Be careful little eyes what you see. O be careful little eyes what you see! For the Father up above, he is looking down in love, so be careful little eyes what you see.
Remember that children’s song from when you were a child? The song would progress with verses like be careful little ears what you hear, be careful little feet where you go, be careful little hands what you do, and on and on. The idea being that our Heavenly Father is looking down in love, so we must be careful what we do, because God sees everything.
God sees everything. God sees what we do, in public or private; God sees where we go, God hears the things we say, God knows what we think; as the Psalmist says, God is acquainted with our innermost parts.
So it’s fair to say that God knows if we’re keeping the commandments; specifically the Ten Commandments.
That’s what we’re examining today: the Ten Commandments of fame. Along with the twenty-third Psalm and John 3:16, this is one of the most famous pieces of scripture. It’s actually in the Old Testament twice: most famously in Exodus but also found in Deuteronomy. Today, we’re reviewing all ten of the commandments in Exodus as we continue our sermon series on covenant: examining the promises of God.
Be careful little hands what you do. Be careful little mind what you desire. Be careful little feet where you go. Be careful little eyes what you see. For God is looking down at you, seeing what you do.
The Israelites were terrified. Not only are they receiving these commandments directly from God, they’re witnessing God’s glory and power first-hand. As they face Mount Sinai, they see the mountain smoke, they hear the voice coming out of a terrible thunderstorm, full of lightning. Moses has to calm them down because they are scared out of their minds.
Who wouldn’t be? Especially considering that God has just told them how they’d better act, or else. Be careful little Israelites what you do. I’m looking down in love, so you better watch yourself.
God’s instructions to them are to be sure that you:
Have no other gods before me
Make no idols
Don’t misuse my name
Keep the sabbath
Honor your parents
Don’t kill people
Don’t cheat on your spouse
Don’t be jealous of what others have
Make sure you do those things, little Israelites, because I’m looking down in love. You’d better watch yourself. Or else.
Or else what?
God says in verses five and six: “You shall not bow down to [idols] or worship them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
So, if you worship other idols, rejecting God, your children, your children’s children, and their children will all be punished. If your parents worshipped other idols, even if you’re faithful, you yourself and your children, along with your parents, will all be punished.
So be careful little families whom you worship, for God is looking down in love, so you’d better watch yourself. Or else.
Or else what? It appears from verses 5 and 6 the answer is face the punishment of divine wrath to the third and fourth generation.
So, we’d better keep the commandments to avoid that punishment. If God is watching, looking down in love as the children’s song says, we’d better be very sure that we’re keeping the commandments, lest we bring punishment to ourselves and three or four generations beyond us.
I think we’d better do a check-up: how are we doing following these Ten Commandments? Let’s run through the list, asking ourselves if we’re keeping or violating each of the commandments:
Do you have other gods? Certainly, I doubt any of us have idols set up in our houses, but that’s not the issue at stake in the first commandment. No, that’s the second commandment, and I bet we’re all pretty free of images of gods in our homes made out of earthly materials. So we’re probably good on keeping the second commandment.
But the first commandment means anything we center our lives around besides God. What dictates the decisions you make? Money? Time? Advancement in the workplace? Personal gain of some kind? Power? Reputation? Desire for something you can’t have? If the answer to any of those is yes, you’re in violation of the first commandment.
As for the third commandment, have you texted “omg” lately? If so, you’ve violated the third commandment, just as if you vocally said God, Lord, Jesus, or any other name for God in any way other than with respect or addressing God in prayer.
For the fourth commandment, do you set aside a day for rest? We spent last Lent talking about keeping a regular sabbath practice, exactly what God commands here. If you don’t, you’re in violation of the fourth commandment.
Do you show honor to your parents? If not, you’re in violation of the fifth commandment.
Are there any murderers among us? Probably not, but let us be mindful that Jesus said if we look at someone with hate in our hearts, we’ve violated the sixth commandment.
For the seventh commandment, we must be mindful that Jesus complicated this one too: if we have even looked at someone with lust, we have committed adultery and broken the seventh commandment.
Have you ever stolen anything? Even unintentionally? Then the eighth commandment is broken.
Have you ever lied? That’s the ninth commandment. I imagine we’ve all violated that one at least once in our lives.
