Word of the Week


7694535The Ten Commandments . . . It isn’t usually the type of post that you imagine me getting excited about, especially when you know I'm not a person all into "hell fire and brimstone" or tons of "thou shall nots."

However, when I read famed Old Testament scholar Walter Bruggemann's take on this passage in his book Journey to the Common Good, I was so excited I hardly knew what to do with myself (which is of course letting you in on my pastor dorkiness) because his framework for the meaning of the Ten Commandments shed a whole new light on this often over quoted, frequently debated and controversy driven portion of scripture.  (Kevin can attest to this fact after I sought to give him the cliff note version of this book on the way home one afternoon in the car and wouldn’t stop talking about it to which he might or might not have stop listening . . .

So, can you name all ten?

If you only found yourself able to name a couple, you are in good company. If you are like most Americans, the number of them that you know is always less than ten.

In fact a survey several years ago reported that more Americans could name seven ingredients of a McDonald's Big Mac hamburger and members of TV's "The Brady Bunch" more easily than the Bible's Ten Commandments.

Less than half of respondents -- 45 percent -- could recall the commandment "honor thy father and mother""[i] but 62 percent knew the Big Mac has a pickle and 43% knew that Bobby and Peter were Bradies.

So even as most of us don't exactly know all of the commandments, there are some of our Christian brothers and sisters sure do get fired up about them. 29_commandments2

We've all heard and followed the news of legislative battles over placement of the ten commandments in public places over recent years.

For example in September 13 of 2011, the Huffington Post reported that "The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia sued a southwest Virginia school board for posting the Ten Commandments, contending that the display violates the Constitution's guarantee of separation of church and state. This lawsuit sought to have the Ten Commandments removed from school walls and a ban on further display of the biblical documents.[ii]

The Ten Commandment and American religious culture go hand in hand as the debate in of their appropriateness in public life is likely to go on for generations . . .

So what can we learn from them?

If we go back to the text-- Exodus 20-- at their first appearance we see the context.

Prior to this moment at the base of Mount Sinai, the nation of Israel were slaves. They were owned by the nation of Egypt. They labored hard from sun up to sun down to edify and strengthen not themselves or their families but the empire.

They were asked to perform in bondage back-breaking work simply because the Pharaoh of the land was a afraid: afraid that without oppressing others that one day he'd not have enough. 

And I believe this is most important: they were a member of a society that was build not on ever having time to rest-- because if you stopped then someone else might get ahead. It was also a society not built on caring for neighbor-- because the only way to get ahead as a nation was to put others down.

Yet, as we know, everything had changed. The nation of Israel was now FREE!

Now, no longer would they be asked to bow to Pharaoh or any other god for that matter.

They’d be asked to form their life together around this truth: "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the land of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me."

They’d be asked to form their life together around this truth: "Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work."

They’d be asked to put neighbor above self and "honor your father and your mother," "not commit adultery" "not steal" or "bear false witness against their neighbor."

When we take a step back and look at the commandments as a unit over all (instead of reading them as so many often do in isolation) what we uncover is that God outlined for the children of Israel a NEW society

 . . . that was no longer based on scarcity, the fear of not having enough.

Instead, they would be asked live together as a people who believed as the Apostle Paul would say later on in the New Testament, "My God shall supply all of your needs."

They would be an abundant community.  

They’d be asked to become a community where no child was left behind wondering if their parents loved them because adultery broke up their parents marriage  . . .

They’d be asked to be a community where there would be no need to take another's food for everyone had their share . . .

They’d be asked to be a community where the deep breaths and moments of life reflecting silence would bring restorative healing as Sabbath, or a day from work was regularly taken. . . .

But their freedom and the abundance of provisions came with a cost. It actually was for a bigger purpose!

Remember long ago what God had said to their ancestor Abraham when he had been called by God, God said to Abraham, "all peoples of the earth will be blessed by you."2014-01-16-BelovedCommunity

Well, I believe that it is here in this moment of history that the way of life comes to be in order to make this happen.

The people of Israel are given an order to their life together so that they can use their blessing by God to bless others. Most of all this: to create a neighborhood where all would be welcomed. ALL people would be welcome.

Walter Bruggemann puts it like this, the Ten Commandments "are not rules for deep moralism. They are not commonsense rules to scold people. Rather, they are the most elemental statement of how to organize social power and social goods for the common benefit of the community."

Which is a way of saying, the Israelites were being asked to order their lives in such a way-- not just to feel shame if they broke one of the commandments, not just to feel like their God was lording over them in oppressive ways (as Pharaoh had done) but journey together toward the common good of all.

Here’s the underlining point: God gave them the 10 commandments to be intentional in their inclusion.

But the question was would they create it? Will we?


[i]  "Americans Know Big Macs Better than Ten Commandments." http://www.reuters.com/article/2007/10/12/us-bible-commandments-idUSN1223894020071012

[ii] Virginia Ten Commandments Lawsuit: Civil-Liberties Groups Sue Southwest Virginia School Board For Posting Ten Commandments. Huffington Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/13/virginia-ten-commandments-lawsuit_n_960447.html

There are some scriptures that feel like the bread and butter of our faith. They are the ones that make the best Sunday School lessons for our children. They are the ones that we take verses from and hang on plagues on our walls. They are the ones that we come back to time and time again for encouragement.

The scripture I studied for this week's sermon, I Kings 19: 1-16 contains some of these kinds of verses—for it tells the story of Elijah during one of his darkest hours as a prophet, an hour in particular in which he finds God.

