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The Principles of Living Part 4

The Principles of Living Part 4

Exodus 20: 1-17


‘Do not desire another man’s house; do not desire his wife, his slaves, his cattle, his donkeys, or anything else that he owns.’ (Exodus 20: 17)

The problem I have, in fact the problem that anyone writing a sermon has, is that we can be led astray by our research.

I am reading this book just now as research on the Old Testament; it is my light reading just before I go to bed at night. And it is looking at all kinds of stuff that might, or might not, be relevant as I study the Old Testament. And one of the parts of research is how weather affects the Old Testament.

Have a picture of London in your head, and then think of a picture of Jerusalem. Which do you think would have the greater rainfall? The truth is that they have roughly the same amount of rain fall. The reason that Jerusalem has a more arid appearance is that London has its rainfall throughout the year in roughly the equal parts. Whereas Jerusalem has its rainfall in two distant times of year and it gushes down like a monsoon. Just after sowing and harvest.

Why is that important?

To be honest it isn’t, but it gets to be a distraction, and we can get so caught up in the distraction that we miss the important point.

Like today's verse...‘Do not desire another man’s house; do not desire his wife, his slaves, his cattle, his donkeys, or anything else that he owns.’ (Exodus 20: 17)

Distraction 1 might come it is alright to have slaves. If we are not to desire another man’s slaves then it implies that it is alright for the other man to have slaves. Think about that. Three months ago these people were slaves, had been slaves, for generation after generation after generation. And within three months they have forgotten what that is like and they feel that they can have slaves.

Though that might be just a distraction, nothing compared to...

Distraction come the house is regarded as more important than the wife? I am presuming that the wife is more important than slaves, and humans are more important than donkeys. So if the rest of the list is in order then the start of the list is in order. ‘Do not desire another man’s house; do not desire his wife...’

Though you could argue that the semi-colon after the word house means that everything after the semi-colon is a description of what a man’s house the wife is the first and most important part of the house.

Or maybe that is just a distraction. Especially as it is nothing compared with...

Distraction 3...which is, how come the wife is just another of the man’s possessions?

‘Do not desire another man’s house; do not desire his wife, his slaves, his cattle, his donkeys, or anything else that he owns.’ (Exodus 20: 17)

Could I ask all the married men to please stand up, now you may sit down if you don’t want to answer the next question, ‘How long have you owned your wife?’

That was a lot of men sitting down fast. Actually the correct answer was to remaining standing and answering, ‘Never.’

All distractions.

Silly distractions.

Though there is one distraction that is really serious. And it is serious because it changes our relationship with God.

The big distraction is that we get caught up with the rules. Here are the rules that God has COMMANDED us to obey. Obey the rules or else you will be punished, you will be cut off from God, you will be abandoned. Obey the rules or our relationship with God is severely compromised.

There is only one problem with this is completely wrong.

This is not the way God works.

First of all it sets God up as a rule maker rather than a loving compassionate parent-figure. If we believe that God is a rule-maker then God is not interested in a relationship, only obedience.

It sets us up as people who have no other role than to obey this rule-maker or be punished. We are not there to learn and grow and mature and make decisions, we are there to do as we are told without thinking.

We are not people in a dialogue with God, walking together on a journey of faith; we are there to blindly follow.

Instead of being a community where we can grow and learn from our experiences we become a frightened people scared of making mistakes.

Secondly it hides God as a compassionate and caring being who is on our side. The God that wants us to have a life and a life felt in all its fullness, a God that wants us to share the responsibilities of looking after this world, of looking after each other.

If God is just a rule-maker then there are two types of people, those that obey the rules and those that don’t. There is no place for compassion as everything is black and white.

There is no place for hope because everything is right or wrong.

There is no place for joy because everything is obedience or disobedience.

There are only those that obey all the rules, and those that don’t.

This is really important, which of these beings is God?

The rule-maker or the compassionate heavenly Father?

If you are selective in your reading of the Bible then I think you can safely say he is the rule-maker...just read Exodus 20:1-17. It is a set of rules: and more than that it is a set of rules with some serious threats.

‘Do not use my name for evil purposes, for I the Lord your God, will punish you anyone who misuses my name.’

‘Respect your father and your mother, so that you may live a long time in the land that I am giving you.’ This implies to me that if you don't respect them then you won’t live a long time in the land that God is giving you.