Have you ever been super jealous of what someone else has, scheming and spending much mental energy trying to figure out how to get one yourself? That’s the tenth commandment and I imagine we’ve all violated that one at least once in our lives.
So, based on this quick review, it seems like we’re in violation of at least a few, if not several of these commandments. This week, I have violated the first, third, and tenth commandments. Be careful, little Ted, what you do, for the Father up above, he is looking down in love, so be careful little Ted what you do. Or else.
How’d you do? Be careful what you do, because the Father up above, he is looking down in love, so be careful what you do. Or else.
It seems we’d better keep the commandments. We’d better be much more careful about how we follow them. Just this week, I broke three. How’d you do? We’d better get our act together because God is watching, God sees all, and God will punish us.
Let’s admit this morning that this certainly doesn’t feel like love. That’s what the old children’s song says: that we should be careful what we do because God is looking down in love. But this doesn’t feel at all like love. It feels like big brother.
This also feels like that old sermon you might have read in English Lit by Jonathan Edwards, called, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” You’d better follow these commandments, or else that angry God will smite you.
This review of the commandments also doesn’t feel particularly Methodist. Where’s the grace? Where’s the unconditional love? Where’s the hope?
So this doesn’t feel like love. It doesn’t feel Methodist. It feels like judgment from an angry God who’s watching us ready to reject us if we fail to keep these commandments. It feels like God is ready at a moment’s notice, with the slightest provocation, to not only punish us, but to reject us.
Except that’s not what it says here in Exodus.
Let’s look more closely at verses 5 and 6. God says that punishment comes not for those whom God rejects but for those who reject God. God isn’t rejecting anyone! There’s no rejection for failure to follow the Ten Commandments. No, the issue here is for people who reject God themselves; families who reject God. God’s concern here is that the people accept him, the people choose relationship with him, not the other way around.
So the issue at stake is whether or not people are rejecting relationship with God. There are no consequences listed here for failure to uphold the Ten Commandments.
Which is astonishing! Consider that these Ten Commandments are the bedrock of the law. All the rest of the law in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy come from these ten laws. And almost all of the rest of the law comes with clear consequences: slaughter that bird properly for sacrifice, or else; treat your slave respectfully, or else; don’t eat shellfish, or else.
But not here. Not at the apex of the law. Not among the most crucial teachings of the law. There’s no consequence for failure to uphold the Ten Commandments. There’s no declaration of smiting or destruction or anything of that nature. These Ten Commandments don’t include the phrase, “or else.”
What God wants is relationship with people. And so, the language of punishing those who reject God to the third or fourth generation isn’t about a threat for not being in relationship. It, instead, sets up a powerful rhetorical argument by God. Where God might punish for three or four generations for the family who rejects relationship, God will reward to the thousandth generation those who choose to have relationship!
Thus, what we see here is that God’s love exceeds God’s punishment by a factor of a thousand.
There is no “or else” to the Ten Commandments. There is no threat of divine punishment. There are no specified consequences for failure to keep the Ten Commandments. So what are we to make of these Ten Commandments?
As Jesus was teaching the people during his earthly ministry, that same question came up. The people would ask what they were supposed to do about the law. The pharisees were teaching that they had to follow the law to the letter, or else God would be very angry. Sound familiar? Sounds just like that children’s song: be careful what you do because God is watching.
The Sadducees were also concerned that the law be followed, for different reasons than the pharisees, but they expected the people to keep the law to the letter, too, out of fear of the consequences of God’s righteous wrath.
And let’s be clear this morning, as we’ve said in past sermons: God’s righteous wrath exists. And we want that. We want God’s wrath to come down upon injustice and oppression in whatever form they present themselves. We commit when we join the church to work against those exact things.
But Jesus didn’t tell the people to follow the law to prevent God’s wrath, whether against them individually or against the nation as a whole. Jesus didn’t tell them they’d better keep the law to the exacting letter, taking only so many steps on the sabbath, making sure they brought exactly the right sacrifices to the temple, and so on.
No, Jesus said that God has high standards: looking lustfully equals committing adultery and harboring hate in our hearts equals murder. Those are very tough standards indeed.
