Sunday’s sermon: A Word for the World

Words I love you in different languages. Vector greeting card

Text used – Deuteronomy 5:1-21; 6:4-9





  • I want to introduce you to an idea this morning: the concept known as the Mere Exposure Effect.[1]
    • Basic idea: the more you hear something, the more likely you are to like it and believe it → In other words, we tend to like things more when they’re familiar to us.
      • Also called the Familiarity Principle
      • Coined/proposed by the late Robert Zajonc, Polish-born social psychologist who immigrated to America after the end of WWII
    • Examples
      • First time you hear a song on the radio: “Meh” → find yourself enthusiastically singing along after hearing it over and over again for a few weeks
      • Pretty central thought process behind advertising, especially TV advertising → same commercial over and over and over again is supposed to work its way into your brain and make you want to buy whatever it is they’re trying to sell you
        • Extreme e.g.: Home Shopping Network – talk about the same object for an hour → talk at you and talk at you and talk at you until you finally give in (for 4 easy payments of $29.95!)
      • Darker side of mere exposure effect = the more often you hear a lie (no matter the source), the more likely you are to believe that lie … Even when you know it’s a lie. Even when it’s a lie that you’re telling yourself.
    • Fascinating. BUT … what does that have to do with the 10 commandments? What does that have to do with faith? “Lisa, why are you telling us about this?!” I’m so glad you asked. J
  • Today’s Scripture = probably one of the most universally-recognized Scriptures out there: the 10 Commandments → Scriptural narrative with quite the circuitous, sordid story behind it (not quite the simple “up and down the mountain” that the various movie versions of this story like to portray)
    • Today’s passage from Deut is actually the 2nd iteration of the 10 commandments that Moses gives to the people → 10 commandments 2.0
    • Backstory
      • (Last week: read beginning of Moses’ story up to the point where God called Moses from the burning bush)
      • Next: Moses returns to Egypt, tries to convince Pharaoh to let God’s people go → 10 plagues of Egypt → finally convinces Pharaoh to let the Israelites go[2]
      • Moses leads the entire nation of Israel to the banks of the Red Sea → they discover that Pharaoh has once again changed his mind and is coming after them with the full force of the Egyptian army → parting of the Red Sea → people of Israel cross safely to the other side while Pharaoh’s army is obliterated by the waters crashing back together[3]
      • Finally safe from Pharaoh for good, the people begin their journey through the wilderness to the Promised Land → But the people start complaining[4]
        • Complaining about lack of water
        • Complaining about lack of food
        • Complaining about lack of leadership
        • Complaining about lack of a plan
        • Complaining about how much they have to walk
        • Every time they complain, God responds with a provision … but every time, the Israelites find something new to complain about. There’s always something that they’re dissatisfied with.
      • 3 mos. after leaving Egypt, they reach Mt. Sinai → Moses goes up on the mountain to commune with God → receives the first set of the 10 commandments[5] → That’s in chapter 20 of Exodus. What follows is a lot more instruction from God about how things should be done – festivals, offerings, justice, worship, owning property, Sabbath, priestly duties and vestments, how to build a proper lampstand, and so on and so on … 11 chapters worth of instructions … which means Moses was up on that mountain with God for a long time, and the people started getting antsy, and nervous, and frustrated. And they started complaining … again.
      • People surrounded Moses’ brother, Aaron (right-hand man) and started demanding that he make a “new god” for them out of gold → collect all the gold throughout the camp → melt it down → fashion it into a gold calf → start worshipping the golden calf while Moses is still up on the mountain[6]
      • God warns Moses about what is happening at the camp → Moses returns to find them worshiping this false god → Moses is so angry with the people that he hurls down the first set of tablets containing the 10 commandments and shatters them[7]
      • And because of the people’s disobedience and lack of faith, God causes the Israelites to wander around in the wilderness for 40 yrs. before they can set foot in the Promised Land. The entire first generations of Israelites that Moses led out of Egypt died during the wandering before God finally led them back to the banks of the Jordan River – the border of the Promised Land.
    • And it’s on that border that we find ourselves with the first part of our reading this morning. The wandering is over. The Promised Land is literally in sight. The people have demonstrated their faithfulness to the God that has wandered with them these 40 years. And it’s time to move forward. So God says, “You’re ready. So let’s try again.” And Moses says, “Let me remind you of what’s most important.” – text: Moses called out to all Israel, saying to them: “Israel! Listen to the regulations and the case laws that I’m recounting in your hearing right now. Learn them and carefully do them.”[8] = God’s version of the Mere Exposure Effect
      • Repeating important words so that Israel could hear them again
      • Repeating important words so Israel could internalize them again
      • Repeating important words so Israel could believe them again
      • Repeating important words so they could become a more integrated, tightly-woven part of the fabric of Israel’s story again
