Living by the rulebook
Exodus 20: 7-12
7 You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.
8 Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9 For six days you shall labour 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 Honour your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
In my day job as a solicitor, I am surrounded by laws and rules. ‘The Civil Procedure Rules’ alone run to over 3,000 pages, and that's just Volume 1. In this reading, pretty early on in the story of God's relationship with humanity, he sets out some ground rules for us. They are known in churchy circles as “The Ten Commandments”.
The 2 rules we are looking at today are pretty countercultural for us. Walk down any high street in Britain today and you can almost be sure to hear the words "God", "Jesus" and "Christ" used as swear words rather than the names or titles of the maker of the universe and the Saviour of the world. Likewise, the Sabbath seems like a pretty quaint, old fashioned idea, in the same sort of category as wearing a tie to church or giving up your seat on the bus to an old lady. Sundays are for trailing round the local mall, taking the kids to rugby practice, or catching up on the emails which have been clogging our work inboxes all week.
But these rules are important – they come after God's commands to put Him first – and they are designed to fix our thoughts on God's holiness. When we meet with God, we're not meeting a benevolent uncle or best friend, we are engaging with the ultimate in love and justice, the Lord, the Author of the Universe. Respecting God's name is part of respecting God. When we cheapen it through misuse, we cheapen humankind.
God also tells us we need to rest. The 24/7 lifestyle also cheapens our community. We lose rhythm and pace and gain chaos and noise.
The commandments were given by God for our benefit. They are designed to regulate our communities and engender healthy relationships, firstly between us and God and secondly between us and our neighbours.
We praise your name and give thanks for all you continue to do for us.
Thank you for the gift of rest. May we use it wisely and regularly.
We stand amazed that despite your greatness and power, you still want to call us your child.
Help us to come to you full of wonder that we may open our hearts to you, free from any condemnation, because of the sacrifice of your son, Jesus. In whose name we pray, Amen.