“God spoke all these words”-Sermon for Lent 3, Exodus 20:1-17
Our Old Testament lesson sets before us today the 10 commandments. And I see these commandments that we believe were inscribed upon stone by God’s own hand and given to Moses on the mountaintop, as a lasting gift of love given for the ordering of the common life, the shared life, of God’s own people, God’s own beloved. These 10 commandments are what might be described as a summation of the Law of Moses, whose totality is found scattered throughout the first five books of the bible. And, this summation of God’s law, again revealed to Moses on the mountaintop, is surely not for Moses alone…or the people of Israel alone…but for all of God’s people in every generation that has followed that ancient law giving moment…even to our own day…even for us. They remain just as relevant in this modern world that Moses likely could not have even imagined…than they were for the people of Israel as they wandered in the dessert dreaming of a whole new life together in the Promised land.
These commandments are, again, rules and regulations, if you will, for ordering a common life that were not intended to be a burden…to constrain us from a fully alive sort of life…but, instead, to push back against chaos…to push back against our own most base instincts to hoard and consume and to recreate one another in our own image, which steps all over the beauty of diversity and difference and uniqueness in our lives and in our world. The Law does not bind us…but sets us free. Free to be and become the uniquely wonderful and capable and beautiful wholehearted people that we were created to be…free from violence…free from theft…free from betrayal…free from our own jealousy and that of others…free from conformity…free from religious intolerance…free from the self-serving opinions of others…free from work without rest…free from isolation and going it alone…free from the idols of celebrity and fame and wealth and nationalism that our culture waves like a flag before us asking us to bow down and worship. As St. Paul says…for freedom Christ has set us free…not by the destruction of the law but by its completion…which I believe means by living a sort of life like Jesus that fully integrates the law into one’s heart and mind…by inscribing it on our hearts of flesh and allowing it to order the neural pathways that inform how we think, feel and, ultimately, act.
For this reason, I have said to you so many times before, that the Law of Moses, summarized in the 10 commandments, are God’s lasting gift of love graciously entrusted into our own hands. Thus, as Christians, this is why we study Jesus’ life, the things he did and taught, as the one whose life was lived in full and perfect submission to God’s law…that we might do and more so be just the same. For what we find, at its best, in a community that, like Jesus, has fully integrated God’s law…is that love alone, and God is love, is our shared devotion…what we worship and bow down to…freed from fear and loneliness and meaninglessness…to finally come fully alive…to finally be all we can be…to discover in our own bodies, minds, and spirits and in the relationships we share with others…a life worth living. Thus, I say it is good for us to submit to the law…to study, to remember, to know, and more so to live the 10 commandments.
During the winter storm, that now feels like it was a long time ago and yesterday all at the same time, there were one or two moments when I felt genuinely afraid. I was afraid for others, our friends and neighbors who live on the streets…those living alone…those living in homes that lack the insulation that most modern homes afford, those who, because of age or health, or more susceptible to poor outcomes in prolonged cold temperatures, and for those who require power for life saving medical devices. But, I also mean I experienced one or two moments of being afraid for those closest to me…my parents who went almost 4 days without power…and my own children, when on Monday while the sun was still out and the coldest night still ahead, my own home was quickly dropping into the 30’s. Now my rational mind knew we had a place to go if need be…friends with power were offering space in their own homes…we are healthy people who can withstand a few days very cold…we have closets containing coats and blankets…our water was running and our wood pile was not exhausted. We would be and were, indeed, just fine. But, still, what I will call fear was creeping into those more irrational parts of my mind. And, I think under the circumstances that was reasonable…and I say that, also, for those of you who like me might have had a few fearful moments in the midst of the literal storm. And, as I have processed that experience…considered what was going on in me spiritually in those moments, I believe now that I was recognizing, and more so painfully coming to grips with, the fact that I am not always in control…and, further, that I am maybe at all times less in control of my life and circumstances than I think I am.
Demery eloquently spoke of this in her sermon on the first Sunday of Lent that fell literally at the end of the storm. For she spoke of submission…that maybe this time we are living through…the pandemic…the racial unrest rooted in the great inequities that exist around race, gender and class in our nation…our profound and painful cultural and partisan divides fracturing even families…our disagreements around the science of climate and efficacy of vaccines…our deep skepticism of government and societal institutions…and then on top of all of that the bitter cold…all of that yuck…seems to me to be asking us if we are willing to both admit and submit. That is to admit that we are often powerless, we have no control, over our external circumstances and internal self-centeredness and anxiety. And, then, rather than responding by grasping for control…hoarding resources that are intended to be shared…rather than railing against God and blaming others…rather than doubling down on my opinions and solutions and requiring others to see it my way or take a hike…or worse…rather than all of that grasping at straws that only leads to anger, resentment, disconnection and the squelching out of the light and life…perhaps, instead of choosing that path, it is time to let all of that go…beginning with my fear and my need to control…and submit ourselves once again to God…to God’s law…God’s lasting gift of love en-fleshed as a living example in Jesus…for us to emulate and integrate into our own lives. For I believe with all of my heart…with every fiber in my being…that the God of love remains in charge…that God is providential…that God has made love the great ordering principle for our universe…such that in the fullness of time, as our Patron Julian has said, all manner of things shall be made well.
And such beliefs do not call me or us into a submission that looks like inaction…or weakness…or a willingness to accept all things as they are and just shrug them off…just take our lumps and move along…nothing of the sort. Instead, this submission to the God of love calls un into an intentional sort of work…the good work of reading, marking, and inwardly digesting the word of God…and to incarnate that word, those commandments and words of encouragement, in our own lives…such that our belief that God is in charge and that his ways are the right ways births forth from us hope that is infectious and uplifting for those around us who are hopeless…that calls others alongside of us into a life shaped by God’s loving law such that more and more people are made free from all that I have already described…free from violence and work without rest and fear of abuse and the worship of soul crushing idols that offer no sort of life. As we submit more and more completely to God’s law as most fully shown to us, demonstrated for us, in the self-giving love of Jesus, we become ministers of liberation…freedom forgers…light bearers…life-givers…and healers.
So, my invitation today, as we come to about the halfway point between Ash Wednesday and Holy Week, is to spend some time outside of this moment to revel in God’s law. Perhaps you can read the 10 commandments once a day for a week…or slowly read Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount that begins in chapter 5 of Matthew’s gospel. But, whatever adventure you choose, the idea is to ask yourself what is hard in this for me to do, to be and believe…and what might that be about…what might God be calling me to let go of such that this particular loving commandment might become more and more integrated into the whole of me. Then commit it to prayer, talk to a trusted person about it, turn it into some sort of intentional discipline that you can then practice perhaps for the rest of Lent.
Do you feel like you are coveting a friend’s things? Perhaps it’s time to begin a gratitude journal where you list your daily blessings. Though I doubt any of us have thieving tendencies, do you feel like you tend to hoard? Maybe it is time to clean out the closets and share from your abundance with some admirable charity. Do you feel like you are worked to the bone and are becoming resentful? Perhaps it is time to calendar your sabbath time even if it means letting something else go. Just examples…let God lead your way.
For, I believe in doing so you will not find a cross to carry, even if it feels like one at first, but, instead, something that feels more like Easter…a resurrection of sorts…a rebirth of sorts…a more fully alive sort of life…an idol destroyed…rest for your soul…a new talent or gift…a new found energy or passion for service…a greater capacity for kindness…an infectious sort of hope welling up…freedom found in the blessed submission to God’s ways…peace found in the blessed assurance that comes when we place control of our lives…our whole selves…into everlasting arms of love. Amen.