      • Critical nature of this is backed up by the 2nd half of our passage this morning: These words that I am commanding you today must always be on your minds. Recite them to your children. Talk about them when you are sitting around your house and when you are out and about, when you are lying down and when you are getting up. Tie them on your hand as a sign. They should be on your forehead as a symbol. Write them on your house’s doorframes and on your city’s gates.[9] → This is Moses giving the people the words of God once again, imparting them and entrusting them to the people in hopes that in hearing them again – in hearing them once and exhorting them to repeat them again and again and again – that those words of obedience and reverence and righteousness and compassion would become more and more a part of the people’s identity the more they heard them.
        • Mere Exposure Effect: the more the more you hear something, the more likely you are to like it and believe it → In other words, we tend to like things more when they’re familiar to us. And Moses was doing everything he could to make these words emphatically, unrelentingly, sacredly familiar for the people.
  • Interesting because, while they’re specific, they’re also incredibly universal
    • Words spoken into a specific context at a specific time
      • E.g. – description about keeping the Sabbath[10] is long and speaks of oxen and donkeys and God leading the people out of slavery in Egypt → clearly words for a specific time and specifically for the people of Israel
    • And yet they’re words that have stood the test of time. They’re words that echo throughout generations down to us today. – Kathryn Schifferdecker (prof. and chair of Old Testament at Luther Seminary in St. Paul): This passage – and what follows it – also speaks to us, the umpteenth generation removed from Sinai. We are addressed by these words! We, “all of us here alive today,” are called upon even now to enter into and recommit to that relationship with the God of Israel. That is the rhetorical force of this passage. That is the rhetorical force of all Scripture, really. Scripture seeks to inform, but even more, to transform, to invite us to enter into the story of God and Israel, and the story of Christ and the church, and therein to find our own story.[11] → This was a word of faith and hope and transformation and relationship for the people of Israel millennia ago, yes. But it is still a word of faith and hope and transformation and relationship for us today.
    • Actual break-down of the 10 commandments = 5 for God, 5 for people
      • First 5[12]:
        • I am the Lord your God
        • No other gods before the Lord
        • No idols
        • Don’t use God’s name “as if it were of no significance”[13]
        • Honor/keep the Sabbath day
        • They’re all about honoring God – about paying reverence and respect to God, about keeping a special place for God in our hearts and minds and days.
      • Next 5[14]:
        • Honor your parents
        • Don’t kill
        • Don’t commit adultery
        • Don’t steal
        • Don’t “testify falsely” about others[15]
        • Don’t desire after and try to take others’ relationships/possessions
        • They’re similar to the first set in that they’re also about respecting and holding as sacred the lives and dignity of others.
      • Common thread between the first 5 and the second 5 = relationship
        • First 5 = invitation to right relationship with God
        • Second 5 = guidance for healthy, gracious relationships with others
    • They both set out parameters for what a considerate, compassionate, sincere, sacred relationship can and should look like – respectful, loving, valued, and honored.
    • Reaffirmed in a similar way by Jesus = the Greatest Commandment (Luke’s version): A legal expert stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to gain eternal life?” Jesus replied, “What is written in the Law? How do you interpret it?” He responded, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.”[16]
      • Echoes the words of the 2nd half of our passage today
      • Echoes the sentiment of the 10 commandments (first 5 = love God, second 5 = love others)
    • And friends, not only are these words that are still relevant in our world today, they are words that are desperately needed in our world today – a world in which we seem to have forgotten the value of those who don’t look-like-me-sound-like-me-live-like-me-pray-like-me … a world in which we have more people in need than ever before … a world in which people are degraded and discriminated against every single day for the color of their skin, the language that the speak, the person that they are, the level of their bank account, the person that they love, and on and on and on … a world in which basic human dignities are denied to people every single day … a world in which we cannot seem to disagree anymore without fighting and finger-pointing and name-calling and threats … a world calling out for genuine, loving, sacred relationships between neighbors with every fiber of its being. Today is World Communion Sunday, y’all. All around this country and more importantly all around this world today, people who don’t look-like-me-sound-like-me-live-like-me-pray-like-me are gathering at the Lord’s Table to be in and celebrate right relationship and sacred community with God and with one another. We’re all sharing the same loaf. We’re all passing the same cup. We’re all lifting up prayers of confession and adoration, praise and petition to a God that hears all, no matter the language or accent or wording. Today we come together around this table with one another and with the whole world. So let us come with the love and reverence and compassion and desire of God written on our hearts and on our minds. And when we leave this table, let us leave as God’s ever-present, ever-powerful, ever-relevant, ever-needed word to the world: LOVE. Amen.


[2] Ex 4-12.

[3] Ex 13-15.

[4] Ex 16-18.

[5] Ex 19-20.

[6] Ex 32.

[7] Ex 32:19.

[8] Deut 5:1.

[9] Deut 6:6-9.

[10] Deut 5:12-15.

[11] Kathryn M. Schifferdecker. “Commentary on Deuteronomy 5:1-21; 6:4-9” from Working Preacher,

[12] Deut 5:6-15.

[13] Deut 5:11.

[14] Deut 5:16-21.

[15] Deut 5:20.

[16] Lk 10:25-28 (also Mt 22:34-40 and Mk 12:28-34).

2 responses to “Sunday’s sermon: A Word for the World

  1. Pingback: Sunday’s sermon: Big Love | Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

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