You’ve heard me say that I am a “glass is half full guy” and I am. So what’s your perspective? When you look outside is it partly cloudy or partly sunny? Is this glass half empty or half full? (Ha, look again). What are your thoughts on the reading from the book of Exodus we read today? The Decalogue, commonly referred to as the Ten Commandments. Did you immediately think: “oh no, here are the 10 rules that I can’t seem to follow!” The ten rules that make me feel like I’m not worthy of God? Or when you heard the passage, did you think “Shazam!! I am Free? “
I want to point out that it doesn’t begin with “here are the 10 rules you need to keep in order to be worthy in God’s eyes…follow them or be damned.” It begins with “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” It’s about liberation, a reminder that God takes care of God’s people and God frees God’s people. So the list that follows that first verse is not a list of rules or laws that we can never live up to, but a picture of what life looks like in God’s Kingdom. It’s what the freedom that God envisions for us allows us to live into.
Instead of a negative statement “you can’t have any other gods but me or else” the meaning is a positive statement that “because I am your God you are free and you don’t need to bow down to any other gods.” “Because I am you God, you are free from the grip of worshipping the false gods of human creation,” “because I am your God you are free from having to murder or steal or covet in order to establish yourself. Because I am your God you can have a day for rest, you don’t need to toil without ceasing.” Thomas Long describes the 10 commandments as “not weights, but wings that enable our hearts to catch the wind of God’s Spirit and to soar.”
The Decalogue is a covenant, an agreement made between God and God’s people, as a framework for a relationship. It’s a turning point that occurs halfway through the 40 chapters of Exodus. Half way through the journey of the Israelites from enslavement to the power of human kings in Egypt, to freedom as children of God, God’s chosen people. The relationship between God and God’s people is a relationship of liberation. We respond to that liberation by a desire to live into the values of the Kingdom of God. A desire to help usher in a society that offers that liberation to all people. God’s liberation allows God’s people to freely live into God’s Kingdom, into what it means to be a child of God.
What’s important to note here is the order in which the events occur. God doesn’t demand that we follow God’s rules in order to receive liberation. Our relationship is not based on receiving rules, and then following those rules in order to earn God’s love. Quite the contrary, our liberation comes first and then as a result of that liberation we are able to live into the vision that God has for us. It is because we are freed and accepted as children of God that we strive to live into the life of the Kingdom. God has a dream, God has a dream for the world and for God’s people, for how they should be and how they can be and how they will be. And God is constantly inviting us to enter into that dream and make it our reality.
That leads me to my next question. What is this? [holds up Bible]. Yes I know that many of you can recognize it as a Bible, but tell me, is it a Book of Rules that we are charged to follow? Or is it something else?
Back in 2004/5 my church in Onoway Alberta, St. John’s, held an Alpha Course in partnership with St. Rose of Lima RC Church. Every Saturday morning for 10 weeks we held a breakfast followed by an Alpha class. In this particular class we had men from the Gunn Centre participating. The Centre is a last resort for people who are homeless or in danger of homelessness due to substance abuse. For the first few weeks of the course, these men came and listened quietly, not saying much or really reacting but they kept coming back each week. Finally after the third or fourth session we had a discussion on the Bible and Scripture. We spoke about the role of Scripture and how it can be interpreted and then watched one of the videos. During the following discussion I asked the question “is the Bible a book of rules or is it a love letter.” There was a moment of silence and then an older native gentleman looked up and spoke and as he spoke his stolid face broke into a smile, a smile of complete and utter joy as he said “it’s a love letter and it’s written to me!” My friends I don’t need to tell you that the lives of these men were transformed that day. They shared how when they had arrived at the Centre they had no hope left in their lives, they were dead men and but through this experience of learning of God’s love and acceptance for them, they were given a new life. A number of them became members of the church and were quite active in raising money for our mission project with the Kenyan children and became part of a band that played once a month for youth Sunday. All because they realized that they weren’t asked to earn their love by following a set of rules that they could never keep. Learned that they weren’t utter failures in God’s eyes who couldn’t earn His respect just like they couldn’t do anything right for their parents when growing up. Instead they realized that they were invited into a relationship of love and acceptance. A request that they accepted. They heard God’s voice booming out to them saying ‘this is my child, my beloved with who I am well pleased’.
