“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.”
This simple statement by God at the beginning of the passage, commonly known as the 10 Commandments, raises for us a fundamental question. It is in some ways the age old question, “Which came first the chicken or the egg?”
Or, “Which came first the rules or the relationship?”
I have a definite view that the relationship precedes the rules but I am aware that for many people both within the group who claim to follow Jesus and beyond that group it is the other way around. Rather than the relationship giving rise to the rules there are many people who consider that to be a Christian it is about the rules which then opens out the relationship.
Let me indulge you with a brief story about my own process to beginning my Doctorate to demonstrate my understanding of relationships and rules.
When I first began to contemplate engaging in further study I did not look up the website at UQ to find out the requirements of entry or the rules of how I would do the study. No! Rather I contacted my now supervisor and went and met with him. Together we began to explore my options in terms of a topic.
We developed a relationship based not primarily in academic rules but in our concern for the development of thought and understanding in the church. It is a concern that we would have shared whether I decided to enter into the formality of study or not.
This relationship has lead to the need for me to explore the rules of studying at UQ and the rules basically provide map for me to get to where I felt I wanted to go using the vehicle called UQ.
The relationship came first.
When God speaks the words, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt” God is reiterating an already existing relationship It is a promised relationship, a relationship which is grounded on the willingness of God to intervene for the good of God’s people.
The act of bringing the people of God out of Egypt was the way God's intervened to save this group of people to be God's chosen people. They were to be a sign of God’s love before the other nations of the world.
The relationship came first. A relationship that God was willing to save.
We can hear within the story God's commitment to be in the relationship. It is only when this relationship is established and that the story of God's relationship is told that we hear the so called commandments of God. These commandments are meant to help people be in the relationship. They are a gift to help people to enter into the community of humanity as God's people, to live within the relationship which was already a given.
I do not want to delve too deeply into the nature of the 10 commandments but rather give a brief commentary as we might view these words as an encouragement or resource in the relationships we have with God and each other. Broadly speaking the commandments fall into two these two categories and to start with our relationships with each other it is helpful to reverse how we think about these commandments.
In the New Testament Jesus says to the disciples that they should “do to others what you would have them do to you”.
If we view the commandments dealing with how we behave toward one another through this lens then we should think about them this way:
I would want my children to honour me so I should honour my parents.
I would not to be murdered so I should not wish murder on anyone else.
I would not want to be betrayed in my relationship with my wife so I should not betray her.
I would not want my things stolen from me so why would I steal what belongs to another.
I would not want lies told about me so I should not lie.
I do not want people to be jealous of my possessions so I should not be jealous of them.
When God gives these instructions to us God is not imposing something on us that is unfair or unwieldy but inviting us to think about how we wish to be treated in our lives.
In the same way we can reverse the commandments about God:
God has chosen to be in the relationship with us so we are invited to place God first in our lives.
God has entered into the relationship with us personally so we do not need to construct images to be in the relationship.
God honours us by speaking to us by name and with honour and so we can respond in the way we talk about God.
God has given us the freedom to live day by day in this wondrous world, so we remember God as creator by honouring the Sabbath.
This is not about earning God’s love. This is not about fulfilling rules so we can get to go to heaven. This about living within the world God has made in such a way as to honour others and God, just int eh same way we would desire for ourselves.
The relationship comes first – the rules simple help us to live in this relationship. They are a resource for us, they are a helping hand and we should view them this way.
The reality of course is that all of us can easily forget that the relationship came first and we can turn faith into a set of laws to be obeyed. We can begin to use the laws to define God rather than God’s willingness to save us.
This is why we see Jesus in the temple driving out the money changers and the animals being sold. The money changers and animal sellers were there specifically to assist people live out the requirements of their faith by making the appropriate sacrifices. They were there to help people live out the laws.
Whilst there may have also been corruption in the system Jesus concern was that the religious practices and practitioners actually barred the way into the relationship with God.
The relationship came first.
In all of the communities that we are part of - families, schools, universities, residential colleges, work places and even this congregation the same principle applies. relationships are established - the rules are there to help us live well within those relationships in such a way that all members of the community might reach their potential. Sometimes the rules can take over or seem to be a burden and some of the rules we make as humans are imperfect - but generally most are about helping build the possibilities of life for the members of the community.
God desire to be in a relationship with each of you. God desires this so much that God shared our life in Jesus. The rules are only there to help us live in the relationship, Jesus presence in the world confirms again God's commitment to us.
In this congregation this year we have determined to followers and fishers. This means that we do understand that God has called us into the relationship and that God’s commitment has been to stay beside us and all humanity in Christ. This is how we celebrate God’s goodness, this is part of how we are living the relationship – following Jesus and telling others of God’s love.
How do you enter into the relationship with God? And how do you approach the rules you encounter in life?