When I left US Steel and went to work running the business I ultimately owned, it was owned by a California based corporation that was constructing a semiconductor plant in the Phoenix area, and at the first meeting of the general managers of the various units of that corporation, I got introduced to the acronyms for the different types of semiconductors. Most of you are familiar of course with the term microprocessor, the central processing part of a computer, but are also familiar with the term, RAM, R-A-M, which stands for random-access-memory, the type of memory and semiconductor “chip” that temporarily, and I mean very temporarily, stores data that the computer needs for whatever function it is performing. RAM is usually denoted by the number of Megabytes, millions of bytes, or Gigabytes, billions of bytes — “bytes” being sort of digital “words” — it can store; we perhaps best visualize RAM by these little “jump drives,” which contain RAM chips.
But at that first meeting, I learned some other terms, too: ROM — read-only-memory, R-O-M, where there is information on the chip that is there permanently to be accessed but not written over, and variations thereof, such as PROM — programmable read-only- P-R-O-M, memory, which means that under the correct circumstances and with the proper equipment, something can be written on it,— and EPROM, erasable programmable read-only-memory, E-P-R-O-M, which I hope is self-descriptive because that is the extent of my knowledge. I’ll return, though, to that concept of EPROM in just a moment.
So in a computer, “words” are written on “chips” of silicon and germanium.
But today we are dealing with Ten — or is it, eleven? — words, that is the actual term used in the Bible where they appear, ten or eleven words better known as “commandments,” written not on silicon semiconductor chips, but on stone tablets. At least, that is the way the writer of Exodus presents the way humankind, through Moses on the mountain, was given these laws so fundamental to and generally universal to the human experience.
While it probably makes no difference, for those of you who come from a Lutheran background or a Roman Catholic background, the passage we just read might seem, well, “different.” In Deuteronomy, where pretty much the same words appear, what we call “the Ten Commandments” are actually, “divided” — differently from in Exodus, even though in different places both Exodus and Deuteronomy refer to ten words.
But the difference in dividing these words between Exodus and Deuteronomy and among Christians is why I say that there are in fact eleven Commandments, and that is not a. particularly controversial statement. While it is unimportant, this slide shows how what we call “Reformed Christians,” such as Presbyterians and Anglicans and Episcopalians, as well as Orthodox Christians, use the Ten Commandments the way we read them today, and how Lutherans and Roman Catholics use the grouping found in Deuteronomy. As with so many issues, the great Augustine, in the fourth and fifth century, provided what the Catholics follow.
But some of you know that I believe there are in fact two more commandments that God gave to Moses: “Thou shalt not be a smart,” well, fill in the blank, but the idea is that “Thou shalt not be a smart aleck,” and the other that I recently discovered in my research, “Thou shalt not post cat pictures on Facebook.”
But at any rate, to say that these Commandments are foundational to us is beyond being an understatement, it is a miss-statement. The Ten Commandments are “foundational,” like the rocks of the foundation of a pre-concrete house.
And it is amazing to me to find that it is not just Jewish and Christian peoples who follow much that we find in the Ten Commandments, at least in those six (or seven, I wish to be ecumenical) commandments dealing with how we relate to other human beings. Peoples who do not know the story of Moses and the stone tablets he received on the mountain on which those commandments were written, still accept many of those words, which is the actual term used in both Exodus and Deuteronomy, as I mentioned.
And what I at least used to like to say is that we humans possess within us what are sort of like EPROMs. EPROMs on which God has written those Ten Words. EPROMS, that is, erasable, in that we can erase, we can forget the words God has written to instruct us or can choose to ignore those words. It is not that agnostics or atheists cannot be good people and more observant perhaps of six of the Words than any of us, but none of them would consider that God has written on or in them, which, in my terms, is saying that they have chosen to erase from their EPROMs, their hearts and minds, at least some of those words, those teachings, and to re-write, re-program, only those things which suit their tastes.
Which is not to say that we Christians necessarily follow the programs written for us on our personal EPROM’s from which we take most of our direction; our actual behavior does not always coincide with those Ten or Eleven words or commandments by which God intends us to be directed. We sin, to use the correct term for when we so fail.
Though we think of those Commandments or Words as written on stone, in the way that is important, they are written on softer stuff, the EPROM’s that are our consciences, our minds, our hearts, our wills, and because we are human, they are far too easily erased, even if only temporarily.
Ah, but our EPROM’s can and do get reprogrammed as God intended them —when we are people of faith, for God as Father and Son has sent a part of God’s self to reside somewhere in our human computers: Has sent God as the Holy Spirit, speaking to us and helping correct our course, reprogramming what we have erased.
And one way that Holy Spirit does that reprogramming is by reminding us not just of the ten words that we call “commandments,’ but reminding us of The Word of God. And, “No,” the Bible is not “The Word of God,” the Bible helps us to find “The Word of God,” which the preface to the Gospel of John tells us in no uncertain terms is Jesus, the Son of God, who of course is God, or perhaps easier to understand, is one of the three persons in whom we know God.
Jesus made it clear to us that whether there are Ten Commandments or Eleven or Thirteen, all can be reduced to just two, what we often refer to as the meaning of the Ten Commandments as written on two stone tablets, one about our relation with God, the other about our relations with others: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength, and Love your neighbor as yourself — which I think is not talking about self-love, but rather, Love your neighbor as God loves you.
And how and on what did Jesus write those two commandments? On wood! On a relatively soft substance, on wood, the wood of the tree, of the cross to which he was nailed.
And they were not erasable, are not erasable — or rather, even if they begin to fade, they can be brought back to life, not “re-programmed” but rather re-energized, by our coming to this table, His table, and recalling that, on the night before he died . . .