Exodus 20

God said: ‘Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.’ - Exodus 20:8

Friends, I’m terrible at taking care of plants, I mean terrible! They all die in a matter of days. Too much water maybe and not enough sunlight. Too much sunlight and not enough pruning. Too much pruning and not enough water. I just can’t get the balance right. My plants—whatever they are—are soon sick and dying because I don’t make sure they have the right balance of what they need. The same is true for all living things, actually; the same is true for human beings. We have to have the right balance, the correct amounts of what need if we’re to live a happy, healthy life. It’s well known and accepted that right now the way we live in the West is out of balance. We don’t live a way which allows us to thrive and as a result we’re an unhappy and unhealthy society. High rates of depression, mental and physical illness, low rates of satisfaction, happiness, and health. For each individual—of course—the mix is slightly different, there is no one size, no one diagnosis fits al, but we know—in general—the areas in which are lifestyles are out of balance. Too much work. Too little exercise. Too much screen time. Too little time with family and friends. Too much unhealthy food and drink. Too little time to rest. Consequently, like plants, the wrong mix, the wrong balance, the wrong lifestyle has led to a society which is increasingly unhappy.

Well we’re back in the true story of the exodus from Egypt which we’ve been studying for a few weeks now. We’ve seen the God’s people begin the long trek to the Promised Land. We’ve seen God care for them though the provision of food and water and we have been challenged to trust Him for our needs. We’ve see God answer the Hebrews’ prayers as they fight for their survival, and we’ve been challenged to take our troubles to God. Last week, as God’s people arrived at God’s mountain we were reminded—along with the Jewish people—that we need to be clear who God is, and worship Him in the right way. Today, we have one of the most famous parts of the Exodus story, one of the events which most people have heard of, the giving of the Law summarised in the Ten Commandments. However, though most people have heard of the Ten Commandments they are widely misunderstood. People often think they’re a list of things which if you get wrong will get you in trouble, like a list of foods those on diets are not allowed. However, as we’ll see what God is doing is teaching His people how to live well. Like a professional gardener helping amateurs to keep our plants alive, so the Law given in the Ten Commandments is a guide to those who follow God as to how to flourish in life. If you want an antidote to the unhappy, out-of-balance, world we find ourselves in… well this is the place for you.

The Jewish people had been living for generations in a land where they were enslaved and brutally oppressed. Any society which treats people like they’re commodities to be used is clearly, to put it mildly, out-of-balance; there is clearly something wrong with the way in which the Egyptian nation understood life. Whatever was wrong with the Egyptians’ thinking  it was extremely likely that their mindset, their way of living, has seeped into God’s people too. Like contaminated water flowing into a field of flowers what polluted one type of plant ends up in every living thing planted in the soil. The Hebrew people though they are physically free, though they are no longer actually in Egypt, still have Egypt in them, still have the Egyptian pollution in their bloodstream. If the Hebrew people are to flourish they must learn a different way of living and learning that way of living, is exactly why God has brought them to His mountain. Before they get to the Promised Land, before they start their new life they need to unlearn the poisonous ways the Egyptians lived, and learn to live as God’s people once again. The same is true for God’s people today. We may not live in Egypt, we may not live in a dictatorship which survives on the back of slaves, however, we do live in a country where most people no longer believe in God, where what is taught in schools, and the way to live which is promoted by the media, is no longer the balanced flourishing life which God gave us all those years ago. Like God’s people in Exodus, if we’re to live a happy, balanced, and godly life, there are things which we need to unlearn from the world around us, ways of living which we need to stop practicing if we’re to arrive successfully in the Promised Land of God’s kingdom. God gives us that way in the Law, God gives us that way in the Ten Commandments, and I can sum it up no better than the Lord Jesus, when He said: Love God, and love your neighbour.

First, love God. That’s covered in the first three commands. Before we do anything else we have to get the basics right. The only way we’ll make sure to end up heading in the right direction is if we’re listening to the right person. Sure, mates down the pub, friends at the gym can give you gardening advice, but the one who has the answers is the expert gardener. God made us, He knows us inside out, He knows what will ultimately make us happy, and, in contrast, what promises much but delivers little. So we must make sure we’re following the right person (commandment 1); worshipping Him in the right way (commandment 2); and talking about Him and to Him appropriately (commandment 3). Get this right, and everything else should follow. Second, is love your neighbour, that’s covered in commandments 5-10. Put your plant in the right soil—because you’ve listened to the expert—with the right amount of sunlight and water is a great start, but if your plant doesn’t get on with those around it, whether by crowding them out or if they steal it’s food sources, then there won’t be the necessary harmony in the flower bed. Living a good life is a community project; how you relate to others matters, it affects your happiness and theirs! This starts with your family (commandment 5), but widens out to others both in their life (commandment 6), their family (commandment 7), their goods (commandment 8 & 10), and their freedom and security (commandment 9). No man is an island, we are all connected and only by working together—as God’s people—can we live the life we’re called to live.

You’ll have noticed that I’ve missed one of the commandments out, number 4:

‘Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God.’

Here is the bridge, here is the connection between loving God and loving neighbour, rest! At first glance it seems a strange bridge, but on reflection, I think it makes a lot of sense. In our modern world where God is all but forgotten people are working harder and harder, why? Because without God the burden of the world, the burden of creating a happy and prosperous life, is all on our shoulders. Our nation is exhausted, people are burning-out, left, right, and centre because they think it is all down to them and if they have to work and so does everyone else. Getting our head in the right space (commandments 1-3), remembering who is in charge—God not me—allows us to actually properly rest, in body, mind, and spirit. If we rest we’re in much better space to treat everyone properly. I don’t know about you, but when I’m tried I get grumpy and take it out on those around me. Tired Mike makes everyone else grumpy. Rested Mike, however, is much more likely to be able to serve and care for others, as commandments 5-10 demand. Here is why rest is crucial, and why rest is the bridge between loving God and loving neighbour. Much like plants, if us human beings, are connected to our Creator having the right balance of rest and growth, and relating correctly to those around us we’ll flourish, and so will our neighbours.

Be aware, it won’t all be sunshine and roses, the life of a gardener, and those of his plants isn’t all easy, even if you are following all the advice and do everything right. Weeds still grow. Animals still come and steal. Diseases still damage and destroy. A growing, flourishing, and blooming garden still has its difficulties; in fact a beautiful garden with much fruit often attracts those who would do it harm. The same is true for us. Jesus in our Gospel—which is His representation of Exodus 20, His affirmation and deepening of the Ten Commandments—warns those who listen to God, those consequently who are flourishing in so many ways,  that they may well be: ‘persecuted because of righteousness’ and that others will: ‘insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of [your faith]’. Living life well, living life like you mean it, living life to its fullness in following the commandments of God the Father and the beatitudes of God the Son, will not be a life of sunshine and roses, it will not be a life above the cares of the world, it will not be a life without hardship and pain. However, it will be the best life, it will be the fullest life, it will be a life with the most joy and fulfilment, even amidst the weeds, the slugs, and the diseases. It is the way to be fulfilled and fruitful in the most meaningful and enduring way. So, let’s listen to God, consider our lives in the light of His rules in Exodus, and His beatitudes in the Gospel, and then make the changes we need in order to live like we mean it! Amen (from Fr Mike).