Inherit the Blessing
March 19, 2006
The Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Godlefski, Pastor
Montgomery United Methodist Church
Exodus 20: 1-17
The Ten Commandments
1And God spoke all these words, saying,
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 a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, 6but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.
7"You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.
8"Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
12"Honor your father and your mother, 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 his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor's."
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, good morning! Our sermon title is “Inherit the Blessing.” I want to talk to you today about this remarkable passage of scripture. First, I’d like you to know a truth:
I inherit the goodness of God. God is my heavenly Father and my best friend. Something wonderful is coming my way.
I believe that those promises are wrapped up in the Ten Commandments, and I want to show you how. We’re going to take a look at a very tough portion of scripture this morning, something that you might have wondered about. It might have made you feel uncomfortable.
The second half of verse 5 says, “You shall not bow down to them [that is, idols] or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquities of their 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.”
Now, jump to verse 8: “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. You shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 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.”
Now, when I was a boy growing up, we learned the Ten Commandments and we thought they were all pretty much the same length in the scripture. “I am the Lord thy God. Thou shall not have strange gods before me.” “I shall not take the name of the Lord in vain.” “Remember the Lord’s Day and keep it holy.” “Honor thy father and thy mother.” “Thou shall not kill.” We thought they were all short sentences.
But what we see here in the scripture is that some of the commandments get a lot more airtime than others. I wonder why? Could it be that God has a special message for us in those lengthier commandments?
I heard a story once that I hope with all my heart isn’t true. It seems a pastor wanted to increase attendance, so he put a sign up in front of the church: “This week only – Manager’s Special! Keep any 8 of the 10 commandments, your choice.”
Anyway, we have a lot of commandments that God evidently thinks are self-explanatory. Look, starting at verse 13: “You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not lie.” Those are pretty clear.
But God took time to explain commandments one and three. God is putting special emphasis on those. It’s not that the others are less important; they’re all important.
Let’s take a look at the tough one: “I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquities of their parents, to the third and fourth generation of those who reject me.” Does that make you feel uncomfortable? It makes me uncomfortable. How do we reconcile ourselves to that? We believe in the Bible, but a jealous God? Punishing children to the third and fourth generation? How do we get our arms around that scripture?
Let me suggest something to you. Let’s take the jealous God part first. The thing to remember is that we see the scripture through the lens of a rather primitive people. The thoughts of God were vibrating in the mind of the Bible writer, but these folks were just fairly recently out of the caves. This is remarkably sophisticated stuff for people of that time. So the way that they understood the inkling of God is that God described Himself as jealous – but here it is: Isn’t ‘jealous’ the language of love? Don’t we feel jealous sometimes about that which we love? Don’t we sometimes express love in terms of jealousy? Aren’t they linked? I think that’s what’s happening here.
The Biblical truth which is shining through for us is this – God loves us, and He wants our love. He sets Himself up in such a way that God is somehow incomplete without you. The jealous message is that God allows Himself to be somehow incomplete without you. His day just isn’t complete unless He’s heard from you. And we aren’t complete unless we’re in touch with God. That’s why our first healthy habit is to pray every day. Make your visit to the temple of the Lord in your heart every day, because God is incomplete without us. God says, “I’m a jealous God. I long for you. I long for our daily visits.”
What about ‘punishing to the third and fourth generation’? I thank that means that God is trying to tell us earthly parents, and all of us who have an influence on somebody, that our teaching is powerful. What you pass on to your children or your friends or your loved ones has tremendous impact. It can be intergenerational. God bless every one of you who has had near-perfect parents. Those of you who have had such loving homes and such consistency of love, I bless you. Pass on the blessing. But to those of you who’ve had a rougher time, maybe you’re struggling with intergenerational difficulty that has been passed on to you. I confess to you that I have spent a fair amount of time with counselors, dealing with hurts and frustrations that have been passed on to me, especially through my dad. I can only imagine how his great-grandfather may have passed on very difficult stuff to him.
And yet it is with the belief that my dad’s spirit was with me that I did that crying and counseling, to help me break the curse. You, too! Break the curse! Say, “This is it! This is the end of the negative stuff. I’m going to put it behind me and go on in the grace of God.”
Third and fourth generation simply means that you are the greatest teacher your children will ever have. You might be saying, “Pastor, I did my best. I baptized my children and took them to Sunday School. But they’re not going to church now.” Give it time. It’s okay. You told them where home is. God will work on their hearts from there.
So, you are the greatest teacher of your children, my friend. You be the curse-breaker.
I had a remarkable experience with a young person in our church. God bless her. I asked her, “What can we adults do to help young people today with peer pressure and such?” I will ever remember her answer. She said, “Two things – be overly interested in us. Butt in. Ask us a lot of questions. Be concerned. That’s number one. And tell us about Jesus. Tell us about Jesus, because not enough kids know about God and Jesus.” Break the curse; pass on the blessing. And you’ll break that cycle of negativity, and you’ll go on to the second part of that verse that says, “showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those that love me and keep my commandments.” You see, God is saying, “This is what I really want. I want this tremendous flow of blessing forever.” Ride that stream. Participate in that flow of blessing. You are inheritors of the goodness of God. Pass it on. That’s what God wants from you and from me.
God’s favor is with you, my friend. Wake up in the morning and say, “God is my father and my best friend. Something wonderful is coming my way.” That’s His will. That’s what it says in the scripture.
And finally, please, look at verse 8, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” Look at all the territory that takes up. Well, I’m preaching to the choir, because you’re all here today. But it’s also God’s love letter. God is saying, “I love you so much, I’m incomplete without you. You’re incomplete without me. Let’s get together on Sunday morning. Let’s dedicate a day to thinking and remembering about each other. Let’s dedicate a day to our love, and wonderful blessings will come your way.”
So, let it be, my friends. Say it out loud: “I am the inheritor of God’s goodness. God is my heavenly father and my best friend. Something wonderful is coming my way,” because God loves you. I do, too. Have a blessed week. Amen.
© 2006 Anthony J. Godlefski