3rd Sunday in Lent
March 22, 2012
Exodus 20: 1-17
“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”
So begins the most famous part of the Bible. Most of us know The Ten Commandments, and I think many of us in this room think that Moses looks like Charleton Heston, with his hair blowing in the wind. These are the rules that Christians live by, right? Actually these rules are pretty much the basis of many of our civic laws and rules as well. And so we red-blooded, freedom-loving Americans think of them as somehow caging us, preventing us from having a good time, a heavy burden that we have to bear because we are Christians.
Actually rules are good for us. We talked about that in Confirmation last week and asked our law-enforcement friend Tom Teaford to come give us some examples of how rules protect order and keep us from hurting and disrespecting each other. He told us the story of a guy who failed to keep the leash-law for his Labrador retriever in a busy campground. A simple act of disrespect for the law ended up in a fist-fight and an incident with a gun. Any teacher will tell you that kids need rules to thrive. When classrooms are orderly, children can learn. When rules are followed, children are successful and gain confidence. The world is peaceful.
I’d like to suggest that rules are loving. I’d like to suggest that God gives these rules out of love. Listen to who God claims to be: the liberator, the one who heard Israel’s cries under their oppressive slave masters and brought them to freedom. This is not a God who is far away, too busy with other projects to hear the voice of those who suffer. This God hears; this God acts. And this God cares enough for people that this God gives us rules that lead to freedom.
And freedom looks like this: people are respected, people’s lives are valued and preserved, people’s intimacies are regarded as sacred, people’s property and reputation are guarded. All peace flows from the proper order of the world: put God first and remember that all you have and all you are comes from God’s love; then honor God both by your respect for God’s name and by your attentiveness to resting in the relationship with God. Then come all the loving things we do for those around us who are also loved and created by God: our parents and those who lead us, our spouses, the bodies and health and property and reputation of those around us.
In the Jewish calendar, the festival of Shavuot is celebrated seven weeks after Passover. Families stay up all night memorizing the ten commandments and go to the synagogue in the morning to hear the story of the giving of the Law. Rabbis weep as they cradle the Torah in their arms, praising God for the wonderful revelation of love represented in this Law. What other God would care enough to give us such guidance. They praise God who swore to be their God forever, and who gave them this wonderful blessing of the path to freedom from chaos and harm. And so it is for us too. We are the beneficiaries of this loving relationship, with the tender care that comes from a God who wants us to be happy, to be healthy, to live well.
Of course, when we are confronted with God’s intention for us, we realize that we are unable to be so loving in return. We do not honor God above all other things of importance in our lives. We do not follow the rules about caring for others. And so the the Ten Commandments bring us to God on our knees asking for forgiveness. We find that forgiveness in Jesus, who said that his yoke and his burden are light. We find forgiveness in the arms of a gracious God, who sacrifices all to save us from our chaos and bring us to himself. And so we turn again to live with the freedom that forgiveness grants. We live out of love, and we live those commandments that are the gift of our freedom to be God’s people. We are eager to live the way of God’s love, and suddenly we don’t have to heave our way up a hill to get to God, we dance our way out in to the world to be loving. John Wesley says: “We are not saved from having to do good works; we are save for good works.”
And so we struggle to be faithful to the rules, those guidelines that make it possible for us to live together in peace. What do you want your life to look like? How will you live in the freedom that comes from honoring God and all that God loves?
Now may the peace that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord.