Community Rules – March 7, 2021

Community Rules

A Communion Meditation by Rev. Karen A. Mendes

Exodus 20 1-17

March 7, 2021

Main Idea –   God gives us a vision of life with God and each other.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

Lately I have noticed that some folks seem anxious, cranky, and low energy, including myself!  The weight of the pandemic is weighing on people, especially as we approach the one year anniversary of our lockdown.  We are tired and grieving all that has been lost this past year.  It is hard to believe that next week it will have been a whole year since we have gathered together in this sanctuary.  In grief, anniversaries are a big deal, triggering memories and feelings that are hard to cope with.  The first step to feeling better is to acknowledge the grief.  The next step is to recognize the resources we have available to buoy us in the present and sustain us as we move into the future.  God has a vision for us and for the world.

During this Lenten Season we are thinking about God’s covenants with us and with all of creation. Two weeks ago we explored God’s covenant with Noah which expressed God’s love for all of creation.  Last week we pondered God’s covenant with Abraham and Sarah in which God claims and names us as God’s people.  Today we are considering God’s covenant with Moses and the Israelite people which gives us a way to live together.  As Christians, we affirm that all the covenants point us toward Christ and to the living, growing relationship with God that we can experience in our lives today. Our text for today, the 10 Commandments, is one of the most famous texts in all of Scripture.  The 10 commandments are more than a list of rules.  They are God’s vision of life; humanity living in harmony with God and with each other.

These 10 Commandments are the details of the covenant God makes with Moses on Mount Sinai which is found in Exodus 19:3-6  “Then Moses went up to God; the LORD called to him from the mountain, saying, ‘Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites: 4You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, 6but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.’”  Now, if you remember, Moses gathered the people at the base of Mt. Sinai to hear from God directly.  The presence of God came to them in the form of a wild thunderstorm; the mountain itself shook violently with fire and smoke and the sound of a loud trumpet.  In the midst of this overwhelming experience God spoke directly to the people, sharing God’s vision for their future together.

The first four commandments concern the people’s relation with God and show God’s liberating nature.  God reveals a passionate commitment to this ragtag band of nobodies.  “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.”  No one and nothing on earth shall claim your allegiance but me, God says. I have liberated you and you shall not be enslaved again.

The next commandment against idols expands this idea that the people are not to enslave themselves to forces that are less than God.  They are not to think that they can contain or control God’s liberating power. The third commandment against taking the LORD’s name in vain expands the idea again.  Together these three commandments reveal God’s love which is given freely and beyond our control.

The fourth commandment about Sabbath keeping continues the theme of liberation.  As slaves, the Israelites had no days off.  In their new life with God, they are to honor God by resting and allowing everyone to rest. This is a radical reimagining of human society where each person and animal is seen as worthy of value.  Rarely before (or since) had any society been based on the intrinsic worth of all creation.

The rest of the commandments deal with the people’s relations with each other. Because they have been liberated by God, they are to treat others as precious and valued by God. They are not to exploit the vulnerable or allow greed to break the bonds of their community.  They are to speak with honesty, live simply, and honor their commitments to each other just as they honor God.

We need to remember that the Israelites had no experience governing themselves.  They had never had the freedom to organize their society when they lived as slaves in Egypt.  But here God gives them the guidance to live peacefully and comfortably together.  This is God’s vision for God’s people.

It seems so simple and yet we know that it is not.  Since the giving of the commandments on Sinai, we have found countless ways of breaking these commands.  The rest of the Bible tells the story of God again and again calling the people back to this vision. Sometimes the people follow the letter of the law, but ignore the spirit of liberation and love. Incredibly, these commandments of God came to be used to oppress and exclude. In the Gospels we find Jesus running into trouble with the religious leaders for rejecting the leaders’ understanding of the commandments.  Jesus crystalizes the 10 commandments into 2; love of God and love of neighbor.   In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus preaches “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” (Matthew 5:17).  Jesus re-articulates God’s vision for these commandments by pointing beyond the acts prohibited to the intentions and beyond the impulses behind the actions. “You have heard it said…. but I say…”  Just as God points to the future with the commandments so does Jesus point to the future with his teachings about the kingdom of God.

All of the covenants point us toward the future.  For the past year we have been stuck in a pandemic purgatory but the future is still ahead of us and we can affirm God’s covenants for today.   So, if you were to write down your Top Ten Rules for Living, how closely would they resemble the 10 commandments?  Do your rules focus on love of God and love of neighbor? Do they promote liberty and peace?  When we look at the rules of our society, which rules actually go against these commands? 

When I was studying the text for today, it struck me that the two longest commandments are those concerning idols and the Sabbath.  Both have whole paragraphs spelling out the details of the command.  And I think that these are the two we ignore the most frequently!  

The word idolatry has been in the news lately, especially as related to Christian nationalism and the cult of QAnon. Idolatry is a big piece of why, in our political discourse, it is common for each side to demonizes the other.  However, all of us are tempted to give our allegiance to things that are not God.  We honor the power of money and consumerism. We tie our identity to our political party and ideology.  We place our trust in the illusions of self-sufficiency and the effectiveness of violence.   We want to shape God into our own image, to put God into our pocket, and claim God for ourselves.  But God will not be contained and that is a very good thing.  God gives us love, and life, and guidance.  God frees us from all that tempt us away from God.

And the Sabbath, … It really is extraordinary that taking a day of rest is number 4 of the 10 commandments. Establishing rest as essential to a well-organized community is still a radical notion and one that our society does not honor very well.  How many of us take a full 24 hours to rest from work and other obligations, every single week?  I must confess that I do not.  Sundays are the traditional Sabbath for Christians but it is often not a day of rest.  Some of us are homebound, yet still unable observe a Sabbath rest because we spend our time doomscrolling through TV news or social media.  We may be inactive but still not restful.   As our society has become more technologically connected, especially this last year when many of us have worked from home, our boundaries between work and rest have become less defined. It is difficult to separate work time from rest time when you are trying to work with your family at home with you and your cell phone is pinging at all hours of the day.  For people who are required to take two or three jobs to support their family, rest becomes a memory.  Honoring the Sabbath includes working to shape society so that all can rest from their labors, so that all are treated with respect.   Observing the Sabbath calls us to slow down and to honor the blessings God has given us.  To remember that all we have and all that we are, are gifts from God and worthy of care.  It reminds us that the world can go on without us for one day. 

The 10 commandments spell out God’s vision for us; a vision of peace and justice; a vision Jesus calls life in the Kingdom of God.  This vision calls us out of our grief and exhaustion.  It gives us guidance about how to live today.  It gives us structure to plan our future.  As we prepare to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, let us hold on to this vision and resolve to live it out in all that we do.

Let us pray,

Gracious God, thank you for your covenants and commandments.  Help us to see your vision and guidance as a gift which leads to deeper and more meaningful life.  Amen.