Sunday, March 7, 2021

The Ten Commandments...abandoned and forgotten

On Thursday evening of this week, Sandra preached on the same Gospel story that we’ve just heard – the story of Jesus chasing out the money changers from the temple.  So, now I’m going to tell you all the things she got wrong….

Not really!  Actually, it was a very good sermon- and you can watch it for yourself just by clicking here: Facebook 

So, that topic has been covered…which gives me an opportunity to focus, for once, on the Old Testament – and specifically on the Ten Commandments.  In fact, the Lectionary invites us specifically to consider the Commandments during Lent.  In older times, we would have recited the commandments together on Sundays throughout Lent.  And in Tudor times, the law of the land required that the 10 Commandments should be inscribed upon wooden tablets – and placed at the East End of the church for everyone to be constantly reminded of them.  

But, what can I say about them in just a few minutes, here on a Sunday?  I’m sure that none of you would thank me for a 10 point sermon!

Well, let me be concise: the plain fact is that today’s society couldn’t care less about the 10 Commandments!  If you ask the typical man or woman in the street what the basic rules of society should be, they will often say things like ‘bring back the 10 Commandments’ – and then they will merrily go about their lives in complete ignorance of what the commandments actually teach.

What do I mean?  Well let’s look at them in two groups – for we can split the 10 Commandments into two headings – just as Jesus did.  

First, there’s the group of Commandments which are about God, and our relationship to God.  You know the sort of thing – worship God only, don’t make graven images and idols, don’t take his name in vain, and set aside a Sabbath day to rest and commune with God.

Secondly, there’s the group of Commandments which are about how we live with each other – or, in Jesus words, how we can ‘love our neighbour as ourselves’.  

So let’s look at them – and examine whether my statement, just now, that today’s society couldn’t care less about them actually holds water.

First – the commandments about loving God.  We make our own gods, today.  Perhaps your god is a famous celebrity, a fashion icon, or a film star.  

For many, keeping up with the fashions, lifestyle and fashion choices of someone called Kim Kardashian seems to be all the rage!  If we are lucky enough not to be employed by a seven-day a week organisation, many of us use our day of rest to worship these gods.  But the day of rest has, itself, been sacrificed on the altar of commerce.  We simply must have our garden centres and supermarkets open on a Sunday, staffed by some of the lowest paid workers in our economy.  For how else can we worship our gods of gastronomy and horticulture?!

Ultimately, the thing we choose to make our personal god, is the thing that we invest most of our spare time and energy into.  It might be our lovely new car. Or perhaps it’s an unhealthy over-focus on certain wines, or a given TV soap opera.  Each of us must judge for ourselves.  But I guarantee that each of us has, at some time in our lives, made something or someone else into a kind of god.  Something that commands all our love, energy, devotion and spare time.

To any of us who have developed such a god (with a small ‘g’), the Lord God Almighty, creator of the Universe, says to us, “Oi!  You there!  Look over here!”  The 10 Commandments invite us to put our primary focus back towards the source of all things, towards the energy, creativity, power and beauty which is actually at the root of everything which we choose to make into a god.  The facial perfection of a film-star?  It comes from God, the ground of all beauty.  The wisdom of a great philosopher?  It comes from God, the ground of all wisdom.  The power of that twin-turbo super-charged engine you love to polish?  It comes from God, the ground of all power and the author of physics.  The mischievous laugh of the grandchild or the pet animal you are obsessing over?  It comes from God, the ground of all family and love.  

The 10 Commandments call us back to the source – and to a right focus on God, who is the ground of all being.  And then they encourage us to act in God-like ways towards our neighbours.

The second group of Commandments are all about the way we live together.  Murder, adultery, lying, stealing, and covetousness are all bundled together, along with the command that we should respect and honour our parents – the older generation who have much to teach the young. But murder, adultery, lying, stealing and covetousness are so normal in our society, that we don’t even blink anymore when we see them in our national life.  No-one blinks an eye that some of the most senior leaders in our land have sacked for lying in the past and that court documents attest to their multiple adulteries.  The vast majority of the world rolls over in its sleep at stories of the murder of innocent protestors in Myanmar, or when policemen in the USA choke the life out of a black detainee.  And don’t get me started on stealing – especially the whole-sale, world-wide legalised-theft of property ownership by billionaires, and the institutionalised theft of tax avoidance schemes.   No, no-one cares anymore.  We just accept our leaders’ disregard of the 10 commandments without a second thought.

And covetousness?  Our entire economy is founded on it!  The marketing industry depends on it.  Entire banking systems are built around our endless desire to possess what our neighbour already possesses.  

No, my friends, the hard and irresistible conclusion has to be, as I said 10 minutes ago, today’s society couldn’t care less about the 10 Commandments.

So?  What?   What are we to do about this?  We have a choice.  We have always had a choice.  We have the same choice that inspired Moses to bring these commands down from the mountain.  We have the same choice that Jesus gave to his followers.  We can choose to roll over, let the lies, the murder, theft, adultery and covetousness consume us.   We can carry on shifting our focus away from the source of all gods.   Or we can repent….turn around…and focus our lives, our attention, our time and our devotion back to the centre.  To God, to author and perfecter of all things, and the ground of all being*.

And that, my friends, is what Lent is all about.


*This phrase was eloquently employed by Paul Tillich, one of the most influential theologians and philosophers of the 20th Century. It is also a phrase commonly used in Buddhist thought, to describe the unknowable, unmanifest, unchanging, infinite ‘Brahman’.


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