A sermon preached
Readings: Exodus 20:1-20, John 13: 31-38
The Eleven Commandments
sermon title is not a misprint –
I know that according to Exodus there were only 10 commandments –
by which (the ancient Israelites believed) God wished them to live.
Traditionally of course there is an eleventh commandment –
Let me quote -
“Fitzgerald lowered the rifle, broke the stock,
and quickly closed the French windows.
His assignment was completed.
His only problem now was to make sure
he didn't break the eleventh commandment.”
This comes from the end of the first chapter
of a Jeffrey Archer’s novel “The Eleventh Commandment”.
Fitzgerald is a CIA agent who has just shot a candidate
in the Colombian Presidential election campaign
as he addresses an Election Rally.
11th Commandment here is of course
“Thou shalt not get caught”
commentary perhaps on the state of our world –
in which for so many people the 10 Commandments
are ignored and moral decisions have been reduced
to a self serving question “Can I get away with it?”
In the original Mint building the 10 Commandments
were painted up on the front all of the Church –
they have now been relegated to the Flower Arrangement room
behind the curtain -
there were architectural and engineering reasons for that,
but does it also symbolize of what we think
of the 10 Commandments today?
In our so called permissive society should we –
as someone has suggested -
be downgrading the 10 Commandments to the 10 Suggestions?
Well, it may be that we need to go beyond the 10
and we’ll come back to that –
but in thinking about these things we need to be careful
not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
I remember at a very early age
jumping off a garden wall
and somehow expecting to float down to the ground below.
In the process I discovered
(a) the law of gravity and
(b) the pain caused by a twisted ankle.
The laws of morality may be sometimes
a shade more difficult to pin down than the laws of gravity –
and we may not always agree absolutely about every moral issue,
but we know that if we try to live
as if the laws of good and evil do not exist
we will fall into sin and twist more than our ankle.
The other day I came across a
to an old American book called “The Country of the Pointed Firs”
written 100 years ago by a lady called Sarah Orne Hewitt.
In it she describes a visit to the farm of a certain Elijah Tilley,
a retired sea captain.
In retirement he farms a small field –
but dotted across the field he has a series of stakes
painted yellow and white, apparently driven into the land
at quite random places.
His visitor asks what they are for.
He says that under the ground there a series
of huge and immovable rocks which were hidden from sight
and which kept snagging his plough .
So he says he put the marker posts to act like warning buoys at sea,
to remind him where the rocks were –
now, he says, the hidden rocks cause no more problem
for my plough as I can avoid them.
(Quoted in “Anything Goes” by Martin Camroux, Expository Times vol108 p.143)
like the idea of the old sailor ploughing his field
as once he ploughed the seas –
marking hidden reefs with warning buoys.
we plough the field of our life,
we could do much worse than erect the 10 commandments
as markers to alert us to particular areas
of potential danger and trouble on the road ahead.
we might each usefully reflect upon which rock
we are most liable to come to grief,
and seek prayerfully to mark that particular spot with especial care
the troubles with sets of laws and rules
is of course that they don’t cover every eventuality,
every situation, every cultural context.
Every generation has found the need to expand
and interpret the commandments –
even within the early books of the Bible
there are acres of additional and explanatory laws and regulations –
on everything from sexuality to shellfish –
check out Leviticus -
indeed according to Jewish tradition –
God eventually gave Moses 365 negative commandments,
one for each day of the year
and 248 positive commandments,
one for each joint of the body.
generation has sought to understand
and expand and interpret the Commandments
in the light of its own concerns and understanding –
(NB As our society
changes and our knowledge grows,
we may need to change the emphasis or
even challenge the validity of some consequential legislation in Leviticus
(be it about sexuality or shellfish)
generation of believers legitimately seeks –
in the power of the Spirit - to reinterpret the commandments –
often developing its own 11th and more commandments –
Take for example a though provoking song about child abuse
by American singer Collin Raye –
having sung of the heartache and horror, the final lines
“What ought have been written - The eleventh commandment -
Honour thy children - Honour thy children”
Methodist Church recently ran a series of ads on beer mats
in British pubs inviting suggestions for an eleventh commandment.
2000 people texted in suggestions –
the winning 5 were:
“Thou shalt not be negative”
“Thou shalt not worship false pop idols”
“Thou shalt not kill in the name of any God”
“Thou shalt not confuse text with love”
“Thou shalt not consume thine own bodyweight in fudge”
Runners up included
“Thou shalt not dump your lover by text”
“Thou shalt not dance like your dad”
“Thou shalt not change allegiance if your football team is relegated”, “Thou shalt not hold loud conversations on thy mobile phone in a public place”
“Thou shalt not use faith to hide from reality”
“Thou shalt not use plastic to multiply your possessions”
“Thou shalt not shrink-wrap cucumbers”
“Thou shalt not pretend to have no change when asked to donate to charity”.
And on the positive side:
Thou shalt commit random acts of kindness, respect the earth, indicate at roundabouts and smile at the person opposite
There is some real food for thought there –
commandments reflecting care & compassion,
celebrating life, loyalty to others, respect for their integrity…
Did you know that the Lord’s Prayer contains 56 words,
the Ten Commandments 297 words,
and the EC Directive on the import of Caramel Products 26,911 words?
the end of the day, whether we have 10, 11, 365,
or EC Directives full of commandments,
we are never going to exhaust, get to the bottom of,
what it means to live Godly and holy lives –
Commandments are really helpful tools –
and if everyone lived by the m the world would be a much happier place –
but they are only helpful guides –
at the end of the day you can’t reduce Christian living
to a set of tick box rules.
When I talk to you about a great moral dilemma in your life,
I need to
know about you, your situation,
I need to hear your story.
I don’t begin by quoting the rule book.
I want to probe with you who will be hurt if you do this,
who will be affirmed if you do that –
I don’t want to read off the answer from some sort of moral slide rule.
Those of you just beginning University courses
are doubtless getting to grips with many rules of the game –
how to hand in bar coded assignments,
where and when to attend lectures and so forth –
It would be nice if there was a simple set of rules –
A Guild Handbook on how to be good –
but it just isn’t that easy.
rules may be OK for young children
at a certain level of moral development,
but to think that love, mercy humility and the thirst for righteousness
can be reduced to 10 simple instructions that good people observe,
is too simple –
we need to think and wrestle and pray to find God’s direction.
That may be
it means admitting sometimes we don’t know what is right –
and we have to do the best we can –
but maybe it is less dangerous to admit uncertainty
than to dive into every situation
with inflexible and perhaps erroneous certainties.
Of course what we need is the real 11th Commandment - .
Commandment of Jesus,
who came not to abolish the law but to fulfil it, saying
“A new commandment I give unto you,
that you love one another as I have loved you….”
As I have loved you -
This is not a set of regulations, it’s a way of life –
· Christlike love,
· about giving all in sacrificial care
· loving enemies as well as friends
· Settling for nothing less than Godly perfection
· Loving without end in the power of the Spirit
· Taking up our cross and giving our lives
This and nothing less
is the way Christ lived and died for us
This and nothing less
is how we should live and die for him.