But then Jesus tells the people that the law, the entire law, the law built off these Ten Commandments, can be summed up in two commandments: love God, love neighbor.
In other words, the basis of the law is love. God’s love for us. God’s call on our lives to love him back. And God’s call on our lives to love our neighbor just as God has loved us.
And we can keep the law, keep the commandments, if we will love God and love our neighbor.
So what do we do with these Ten Commandments? How do we interpret them for us today?
They are the guideposts for how to be in healthy relationship with God. In other words, we follow the Ten Commandments not to keep God happy, not to make sure God doesn’t smite us, not because we’re afraid of the consequences of not following them or fearful of God’s wrath. No, we follow the Ten Commandments because we are in love with God and want to show respect to our relationship with God.
Let us then reject the old children’s song. God is watching us in love but not to make sure that we’re following the rules, not with an eye on our behavior ready to smite us or otherwise heap consequences upon us if we fail to uphold standards. God’s love means that God is watching us with just that: love. Like a good mother or father, God sees us as his children, celebrating with us when we do the right thing and mourning with us when we do the wrong thing.
And like all relationships, there are certain standards or guidelines for how to be in healthy relationship together. In our marriages, in our families, with our friends, there are certain standards or guidelines for how to be in healthy relationship. There are lines we shouldn’t cross, there are things we should do, in order to maintain that healthy relationship.
So it is for our relationship with God. And that’s where these Ten Commandments fit in. They’re the guidelines, the standards, for being in healthy relationship with God.
And when we fail to uphold any of them, which let us admit is quite often, it doesn’t bring down consequences. No, it tears at the fabric of the relationship between us and God and between us and our neighbors. It makes our relationship with God a little weaker. It harms our relationships with each other when we lie, or cheat, or hate, or fail to uphold the sabbath. Just as when we cross the line with a spouse or a family member or a friend and we discover that the relationship is now weaker; the fabric of the relationship has new tears.
But, like in any healthy relationship, rather than smiting or heaping consequences, God offers healing to the rips in the fabric of our relationship. God offers us redemption, God restores us to right relationship, because God is love.
God is watching us in love like a good mother or father. God wants the best for us, God has provided love and grace to us in abundance.
There is no greater example than the cross and the empty tomb. God came down in human form to know us, to be one of us, to find out what life is like for us, and to show us the way. And when we met God in the flesh, we humans decided to destroy God by hanging him on the cross.
We humans had violated the law in the most terrible way possible: we attempted to kill God. We did exactly what God says not to do in verse 5 of the Ten Commandments: we rejected God.
So, if ever there was reason to reject humanity and walk away from God’s covenant promise to always be with us and to always be our God, it was that moment on the cross when we had violated verse 5 of the Ten Commandments, rejecting the God who came to us in love.
But, God came out of the empty tomb, rising from the dead, and in doing so proclaimed loudly and boldly that God would still be our God, that God still desired relationship with us, and that God still loved us. We might reject God, but God will not reject us, no matter how bad our behavior, no matter how many of the Ten Commandments we break.
And we, in turn, should show that love back out of respect for God, for Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, and out of the love for God we have that’s inspired by all that God has done for us.
And how do we show that respect to God? How do we maintain healthy relationship?
We pray, of course. And we follow the teachings of Jesus about these commandments from Matthew 22 and across the New Testament. Hear Jesus’s words: “Jesus said… ‘”You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’” Including, and perhaps especially, the Ten Commandments.
If we will strive to do our best to love God and love our neighbor, we will keep the commandments, we will show respect to God for all God has done, and we will be a good neighbor to our families, friends, coworkers, and all who know us.
We can get caught up in worrying about God’s wrath, about how God might view us, about God keeping track of our sins. But Jesus, and indeed the Ten Commandments themselves, offer us a different perspective, a different vision of our relationship with God. That different perspective says that we maintain a healthy relationship with God and each other when we do our best to:
Love God. Love your neighbor.
If we will strive to do these two commandments, we will walk in God’s ways. If we will strive to keep these two commandments, we will honor and show respect for our relationship with God. We will know healthy relationship with God and we will know healthy relationships with each other, our neighbors.
So, be loving of each other and of God. Be loving of each other and of God. For the Father up above, he is looking down in love, so be loving of each other and of God.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Amen.