Scripture is beautiful. But if misinterpreted it can be devastating. I spent a lot of my life thinking that the Bible was a set of rules. I spent years thinking I wasn’t worthy because I couldn’t keep them and my worship & life consisted of me trying to earn God’s redemption. For years as I child I thought I was going to Hell because I ate bacon and wore blended fibers ok not really). We are constantly reminded of the rules but there is more. It is a love letter and we can find this love letter written in the scripture of the Bible. This is one I found in 2004 and it goes like this…
God’s Love Letter
“You may not know me, but I know everything about you ... Psalm 139:1 I know when you sit down and when you rise up ... Psalm 139:2 I am familiar with all your ways... Psalm 139:3 Even the very hairs on your head are numbered... Matthew 10:29-31 For you were made in my image... Genesis 1:27 In me you live and move and have your being... Acts 17:28 For you are my offspring... Acts 17:28 I knew you even before you were conceived... Jeremiah 1:4-5 I chose you when I planned creation... Ephesians 1:11-12 You were not a mistake, for all your days are written in my book... Psalm 139:15-16 I determined the exact time of your birth and where you would live... Acts 17:26 You are fearfully and wonderfully made... Psalm 139:14 I knit you together in your mother's womb... Psalm 139:13 And brought you forth on the day you were born... Psalm 71:6 I have been misrepresented by those who don't know me... John 8:41-44 I am not distant and angry, but am the complete expression of love... 1 John 4:16 And it is my desire to lavish my love on you simply because you are my child and I am your father... 1 John 3:1 I offer you more than your earthly father ever could... Matthew 7:11 For I am the perfect father... Matthew 5:48 Every good gift that you receive comes from my hand... James 1:17 For I am your provider and I meet all your needs... Matthew 6:31-33 My plan for your future has always been filled with hope... Jeremiah 29:11 Because I love you with an everlasting love... Jeremiah 31:3 My thoughts toward you are countless as the sand on the seashore... Psalm 139:17-18 And I rejoice over you with singing... Zephaniah 3:17 I will never stop doing good to you... Jeremiah 32:40 For you are my treasured possession... Exodus 19:5 I desire to establish you with all my heart and all my soul... Jeremiah 32:41 And I want to show you great and marvelous things... Jeremiah 33:3 If you seek me with all your heart, you will find me... Deuteronomy 4:29 Delight in me and I will give you the desires of your heart... Psalm 37:4 For it is I who gave you those desires... Philippians 2:13 I am able to do more for you than you could possibly imagine... Ephesians 3:20 For I am your greatest encourager... 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 I am also the Father who comforts you in all your troubles... 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 When you are brokenhearted, I am close to you... Psalm 34:18 As a shepherd carries a lamb, I have carried you close to my heart... Isaiah 40:11 One day I will wipe away every tear from your eyes and will take away all the pain you have suffered on this earth... Revelation 21:3-4 I am your Father, and I love you even as I love my son, Jesus... John 17:23 For in Jesus, my love for you is revealed.... John 17:26 He is the exact representation of my being... Hebrews 1:3 He came to demonstrate that I am for you, not against you... Romans 8:31 And to tell you that I am not counting your sins... 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 Jesus died so that you and I could be reconciled... 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 His death was the ultimate expression of my love for you... 1 John 4:10 I gave up everything I loved that I might gain your love... Romans 8:31-32 If you receive the gift of my son Jesus, you receive me... 1 John 2:23 And nothing will ever separate you from my love again... Romans 8:38-39 Come home and I'll throw the biggest party heaven has ever seen... Luke 15:7 I have always been Father, and will always be Father... Ephesians 3:14-15 My question is...Will you be my child? ... John 1:12-13 I am waiting for you... Luke 15:11-32 “
The Bible is God's "love letter" to us, telling us not only that He loves us and wants us in a relationship but showing us what He has done to demonstrate His love for us. It is an invitation to enter into the reality and live, in God’s Kingdom. It is about freedom and life and it is written to us.
Thanks be to God!