Sunday’s sermon: Living Promises Point by Point

Text used – Exodus 19:3-7; 20:1-17

  • If you stop just about any kid walking down the street and ask them if they like rules, you’ll probably get a whole lot of strange looks and the same answer every time: “NO!”
    • As adults, we know how difficult it can be to enforce those rules → It doesn’t matter if you’re enforcing rules as a parent, as a teacher, as a camp counselor, as a babysitter, as a youth sports coach, or any of the other hundreds of ways we interact with kids.
      • Communicating the rules can be a challenge, especially depending on the age of the child(ren) or other special circumstances
        • Language barriers
        • Cognitive barriers
      • Making sure kids stick to those rules is pretty much always a thankless and troublesome task
        • Dealing with pushback
          • Physical (tantrums, walking away) or verbal
          • Challenge with Julia right now = 4yo who wants to do what she wants to do and isn’t very happy when we ask her to do something else
        • Testing boundaries
        • Coming up with adequate consequences for broken rules
          • Avoiding empty threats
          • Striking the balance between learning the lesson and adequate punishment
    • Truly, it’s enough to sometimes make you want to throw your hands up and just give in. “Fine! Do whatever you want!” Of course, as adults and caregivers, that’s not an option.
      • Not an option for kids’ safety (obviously)
      • But it’s also not an option because as copious amounts of research has shown, boundaries and rules and the structure they provide are crucial for child development.
        • From CDC:
          • 3 key ingredients to building structure (website specifies “in the home” but can be applied to any situation working with kids): consistency – doing the same thing every time, predictability – expecting or knowing what is going to happen, and follow-through – enforcing consequences[1]
          • “Family rules help children understand what behaviors are okay and not okay. … It is normal for children to break rules and test limits. Consistent follow through with consequences when rules are broken help your child have a clear understanding about the importance of rules.”[2]
        • Article from S. News and World Report: Rules teach children self-discipline and help them learn how to make healthy choices. It’s doubtful that you will get children to admit that they like rules, but you might get them to acknowledge that it’s helpful to know what’s expected of them and how they can ultimately get what they want. At the end of the day, this is about teaching kids what they need to do to succeed and achieve their desired goals.[3]
    • And frankly, it doesn’t matter whether you’re 2 or 92. We don’t really like being told what we can and can’t do, do we? And yet we have our Scripture reading this morning – probably one of if not the most well-known passages in the First Testament … and it’s about rules.
  • Before we dig a little deeper into the rules, let’s talk about the first part of our passage this morning – the little intro bit from chapter 19.
    • Catching up on the action btwn the Red Sea (last week) and today
      • Moses and the Israelites have begun to journey through the wilderness to the promised land → journey is difficult → the Israelites continue to complain
        • Remember: complaining started last week when they were trapped btwn. the advancing Egyptian army and the Red Sea: “Weren’t there enough graves in Egypt that you took us away to die in the desert? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt like this? Didn’t we tell you the same thing in Egypt? ‘Leave us alone! Let us work for the Egyptians!’ It would have been better for us to work for the Egyptians than to die in the desert.”[4]
        • After that: complained about lack of water → God changed the brackish water in Shur to sweet water the people could drink[5]
        • After that: complained about no food → God provided quail and manna for the people to eat[6]
        • After that: complained about lack of water (again) → God instructed Moses to strike a rock and water poured from the rock[7]
      • People of Israel also win their first battle against another nation → attacked by Amalek → as long as Moses holds up his hands over the battlefield (similar to Red Sea), the people of Israel win the battle[8]
    • Finally, Moses and the people of Israel arrive at Mount Sinai which is where our passage begins this morning.
      • God calls Moses to God’s presence up on the mountain and gives the people this beautiful promise: So now, if you faithfully obey me and stay true to my covenant, you will be my most precious possession out of all the peoples, since the whole earth belongs to me. You will be a kingdom of priests for me and a holy nation.[9] → two equally important parts to this promise
        • God’s part = “you will be my most precious possession
          • Simple
          • Straight-forward
          • Clear
          • The Hebrew here is exactly what is says. God is promising to treasure and love and protect and cherish the people. Think about that for a minute! Take that in! God, the all-powerful Creator of all the universe – of everything that moves and breathes, of everything that doesn’t move or breathe, the One who built the earth molecule by molecule and process by process and stone by molten stone … this God who is beyond our imagining and beyond the capability of our minds to comprehend … this God is saying to the people, “I will treasure I will treasure you.”
        • People’s part = both simple and more complex[10]: So now, if you faithfully obey me and stay true to my covenant.
