I wanted to title this sermon “Just Do What You’re Told” but most folks, including me, don’t like that idea very much. It kind of is what God is saying though, hear in v5 “5Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples.” Obey my voice and keep my covenant. What does THAT mean? That means, hear God’s voice laying down what we call the Ten Commandments. And obey them.
You may be interested in following along with the Small Catechism for this next part. If you don’t have the book or an app you can find it on pg 1160 in the red hymnal books, the ELW that are under the seats. Now, there will be a test later on how many times the word ‘but’ is used in the “explanations/what does this mean” part.
The First Commandment – You shall have no other gods – this includes your car, your house, your hobbies, and your kid’s sports schedules. Pretty much, we should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.
The Second Commandment – You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God. – this includes but is not limited to cussing and swearing but also invoking God’s name to score a spiritual point in an argument. Pretty much we are to fear and love God, so that we do not curse, swear, practice magic, lie, or deceive using God’s name, but instead use that very name in every time of need to call on, pray to, praise, and give thanks to God..
The Third Commandment – Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy – this includes taking some time off even when you don’t have the time. It’s a body, mind, and spirit thing and they all need some time and space to recharge or you will flame out. Pretty much we are to fear and love God, so that we do not despise preaching or God’s word, but instead keep that word holy and gladly hear and learn it.
The Fourth Commandment Honor your father and your mother – this includes listening when you’re young and also listening when not so young, even when it is hard to do so. Pretty much we are to fear and love God, so that we neither despise nor anger our parents and others in authority, but instead honor, serve, obey, love, and respect them.
The Fifth Commandment – You shall not murder – this includes the obvious about not killing other people and at the same time not to use words that tear other people down and kill their spirits. Pretty much we are to fear and love God, so that we neither endanger nor harm the lives of our neighbors, but instead help and support them in all of life’s needs.
The Sixth Commandment – You shall not commit adultery – this includes exactly what it says, meaning do not connect with other people in ways we’re not supposed to. Pretty much we are to fear and love God, so that we lead pure and decent lives in word and deed, and each of us loves and honors his or her spouse.
The Seventh Commandment – You shall not steal – this includes a no nonsense approach to keeping your grubby mitts off other people’s stuff plus not lying and cheating to get other people’s stuff. Pretty much we are to fear and love God, so that we neither take our neighbors’ money or property nor acquire them by using shoddy merchandise or crooked deals, but instead help them to improve and protect their property and income.
The Eighth Commandment – You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor – this includes not lying. About anything. Especially about the things we say about other people no matter how much we disagree with them. Pretty much we are to fear and love God, so that we do not tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations, but instead we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.
The Ninth Commandment – You shall not covet your neighbor’s house – this includes primarily the desire for what others have causing you to ignore what you already have. It’s a pointed reminder that if we’re always thinking other’s stuff is better than our stuff then we’ll never, ever, be happy with our own stuff. Pretty much we are to fear and love God, so that we do not try to trick our neighbors out of their inheritance or property or try to get it for ourselves by claiming to have a legal right to it and the like, but instead be of help and service to them in keeping what is theirs.
The Tenth Commandment – You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor – this includes how we treat other living things and in particular our desire to change other people for our own purposes. Pretty much we are to fear and love God, so that we do not entice, force, or steal away from our neighbors their spouses, household workers, or livestock, but instead urge them to stay and fulfill their responsibilities to our neighbors.
The buts have it. Did you notice the word ‘but’ in these ten commandments? How many of them have the word ‘but’ in the explanation? (8 by my count) It is an interesting dynamic that Luther has setup in the explanations of the Ten Commandments in the small catechism. With the exception of two of them it isn’t enough to just ‘not do something’ we’re not supposed but… instead we are called to an active alternative. Except the first commandment of having one God and the sixth of no adultery. Those pretty much stand alone and leave the active component out of the equation. All the other 8 make the Ten Commandments an active voice way to live our lives with God and one another.
This is an important distinction to our common view of the Ten Commandments as a list of rules to be followed or God will be mad and send us to hell. That’s completely counter to Lutheran theology of being saved by grace through our faith but it is how many people view the Ten Commandments. A list of rules not to break or we’re in big trouble. The irony is that we generally like rules but not when someone tells us we can’t do something. That’s going to elicit a ‘hold my beer and watch this’ kind of response.
Instead of a seeing the ten commandments as a list of rules to obey, another response might be to see the ten commandments as a roadmap to hope. They are a word of hope for a life together with God. If they were just a list of rules there’d be no buts. But the buts have it and they give us a way forward to live together as God’s people.