First Congregational United Church of Christ
Great Falls, MT
October 8, 2017
The Rev. Lynne Spencer-Smith
Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20 (NRSV)
The reading for today takes us back to the beginning—the beginning of the days of Israel as they were being created as a people. God had brought them forth from slavery and to the wilderness where they were starting to learn that their liberation sent them into a new identity. Moses, their leader had ascended the mountain where it was believed that God abided. There, it is told, God spoke to him and gave him the defining nature of how they were to live as a people. We know them today as the ten commandments. Let us hear how the story has been kept for us in the book of Exodus.
Then God spoke all these words: 2I 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. 4You 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. 7You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name. 8Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9Six days you shall labor and do all your work.
12Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. 13You shall not murder. 14You shall not commit adultery. 15You shall not steal. 16You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. 17You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
18When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, 19and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.” 20Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.”
It’s good to be home. We enjoyed our time away but it’s always good to be back home. We returned home safe and sound late last Sunday night, unfortunately, with one fewer suitcase than we left with—the one with the wine in it. Fortunately, it caught up with us by Monday afternoon—wine in tact. We also returned home just in time for this….
So we are all set to rely on the stores of sunshine we absorbed while we were away.
It was so comforting to know that things were taken care of here. Jan and Tom did a great job tending to our critters at home and Hank and Kelly seemed to have handled the worship leadership and preaching tasks like pros. Thank you to everyone who made it so easy to leave…. Which I’m not sure how I should take that….
Other than I know that you know how important down-time is. So, thank you.
Unfortunately, our return to the states after a week away was accompanied by the news of the tragedy in Las Vegas.
A tragedy that has consumed the news and social media for the rest of the week. May our hearts and prayers continue to be with everyone who has been affected by the shooting.
May our energy be directed towards steps that must be taken to keep these horrific events from continuing.
The news has been a challenge to watch this week and here’s why (show word cloud).
This is pretty much what it has been about.
For those of you who are on Facebook, it’s been pretty much about the same but with the typical Facebook divisiveness. I lost track of the number of people who have said they are taking a break from the social media because it’s just too difficult to be continually bombarded with the vitriol.
These are hard days. These are difficult times. And the issues are all complicated. We stress over the second amendment and the absurdity that 58 people can loose their lives under an umbrella of a constitutional right. We are baffled that an interpretation of the first amendment in favor of some claiming religious liberty can be detrimental to the health care of others. We wonder at the direction of local and federal government. We have no idea what’s going to be happening with North Korea. We feel helpless about the plight of the thousands that have been affected by the hurricanes and now there’s another one that has made landfall in the southern United States. Some of us are struggling with the issues of aging and our own health, or aging parents, the loss of parents and other loved ones, issues with grown children, not to mention the ones still at home and those finding their way in life at college, in the military or trying to make it on their own. All around, it seems like budgets are shrinking and egos are growing. We are growing weary of treading the thin ice of speaking our minds while not offending the people we know, love and respect but who have such different opinions that we do.
This is an odd wilderness in which we find ourselves these days. And every time we think the way is clear, just a little bit, something happens that complicates things even deeper.
As I was spending time with the texts for this week, I found myself resting for a while in this familiar story of Moses receiving the commandments. Although they themselves have a fair amount of complexity… do we really have to honor the fathers and mothers who abuse their children? Is it thou shalt not murder or thou shalt not kill? How can I keep the Sabbath holy if my employment requires me to work? But this time, this time with all the chaos and uncertainty filling the air, they came across as something to comfort, something to give some perspective on a very confusing time, something into which I could be grounded. They spell out the basics: Love God and God alone, placing no other Gods before Yahweh. Honor and respect others.
These became the basis for the covenant that God would establish with the people who had once been slaves under the oppressive power of Pharaoh. These became their foundation. These became that which would define them apart from others. These became the distinctive feature of their community and primary was that the God who liberated them was like none other. They would be a different sort of people, not just because of the future that God was promising them but because of their past. And these short, complex commandments formed the basis of who and how they were to be in the world for they would not always be in the wilderness. At some point we have to come home and deal with the lost luggage, the changing weather, and face the absurd world in which we live.
What I have found time and time again, whether it’s the aftermath of terrorist attacks, epidemics, natural disasters or personal tragedy is that community plays a key role in whether or not the processing of these events will be done in a healthy, generative manner. Sometimes it’s a community of co-workers or companion students. Sometimes it’s the community that gathers on a regular basis at a bar or community center. And sometimes, it’s a community of faith, such as ours. It’s every pastor’s dream that in times of stress and turmoil, more people would turn to the church for solace and direction. But, in this post-Christian world, we’re discovering that the group of people who gather in faith to seek direction is growing smaller.
So here you are. Here we are. Coming home into the midst of this community and what we are given are the words that shaped and defined our ancestors in faith. The basics. Could it be that turning to the basics once again will help us put some perspective on the chaos of the world around us? Could it be that these succinct and complex ten commandments that are such a central part of our heritage could still have relevance, the kind that will help us define who we are as a community of faith and help us shape and reshape the world around us for good?
It was with these words that God set forth the basis of the relationship that God would have with these former slaves so long ago. It was the basis of their covenanted lives together. Love of God. Honor and respect of others. Or, as Jesus put it, You shall the Lord, your God with all your heart and mind and soul and you shall love your neighbor as yourself. The basics.
Today, we come together as a community of faith, also blessed by covenant relationship with God and with this local congregation. It’s our homecoming. It’s our rally day. It’s the day we celebrate that we have found our way back together after the slower summer days of vacation and travel.
In a few weeks, we’ll be extending our covenant community as we welcome some new members into our midst. Before we do that, those who have already entered into the covenanted relationship of church membership should re-consider and re-commit to that covenant. So, let us move to a time of covenant renewal.