Exodus 20: 1, 4, 8; 12 – 17 Dancing the Decalogue   October 4, 2020


Dancing the Decalogue

Exodus 20: 1, 4, 8; 12 – 17

 (preached October 4, 2020)


Are you the sort of person who likes to know the rules?  When you sit down with friends for a game of bridge or Scrabble, do you first make sure everyone knows what the rules are?  Rules are important.  A child who rebels, causing all kinds of trouble, is often relieved when her father or mother sticks to the rules.  For us adults, whether our game is golf or football, the rules tell us what is expected.  Rules are important.  Rules make driving safer, games more fun, family life more harmonious.


As you listened to our passage for today from the Hebrew Scriptures’ book of Exodus, maybe you found yourself thinking about rules.  In this passage, God speaks to the people of Israel, giving them the rules commonly called the Ten Commandments.  Sometimes the commandments are referred to by their Greek name, which is the Decalogue.  The word Decalogue simply means ten words, but of course the Decalogue is not just any set of words.  It’s a set of rules to live by.


Some years ago, a judge in Alabama wanted to show the importance of the Decalogue.  Judge Roy Moore caused a lot of controversy when he commissioned a granite monument of the Ten Commandments.  He installed it in the state supreme court building in the capital and refused to remove it.


As a result, Moore lost his job. But that didn’t stop his campaign for the commandments.  He took his show on the road, literally.  He traveled the country towing the granite monument, nicknamed the Rock, on a large flatbed truck.  It was heavy and difficult to tow.  Getting it off the truck was not a piece of cake either.  Author Joshua Green, writing in The Atlantic Monthly, describes it this way:


“[The Rock] doesn’t look that heavy.  [But when]…it’s time to take it off the truck, you see the twenty-three foot crane on the back of the International flatbed jerk slowly to life…the entire contraption [groans] under the strain of all those pounds of granite”  (Green, The Atlantic Monthly, October 2005, p. 70).


It must be quite a sight to see the Rock lifted off its truck by a groaning crane and put on display.  The sheer weight of the thing is awe-inspiring!  It weighs two and a half tons.  That’s about 500 pounds per commandment.


God gave the commandments to our spiritual ancestors, the Hebrew people, to be rules for their community.  But sometimes I think they’ve become burdens for us, cumbersome weights to be lugged around.  We think of them as a heavy set of do’s and don’ts, laid upon us by a God who wags a finger and says, “Here are ten rules.  Obey them!”  They seem like a set of onerous regulations imposed on us by a God who thunders, “Do this or else!”  So we tend to hear these commandments with a weary sigh, as if they’re heavy burdens to bear.

But does God intend the commandments to be heavy burdens for us to bear?  Let’s take a closer look at the way God introduces the commandments in the first place.


Listen again to the way God introduces these rules to live by.  What does God say before there’s any talk about do’s and don’ts?  God says, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”  Before any law is laid down, God says, “I am the One who brought you out of slavery into freedom.”


The Ten Commandments are given by a God who longs for you and me to live in freedom.  Could we receive them, not as burdens, but as an invitation from a God who sets us free?  Instead of a list of scolding “thou shalt not’s,” could they be a way to freedom, from a God who created us to live in peace?


I got a new understanding of the Ten Commandments from preacher Tom Long.  Long compares God’s relationship with us to a dance.  If we want to symbolize the presence of the Ten Commandments among us, Long says, “we would do well to hold a dance.  The music is the good news of the God who sets people free.  The commandments are the dance steps of those who hear the music playing.  The commandments are not weights.  They are wings that enable us to catch the wind of God’s Spirit and to soar” (Long, The Christian Century, March 7, 2006).


What would life be like if we heard the Ten Commandments; not as a list of scolding “thou shalt nots,” but as steps in a dance, moving to the rhythms of God’s liberating grace?  What would life be like if we were to hear them this way:


“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and now you are set free.  You are free from the need of any other gods.  From now on, I will be your God and you will be my people.  I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and now you are set free.  Because you will set aside one day every week as a holy day, a day of rest, you are set free from the relentless 24/7 grind of working.  You are free to spend one day out of every seven, relaxing with your family, enjoying the beauty of this world that I have made.


“I am the God who sets you free.  So, because you are to honor your mother and your father, you yourself will be free.  Because your community will honor the fathers and mothers among you, you are free of the fear that when you grow old your children will abandon you.  My commandment to honor your parents will ensure that the elderly among you will be cared for.


“I am the God who sets you free.  So, because you are to be faithful to your wife or to your husband, you will be free of any worry that your marriage will be destroyed by infidelity.  My commandment not to commit adultery sets you free from the fear that your husband or your wife will be unfaithful.

“And because I am your God, you are free to make a home for yourselves in the land, to raise your family and go about your work without the threat of murder, or robbery, or jealousy.”


The God who sets us free has taken us by the hand and invited us to dance.  The steps to the dance are the Decalogue.  When we dance the Decalogue, we are set free to move to the rhythms of God’s liberating grace.


Rev. Elva Merry Pawle

Pentecost 18





“Beatitudes” Albert Hay Malotte         
Maria Ferrante, Soprano