We might remember Elijah from the big “Who’s God is better contest?” that the corrupt King Ahab challenge him to. Both sides created altars. The deal was whoever’s altar raged in fire first would point to the true God. Ahab prayed to Baal. And Elijah prayed to God. Elijah even ordered water to be poured over his altar (to the taunts of many).

The fire of the LORD fell and burned up Elijah's altar.

A complete victory? Right. Wrong.

For what comes next in the story is that King Ahab “tells Jezebel everything that Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, ‘May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.” (19:1-2)

Or in other words: Elijah you are dead.

So Elijah, fears for his life, obviously, but start running too.  He wants to get as far away from Ahab and Jezebel as he can. He travels for 100 miles.

Elijah becomes depressed and wants to die. Yeah, really he wants to die. 

But in all his sadness, Elijah is met by angel who touches him and tells him to get up and eat bringing him a jar of water and some bread—does it remind you of any good church ladies at funeral reception you know?

With the strength he’s given by this force feeding, the angel of the Lord, we are told comes back for the second time and says, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” Or in other words, Elijah, you’ve got to go through that potluck line just one more time—I don’t care if you say you’re full!

Elijah, now with a full stomach is given the strength to travel to Mt. Horeb. Sound familiar? It’s the place where Moses met with the LORD on several points of his journey. And it is here in this place again that Elijah also has a powerful encounter with God. For Elijah hears the LORD say to him, “Go out and stand on the mountain . . . . for the LORD is about to pass by.”

What comes next is my favorite part-

First there was the wind and an earthquake . . . but . . . The Lord was not in the earthquake.

Then, there was the fire, but the Lord was not in the fire.

And after the fire came a gentle whisper—and God was in the whisper.

Makes me think of the Psalm, “Be still and know that I am God.”

And there are a thousand different good sermons that have been preached or I could preach on this text—especially ones that exhort us all to quiet down our hearts knowing that God is with us no matter what our troubles may be—but might there be a word for us this morning in this passage in light of what our eyes and ears and hearts have been captivated by this week?

A world where the unbelievable happened only 7 days ago when we woke up the news that 49 people died and countless others injured by a single gunman in a gay nightclub in Orlando motivated by hate, radical religious beliefs and homophobia.

A world where Mother Emmanuel church in Charleston, SC was attacked only one year ago where 8 people were killed in a church sanctuary just like this one attending a Wednesday night Bible Study.

A world that feels a little less safe, especially for those of us who are not straight, white or male.

A world that has dimmed for the helping types who have thrown up their hands to sky this week saying: “What is there to live for anymore?” in the same way that Elijah did on that day under the broom tree.

Or like one of my pastor friends told me yesterday: “On Monday morning, I wanted to give up. Nothing made sense to me anymore. Why was I trying to so hard to bring good to the world when events like Orlando keep happening?”

So, I ask you: where do we find our gospel this week? Where do we find our God?

I believe Elijah's tale has a lot to offer us about our God—a God who is always moving us along like he did with Elijah.

A God who won’t let us wallow in fear driven threats for long.

And most of all a God who uses our lives to show his great concern for the whole world. I Kings 19, I believe re-introduces us to a God who includes.welcome-hands

There’s so much about this passage that can leave you feeling breathless and the end of the passage is no different!

Very direct orders are given by God: “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazel king over Aram, and also anoint Elisha . . . to succeed you as prophet.”

For it’s not that the Lord doesn’t hear Elijah’s complainants but he gives him something to do about it. He needs to go! In fact, from where Elijah stood at Mt. Horeb he’s told to go 200 miles to Damascus which is in a whole other region of the known world!

And when he arrives Elijah is given the tasks of blessing a king that is outside his jurisdiction as a Jewish prophet—it’s the king of Aram—a Gentile king!

It’s another way of saying, “Look Elijah, this ministry of being my spokesperson is not just for you or about you and it’s not just about Israel but it will continue with Elisha and go on for generations to come!”

I believe these two specific instructions of are of great importance in this tale because they are point us to a God who always has a wider perspective then we do.

For, the love of our God cannot be contained in our little corners of the world, no matter how hard we want it to stay close and look just like us!

And in all of this, Elijah still wanted to be depressed. He wanted to wallow. He wanted to lick his wounds and say, “Why me? . . . Why might bodily harm to come to me for just being who I am?”

But God says to him through this encounter—open up your eyes, Elijah, don’t be discouraged! Come see my love for others. Let your life bless others, all kinds of others. Don’t stay here focused on yourself. Remember, you serve the God of all people, of all nations, of all races, in fact. Now, be on the move!

And so I’m wondering this morning, is this the God we’re sharing with the world in the year 2016? Is this the God America knows the church to be? 

Like Elijah, it’s so easy to get discouraged. It’s so easy to find ourselves bewildered, depressed or even lost.

(And, hear me saying, it’s ok to take a time-out from life when you need to—to embrace self-care, to rest, to play and see professional help if you need it. None of us can be warriors solo.)

But, our faith following our inclusive God always and I mean always leads us out—out from what feels familiar, out in relationship with people who speak differently than us, look different from us and might even be voting for President for someone different from us! And the love of God asks us to act.

We are all called to do our part in our little corners of the world. We are all called to be a voice of inclusion to those who need to hear they’re welcomed most of all.spiritual-1024x682

This week I feel deeply moved by this words over at the Awakening Women Institutes’ website written by Clarissa Pinkola Estes.

Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good.

So what will you do this week to stretch out your hand in love in your corner of the world?

I think this is what our land needs more of, don't you?