Finding Freedom In Limits
Exodus 20:1-17 20:1 Then God spoke all these words: 20:2 I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 20:3 you shall have no other gods before me. 20:4 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. 20:5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, 20:6 but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments. 20:7 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. 20:8 Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 20:9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 20:10 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work–you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 20:11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it. 20:12 Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you. 20:13 You shall not murder. 20:14 You shall not commit adultery. 20:15 You shall not steal. 20:16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. 2
20:17 You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
- How is Lenten season going for you so far? Have you been asking God to search your heart to root out the things that are unpleasing to God? Today’s text provides a tool for us to partner with God in that work. Our text is familiar to many: The Ten Commandments—taken from Exodus 20: 1-17, and it provides a blue print of how we are to live in relationship to God and with one another. This is the foundation for our engaging the question for the day – Are there any limits to freedom?
- We are used to hearing that there is freedom in Christ and in our secular arena, we embrace the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
- During Women’s History month, I lift up Attorney Stacey Abrams, who is the daughter of two Methodist pastors and a member of Columbia Drive UMC in Decatur, Georgia. In the magazine By Faith, she is quoted as saying “My faith is central to the work that I do, in that I not only hold Christian values, but my faith tradition as a Methodist tells me that the most profound demonstration of our faith is service.” Over the past ten years she has doggedly pursued the effort to protect the freedom to vote across the State of Georgia and was instrumental in flipping the state Blue in the latest rounds of political elections, championing the effort that led to 800,000 new voters who were able to exercise their right to vote demonstrating freedom in making their voice heard.
- There are some freedoms we focus on, especially on a day like today—the 56th anniversary of Bloody Sunday when hundreds marched for voting rights across the Edmumd Pettis bridge in Selma, Alabama. That fateful day when the late Congressman John Lewis suffered a head fracture and many others were bloodied and injured.
- What we consider the freedom to do should be subject to the foundational principles of God’s word.
- Rebellion of Adam and Eve and their eating the forbidden fruit was about breeching the limits God had put in place. This was the first example of a limit that was given as a gift from God to guide and protect because of God’s great love.
- We often focus on what we can’t have instead of what we can. Don’t look at commandments as a burden but rather as an opportunity to grow deeper in relationship with God (commandments 1-4) and with each other (5-10).
- Doing our best to uphold these commandments is our response to the covenant God made with us. First, with the people of Israel who were rescued from slavery in Egypt and nourished with the physical bread-like substance called manna. Now, God frees us from bondage to sin as God continues to nourish us with the bread of heaven, which is Jesus Christ, represented in the ritual of Holy Communion which we will observe today.
- These commandments were offered as a means of helping to shape the lives of God’s faithful once we were no longer slaves. These boundary lines keep us from patterns of living that would destroy us or compromise the abundant life Jesus offers. Without them, the world is in perpetual chaos.
- Deep down we know rules are good- even if we don’t like them all the time, like cod liver or castor oil. Even with a spoonful of sugar, it’s hard to take. As children, we may have thought about these remedies as some kind of punishment. But with maturity, we know that these, or other remedies we may have been offered as a child, are actually good for us.
- Consider driver’s education classes and rules of the road that most of us learned at some point, even if you aren’t a driver, you appreciate them not as a form of punishment but as a system of protections that offer us the freedom to move about in safety.
- Consider these commandments as descriptive statements of who we are as children of God. We access God’s love through committing ourselves to spiritual disciplines that will help shape us into people who will be able to do these things. Instead of thinking “You shall not have any other gods before me,” we would be able to declare “I will not have any other gods besides god” not simply because of a limit I’ve been given, but because I choose to exercise my freedom NOT to have any other gods besides God.
- The first tablet that defines our relationship with God helps inform the second tablet which held the words that defined our relationship with each other. As people defined by these commandments, we are able to embrace the freedom that transcends the culture that would draw lines to limit and divide people by race, ethnicity, class, education, gender, ableism and other means we use to discriminate against others. By embracing these commandments, we are free to love as God loves all people and all of creation.
- “Trust me” (God) not the other voices of the culture. Spend time with me learning my ways and I will give you freedom to live and to love, not only now but forever.
- Baptism, confirmation, and even communion are experiences that establish boundaries, limits of sorts—but here again, they are limits that are not limiting in the traditional way of thinking. These experiences mark a distinction between those who are choosing to align themselves with the things and way of life outlined by God and those who don’t. With these limits, we find true freedom. Amen