Sermons from San Diego

Thou Should: How the Ten Commandments Describe Staying Free

October 08, 2023 Mission Hills UCC - United Church of Christ Season 1 Episode 10
Thou Should: How the Ten Commandments Describe Staying Free
Sermons from San Diego
More Info
Sermons from San Diego
Thou Should: How the Ten Commandments Describe Staying Free
Oct 08, 2023 Season 1 Episode 10
Mission Hills UCC - United Church of Christ

Read Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 to hear where we find true liberation

If this sermon was meaningful to you, learn more about the rest of our church at You are invited to support the ministry of Mission Hills United Church of Christ with a one time or recurring contribution -

Show Notes Transcript

Read Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 to hear where we find true liberation

If this sermon was meaningful to you, learn more about the rest of our church at You are invited to support the ministry of Mission Hills United Church of Christ with a one time or recurring contribution -

Sermons from 

Mission Hills UCC

San Diego, California



Rev. Dr. David Bahr


October 8, 2023


“Thou Should”




Exodus 20: 1-4, 7-9, 12-21Common English Bible

Then God spoke all these words:

2 I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

3 You must have no other gods before[a] me.

4 Do not make an idol for yourself—no form whatsoever—of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth.

7 Do not use the Lord your God’s name as if it were of no significance; the Lord won’t forgive anyone who uses his name that way.

8 Remember the Sabbath day and treat it as holy. 9 Six days you may work and do all your tasks,

12 Honor your father and your mother so that your life will be long on the fertile land that the Lord your God is giving you.

13 Do not kill.[a]

14 Do not commit adultery.

15 Do not steal.

16 Do not testify falsely against your neighbor.

17 Do not desire and try to take your neighbor’s house. Do not desire and try to take your neighbor’s wife, male or female servant, ox, donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor.

18 When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the horn, and the mountain smoking, the people shook with fear and stood at a distance. 19 They said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we’ll listen. But don’t let God speak to us, or we’ll die.”

20 Moses said to the people, “Don’t be afraid, because God has come only to test you and to make sure you are always in awe of God so that you don’t sin.” 21 The people stood at a distance while Moses approached the thick darkness in which God was present.



Moses saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew slave and felt a righteous indignation rise from within.  Impulsively, he murdered the man and temporarily hid his body in the sand.  He thought he had gotten away with it, but when he went the next day to dispose of the body, he was busted.  Before Pharaoh could kill him too, he ran as fast and as far as he could until he arrived in Midian.  He settled down there and took up shepherding.  While at work one day, he came across a burning bush that called out to him.  The voice of God spoke to Moses to convince him to go back to Egypt and lead the Hebrew people out of slavery.  Out of all people, God chose Moses – a stuttering murderer with a stunning lack of self-confidence.


Moses pleaded with God to send someone else, anyone else.  Nevertheless, God persisted and to each objection, God provided an answer.  Don’t worry, “I’ll be with you.  And this will show you that I’m the one who sent you.  After you bring the people out of Egypt, you will come back here and worship God on this mountain.”


So here we are, 10 plagues behind them, a miraculous exit through the sea, and now they are exactly three months removed from Egypt, a time characterized, as you know, more with groaning, griping, grousing, and grumbling than gratitude but, now they have entered the Sinai desert and set up camp below a mountain.  As it happens, the same mountain as the burning bush.  I hadn’t made that connection before – called both Mount Horeb and Mount Sinai.  God said, “After you bring the people out of Egypt, you will come back here and worship God on this mountain.”  And now here they are.


God called Moses up the mountain to deliver a message:  “Remind the people what I did to the Egyptians and how I lifted you on eagle’s wings and brought you to me.  Tell them to faithfully obey and stay true to my covenant and you will be my most precious possession of all the peoples on earth.”  


Moses came back down the mountain and told the people to wash their clothes and prepare for a holy event.  When morning dawned on the third day, the people heard the blast of a very loud horn and shook in fear.  God pounded Mount Sinai with lightning and the horn blasts grew louder and louder.  And then Moses brought the people to the foot of the mountain so they could meet God.  They were warned not to come too close or they would fall dead from pure holiness. 


Back on the mountain God had told Moses, “I’m about to come to you in a thick cloud and the people will hear me talking with you so they will always trust you.”  And then God spoke these words for everyone to hear:

  • I am God, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of a life of slavery.  You must have no other gods before me.  


And then continued nine more statements about idols and the use of God’s name, keeping Sabbath, honoring father and mother, prohibitions against murder, adultery, theft, false testimony, and not just don’t take what doesn’t belong to you but don’t even desire it.  Thou shalt not.


Moses was down below with the people when God spoke through the thick darkness.  And then Moses went up the mountain again.  This story is told in both the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy, each with a version of the Ten Commandments that are nearly identical but not exactly identical.  The biggest difference is the reason for Sabbath.  


In Exodus, in the verses which the lectionary skips over for some reason, the reason to keep Sabbath is connected to one of the stories of Creation.  Because the Lord made the heavens and earth, the sea, and everything that is in them in six days, but rested on the seventh day, “therefore, remember the Sabbath day and treat it holy.  Don’t do any work on it – not you, your sons or daughters, your male and female servants, your animals, or the immigrant who is living with you.    


But in Deuteronomy, the reason for Sabbath is not connected to creation but to what the people had just gone through.  Here is what Deuteronomy 5 says:  “Keep the Sabbath day and treat it as holy…”  It repeats, “don’t do any work on it – not you, your sons or daughters, your male or female servants, your oxen or donkeys or any of your animals, or the immigrant who is living among you (same as Exodus, but just for clarification, Deuteronomy adds) – so that your male and female servants can rest just like you.”  But then the rationale is significantly different:  Not because of creation but to “remember that you were a slave in Egypt, but the Lord your God brought you out of there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm.”  The text explains, “That’s why the Lord your God commands you to keep the Sabbath day.”