As I said, if you are selective in your Bible readings you could get the impression that that is what God is like.

But I don't think that’s accurate.

Part of my proof of this is that we have chapter 19. Remember a few weeks ago we put these rules in context. If God was a rule-maker first then he would have insisted that the rules come first. That Moses went to Egypt with the rules and told the people that they had to obey them first, prove that they were worthy of having God as God, and once they had done that then they would be saved from slavery. But that isn't how God worked. First he helped them, showed them that they could trust him and then, when they were free, God gave them a choice. Told the people that if they wanted then they could be his people and he could guide them.

My second proof is verse 17. If this is a commandment, a rule, then how do you enforce it?

‘Do not desire another man’s house; do not desire his wife, his slaves, his cattle, his donkeys, or anything else that he owns.’ (Exodus 20: 17)

How was anyone meant to enforce this?

You could do it now-a-days.

Just put everyone on lie detectors and ask them...’Do you desire your neighbours trampoline?’

This isn't meant to be a law; this is meant to be guidance.

Through the last four weeks we have been looking at the same question, the question that the Israelites had to answer, the question we have to answer, ‘Do we trust God to guide us?’

That’s where the Israelites were.

After being freed, God was asking them, ‘Well now that you know I’m here and that I care, do you trust me to guide you?’

And that is the same question now being asked of us, ‘Now that you know God cares for you, now that you know through the good times and the times of struggle that God has been there, do you trust him to guide you through the rest of your life?’

If you do trust them then there are guidelines.

Don’t put your trust in other things, because other things will just use up your energies and make you fall. In those days it would be false gods, in our days it would be false securities like houses and possessions and money and power and prestige. All the things that we feel give our life meaning and purpose, they just take up our life and destroy us and leave us with nothing.

Look at last week. Donald Trump, if you had all his money would your really be happy?

Or Kim Jung Un, if you had all his power would you really be content?

There is a mistake that young children make.

And that is the mistake that verse 17 is trying to help us avoid.

Here is the mistake.

You get a three year old that sees another child playing with a toy, and that three year old wants to play with that toy. So it just grabs it off the child and the child that had the toy starts to cry.

Here is the mistake.

The three year old doesn't want the toy. What the three year old wants is to be as happy as the child that had the toy. And the three year old thinks that it is the toy that is making the child happy. So that if he has the toy, then he will be happy too.

And it never works.

Verse 17 is not a rule, it’s a warning.

‘Do not desire another man’s house; do not desire his wife, his slaves, his cattle, his donkeys, or anything else that he owns.’ (Exodus 20: 17)

If you are unhappy then wishing you had someone else's life isn't going to make you happy; it is going to make you resentful, angry, selfish, vindictive, but it isn't going to make you happy.

I have so many friends that have no children.

I would hate to think that their relationship with me is tainted by jealousy or anger because they don't have children or grandchildren.

But I have no say in that.

That is their choice.

They can spend their life resentful for what they don't have, or they can share what I have.

My best man has no children; yet he was with all of my children yesterday as we played Dungeons and Dragons together. We laughed and slagged each other off.

I would like to think that he can be as close to them and they as close to him, as they can be. He could be resentful and cut himself off from us because he can’t stand what i have, or share in the joy and be part of the family.

They don't call him Calum, they call him uncle Calum.

That is what these guidelines are all about.

Do we trust God to guide us, to direct us down a path that will bring meaning and purpose?

Not a life that will be free from suffering or struggle or pain, but that He will put us in the company that can help us through it.

Not a life that will be lazy or indifferent to the needs of others, but a life that will see value and meaning and hope in the lives of others.

Mother Teresa had no children or grandchildren.

She had no money and what possessions she had could fit in a small bag.

Yet she had a family of hundreds, if not thousands, if not millions, she had everything she could ever need.

She had doubts and fears and uncertainties.

But her life also had respect and dignity and meaning.

What she didn’t have was longing for someone else’s life.

She had the life God wanted to share with her.

Ann Levin wrote a poem called Be Still and I am going to finish with that...

You do not have to look for anything, just Look.

You do not have to listen for anything specific, just Listen.

You do not have to accomplish anything, just Be.

And in the Looking, and Listening, and the being,

find Me.

If we can do that, we will find everything that we truly need.

If we look anywhere else, then we will always be lost.

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