A Gift in the Wilderness

 

 

Mt. SinaiScripture Text:  Exodus 20: 1-17

Then God spoke all these words: 2I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 3you shall have no other gods before me. 4You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, 6but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments. 7You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name. 8Remember the sabbath day, and 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; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11For 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.  12Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. 13You shall not murder. 14You shall not commit adultery. 15You shall not steal. 16You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. 17You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

This is hard.  The people are journeying through the wilderness.  Food is in short supply and nerves are raw.  They have quarreled and tested God but until now, they have had no real identity, no real purpose.  This is the place where they are finally aware of the intention that God has for them as a people. This is the place where their lives and their journey becomes meaningful. And God gives them this covenant.  The specific laws would have been selected from among the many social and moral laws over many generations.  It is probable that they did not magically drop out of the sky but rather grew out of a people’s understanding of who God was.

So many in our society try to make these laws more judicial, as if they are a hard and fast set of rules that God laid down, perhaps metaphorically slapping the people on their hands for misbehaving, like small unruly children.  There are those who think we need to post these up on the board (or in front of court buildings and the like) so that people will remember them (and, sadly, interpret them the way the person that pinned them up does!).  But these are not laws to obey in the “following the rules” sense.  They are the shape of who we are, the shape of God’s people.  They depict who we are as people of God.  It is about how we relate to God, how we relate to each other, and how we sustain ourselves on our faith journey.  The wilderness provided a gift of how to wander in the wilderness, of how to be.  Think of them not as boundaries but as declarations of freedom, freedom not just from the slavery endured before but from every time that we allow ourselves to be enslaved by anything.  I don’t think we’re called to remember the words of the ten commandments as much we are to remember who and whose we are.

This Season of Lent is not really about following rules either.  It is not meant to burden us or make us quit enjoying life or any of that.  It, too, is about freedom, about finally experiencing the freedom that God gives us from slavery, from our plans, from the expectations of the world.  God is not expecting us to follow rules; God is asking us to dance, to delight in Creation, to delight in the world that was created for us.  And the way we do that?  We love God. We love ourselves. We love our neighbor as ourselves.  And we learn the meaning of rest and reflection and glorious Sabbath.  That’s all.  But that’s the way we will know God.  Consider these commandments not as rules but as a glorious gift of God from the wilderness.  But, notice, we had to get away, we had to wander a bit, all the while shedding ourselves of the trappings that we have created in our life, of those things that enslave us, to really understand what we have been given.  We have not been given rules; we have been given Life.

If indeed we love the Lord with all our hearts, minds, and strength, we are going to have to stretch our hearts, open our minds, and strengthen our souls, whether our years are three score and ten or not yet twenty.  God cannot lodge in a narrow mind.  God cannot lodge in a small heart.  To accommodate God, they must be palatial. (William Sloane Coffin)

FOR TODAY:  Love God. Love yourself. Love your neighbor.  And then rest, and reflect, and be still.  That’s all.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

 

 

LENT 3B: Tablets From the Sky

“The Ten Commandments” Movie (1956)

Lectionary Passage:  Exodus 20: 1-3 (4-6) 7-8 (9-11) 12-17
Then God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me…You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name. Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy….Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

Things were hard.  Here they were in the middle of the wilderness, hungry, tired, struggling, quarreling, and wondering what in the world they were doing here.  Until now, they had no real identity, no purpose for being here, no point to life.  But this is the point where that all changes.  This is the point at which their lives and their long, horrendous journey become meaningful.  And God gives them a covenant.

Now, contrary to the name of this post, I’m pretty sure that the Ten Commandments did not just drop out of the sky.  It is much more likely that these specific laws were selected from among the gathered moral and social laws of generation upon generation.  In essence, they grew out of a people’s understanding about God and their own relationship with God.  The people are first reminded that God has already saved them before, bringing them out of slavery, bringing them into relationship with God.  But you can’t help noticing that these commandments are formative of who one is before God and how one lives in response to God.  The first four commandments related to one’s relationship with God and the remaining six have to do with the relationship between human beings.  It is really very simple:  You shall love the Lord God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. (with all that you are, with every essence of your being)  And…you shall love your neighbor as yourself.

But in our modern-day society, there are those who have tried to make these words “law” in the judicial sense, simply by displaying them in courthouses or public buildings.  But they are missing the fact that these are not laws to obey but the natural way that we are called to respond to the freedom of God.  In fact, these laws, unlike many others, do not sanction a certain type of government or a specific king.  Rather than dictating what we should do, they depict who we are as a people of God.  They are less about behavior than they are about identity—who God is, who the people are, and who we are as people of God.  It is about how we relate to God, how we relate to each other, and, even, how we provide sustenance and nourishment for our faith journey.  And regardless of whether or not we believe they actually dropped out of the sky, they are like manna in the wilderness, providing sustenance and life.  Think of them as declarations of freedom to become who we are called to be, rather than a set of rules or regulations that force us into becoming what someone else wants us to be.

Now, admittedly, I don’t think they belong on the courthouse lawn or on the walls of a schoolroom.  I think they’re bigger than that and I don’t think they can be contained.  They are, yet again, the very breath and essence of the God who dances with us rather than holds court over us to make sure we follow the rules.  The Decalogue is, once again, God with us.  And this Season of Lent is not about following the rules or being burdened with regulations. It is about experiencing the freedom of this God who dances with us—this one God, who, alone, drives our life with a Spirit of steadfast love and the integrity of respect; this one God who offers us rest and reflection that we might delight in Creation and that we might enjoy the best that it has to offer; this one God who knows that we can only understand the love we are given if we love in return, if we honor the ones from whom we came, if we honor life and love and all of Creation; if we are honest with ourselves and with each other, and if we want the very best for our brothers and sisters.  In this way we will understand this God who offers us life and all that it entails.  Hmmm…that’s fairly far-fetched for us.  Maybe it WAS written on a tablet from the sky.

So, continuing with our act of giving up so that we can take on, on this eleventh day of Lenten observance, let go of needing to have it all defined, of needing to have narrow rules that outline our moral and societal standards, and begin to live your life loving God and loving neighbor in the way that God calls you to live.   
Grace and Peace on this Lenten Journey,

Shelli