Reflection for the seventeenth Sunday after Trinity

Reading: Exodus 20: 1-4, 7-9, 12-20

Then God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me. You 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. You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name. Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. For six days you shall labour and do all your work. Honour your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour. You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour. When 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, and said to Moses, ‘You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.’ Moses 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.’

Reflection

In the mid twentieth century the movie industry in Hollywood produced a number of films based on biblical themes. One of the most elaborate and most acclaimed was the Ten Commandments, starring Charlton Heston in the lead role of Moses. Although very dated now, it portrayed with great drama and flashing lightning and fire, Moses receiving the commandments from God on Mount Sinai. It is not surprising that it became the subject of a movie, because the Scriptural account of that event is very dramatic.

In both Hebrew and Greek the collection of commandments are referred to as the Ten Words, Decalogue, emphasising that these are not just a set of rules or a code of behaviour, but words of divine origin. They are written in the first person, ‘I am the Lord your God’. They define the relationship between God and his people – the God who delivered them from slavery and brought them to freedom.

So revered were they in ancient Israel, that the stone tablets, bearing these words were contained in the Ark of the Covenant, which symbolised the presence of God among his people. It was carried from place to place in the nomadic years, in the early times of settlement in the Promised Land and eventually installed in Solomon’s temple. The reverence in which God’s law was held is expressed in many places throughout scripture. Psalm 19 states: ‘The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure and gives wisdom to the simple. The statutes of the Lord are right and rejoice the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure and gives light to the eyes’.

These Ten Words have survived from very ancient times and have been held as central to the faith of the Jewish and Christian traditions. They have been the foundation of the laws of many societies across the globe. We could summarise them in two words, Reverence and respect: Reverence for God and respect for humanity.

That reverence for God is stated in the first and second commandments. You shall have no other Gods, nor shall you make any idol or image of God. While most other religions had cultic representations as a means of encountering their deities, it was forbidden in Israel. The Hebrew God was so sacred and holy no human attempt at representing him was allowed.

The holiness of God is stressed in the third commandment, not to abuse his name. Not only was this a call against blasphemy, it also forbade attempting to manipulate God in making an oath or using his name to curse.

Reverence for God is commanded in keeping holy the Sabbath day, but there is also an ethical element to the fourth commandment. Our condensed reading did not include the verses which prohibit work on the Sabbath by any member of a person’s household, their family, their servants and also any alien resident with them. This was to guard against exploitation ensuring that everyone was given rest from their work.

There is a strong ethical tone to the command to honour one’s parents. This was addressed to adults, so it is about care of the elderly and respect for them so that the able bodied would support the aged. It is the only one of the Ten Commandments with a conditional promise of long life. In a society which respects and supports their elders, people will live healthier, longer lives.

The second five commandments deal with the ordering of society and the lives of individuals in the community.

Do not kill – this is respect for the sanctity of life.

Do not commit adultery calls for respect within marriage and relationships.

Do not steal – respect for property is recognised.

Do not bear false witness – means respect for the truth and the reputation of others.

Do not covet your neighbour’s house, wife or possessions. Envy is a corrosive force and can lead to abuse of power. This prohibits acquiring another person’s property illegally.

‘I am the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other God’s but me’. In this set of commandments we have the pattern for the new life of freedom in a new land. These are not merely rules, but ten words spoken by God. They are a call by the Lord of life to live in relationship based on reverence for him and respect for one another from the least to the greatest.

Take away the ethical commandments of respect and you are left with a religion with no bearing on life as we experience it. If we take away the divine element we are left with an ethical code with no moral point of reference. They stand together as a whole, to shape our lives as God intended.

God our Father, hear the prayers we offer to you in faith.

We give you thanks for your commandments, which guide and lead us to live in obedience to your will. Strengthen and guide your church that it may faithfully proclaim your word of truth to a needy world. Bless the church in this land, bless this diocese and Pat our bishop. May we and all your people hold you in reverence and worship you with sincerity.

Lord hear us. Lord graciously hear us.

We pray for the leaders of nations, for our president and government; for those who make laws and those who uphold them. Guide them in ensuring that respect, honour, integrity and justice are upheld. We pray for all who have responsibility for public health and managing the response to the Corona virus. We remember all who have been affected by COVID 19, and all medical staff who care for them. We pray for all who are engaged in medical research, working to develop effective medication. Guide them with your wisdom.

Lord hear us. Lord graciously hear us.

We pray for our families and loved ones. Be with any who are worried or anxious. Grant that respect and honour may be the mark of our relationships. We pray for families who suffer through poverty, debt or homelessness and those who live under stress. Strengthen and bless all who provide support to families in need.

Lord hear us. Lord graciously hear us.

We pray for young people beginning college or further education; guide them as they set out on this important stage of life. Bless our schools and colleges, teachers, lecturers and staff members working to provide a safe learning environment.

Lord hear us. Lord graciously hear us.

We pray for all who are sick: those in hospital, those awaiting results or undergoing treatment or recovering from illness. We remember all who live daily with pain, those with long term illness and those who are worried and anxious for their loved ones.
Grant them your peace and healing touch.

Lord hear us. Lord graciously hear us.

We remember with thanksgiving all our loved ones who have died in faith and we pray for all who grieve and sorrow. Grant that we may come with all your saints to the joy of your eternal kingdom.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ
and the love of God
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit
be with us all evermore. Amen.

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