In Deuteronomy, you are free from slavery and now, this is how you live free.  But not just you.  You are not to impose different expectations upon others than I have placed on you – it is for immigrants and servants too.  In that way, rest represents freedom.  Freedom from the rat race.  Liberation from the constant pursuit of money, fame, or power.  Rest from striving.  Rest that you may remember who you were, because once you were enslaved, but this is who God has made you to be.  This is not a word just to people thousands of years ago, but a word for us too.


Tricia Hersey recently wrote a book called Rest is Resistance about how to be free from the “grind culture.”[1]  As in, constantly grinding it out.  She is a big advocate of taking naps and says we need time to sleep so we have time to dream, otherwise we will be trapped in dehumanizing systems that oppress our minds and bodies – both our own and, crucially, like the Sabbath commandment, what we expect others to do for us too.  


Back to the story.  The people heard God speak the words of the Ten Commandments and then told Moses, “um, going forward, in the future, would you please speak to us yourself?  We pinky-promise to listen.  Just don’t let God speak to us again or we’ll die.”  Why?  Were they afraid that exposure to pure holiness was like nuclear radiation?  But Moses encouraged them, saying “It’s really simple.  Just live in awe of God and you won’t stray from the path God has laid out for you.  God has shown you how you can be truly free from the bondage of your past.”  Which, again, is not just about them but includes you and me.  What have we been through and what can free you and I from our past mistakes and failures and faults?  How do we get free?  But then, how do we stay free?  Here it is:


Make no idols made out of gold and silver or Bitcoin or stocks.  Rest, and let others rest too.  Treat immigrants like you treat citizens.  Don’t desire what isn’t yours.  Worship just one God, not the almighty dollar or anything else, maybe like the almighty need for perfection.  Don’t tell lies about other people to get them in trouble (or get yourself out of trouble).  Honor your father and mother (some of us might need a little clarifying conversation about that).  And no lying or stealing or murder.  I am the Lord your God.  Have no other gods before me.


So, after the commandments were laid out, that’s when Moses approached the thick darkness in which God was present and went up the mountain to work out the fine print.  We may think, oh the Ten Commandments, they’re so simple.  Not easy, mind you, but simple.  However, it then took God 40 more days and 40 nights to reveal the rest of the instruction manual to Moses.  Instructions about worship.  Instructions about slaves.  Instructions about human violence.  Instructions about animals and property.  Instructions about sabbaths and festivals.  And pages and pages with details about building tables and lampstands and altars and instructions about fashion for priests.


Some of the instructions are beyond boring to the point of causing your eyes to glaze over and fatigue to set in.  And some of them are downright fascinating.  For example, “When you see a donkey that belongs to someone who hates you and it’s fallen under the burden of its load, you might not feel like helping it get up because it belongs to your enemy, but you must help set it free.”


It took Moses so long to write all these things down or memorize them or whatever it was that he could do to remember pages and pages of detailed instructions; it took so long that the people started getting nervous.  Maybe Moses had been vaporized by the nuclear-equivalent of pure holiness and he would never return.  They started pressuring Aaron to break the commandments almost as soon as they had heard them straight from God.  That’s next week.  


Kathleen Norris said that for years, she hated hearing the Ten Commandments read aloud in church because they seemed so overwhelmingly negative.  “Thou shalt not, thou shalt not, thou shalt not…”  Perhaps, she said, if church folk had left them at ten, but in her small-town America, ten became eleven, Thou shalt not play cards, which became twelve, Thou shalt not go dancing… 


Her father was a Methodist preacher in South Dakota in the 1920s and 30s.  He chewed his cigars just to make sure none of his church members could smell smoke on him.  He had reason to be careful.  He had been fired from a previous church in West Virginia for teaching hymns to the youth group on a banjo!  Talk about thou shalt not!  As a boy in a strict religious home he had been forbidden to go to a movie theatre.  When he left for college, on his first day of freedom he went to three movies all in a row.[2]  


And wouldn’t it be more appealing to hear Thou Should instead of Thou Shalt Not?  We’d probably be just as prone to break them, but who knows?  The Prophet Micah speaks in terms of Thou Should:  do justice, thou should love mercy, thou should walk humbly with your God.  Jesus summed the commandments into two thou shoulds:  Thou should love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength.  Thou should love your neighbor as yourself.  Which is actually a third thou should.  Thou should love yourself in the midst of loving your neighbor


A few years ago I came across a list of thou shoulds that I want to share as my closing.[3]  Thou should:

  • Listen without interrupting
  • Speak without accusing
  • Thou should Answer without arguing
  • Forgive without punishing
  • Thou should Promise without forgetting
  • Share without pretending
  • Thou should Give without sparing
  • Trust without wavering
  • Pray without ceasing
  • And some advice to the wilderness wanderers munching on honey wafers and drinking sweetened water, thou should Enjoy without complaining.


But just as importantly, to consider not just thou but everyone.  Isn’t that also the point of the Ten Commandments?

Everyone should have a place at the table[4]

Everyone should have clean water and bread

Everyone should have a shelter and safe place for growing

For everyone born, for young and for old, 

A voice to be heard, a part in the song, the right to belong, and both thou and everyone should have the right to be free.


[1] Tricia Hersey, Rest is Resistance: A Manifesto, Little, Brown Spark, 2022
[2] Kathleen Norris, Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith, Riverhead Books, 1998, p. 85
[3] Anonymous with my adaptations
[4] From the song For Everyone Born, lyrics by Shirley Erena Murray, 1998, Hope Publishing Company.  Adapted