"I brought you into this world, and I can take you right back out of it."
I don't know if he was the first to say that, but I remember hearing Bill Cosby use that line when he was talking about his parenting and discipline. He was kidding...I think. But he was making the point that there are times when you have to show your kids you're serious. You have to make them hear you.
In Exodus 20 - that's exactly what God is doing with us, his people. That's when God was giving what we know as his 10 Commandments.
The mountain was covered with smoke; there was thunder, lightning, trumpets blasting, the mountain shaking and the people knew he was serious. They told Moses they couldn't handle listening to this.
And as if that weren't scary enough, God spoke. He gave them a set of laws we've been failing at ever since. And he expects perfection because he is holy and must destroy sin.
This is some scary stuff, because we've broken every commandment. Our worry, greed and pride shatter the "no other gods" thing; our mindless use of God's name takes care of no. 2 and we know we're not in the word and worship like we should be. So much for remembering the Sabbath Day. The rest of them fall like dominos too, from our disrespect of our authorities to our anger, from our lust to our greed, from our penchant for gossip to our envy - God gave us laws and we broke them. We are sinners and God hates that.
But if you think that is the message he wants you to take from this article today, if you think that is what "church" or "religion" is all about, you are sorely mistaken. You see, Exodus 20 is not just a list of the 10 commands. There are all sorts of other words in there that don't get crocheted on the tapestry or printed on the plaques of those 10 Commandments. And it is here that God makes it a beautiful thing instead of a scary thing to hear God speak these 10 Commandments.
Exodus 20:1, "And God spoke all these words: ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.'" The one speaking here is the one who brought us out of slavery, the slavery of sin, the slavery that we were bound in because we needed perfection but we didn't have it and we couldn't fix that no matter how hard we tried, no matter how many commands we tried to keep. Which is good, because we have not even kept the 10. We haven't even kept the first, giving God the no. 1 place in our heart all the time. We were in slavery.
And just like God rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt with those 10 plagues and the splitting of the Red Sea, (Those two things had just happened before they got to Mt. Sinai.) God has rescued us. That's what this season of Lent in the church year is all about, hearing the story of how Jesus suffered to rescue us, we call it the "Passion History." He brought us out of slavery by taking our place and paying our debt in his sufferings and death.
So let's hear God speak. But don't forget who it is you are listening to. It's the one who says, "I rescued you once...I'll do it again. I've forgiven you for the mess you made. I've forgiven you for all those commands you've broken. I've forgiven you for not even getting past that first commandment. I have forgiven you and now I, the Lord, am your God." You see, when we remember who it is, then those commandments change. No, it doesn't make them any less severe, or any easier to keep, but it makes them light. They are no longer a burden. Our failures that weighed us down are gone. We have Jesus' perfect record of keeping these commandments. We know our God - the Lord.
So now we have every reason to hear him speak, and, in fact, we see what he says now as our privilege and joy instead of a burden or pain. Walk right through the 10:
1. You know the Lord, so you don't need any other god but him - he can deliver you like your money, your pride, or your strength never could.
2. You have the privilege of uttering his holy name to worship him, to call on him, to share him.
3. You get to be with him in his presence in his word.
4. You get his representatives to show you his love.
5. You get his protection of your life.
6. You get his gifts of marriage and of sex inside that marriage.
7. You even get his gifts of stuff - and he lets you manage all those blessings.
8. He doesn't just care about his name - he cares about your good name too.
9/10. In fact, he has given you so much that you never have to want.
That's God's Law. Those are the 10 Commandments. So, how do they sound? Are you still trembling at the fire and smoke, the thunder and trumpets? No, because you've heard God speak. You've heard him tell you how your Savior has fulfilled every last letter of the law, so all you see is God's love. So in repentance this Lent, don't cling to that law in and of itself. Cling to the God who gave it.
Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington.