A sermon preached at Greenford Methodist Church on Sunday 21st July AM
Take my voice, and let me sing always, only, for my King.
Take my lips, and let them be filled with messages from thee.
May I speak and may we listen, in the name of God, Father Son and Holy Spirit. Amen
I almost always detest preachers who begin their sermons with jokes or silly anecdotes because I believe that often it removes the bite that scripture ought to have – but if you’ll forgive me this morning I want to do just that because I think there’s a serious point to be made about how we often view the ten commandments and the way in which we often use them.
I’m not sure how many of you have heard the joke about the minister who told his deacon that someone had stolen his bicycle and he suspected it was a member of his congregation. The very next Sunday after speaking to his deacon, he decided that he would preach a sermon about the Ten Commandments because he felt that when he got to the commandment that says, “Thou shall not steal”, the thief would be shamed and return the bicycle.
The next Sunday, his topic was the Ten Commandments, but about halfway through his sermon, he abruptly switched his sermon to another subject.
Later on his deacon asked him why he had changed his sermon. “Well,” the minister said, “when I got to the commandment that says, ‘Thou shall not commit adultery,’ I remembered where I left my bicycle”.
That’s all about removing the block of wood in your own eye, before you try to remove the speck of wood in your brothers eye isn’t it…
Don’t be so quick to judge.
Don’t be so hasty to use scripture for your own ends.
Don’t forget that under God and God’s word we must all arrive the same way – on our knees.
The story we heard from exodus is serious stuff!
The Israelites had been oppressed by slavery and bondage in Egypt.
A struggling people.
A burdened people.
A people with a troubled history.
And Moses a tiny baby, hidden for three months, then put in a papyrus basket and placed among the reeds of the river bank.
Moses grows up, witnesses an Egyptian beating a Hebrew and feels within himself that something just isn’t right with this.
Then Moses flees from Pharaoh and escapes to Midian,
Moses whilst looking after the flock of Jethro, goes out into the wilderness and up on mount Horeb, the mountain of God – that well known encounter when the bush is set ablaze, Moses turns to look at the fire and God tells Moses to come no closer, to remove his sandals and reminds him that Moses is standing on Holy Ground. “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob”.
And a little while later, while so much other activity occurs, Moses prepares to carry out God’s command and bang in comes that emotion we all know too well ‘fear’ and Moses is almost crippled by it “But Lord, suppose they do not believe me or listen to me, what if they say you didn’t actually appear to me at all?!”
Moses gets his courage, he goes to pharaoh he demands that his people are set free, and after the ten plagues God sends down over Egypt – the Israelites are released, led by God through the Red Sea to the way of freedom.
I tell you all this background so that we can understand that they don’t just arrive at the foot of Mount Sinai as though it were a day trip out of Egypt –
And you can imagine, there they all are, stood at the foot of Mount Sinai tired and worn out, wondering what exactly is going to happen next, and if you place your minds eye into the story perhaps you could imagine the voices of frustration and tiredness, confusion and despair…
For the land of milk and honey they had hoped for, was not as close as they had imagined.
Moses goes up Sinai, the mountain is wrapped in smoke and a dense cloud, and a dramatic thunder and lightning appears as the Lord descends upon it and the whole mountain shakes violently as the blast of the trumpet grows louder and louder – God tells Moses that none of the people must approach the mountain, but it must be kept holy by setting strict boundaries around it, and then Moses comes down and reveals all the words which God spoke to him – the ten commandments, a new covenant by which the people must live.
I think it’s wonderful imagery. The power and might and majesty of God in this intimate encounter between Moses and the God of Abraham.
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God”.
Friends, we live in a world where all sorts of idols dominate the scene.
In each and every one of our lives, there will be individual things out of which we make gods.
Perhaps it’s alcohol, or drugs, or food, favourite artists, sex, work, money…
Things, which hold a supreme place in our hearts,
Thing, which we make a priority,
Things, which we give too much time and energy too…
We give all sorts of things a place which only God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob the God who knit us
together in our mothers wombs ought to have.
And day-by-day we in ways big and small dash God out of the throne of our hearts into the lower places.
We live in a world, which encourages us to do this –
Encourages us to buy things, as though they can bring us happiness.
Encourages us to have unhealthy relationships as though they can give us a sense of purpose.
Encourages us to be busy, because if you are still for even a moment you must surely be wasting your life away.
Our lives are too often controlled not by the God of Abraham, but more often by the god of fear.
Not by the God who keeps his covenant but by the god who breaks them.
Not by the God who loves us, but by the god who wishes to destroy us.
For deep down somewhere we often find it difficult to believe that God will see us through.
Difficult to believe that when it really counts, God will hold true to His word.
Difficult to believe that God can love us, when some of the closest people to us hate us.
Like Moses, in the face of God’s promises we often become overcome with fear.
So we worship God, but not with the whole of our being.
We trust God, but when we are stuck in the wilderness – in a land that does not flow with milk and honey we become doubtful.
We love God, but with conditions not unconditionally.
And so God reminds us, I am the Lord your God – but not just that, I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
In other words, look how far I’ve brought you.
Look back and see all that I have done.
Why doubt when I’ve been with you, travelled with you and held you in the palm of my hand all this time?
God gives the commandments not to restrain us, though it might often feel like it.
Not to stifle our freedom or our spirits.
But to enable us to worship him in all that we are and do. In Spirit and in Truth.
For we were made to worship God, and for no other purpose.
Made to give God the highest place in our hearts, the highest place on earth and the highest place in heaven.
Made in the image of God, that we may reflect his beauty in the world.
For it is only in worshipping the God of Abraham that we may as St Paul said in his letter to the Church in Ephesus be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. That we may put on the whole armour of God, so that we may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against rulers, against authorities, against the cosmic power of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
We cannot love God, the way we must, nor follow him the way we should in our own strength – but only with the strength and grace of the Holy Spirit.
God loves us, God likes us and often it’s the idea of God liking us that is harder to get our heads around than anything else.
And all God asks, is that we give him the highest and most treasured place we can in our hearts, in our souls, in our minds and in our lives.
And when we mess up, as we will – we turn back to God again and again and again…
For the God who has brought us this far will take us all the way – if we would but put our whole and complete – trust, love and hope in Him.
Take my life, and let it be consecrated, Lord to thee.
Take my moments, and my days; let them flow in ceaseless praise.