding one another of the promises, and holding ourselves accountable when we fail, so we can try again. 

And isn’t that also what baptism is about? It’s a sign of God’s amazing grace, and also a time when we re-commit to this community life, promising to work together in response to that grace. Not so we can earn it, but because we have already received grace upon grace, because we are already loved beyond imagining, because we are already called children of God...and now that we know who we are and who we belong to, we can be more faithful in living out of that truth, and teaching it to the next generation so that they too can understand that they have an important place in this family of faith that stretches back many generations, and also forward into a future that God is preparing for them, even now, even through us.

May it be so. Amen.

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