Then God spoke all these words: 2 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 3 you shall have no other gods before me.
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. 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, 6 but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.
7 You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lordwill not acquit anyone who misuses his name.
8 Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 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. 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.
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.
13 You shall not murder.
14 You shall not commit adultery.
15 You shall not steal.
16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
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.
I Timothy 6:11-16
11 But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13 In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you 14 to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which he will bring about at the right time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. 16 It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.
33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 35 Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” 37 Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Leo Tolstoy, by all accounts was one of the greatest writers in the world, most notably known for two great works, War and Peace and Anna Karenina. He was born into the aristocracy in Russia in 1828 at a time when serfdom, a form of slavery, was still practiced in Russia.
He had a largely misspent youth or young adulthood, known for excessive drinking, gambling, fighting duels, abusing peasants, lying, stealing and sexual promiscuity.
However, this period came to an end when he joined the army, fought in the Crimean War, and got married. An event happened in his life which profoundly affected him, and it was the public execution of a man by guillotine.
Together with his war experience, and his reading of the sermon on the mount in the bible, this violent event, helped shape Tolstoy into a Christian who denounced violence, and then repudiated all forms of government, including church government that used violence and force. He became a Christian anarchist, vowing to live by a code of nonviolence, universal love, forgiveness and simplicity.
He saw that one of the evils of the world was money. Another was private ownership of land.
He wrote in a letter one time:
The injustice and evil of property in land has long ago been recognised. More than a hundred years ago the great French thinker, Jean Jacques Rousseau, had written: “The one who first fenced in a plot of land, and took upon himself to say, ‘This land is mine,’ and found people so simple-minded as to believe him, that man was the first founder of the social organisation which now exists.
“From how many crimes, wars, murders, calamities, cruelties would mankind have been delivered had some man then uprooted the fences and filled up the ditches.”
He gave most of his money away. He freed his serfs and turned his estate over to them, working alongside them in poverty and simplicity.
It actually didn’t make for him a happy marriage, because the wife he married, married into the aristocracy and relative wealth; and since they had sixteen children, he had a rather rocky relationship with his wife. Poverty and simplicity was not what she was expecting.
Now I read somewhere one time that many of the serfs he freed, ended up worse off than when they were serfs working for their Lord Tolstoy.
I have not been able to substantiate that, but it does raise an interesting point.
It is one thing to be set free physically from slavery, and it is another thing to live as a free person.
In the movie the Shawshank Redemption, an elderly prisoner, Brooks, is released and tries to make his way in the world outside the prison. He writes a letter back to his friends in prison:
Dear fellas and it goes on to talk about him being in a halfway house and working a job baggin groceries. He talks being scared and lonely and unhappy; and then he says that he has decided not to stay. “I doubt that they’ll kick up any fuss. Nor for an old crook like me.”
And he commits suicide.
It is one thing to be physically set free, it is another to truly be free.
That is what it was like for the freed Hebrew slaves who left Egypt and spent the next fourty years in the wilderness trying to learn what it was like to be truly free people,
In fact most of us spend a lot of our lives trying to find our what it means to be truly free.
We know about slavery to fear, or envy, or rage, or greed, or alcohol, or lust, or power.
In this world the Pyramids of power exist and there are literally billions of people at the bottom of the economic food chain who work all day every day and barely have enough food to eat, while those at the top of the pyramid are fantastically wealthy. The richest person in the world is worth over one hundred billion dollars. The three richest people in the United States have as much wealth as the bottom half of the United States.
Three people have as much as 160 million people in the United State
And yet while there is so much poverty that enslaves people the wealthy in the world are not free of enslavement: to fear, or envy, or rage, or power, or lust or intoxicating substances.
So all of us have something to learn from the stories of the slaves who left Egypt who are learning to really be free.
And it seems that the struggle for true freedom is not always easy. Sometimes it takes a while. Sometimes there are temptations to take the easy way.
Sometimes there are temptations to grumble and complain.
Sometimes there are temptations to rebel or be violent.
Sometimes there are temptations to party or indulge to excess, when it isn’t the right time to party.
Sometimes there are snakes or sickness or other troubles.
And sometimes there is manna. Something that feeds us.
The Hebrews called the stuff that seem to come from the sky and appear in the morning “Manna” which roughly translated is: “What is this stuff?”
And we learn that to truly be free we need help. We need something to feed us. But it is more that physical stuff that falls on the ground or the food that comes from the ground that we need.
We need our spirits or souls to be fed.
And there are two things that Jesus feeds us. They are truth and love.
Truth is reality. And the truth is not our doctrines.
The truth is not propositions about God.
The truth is not the church, or the rules of the church.
The truth is not even the scriptures.
The truth is the very being of Jesus loving us, caring for us, forgiving us, correcting us, guiding us, being in us, living in us.
