Primitive religion is not believed, it is danced!

Arthur Darby Nock

Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
And only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

Elizabeth Browning

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The 10 Commandments

I just finished reading the 10 Commandments
The 10 Commandments are a force on the landscape of American Christianity.
They promote controversy
They are placed everywhere
There is a copy of “the tablets’ on a rock outside my local grocery store.
And on set of stones outside a church in a neighboring town.

A lot of Christians put a lot of emphasis on the Commandments.
But what are they all about?  Really?

We know they are a set of rules.
But is there something more?

Look at the opening commandments

2 I am the LORD your God…
3 you shall have no other gods before me.
4 You shall not make for yourself an idol….
7 You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God….
8 Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy.

All those commandments have to do with honoring God—loving God.  Not forgetting to make the sacred a critical part of life. 

The later commandments, the one a lot of people seem to be fixated on, have to do with honoring those around us.  Or rather, honoring God through the way we live with others.

When I first thought about honoring God and honoring the people around us, I couldn’t help but think of the man who came to Jesus asking, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”  Jesus replied,“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and first commandment.  And a second is like it:  You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus took the Ten Commandments and redacted them down to two:   We can please God if we do two things. Love God! Love our neighbor! It's that simple!  But what does it mean to love God? If we loved God, what would that look like? What would we do? Well the Ten Commandments offer us one picture of what that might look like. 

• If we truly love God, will put no other gods before him. We won't let money be more important than God—or sex—or hobbies—or entertainment—or food—or drugs—or friends—or even family. We will not let anything be more important than God.
• If we truly love God, we will not make any idols. We won't worship idols made of word or stone.  What does it mean to worship?  To put something first in our lives.  We worship that into which we invest our time, money and energy. We can worship people.  Sports.  Our work.  Things.  Its scary how many things can become an idol.
• If we truly love God, we will not use his name disrespectfully. In our culture, that has come to mean not using the words God and damn together. But honoring God's name means much more. We are God's children. When we take the name of God, claim to be God’s, and call ourselves Christians, we honor his name when people can look at us and say, “There goes a Christian.  They claim God, AND….. they live God’s love.  They are kind, compassionate, given.  If we claim to be Christians, to be God’s, and don’t love, that is using God’s name disrespectfully.  What is even more disrespectful is to do what is hateful, or greedy, or hurtful in God’s name.  And that seems to be happening a lot these days.
• If we truly love God, we will rest from our labors on his day—not easy to do in a world that demands that we work days, nights and weekends.  We will rest.  And reflect.  We will connect with our God.  We will allow ourselves to be fed, re-created so to speak.

Love God! Love your neighbor! What does it mean to love our neighbor? What would our lives look like if we loved our neighbor? The last commandments tell us that: 

 If we truly love God, we will honor our father and mother. God calls us to honor our Heavenly Father, but he also calls us to honor our earthly fathers and mothers.  This means caring for them.  Respecting them.  Listening to them deeply.

If we love our neighbor, we will not murder him or her.
If we love our neighbor, we will not cause hurt in their relationship.
If we love our neighbor, we will not steal from them.
If we love our neighbor, we will not tell lies about him or her.
If we love our neighbor, we will not allow ourselves to be jealous, want what they have in a way that creates pain for them, or us. 

In his book True Love, Thich Nhat Hanh (Tik · N'yat · Hawn) says that love involves just a few things, and two statements.
1. Being present to the other and sayinig, “Dear One, I know you are here”
2. Being there in the other’s suffering and saying,  “Dear One, and I am here for you” 
3.  He also suggests that if we love we have to overcome our pride and allow the other person to be there in our suffering.  “Dear One, I am suffering, I need your help.” 

I love the way what he says lines up with the commandments of Moses and the commandments of Jesus

But I have to admit I struggle with commandments - A lot.  I don’t always do that well in living them.  And I am pretty convinced that these commandments, and the two offered by Jesus were not rules God ever really expected anyone, post fall, to be able to live up to.  We all know, painfully, that we just can’t do it.  We try, but like Paul often find that what we want to do, we can’t do.  And what we don’t want to do… well we do that very thing.

So people talk a lot about what role these commandments play.

Some say they are God telling us, this is what you SHOULD be like.  If you don’t live up to them you are BAD, and you are just DARN LUCKY that Christ came and died for you.  In other words they drive us to grace.  I suppose there is something in that, but it doesn’t seem quite right.

Some really do believe that if you violate a commandment you are toast.  You might as well start looking forward to hell, because God hates you for your failure… In short the commandments are there to essentially scare, or guilt us, into heaven.  I am convinced there is nothing in that.  Fortunately there is the cross, and all that it implies.  I believe that God doesn’t hate us, even when we goof up, but loves us and sees us as beloved children.

What I think is that the commandments of Moses, and even more so the two commandments of Jesus are meant to give us a glimpse of the kingdom.  In the 10 commandments we see what the kingdom will look like.  It will be a place where people are connected to God, and reflect that connection in the way they live.  Same thing for the two commandments of Jesus.

And I think we get an enriched picture of kingdom living in another powerful set of statements.  What we call the beatitudes, or the ‘blesseds”

Blessed are those who are…. Its kind of a cool shift.  In the beatitudes it is less a matter of what we should DO to how we should BE.

Blessed are the humble
Blessed are the compassionate,
Blessed are the meek,
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for justice,
Blessed are the merciful,
Blessed are the pure of heart,
Blessed are the peacemakers,
Blessed are they who suffer persecution for justice sake,

Richard Rohr laments the fact that many Christians are so focused on the law and the ten commandments, and functionally neglect the 8 beatitudes.  He asks why we fight to have the ten commandments posted on walls of schools, etc, but never fight for the eight beatitudes to be posted on the wall? Interesting question.

And this brings me to an important point.  I think that at the highest level, not only the beatitudes, but also Jesus commandments and the 10 commandments are relational.As I look at these powerful teachings I see a progression.  I see a movement from a rigid approach of the 10 commandments, to the broader and softer two commandments of Jesus with their focus on love, and ultimately to the Beatitudes. 

They all go together in my head… as the development of a theme…. Kingdom living, from a concrete set of rules (which we often turn into something rigid and guilt producing, into weapons that crush and defeat ourselves and others) to a powerful principle of love of God and love of others, to the laws being fleshed out again, in a new way, in a New Testament way, in the Beatitudes. 

The 10 commandments the kind of rules we set for kids.  The commandments of Jesus, perhaps we could see as the rules for young adulthood.  And the beatitudes?  Those we start living out as our faith matures and deepens.  We can follow the 10 commandments at a shallow, legalistic level.  You can’t be the person of the beatitudes in a shallow way.

 I would like to close with one last story. A businessman, notorious for being ruthless, once commented to Mark Twain,

Before I die, I mean to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.I will climb Mount Sinai and read the Ten Commandments aloud at the top.

Mark Twain thought for a moment and responded, I have a better idea!  You could stay home in Boston, and work at living them!

We have the laws, an early glimpse of what kingdom living is like
We have Jesus summary of the law, his more compassionate, and in many ways more powerful simplification… where the focus is not right and wrong, but love
And we have the Beatitudes, which in my mind may be the ultimate expression of kingdom living

Let us not spout laws
Let us not give lip service, even, to love
Let us simply do the best we can, in the power of God’s Spirit
To live the Kingdom, in our life with God, and our life with others

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