Sermon: Commandments or Covenant? (March 11, 2012)

Well.  I had no idea preaching the Ten Commandments would be so controversial.  Those of you who subscribe to the Pilgrimage Daily Devotions will know that nearly all this week’s writers struggle in some way with the 10 best-known rules in the Bible.

One person said that Jesus’ commandment to “Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and your neighbour as yourself,” was commandment enough for her.  Another person is still struggling to figure out what she believes, but is pretty sure her God is more loving than the one who gave the 10 Commandments.  Someone else was dismayed at what she found to be an unforgiving God in the commandment she addressed.  Another person wondered if it was actually lying to tell your teenage daughter that she looks good when she really doesn’t but that you’ve already chosen your battle for this week and you just don’t want to “go there,” if you know what I mean.

Some of our devotion writers were leery of asking their real questions of the Ten Commandments.  One person even told us not to post her devotion if we found it too negative.

The truth is that all these reflections come from a long tradition of thoughtful biblical scholarship.  From the time Scripture was written—including the Ten Commandments– scholars have been wrestling with it, questioning it, and trying to figure out exactly what the writers meant.

Biblical scholars like…George Carlin.  Through some masterful scholarly work, Mr. Carlin was able to reduce the Ten Commandments to Two.  I wish I could take you through that exceptional bit of scholarship.  Unfortunately, his argument is a little too, um, technical to share in a sermon.

Then there’s the interpretation of that great Jewish scholar, Mel Brooks.  (Show video….History of the World, Part 1…you can find it on YouTube


God Texts the Ten Commandments, by Jamie Quatero


Those interpretations are just for fun.  Here’s a real updated version of the Ten Commandments.  (Flash slides of the Ten Texted Commandments.) 

God Texts the Ten Commandments, by Jamie Quatero

1. no1 b4me  srsly

2.  dnt wrshp pix/idols

  1. no omg’s
  2. no wrk on w/end  (sat 4now; sun l8r)
  3. pos ok –urm&d r cool
  4. dnt kill ppl
  5. :-X only w/ m8
  6. dnt steal
  7. dnt lie re: bf
  8. dnt ogleurbf’s m8 or ox or dnkey.  Myob.


M, pls rite on tabs & giv 2ppl

ttyl, JHWH

ps  wwjd?



It’s easy to poke fun at The Ten Commandments…but at the end of the day, what are we to do with them?  Those of us who try to be faithful, who try to read the Bible critically and take it seriously, those of us who are certain that the Ten Commandments don’t belong in the foyers of government buildings….What are we to do with them?  Do we read them simply as ancient history?  Or might they yet inform 21st c faith?

After reading this week’s devotions, I decided that, if I was going to get out of this sermon alive, I was going to need to spend some quality time with the Ten Commandments.  So, in the interest of self-preservation, I read through them.  Several times.  A funny thing happened.  The more I read, the more I was drawn to the fourth commandment, the one about remembering the Sabbath and keeping it holy.  Now, it could be that my own rapidly approaching week of Sabbath (it begins at 12:30 today) is what caused me to linger on the fourth Commandment…but the more time I spend with these commandments, the more convinced I become that Sabbath is the fulcrum on which all of the commandments balance.

Let me explain.  The first three commandments are about how we relate to God–no other Gods before me, no idols, no misusing God’s name—while the last 6 are about how we relate to other people:  honor the parental units, don’t murder, commit adultery, steal, bear false witness, or covet your neighbor’s stuff.  Sandwiched between these laws about how to relate to God (1-3) and how to relate to people (5-10) is #4, the one about Sabbath.  See?  Sabbath is right in the middle, like a fulcrum upon which the whole thing is balanced.

What might happen if we use that fulcrum to make sense of the other commandments?  What might happen if we look at our relationships with God and with others through the lens of Sabbath?  Let’s look at that fourth commandment again and see what happens. “Remember the sabbath—literally, the seventh—day, and keep it holy.  For six days you shall labor and do all your work.  But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.”

Okay.  What’s the big deal about working six days and having Sabbath on the seventh?   The big deal is that that was God’s work schedule.  “In six days God made heaven and earth.”  God worked six days; we work six days.  God rested on the seventh day; we rest on the seventh day.

Now, we need to talk about what God did on the Sabbath.  When God rested on the seventh day, God did more than haul out a six pack and the remote, sit back in the recliner and watch the game.  No, making the Sabbath holy involved acknowledging everything that had been created and celebrating its goodness.  Remember in Genesis when “God saw all that had been created and saw that is was good, very good?”  For God, Sabbath wasn’t only about stopping work.  It was about stopping work for a particular purpose, that purpose being to celebrate the goodness of creation.

Keeping Sabbath for us is similar to God’s keeping Sabbath—we too keep Sabbath when we stop to remember and celebrate the goodness of God’s creation.  But for us, because we’re people and not God, Sabbath begins by honouring the Creator.  That’s why the Scripture writer says, “the seventh day will be a Sabbath TO the Lord your God.”  Sabbath isn’t just about chilling, as important as the occasion chill session might be.  First and foremost, Sabbath is about celebrating who God is and who we are in relation to God.

And Sabbath is also about honouring other people.  Listen:  On the Sabbath, “you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns.”  Nobody works on the Sabbath.

