Scripture: Exodus 20
God has a plan for your life!
Doesn’t that just sound wonderful? The all-knowing, all-loving God who created everything around you has a plan for your life, no matter how small or insignificant you may feel.
So what might those plans be?
Maybe you’ve heard famous televangelists tell you that God’s plan is for you to be happy and blessed with material possessions – sounds nice enough but it usually comes with a catch: you need to show your immense faith and trust in God (and the preacher) by giving them enough money to ensure God’s blessing upon you.
So that’s probably not quite it…
Or maybe God’s plan for you involves who you are married to or that you aren’t married; maybe it includes what job you work or worked in; maybe it how many children you have or don’t have. God certainly cares about those things… but those ultimately depend on our own actions and decisions which God allows us to make.
So that’s not God’s plan for your life either.
In fact, God’s plan for each one of us is far less personal than we usually imagine – God after all has given us free will and responsibility as part of our humanity to make our own choices.
No, His plan for you and for me, and for every person in existence is, ultimately, that we would have communal, relational life and have it abundantly. Perhaps that doesn’t give us the warm fuzzy feelings that the promises of happiness and material wealth and blessings give us, but on a deeper level they are more fulfilling and life-altering promises.
This has been God’s dream, God’s plan since the very beginning, from the Garden of Eden and the limitless and rich life offered to Adam and Eve, to the promises made to Abraham concerning his family being a blessing to all nations, to the Exodus from Egypt and God’s promise to his people of a land flowing with milk and honey and right throughout the scriptures you see this promise of abundant life front and centre in God’s vision of the world.
Unfortunately, sin and brokenness continually get in the way of God’s vision: time and time again throughout history humanity disobeys God and turn away from God’s desire for abundant life for all peoples; we hurt one another, we exploit and oppress one another – sin mars the vision God has for the world but God always provides a way to overcome and to be shaped by his love and life as we see in our reading from Exodus this morning.
You may not think of the Ten Commandments as particularly life-giving – perhaps you remember having to learn them by rote as a child, or them being levied against you by someone in authority as a hammer ready to drop whenever you broke one them – but the problem is we often read and learn the Ten Commandments without any context which allows them to be life-giving words of God.
Over the last few weeks, we have heard about how God had freed the Israelites from Egypt, brought them through the Red Sea and their subsequent wanderings and groaning against God.
Despite their grumbling and even their longing to return to Egypt at times, God remained faithful to his promise to save the people of Israel from slavery and oppression and the Ten Commandments are part of how God fulfilled that promise.
Remember that the Israelites had been under the bondage of slavery for generations in Egypt, they had experienced the cruelty of Pharaoh and his overseers, they had experienced a lack of justice and oppression that was a far cry from God’s vision of abundant life for the world – their worldview was marked by the power of sin and death, and so although God had taken Israel out of Egypt, God had to also take Egypt out of Israel.
That’s what the Ten Commandments are: God’s means of removing the stain of Egypt from the life of the people of Israel. They are God’s promise that the oppressive life the Israelites had experienced at the hands of Pharaoh, a life marked by injustice, would not be the life of the new community formed by the Exodus. Instead, God’s promise was that Israel would have abundant life, that they would be in right relationship with God and neighbour and that they would flourish because of it.
The Ten Commandments, or Ten Words of God, are promises for the life of people of Israel, they are God’s plan for abundant life on earth as it is in heaven.
To begin with, the first three commandments set the tone for the community with regard to their relationship with God. If disobedience is the root of sin, then these three commandments counteract the disobedience and sin and promise that as God remains faithful to the community so to will the community remain faithful to God by having no other Gods, refraining from worshipping idols and not taking the Lord’s name in vain.
At the very heart of a community full of abundant life is a right relationship with God, creator and sustainer of the universe. In fact, all of the promises laid out in the Ten Commandments flow from the very heart and character of God because God begins the Ten Commandments with the ‘I am’ statement which means everything comes from God’s identity.
The fourth commandment about keeping the Sabbath is as I have suggested before a gift that God gives his community. Endless work and busyness only beget oppression and injustice in the long run, and so the Sabbath serves as a day for rest and refreshment, a day of freedom and peace amidst the responsibilities and chaos of the remaining six days. The Sabbath is like a safeguard that ensures the community is in the best position to live into the promises of God’s blessed community.
The remaining six commandments show what true freedom and abundant life looks like practically – after all, life in God’s Kingdom cannot be truly free and abundant for all if people are allowed to murder their neighbour. God’s kingdom of love would not spread throughout the community if envy and greed rested in our hearts as we coveted our neighbours’ possessions or spouses.
In fact, the Ten Commandments point to God’s promise that in His Blessed Kingdom, where justice and mercy flow down, there will be no need for envy or greed; jealously will find no quarter amidst the community, because everyone will have more than enough, everyone will have the same measure of God’s love and the same measure of his abundant life – so no one will look on their neighbour and think they need more.
God’s plan for the world is for our communities to be shaped by the promises outlined in the Ten Commandments, promises that embody the love, mercy and grace of God. They aren’t meant to be rules which restrict and confine us but rather the framework for a society that abounds in the life and love we have come to know in Jesus.
While we might glass over commandments like thou shalt not murder as either common sense or not applicable to us, we can at least acknowledge the spirit of the commandments and the ways in which violence and oppression or greed and jealousy have shaped the world around us. We all participate in economic and social systems that oppress people based on their gender, their race, their economic status and God’s call is for us to shape a community that moves away from those towards love, mercy and justice for all.
When Jesus was asked to sum up the whole of the law he summed it up in the words of the Shema “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. This is the first and great commandment. The second is like it: Love your neighbour as yourself.”
That’s how we should ultimately understand what the Ten Commandments are, they help us to love God and our neighbour to the best of our ability. When we love God and neighbour that is the way that abundant life enters the world. That is God’s plan for your life, that is God’s plan for our lives as the church.
Maybe that’s not the plan you envisioned, maybe it is not the material blessings that the televangelists promise but it is the plan that will bring abundant life into our midst, it is the plan which will bring fulfillment and abundant life into your midst!
God has great plans for us. Thanks be to God.
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