The truth is the very being of God who is love, so wherever love is, God is; therefore wherever love is, that is the truth.
And that is what is given to the Hebrew children when they camp out at Mount Sinai and Moses comes down the mountain with the ten words, or the ten signs, or what we commonly call the ten commandments.
God gives them truth and love.
So let us go through those commandments, the spiritual food that God gives…
Understanding that God is love and wherever God is, love is; and wherever love is, that is reality…that is truth.
1. Put love first for God is love. Love or God, is what set you free from slavery. Love never makes a slave of anyone. Serve love, put your trust in love, don’t let anything have priority in your life, more than love.
Anything else you put first will enslave you and others.
2. It is very easy to put other things in place of love. Money, power, fame. But even so called good things can be idols. Family, Work, loyalty, Sports, fitness, food, Music.
Don’t do it. Don’t put other stuff ahead of love. You will punish yourself and it will hurt you and your children. It will teach them to bow down to idols if love doesn’t come first. It will enslave you and it will enslave them.
3. God is love, and anyone who uses God or God’s name, or the bible, or the church, or Jesus, or the Holy Spirit to hurt others, to put them down, to say they are not loved, or to be violent towards them is just wrong.
4. Remember that you need sacred time, holy time, time to be in the arms of love, the arms of God, the embrace of Christ, the warmth of the Spirit, so that you not only know love intellectually, that you experience love, feel love, live in love; therefore take the time to look for the divine and rest in the divine’s love.
5. The most basic unit of love on this earth is family. So take time for family, and more than that, make your family time loving time….even if a family member doesn’t love you, you love them.
6. Love one another and so at the most basic level it is about not doing anything that hurts another or kills their Spirit, so don’t kill or hurt people.
7. Don’t muck up your family unit of love, and don’t muck up somebody else’s family unit of love, by cheating on your spouse, or with somebody else’s spouse.
8. If you love people you won’t take what belongs to someone else.
9. if you love people you won’t lie, or gossip or talk about others in negative ways.
10. In fact if you really want to keep from falling back into slavery you will free yourself from the slavery of desire, always wanting what someone else has, Instead you will learn to be content and happy with what you have, because you have all you need to be loving and happy, because happiness and love is not about what you get, it is about choosing to give.
And so through the ten commandments God who had freed the people from Egypt, was helping people to be truly free by feeding them truth and love.
The Ten Commandments are not a bunch of rules that we have to follow or else.
The Ten Commandments are not some rules one has to keep to be Jewish or Christian.
The Ten Commandments are not what you have to keep in order to get God or Jesus to love you…
Simply put the Ten Commandments are the pathway to spiritual freedom.
They are truth and love at your very fingertips.
We don’t follow them to get a reward, or to get to heaven…the keeping of them is heaven, is the kingdom, is love and truth and freedom and God and Christ.
I am reminded of a young woman who had great faith and persistently stood up against evil and specifically for the right of woman and girls.
When she was 15 a Taliban gunman boarded a bus and asked for her by name and shot Malala Yousafzai in the head. She survived and became the youngest ever Nobel Prize winner. She believes in peace, in human rights, in non-violence and the equality of women.
And she is a Muslim.
Here is a bit of her speech to the United Nations in 2013 on her 16th birthday.
I want education for the sons and daughters of the Taliban and all the terrorists and extremists. I do not even hate the Talib who shot me. Even if there was a gun in my hand and he was standing in front of me, I would not shoot him. This is the compassion I have learned from Mohammed, the prophet of mercy, Jesus Christ, and Lord Buddha. This the legacy of change I have inherited from Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Mohammed Ali Jinnah.
“This is the philosophy of nonviolence that I have learned from Gandhi, Bacha Khan and Mother Teresa. And this is the forgiveness that I have learned from my father and from my mother. This is what my soul is telling me: be peaceful and love everyone.
Malala teaches us much about the truth and love that sets us free.
Leo Tolstoy spent a good part of his life trying to be free and trying to set others free.
After the crop failure in 1873, Tolstoy decided to stop writing Anna Karenina for a year to organize aid for the starving. His friends and family thought he was crazy, but Tolstoy was adamant.
He did it again after the famine in 1891, and spent two years raising money around the world and working in soup kitchens.
It is not easy to be free… to live in truth and love. The people Israel spent fourty years trying to reach the promised land and even when they did, they always struggled with what it meant to be truly free.
And so it is with us. There are no shortcuts. We cannot just pray for freedom and have it happen. It is a day-by-day struggle to live in Christ and let Christ live in us. As Brian McLaren writes in chapter 10 of his book, We Make the Road by Walking, “It’s easier, it turns out, to get people out of slavery, that it is to get slavery out of people.”