I know.  Slaves?  That’s not very Christian, is it?  It’s important to read these commandments in the historical context in which they were written.  We’re talking 3500 years ago…. back when all women and many men were considered property; back when most people assumed there were many gods and that those gods acted arbitrarily.  If the gods acted arbitrarily, what was to prevent property owners from acting arbitrarily, too?  Nothing.

Though we aren’t always thrilled with the idea of laws being part of faith, it’s important to keep in mind that the advent of laws in the ancient world—especially laws that treated human beings (and even livestock) with respect…that was an amazing step toward social justice for the day.  Before the first recorded law code—attributed to the Babylonian king Hammurabi in the 17th c. BCE—people had to guess at how to behave.  To have a set of laws that clearly explained how one should behave, not only toward other people, but also toward God?  That was cutting edge human rights for the ancient near east.

So, we have in this fourth commandment a call to rest, and to rest in such a way that we acknowledge God for who God is—creator of all things—and also acknowledge other people for who they are—human beings who deserve rest after a hard week’s work.

At its core, the idea of Sabbath is about honouring everything in creation—including the creator—for who and what it is.  If we honor the creator and everything God created, then—if you think about it–we won’t even have to think about how to keep Commandments 1-3 or 5-10.  If we honor creator and created, then those 9 commandments will simply fall into place.  If we honor God, we won’t have other gods, make idols, or misuse God’s name.  If we honor other people, we’ll honor those who nurture us; we won’t want to kill, steal, lie, commit adultery or covet.

Well.  Would you look at that?  I’ve reduced the Ten Commandments down to one and I did it without all that technical language Mr. Carlin uses!

This is all well and good, but I haven’t really answered the question on the board in the narthex.  Should the Ten Commandments be repealed?  That’s what happens to most laws when they become outdated, right?  In fact, it’s pretty much what Jesus did when he said that all the law could be summed up by “Loving the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and your neighbour as yourself.”

So, should the Ten Commandments be repealed?  Might they still help 21st c. Christians navigate their faith lives with integrity?  I don’t know.  I kind of like them.  They’re clear, simple, fairly easy to remember.  And I’m telling you, I really like that one about Sabbath.  Remember who God is?  Remember who human beings are?  Respect all creation?  Those are good things, right?

Ultimately, each of us will decide by the way we live our lives whether or not the Ten Commandments still carry weight for us.  Today’s invitation is simply to look at them again to see what might be gained from them.  Might they helpfully inform your faith?  Might they yet provide clarity for your faith journey?

In the bulletin, you’ll notice that some blank tablets have been provided.  I invite you to use those tablets to write your “commandments,” or, in the spirit of our Lenten theme, you might choose to call them your covenant.  What laws or principles guide your actions as you live the life of faith?  What covenant commitments do you make to the God who has covenanted to love you and to be God to you?  Is it the Ten Commandments (or the fifteen)?  Is it Jesus’ love Commandment?  Is it something else?

As you think about your own covenant of faithfulness, I invite you to hear one written by Francis Macnab.  Hear now “Ten New Commandments.”

Ten “New Commandants” for the 21st Century – Dr. Francis Macnab  (from the Seasons of the Spirit resource…visit

 Commandment  1 Believe in a Good Presence in your life. Call that Good Presence: God, G-D – and follow that Good Presence so that you live life fully – tolerantly, collabora­tively, generously and with dignity.

Commandment 2  Believe in a God-Presence in your life that will lift you constantly to live harmoniously in your­self and with others, always searching for your best health and happiness.

Commandment 3 Take care of your home, your environ­ments, your Planet and its vital resources for the life and health of people in all the world.

Commandment 4  Be kind and caring of the animals, the birds, and the creatures of land and the rivers and the seas.

12Commandment 5 Help people develop their potential and become as fully functioning human beings as is possible from birth, through traumas and triumph to the end of their days.

Commandment 6  Be magnanimous and excessive in your support of good causes, and use your affluence and ma­terial goods and scientific skills in altruistic concern for the future of the world.

Commandment 7  Study ways to encourage and sustain the dignity, hope and integrity of all human beings and study ways to help all human beings embrace their dignity, hope, and integrity.

Commandment 8  Be alive to new possibilities, new ways, and to the unfolding mysteries and wonders of life and the world.

Commandment 9  We often focus our lives on many things and pursuits that promise our fulfilment. Study the deeper things of the Spirit, and the things of ultimate concern for all human beings. Be part of an evolving life-enhancing Faith that will also bring a new resilience to the future.

Commandment 10  Take time to worship the great Source of all the positive transforming energies of life, and search to be at one with “the spirit of the good, the tender and the beautiful.”

from “The New Faith and the 10 New Commandments” by Dr. Francis Macnab, 2008, Used by permission. Attention is drawn to Dr. Macnab’s books; A Fine Wind is Blowing © 2006 and This Hungry Time © 2009 (Spectrum Publications).

 In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness.  Amen.

Kimberleigh Buchanan   (C)  2012


Exodus 20:1-17

The Ten Commandments

20Then God spoke all these words:

2 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery;3you shall have no other gods before* me.

4 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.5You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me,6but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation* of those who love me and keep my commandments.

7 You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

8 Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy.9For six days you shall labour and do all your work.10But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns.11For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

12 Honour your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

13 You shall not murder.*

14 You shall not commit adultery.

15 You shall not steal.

16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.

17 You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.




About reallifepastor

I'm a pastor who's working out her faith...just like everyone else.
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