Tuesday, March 6, 2018

The Third Sunday in Lent: Commandments for Life


After church Sunday dinner

After a week in Florida, I'm back with my friends at Beverley Church in Brooklyn. Here's this week’s reflection. 

SO it is the third Sunday of Lent.

So I'm just back from Florida. The other day I was sitting on my friend's patio, having a conversation. It was 78' and sunny in Florida. And I looked and noticed it was 36' with mixed rain and snow in New York City. Mmmmm. Well, at least the sun was shining yesterday.

I was staying with a rabbi friend and on Friday night, I helped him do his service. After the service, we sat and talked awhile. He's got a pretty hard and fast rule about never putting politics into his sermons. That things are so hard for  most of us out there, that we all need jut san hour's peace once a week. A time to be together praising God  and feeling the healing wings of God embracing us and resting in the peace of the Lord. 

My tradition and experience takes me to a somewhat different place, but I profoundly respect where he's coming from on that point and I always want to make sure that when  we're together, we experience some of that peace and renewal. And I expect  our conversation will go on for  as long as we're friends because there are so many angles  to that conversation.

I was thinking how one of the things  I say about the job of being a pastor is that we are to help with the ongoing  exegesis of the lived lives of the people of God. That is, we're supposed to help you all make sense of what's going on around you theologically and spiritually. And man, I have no idea as to how to even begin to keep up with what's going on around us now. There's just too much every day. 

So I wanted to get into the 10 commandments today. And the thought struck me that once you move beyond one person, you're into politics.  I guess it's all in how you define the term. And by the way, I'm still amazed at Billy Graham lying in state in the capitol rotunda. Its very clear that for all of his public eschewing of politics, he was a very political person. Even as far as  giving to Nixon a bombing plan for Vietnam that if carried out would have killed over a million people. Although it is true that the focus of his public preaching was individual salvation...what it takes to get me into heaven. 

And that's a good entree into the Ten Commandments (and if you're older than a certain age, how do you even say that and not think about Charlton Heston?) Because the 10 commandments are not a personal guide book to get you into heaven. They have a very different purpose.A political purpose if you will. 

Note they're from Exodus. From the part of the Bible story where the Hebrew people exit from Egypt and then have to spend 40 years in the desert learning how we live together as a community.. before entering the  promised land. These commandments are at the base of that. 

(Those who  want to put them in our courthouses have the right instincts, as to their basic importance.   They are the root of our legal justice system. But living in an inclusive society is more complicated. Besides ...are you aware there are protestant, jewish and catholic ways of dividing the commandments? )

The first sounds like its simply religious. But inspiring our friends  in the Confessing Church in the writing of the Barmen Declaration in the midst of Nazi Germany and the so-called 'German Christian" movement. 

We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church in human arrogance could place the Word and work of the Lord in the service of any arbitrarily chosen desires, purposes, and plans." On the contrary, the Declaration proclaims that the Church "is solely Christ's property, and that it lives and wants to live solely from his comfort and from his direction in the expectation of his appearance." (8.17) Rejecting domestication of the Word in the Church, the Declaration points to the inalienable lordship of Jesus Christ by the Spirit and to the external character of church unity which "can come only from the Word of God in faith through the Holy Spirit. Thus alone is the Church renewed" (8.01).
But by claiming primary allegiance to Christ in Nazi Germany, they were making a profoundly (and dangerous) political statement as well.  All authority in Christ, which leaves no room for Hitler. 

We could do a sermon about each of these.  The first four seem to  about our relationships with God and the last five with each other with a day of rest in between..which makes it central...even for slaves and animals...this was the inspiration of the 40 hour week, the end of Child labor, Sunday school...if only we could get back to a sense of sabbath...

And have we ever had more of a need for a commandment about truth?

But here's the main point I want to make about the commandments. The first pretty much says it all. We shall have no other Gods before us...and every one of the other commandments is about giving something else god like importance in our lives before God. Every time we break a commandment, we are placing another concern before God. 

Maybe as a Lenten discipline this week, you could ask yourself at the end of each day what commandments did you break today? Or simply think about  when we made something else more important than God. Or reflect on a commandment a day. And think about metaphors. Remember Jimmy Carter's "Adultery of the spirit?"

Our God will be faithful to the 1000th generation. Thanks be to God!

I had promised the people that I would play for them today.  So following communion, as the offering was being collected, I played my setting of Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind."And like I did last Friday at Sarasota, the last time through I stopped and said,
"I've been watching these high school children from South Florida blow us away and you know what? Maybe its too east to say the answer is blowin in the wind.  Maybe we need to sing the answer is the answer my friend is not blowin' in the wind, the answer is in our in hands.  And that's exactly what we did.

And when it was over, went downstairs for dinner. And conversation.  We broke bread together.

First Reading Exodus 20:1-17

1Then 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. 9For six 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.

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