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Framing the Promise | A Sermon on the Ten Commandments in Exodus 19:4-7; 20:1-17


Narrative Lectionary Text: Exodus 19:4-7; 20:1-17

Let’s start off with a fun little experiment.

If you have a pencil and a piece of paper, maybe the back of your bulletin, you can write this down. If not, just try to remember. I want you to think of the first thing that comes to your mind when I say these colors:

  • Red
  • Yellow
  • Blue
  • Green
  • Orange
  1. Do you have your ideas? Turn to a neighbor and compare your list.

How many of you had exactly the same thing as your neighbor?

Red. Did anybody say apple? Firetruck?

Yellow. Banana? Sponge Bob?

Blue. Sky? Blueberry?

Green. Grass? Thumb?

Orange. Citrus fruit? Pumpkin?

Now, I want you to imagine that you are driving a car down the road and looking at signs. Write down what you think of when you see:

We can probably do this together. What do we think of with:

  • Red? Stop.
  • Yellow? Caution.
  • Blue? Interesting information.
  • Green? Direction information
  • Orange? Construction.

Isn’t that interesting.

The first time we did that, everyone had very different answers. The second time, everyone had almost exactly the same answer.

What changed?

Law.

The Law that regulates our driving behavior provided a structure, or a framework, for our imagination in regards to color.

That’s what law does. It provides a structure, or a framework, for society. Without law there is no society. It is impossible for human society to exist without some form of structure and law.

Today, we come to the next stop in our Narrative Lectionary Journey and we see how God provides a Law to the people of Israel in order to fulfill God’s promise to Abraham.

[level-free]If you’ve been tracking with this journey you will remember that we’ve been noticing God’s promises along the way.

The first promise was a cosmic, universal promise that God would never allow the world to be destroyed like it was in the flood, and God provided a rainbow to remind us.

By the way, did you see that double rainbow on Thursday night. Wow! I remembered the promise!

Then we saw that God focused on Abraham and made him a specific promise, and Abraham built an altar of stones to respond. So we have a pile of stones in the Narthex to remind us.

The promise God made to Abraham, in Genesis 12:1-2, has two parts to it.

The first part says:

I will make you into a great nation.

The second part says:

You will be blessed so that you can be a blessing.

That’s our big theme this year. Say it with me: Blessed to be a Blessing.

Since that moment that God blessed Abraham and made a promise, some big things have happened to Abraham’s family.

Two weeks ago we saw that his great, great grandchildren did not play nicely and they sold off one of the brothers into slavery in Egypt. Joseph’s story showed us that God’s promise is present, even in suffering.

The people multiplied and Pharoah got scared by them, so he enslaved them. The people were slaves for 400 years. Then last week we saw that God used Moses to lead the people through the Red Sea and into freedom. I heard Pastor Mark had some fun with water last week. I’m sorry I wasn’t here to see it.

I wonder.

How many of you are following along with the daily readings? In case you didn’t know, you can go to the website, www.graceandover.org, click on Resources, Narrative Lectionary Devotionals, and you’ll be able to see the reading for the day and actually click the link and read the text right there. It’s pretty cool.

These readings help fill in the gaps between stories on the weekends.

Since Moses led the people through the Sea, they have been struggling and whining. They’ve been walking through the desert and they are hungry and thirsty and God has provided for them miraculously with water and manna.

Now, God brings them to Mt. Sinai, and takes the promise God made to Abraham to the next level. God said that Abraham would be a great nation and be a blessing, but what does that look like?

The Law provides the structure and the framework for the Promise.

I’m calling this Framing the Promise.

The words God speaks in our text today frame both parts of this promise.

First, it frames GREATNESS.

What does it mean to be great?

How do you think our society would define greatness? Of course, it depends on who you ask. Most people would say that being rich and powerful is what makes you great, right?

Look what God says about greatness. In 19:4-6, God says to Moses,

“You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, 6 but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.”

Notice that he didn’t say, “you will be the most powerful nation on earth and you will dominate the world.”

He said, “You will be a priestly kingdom.”

What is a priest?

A priest is a servant who has dedicated his or her entire life to helping other people know and connect with God.

This is what greatness looks like in God’s eyes. When a person realizes that their primary purpose in life is to help other people see and know God, then that is a great person.

That’s what the first three commandments do for us. They help us to know how to be great, how to be a priestly people.

Look at the first command.

You will have no other gods before me. God is the center of everything, and nothing else—not power, not money, not success—will take priority over God and God’s purposes in the world.

The second command says, you will not misuse my name.

That means you will not try to manipulate God to get what you want. You will not call God’s name to damn someone. And, you will not misrepresent God in the way you behave.

Do you know what is one of the most dangerous things you can do? Put a Christian fish on your car. You better hope you don’t cut someone off in traffic, because, if you do, you will be breaking the second commandment. Think about that.

Then the third command says to honor the Sabbath day and keep it set apart.

That means that it is important to rest and re-create our bodies. But even more than this, the command says that everybody gets to rest, even the slaves and animals, because everyone is equal in God’s eyes.

These three commands provide us a practical picture of what it looks like to make sure that God is at the center of everything we do.

Here’s the question for us today.

When people look at your life, do they see God, or do they see gods?

The Law frames Greatness.

The Law also frames Blessing.

What does it actually look like to be a blessing? That’s what the rest of the laws show us. It’s pretty clear.

Honor your parents.

Honor Life, don’t kill people either literally or metaphorically.

Honor your vows. Be faithful to your spouse and family. Don’t be an adulterer.

Honor people’s possessions and reputation and time. Don’t steal from them.

Honor people’s honor. Don’t gossip or lie. Don’t bear false witness.

Honor people’s family. Be thankful for what you have. Don’t covet their relationships.

Honor people’s property. Be thankful for what you have. Don’t covet people’s stuff.

It doesn’t get more practical than that.

If you want to know what it looks like to be a blessing, then make this your code of behavior. If everyone on the planet actually behaved this way, then God’s vision of peace on earth, good will toward men would become a reality.

Do know where that vision begins? You.

Here’s the second question for us today.

When people see your behavior, do they see the love of God lived out in your actions?

I started this sermon talking about colors and signs.

The law provides a framework for how we associate colors with signs and the purpose for each sign. Each of those signs are different from each other, but they all work together to uphold the same law and provide the same freedom for drivers on the road.

Each of us is a part of God’s body, the church.

We are the fulfillment and the continuation of God’s promise to Abraham to be a priestly nation and a blessing to others. Each one of us is a sign of God to our neighbor. What do people see when they look at your sign today?[/level-free]

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Comments
  • Rosie October 9, 2014 at 11:32 am

    This is a question that has bothered me for some time. How do I honor my parents if it is not possible for me to have a healthy relationship with them? The only thing I can think of after Sunday’s sermon is to not speak poorly of them, as I do realize they did/do the best they could/can with the tools they have.

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