Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent

Text: Exodus 20:1-17 & 31:18
When God had finished speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him the two stone tablets on which God himself had written the commandments.

Etched by the finger of God

On a late night talk show, the host interviewed people in the street and asked them questions about the Bible.

"Can you name one of the Ten Commandments?" he asked two young women. One replied, "Freedom of speech?"
The other said, "Thatís easy. Ummm. Don't cheat, donít smoke, donít dance and oh yeh, humour thy father and mother".

When 1,200 people aged 15-35 were asked, as part of a survey, to name the Ten Commandments, only a few could name more than two. When they were told all the Commandments, the common response was, "No way. Everyone does that. That canít be one of the Ten Commandments".

We can have a bit of a giggle at answers like these but the underlying reality is not funny at all. The Ten Commandments are virtually unknown by a vast number of people.

No wonder there is so much moral confusion in our society. Once people had a basic set of guidelines to help them make decisions between right and wrong; today these guidelines are unknown. Lack of respect for other people and their property, stealing, murder, abortion, family strife, failure to care for people, adultery are daily occurrences and we hardly blink an eyelid when we hear of these things. Thatís not to mention the total disregard for God and misuse of his name.

But letís get real. The Ten Commandments are rules. No one likes rules. It seems that itís part of our human nature to want to rebel against rules; to break them if we can get away with it. We all know that speeding is breaking the law, but we intentionally and unintentionally break the law especially if we think we have a justifiable reason for the violation. In fact, it doesnít matter whether the speeding laws are broken deliberately or not, the police officer who pulls us over will most likely politely say, "Do you have a reason why you were breaking the speed limit" and it doesnít matter what good justifiable reason we might give, he proceeds to write out a speeding ticket. The law is quite clear. It is very black and white.

The speeding rules, any rules, become a humbug when we forget that they exist for our protection.
Parents make rules for their children, not because they want to be mean and nasty, but because they love their children. They want to protect them from things that will hurt them.
When parents say that 8.30 is bed time they want to make sure that their childís energetic young bodies and minds get plenty of rest.
When they insist on their child going out with friends and not alone, itís to ensure their safety. Sometimes a child might feel that their parentís expectations are restrictive and unreal, but that doesnít change the fact that mum and dad have said this because they love their child very much. The rule is a gift of love to their child.

This is the way God's rules should be viewed. They are a gracious gift from God. Because of his love for us, he wants to guide and protect us.
He is like a loving parent who wants nothing but the best for his children.
He wants them to be safe and to live happily.
He wants them to enjoy life on this earth and avoid all those things that will bring unhappiness and danger into their lives.

Even in the Garden of Eden where life was perfect and full of bliss, God set one rule, "Donít eat any of the fruit from that tree in the middle of the Garden". God didnít make this rule because he wanted the fruit from the tree for himself. It was a rule God made out of love for his creation. It protected the perfect and happy life that he had given Adam and Eve.

As we know, they began to think that God was unfair banning the fruit from that tree, and so couldnít resist trying out the "forbidden fruit". And immediately their perfect and innocent life ended.

In the first reading today, we heard again the commandments that God gave to Moses and to the people of Israel on Mt Sinai. This was one of those occasions when God himself wrote down a message for his people. We read, "When God had finished speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him the two stone tablets on which God himself had written the commandments" (Exodus 31:18). More literally, the text says that the two stone tablets "were etched by the finger of God".

The Hebrew word for "Law" is Torah. For Israel, Torah didn't just mean a set of rules that were to be followed. They showed the way to be walked. Torah is perhaps better translated as "The Way" or more literally in Hebrew, "the finger pointing the way". Through the law, God was lovingly pointing the right direction that would enable his people to live safely and happily. For the Old Testament people, the Torah was much wider than the Ten Commandments; it included all kinds of rules about cleanliness, good food, hygiene and the best ways to worship God.

These rules were proof of God's loyalty and love, and they were received with thankfulness and praise. The Old Testament people talked about what a delight it was to study the law of God (Psalm 1). This law was not a burden for the Old Testament believer; it was "the finger pointing the way" to a happy life with God and his fellowman. The law is there to help us love God and show how to love one another.

But because we are people who canít keep rules of any kind let alone keep God's rules perfectly as he requires, the Bible points out that we are in deep trouble. How can we have a relationship with God when we keep on disregarding him and his love for us and his concern over the way we live our lives?
How can we ever expect God to help us, protect us, guide us and answer our prayers through all the days of our life when we keep on ignoring the finger of God pointing to safety, happiness, loving relationships and oneness with God himself?
How can we ever hope to get to heaven, Godís perfect place, when God's rules point out clearly that we are so good at ignoring them or at best twisting the commandment to get us off the hook?

Thereís no getting away from it - too often our best intentions are sidetracked. If we take the time to reflect on all the commandments, we would soon realise that we are hopeless at keeping them perfectly as God demands. Browsing through the catechism and reading Lutherís explanations, we quickly realise that we have too often adopted the ways of the world rather than the ways of God.
It is not just our actions that are judged, but our attitudes.
Not just our hands, but also our hearts.
Not just our words and works, but our thoughts, desires, imaginations, and motivations.
As we revisit the Ten Commandments, w
e will see that we need divine, out of this world help, if we want to be a friend of God and to have any chance of eternal life.

God's finger wrote the Ten Commandments and turning to the New Testament we find the finger of God writing again (John 8:1-11). The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law brought to Jesus a woman with loose sex morals. "The Law demands that she be stoned to death", the religious leaders said. "What do you think, Jesus?"

Jesus didnít say anything but he squatted down and wrote something on the ground with his finger. Then he said, "If any of you have never sinned, then go ahead and throw the first stone at her!" Then he wrote on the ground again.

No one really knows what Jesus wrote on the ground with his finger that day, but I can tell you what he wrote on to the heart of a hurting woman who stood before him ashamed of her sin. Through his Son, Jesus Christ, the same God who etched his law into stone with his finger Ė this time etched Ďgraceí on the stone hard hearts of the religious leaders and wrote "forgiven" on the shame filled heart of the woman!

There is a story that one night Martin Luther went to sleep troubled about his sin. In a dream, he saw an angel standing by a blackboard and at the top of the board was Lutherís name. The angel, chalk in hand, was listing all of Lutherís sins, and the list filled the blackboard. Luther shuddered in despair, feeling that his sins were so many that he could never be forgiven. But suddenly in his dream he saw a pierced hand writing above the list these words: "The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin." As Luther gazed in amazement, blood flowed from the wounded hand and washed the blackboard clean.

God did for us what we cannot do for ourselves.
God took his obedient Son, and he nailed him to a cross for you and me.
God made Jesus our sin -
all of our attempts to leave God out of our lives,
the ways we have ignored his love for us,
found excuses for why we have not given him honour, or spent time with him in prayer and reading his Word
acted like a disobedient child,
held grudges and hard feelings against others,
talked about others behind their back,
ignored the feelings and needs of others,
got all our priorities out of whack and making ourselves the sole love of our life,
and yet in spite of all of these Jesusí love for us has been unwavering.
As he hung dying on the cross, he carried every sin, from the smallest to the greatest failure to live Godís way, and took on himself the punishment that we deserve. He died to make us perfect; Godís saints.

Remember seeing pictures of Winston Churchill raise two fingers during the days of World War 2 Ė two fingers to make a "V" for "Victory". God has raised two fingers. With the first finger, he etched in stone his will for all humanity and pointed to the way of a happy and peaceful life. With the second finger, he has written the word "grace" on our hearts. Together they are "V" for victory. "We have complete victory through him who loved us!" (Rom 8:37).

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
15th March 2009
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com

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