Beginning a New Story at the Mountain

Text: Exodus 20:1-17
By Logan Kruck

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Exodus 20:2).  God’s first words to us thunder from the top of the mountain.  These are not limiting words of law, but loving words reminding us of Israel’s gospel..  Within these words live the memories of Pharaoh’s world of death and God’s re-creation of Israel on the dry land, swallowing up death in the waters of the Red Sea. This establishes the following commands, and the whole law, as God’s gift of continued re-creation.  As we sit with Israel, hearing these words at the foot of the mountain, our new King and liberator calls us to obedience.  Our obedience is not out of obligation, but out of gratitude and celebration for our redemption.  Our ears are tuned to hear the new laws of creation because we are liberated and want to live in the new creation!

The first five laws clear away all preconceived notions of the old world, and prepare for life in God’s new creation.  There is only one god left: God.  This God has swallowed the old-Pharaoh-god who ruled Israel.  These first laws establish the beginning of a new story with no other god but the God of liberation.  This first commandment lays the foundation of Israel’s new life.  It belongs to God alone.  Thus, “you shall have no gods before me,” or, “you shall not belong to other gods before me.”  The second and third commandments bring God’s divinity down to creation.  We cannot make a god for ourselves, nor should we ascribe God’s name to any human works or words.  Here we celebrate and revere God’s mighty works.  The works by our hands, though possibly inspired, are not to capture our hearts from God.

The fourth command lands us in the full story of God’s new creation.  The Sabbath forms a new way of life.  We are to keep the Sabbath as a holy gift, not just as rest for ourselves, but for our neighbors, workers, animals, plants, and even the land.  On this day we worship God, allow all things to rest, and remember God’s gifts.  Instead of making images or ascribing God to our work, we remember that God creates, loves, and sustains all things with or without our works and conceptions.  God’s invitation to rest is an invitation for us to celebrate life with all creation in gratitude.  God has liberated us from Pharaoh’s work and gifted us with new life.  In the same way, our worship is meant to remember God’s acts of liberation and creation, and to grant Sabbath rest to all creation.

Finally, with the fifth commandment, God enters our daily lives.  We are to honor our forbearers, our father and mother.  The first way we honor is by remembering their stories and experiences tied back to the primary story of God’s liberation and re-creation.  But remembrance is not just an ideal to keep the traditions and stories.  By remembering, we are called to the second acts of honor: continuing to provide life for those who laid the path before us.  As God gave life to our parents and to us through our parents, we are to honor our parents through care and grace, giving them life until death.  This act of worship sustains our communities in the liberating love of God.
The last five commandments (do not murder, commit adultery, steal, bear false witness and covet) all remind us that we are not gods or masters.  We don’t have the power to manipulate or take life, life-creating-partners, the materials that support life, or the justice that balances life. The final commandment against coveting draws God’s laws to our hearts.  Coveting is the basis for all the other commandments.  It is the discontent that arises when we believe that our needs and desires are more important than others’ lives.  By coveting, we think that we are gods and have the right to take in spite of others. The story of God’s grace frees us from our own selfishness, inspiring us to live in unity with our neighbors.  We all share our own lives with others as God has shared all life with us.

As we enter this season of Lent, we look toward the mountain that revealed new creation to us.  We walk with Jesus, God’s word made flesh, to the cross on the summit of the mountain.  On this summit God swallowed death for good so that life may abound for all.  The re-creation that God gave Israel in the Red Sea and the mountain are given to us through the cross and the resurrection.  During Lent, we hear the hope of the gospel of Exodus. Like Israel in the wilderness, we are on a journey, learning what it means to live in God’s new creation.  We remember the stories of God’s liberating grace, hearing, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Exodus 20:2).  And as we search and learn the ways of God’s new creation, we learn to trust the God of creation, giving up our own attempts to control our lives, and instead allow all things to rest in God’s grace.  We are learning to become new creation.

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