          • Heb. “stay true” (to my covenant) = keep, preserve → It means to guard something or to protect it. There’s an activeness implied in this word. God isn’t just asking the people to simply tuck the covenant away in the back of their minds. God is asking them to actively hold it and protect it. There’s also an element of cherishing required on the part of the people here because if you’re going to truly guard and protect something, you have to care about it, right? You’re not going to put much effort or heart into protecting something that doesn’t matter to you.
          • Heb. “faithfully obey” = actually the same word (“obey”) twice – first occurrence is Infinitive Absolute which serves to emphasize the sentiment of the word → This word implies intelligently and giving attention to something because obedience and action often go hand-in-hand. It’s a word that means obey but also carries connotations of hearing, considering, and consenting. It’s really a whole thought process in one word. So God is not asking the people of Israel to enter into this covenant lightly. And God is not forcing the people into this covenant. They must consider it. They must choose to be a part of this covenant by faithfully obeying God.
  • And what does that obedience entail? That’s where the second, more familiar portion of our Scripture reading comes into play this morning. – the 10 commandments … God’s rules for living
    • In essence, these rules – these commandments – are all about how to live into right relationships. → can be sectioned into two parts
      • First part = how to live into right relationship with God
        • 1st commandment establishes without question who God is … and who God should always be to the people: I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You must have no other gods before me.[11]
        • 2nd commandment adds emphasis to the first by being abundantly clear about worshiping God alone: Do not make an idol for yourself—no form whatsoever—of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth. Do not bow down to them or worship them, because I, the Lord your God, am a passionate God.[12]
        • 3rd commandment speaks to the sacred and set-apart nature of God’s name: Do not use the Lord your God’s name as if it were of no significance[13]
        • 4th commandment reminds the people to set aside a particular part of the rhythm of their lives to honor God: Remember the Sabbath day and treat it as holy. Six days you may work and do all your tasks, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.[14]
      • Second part[15] = how to live in right relationships with one another
        • 5th commandment: honor your parents
        • 6th commandment: do not kill
        • 7th commandment: do not commit adultery
        • 8th commandment: do not steal
        • 9th commandment: do not testify falsely against your neighbor
        • 10th commandment: do not desire to take what doesn’t belong to you
      • Scholar (describing these two parts): Like boundary lines on a football field or basketball court, the commandments outline the basic expectations of human behavior and protect the human community from running out of bounds and falling into patterns of living that will destroy it and lead the people into self-inflicted chaos. At the same time, the commandments provide encouragement for a healthy and proper love of God and neighbor. (He goes on to point out) There is an internal logic to the commandments that is both compelling and beautiful: The way we attend to God (tablet one) shapes the way we attend to our neighbor (tablet two). In other words, faithful worship of God leads to proper love of neighbor. Proper praise of God shapes our social responsibility.[16] → And friends, it’s this idea that sort of brings the promise of the 10 Commandments from the First Testament full circle into the promise we find in the life of Jesus in the New Testament.
        • Jesus to the crowds as part of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew: Don’t even begin to think that I have come to do away with the Law and the Prophets. I haven’t come to do away with them but to fulfill them.[17] → In his life and ministry and witness, Jesus lived into those commandments, reminding us not only what it looks like to truly faithfully obey God and to stay true to that covenant but also expanding our idea of who our neighbor might be beyond all the borders that get erected between us: to outcasts and screw-ups, to those who were sick and those who were struggling, to lost causes – those deemed uncurable and unfixable and unredeemable and not worth the time or effort by the rest of the world. In the 10 commandments, God laid down point by point how we’re supposed to live into our promises with God and with one another, and Jesus came to remind us just how far and wide living into those promises can stretch our arms and our hearts. Thanks be to God. Amen.

[1] https://www.cdc.gov/parents/essentials/structure/building.html,

[2] https://www.cdc.gov/parents/essentials/structure/rules.html.

[3] Jennifer Hartstein. “The Importance of Setting Limits for Your Child” from U.S. News and World Report, https://health.usnews.com/wellness/for-parents/articles/2017-06-26/the-importance-of-setting-limits-for-your-child. Posted June 26, 2017, accessed Oct. 9, 2022.

[4] Ex 14:11-12.

[5] Ex 15:22-27.

[6] Ex 16.

[7] Ex 17:1-7.

[8] Ex 17:8-16.

[9] Ex 19:5-6a.

[10] Exegesis by Rev. Elana Keppel Levy: https://somuchbible.com/word-studies/annotated-scripture/exodus-193-7-201-17/.

[11] Ex 20:2-3.

[12] Ex 20: 4-5a.

[13] Ex 20:7a.

[14] Ex 20:8-10a.

[15] Ex 20:12-17.

[16] Craig Kocher. “Third Sunday in Lent – Exodus 20:1-17 – Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year B, vol. 2. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 76.

[17] Mt 5:17.