March 8, 2015
You know the old joke: Moses descends Mt Sinai after his encounter with God and says, I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news. The good news is that I’ve talked him down to 10. The bad news is adultery is still one of them.
This joke points to not only the pull to be unfaithful, but it also reveals that we think the law is a burden and that the fewer laws the better.
If we hear the 10 Commandments as a burden and not as a blessing then we’ve obviously missed the context that these laws are set within the covenant of grace. We see this in the opening sentence:
“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.”
This word tells us that what is to follow are not the laws of a distant tyrant who cares nothing for his people, but rather that this Law flows out of the heart of the God who loves us so much he hears our cries in Egypt and rescues us from slavery, and now desires to shape and form us into a people capable of being partners in the covenant of grace who can make God’s justice and love manifest by freeing others caught in slavery of all kinds.
These commandments describe what practices are necessary for a healthy community. Each commandment is meant for the blessing of individuals and the wholeness of the community, in the same way as the command from parents telling their toddler not to play with fire is meant for the well-being of the child and the well-being of the household.
So in steadfast love God tells us not to play with the fire of anger and lust, stealing and lying. Don’t strike the match of fighting or ignoring your parents or coveting your neighbor’s house. And these warnings are grounded in the understanding that taking off a day each week to rest in God and worshipping only the one true God will allow the Spirit of God to form us into human beings that are capable of being God’s covenant partners of peace.
But if the 10 Commandments are just a list of ten rules we post on the wall, then we soon forget the context of God’s covenant of grace and fall into the trap of thinking these are the rules of the contract God I spoke about several weeks ago, that says, “I’ll only love you, if you keep all these laws. “ The contract god can’t be a partner but someone we have to placate.
On the other hand, the covenant God desires to meet us in a relationship of mutual self-giving, like parents who desire their children to sit with them at meal time and discuss their day, instead of staying in their rooms and marginally obeying the house rules.
The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is forming a people who are to be a light to the nations and who after a 1400 years become the womb of the incarnation–Jesus Christ.
This God is not interested in cold and blind legalists who are only concerned with their personal report cards. Rather this God is committed to creating the beloved community. As the Bible tells us, God uses the murderer Moses to be his Prophet; God uses the adulterer King David and calls him a man after his own heart. God will take a real sinner who loves, over the brittle correctness of those who cannot care for anyone but themselves.
Since Harrison Ford has been in the news this week after his plane crash, I’m mindful of his movie, “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. You remember the archeologist Indiana Jones finds the Ark of the Covenant buried under the Egyptian sand. It is the wooden box God has Moses build to keep the two stone tablets of the Ten Commandments. And on top of this box is a large, heavy cover with two wooden angels with their wings spread out creating what was called the Mercy Seat—that symbolized where God sits.
So get the picture: the 10 Commandments are not hung on the wall of the Temple so everyone can see them. Rather, they are placed in a closed box with a heavy lid on which the Lord God Almighty sits.
The image is clear: The Lord God does not want us relating to a list of laws, but to God’s own self.
The prophets are the ones called to tell us what they hear when they make their relationship with the Living God the center of their lives.
Micah hears this 8 centuries before Christ:
“With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
I suspect these words were sounding in Jesus’ heart and mind as he drives out the animals for sacrifice in the temple. Jesus embodies justice, kindness, and humility. He doesn’t come in power and glory, but in weakness and suffering to walk with us as we seek to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God.
The Letter to the Hebrews says, Christ “had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested…. Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” Hebrews 2: 12-13, Hebrews 7:24-25.
Jesus Christ our great high priest is interceding for us to the Father because he knows we are but dust and not inclined to listen to God.
But through the gift of faith in Christ’s faithfulness sometimes we listen:
Alexie Torres-Fleming, one of our speakers yesterday at the diocesan learning event, grew up in public housing in South Bronx in the late 1960s—in a time of riots and fires.
She would go on to work in a lucrative career in Manhattan but in 1992 gave that up to work in community organizing in her old neighborhood. In 2009 she was named one of the “50 Visionaries Changing Our World”.
One transforming moment in her young adult life came when her mother still living in the projects has a dream. In the dream her mother continually cries out to God, “Lord, when are you coming? Lord, when are you coming?”
Then God says to her mother: “When are you coming?”
When Alexie was a girl her mother taught her to run away from the fires that were plaguing her neighborhood. But she says when she was in her 20s she participated with her Catholic Church in a march to pray against 7 crack houses. The following week drug dealers set fire to her Catholic Church. She said she heard in her soul a voice saying, “This is not a fire you run from. This is a fire you run toward.” And as she did the Lord used her faith to manifest God’s justice.