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

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Buck Stops Here

I just read a bunch of passages in Exodus, follow up passages to the Ten Commandments, that are nothing but pages of rules.  Rules about everything.  Rule about how the people of Israel were to live together.

As I read these I found some I agreed with, some that made me almost laugh, and some that were, well, scary. 

The first thing I thought about, as I read these verses was that sections like this  illustrate profoundly how much we “cherry pick” the Bible.  How much we  pick and choose.  We insist on keeping, to the letter, literally the 10 commandments.  We hang on so hard to some of Paul statements about gender, and sexuality.  But we totally ignore a whole lot of stuff found in these passages, and in Leviticus and elsewhere.  How many of us will hold literally to the idea that if a person “curses” his or her parents they should be put to death?   Most of us wouldn’t have made it out of Jr. Hi.   Do we literally take an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, a bruise for a bruise.  No, of course not.

It really is all about the big picture ethically when it comes to the bible.  That even Jesus approached the rules that way and made, for example the 10 commandments two.  Pointing to the spirit of the law, which he knew to be the most important.

So what is the spirit of these three chapters?  I would put it this way.  The buck stops here.  Or, perhaps, to put it another way… I am responsible… specifically, I am responsible to care about, to be careful with, the people around me.  The people who come in to my life.

Responsibility is a big word.  Lots of people have talked about responsibility
Responsibility is the price of greatness. -  Winston Churchill
Responsibility is the price of freedom. -  Elbert Hubbard
Responsibility walks hand in hand with capacity and power.  -- Josiah Gilbert Holland
What a man does defines him, not what is done by others.  - William Golding

I see all of the rules in these chapters as talking about some basic responsibilities we have for one another

First  ,  we have a number of related laws regarding taking responsibility for the safety of others. We are to take steps to prevent injury or death to people or animals. We are to make sure our oxen are well behaved.  That we don’t strike others with violence.  That we keep our anger under control.

We are responsible, in other words, to do what we can to prevent damage to others. OK, watching out for my ox doesn’t say much to me, since I don’t have one.  But I there are many ways I can protect others, or fail to do so.  I can choose to be “non violent” and control my anger.  I have a car.  I can drive carefully.  I can not drink or text and drive.  As God’s people we are called to be careful with the people who we work with, who come to our homes, who are in our business

But wait, there is more.  There is a quite a bit in these verses about our responsibility to “make it up to” the person we have harmed.  We should make restitution for the losses and hurt we have caused.  It is interesting to me that the Hebrew word translated “make restitution” is shalam. It’s root meaning includes the idea of making peace. When someone causes a loss, they make peace by restoring what was lost.

 It takes more than confession of guilt for an offender to make things right; it also demands effort on his or her part to make amends to the people who were hurt. Only then can the torn fabric of relationships be mended. Making restitution helps heal relationships.

Do you have someone we you have harmed?  And there are so many ways we can create harm.  By what we do.  By what we don’t do.  How we act.  What we say.  We all harm others.  When we do we are given the responsibility to “make peace” if we can.  As I thought about this issue I thought about the 12 step program.  Listen to these task…..
1.            Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
2.            Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
3.            Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
4.            Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
5.            Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
6.            Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
7.            Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

Can you think of one person with whom you might “make peace” this week?

OK, yet another.  This has to do with our responsibility to show respect to those around us.  In these verses it is mostly about respect for authority.  The big examples given in the passage relate to respect for parents. – In 21:15 it says, “He who strikes his father or his mother shall surely be put to death.” The word translated “strikes” means “to strike, smite, hit, beat, slay.” Here, it probably does not mean to strike to death, but it refers to any kind of striking that would bring injury. Then in v.17 God says, “And he who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death” (cf. Lev. 20:9).  So here is an example of our responsibility to treat others with respect.  Parents of course make a great example.

Many suggest this concept should be applied to anyone in authority.  The President.  The law, such as policemen, judges, and the like.  Probably bosses…. I like that!  Its not that we have to have blind obedience.  It does mean that when we disagree we still act respectfully.

But I would like to push it just a little further.  If we are responsible for, and in a sense accountable to everyone God puts in our path, then respect is something we should be offering to everyone.  We should never be people who disrespect those in our lives.  There are .lots of places this can play out.  Think about men and women.  Whether it is easy to admit or not, this is a fact -- males minimize women in our society, a lot.  They marginalize them, erode them.  They use them.  Treat them as objects.  According to a recent poll women are paid 77% of what men are paid for exactly the same job. 

Respect means equal pay.  Respect means not treating a woman as an object.  Respect means not cutting to woman down, manipulating her, controlling her.  It means taking what she wants and treating it as seriously as you would your own wishes.

Ok another example.  Go to the internet.  Read an article related to politics.  Or a blog.  Then go to the comments section.  Wow!  You have people calling people stupid, and evil.  You have people demonizing other people.  Is this respect?  Is putting out misinformation about Muslims, if you are a Christian, or spewing hatred toward Christians, if you aren’t, because you don’t agree with their way of thinking, respect?  We would have a much better chance to deal with the ills in our country, if we treated each other with respect.

Next, I want us to consider our responsibility toward the vulnerable.  In this passage all kinds of vulnerable people are mentioned.  Widows.  Orphans. Slaves.  Pregnant women.  And yes, immigrants.  In 22:21 God says, “You shall neither mistreat a stranger nor oppress him, for you were
strangers in the land of Egypt.” The word translated “mistreat” also means “to oppress, treat

So how are we doing?  As a nation, I think right now, not so good.  We are in fact writing and enacting laws that will mistreat and oppress, essentially violate the vulnerable in our country.  And I am not even going to go into territory of immigration law, or voting laws. 

I am thinking about how we think about health care programs, aid for students, programs to support those with mental illness.  As a nation, as states we are throwing the vulnerable under the proverbial bus.  We talk about being a Christian nation, but I think we will have a lot to answer for about how un-Christian we in our attitudes toward and care of the poor, minorities, immigrants.

I people talk about entitlement and the responsibility of the people in these programs to “work hard”, to make their way.  Ideally yes, although many really can’t. But if we think about the parables of Jesus, that whole concept of whether people deserve to be taken care of and treated in a way that enables, and empower and supports is a non-starter.  Non-Christians can play that game.  We can’t.  We must take care of “the strangers”…. Expand that to read, the poor, the ill, the children, the mentally ill, the immigrant, in our midst – no matter what

Now I have laid out some pretty heavy stuff here.  Bleeding heart stuff, some of you might say.  But I would like to point out that as far as Jesus was concerned, even all of this was not enough.  He said time and time again, and said it in the passage we heard today.  “You have heard it said…..”  but I say…..

You have heard it said, don’t murder… I say don’t get angry
You have heard it said, eye for an eye… I say, so not resist and evil person… if they strike you on the cheek, turn to him the other also.  If someone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat as well….love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you…

Wow!  Martin Luther really got it.  In 1520 he began his “Treatise on Christian Liberty” with two propositions.  1. The Christian is a perfectly free, lord of all subject to none.  2. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all

Its election season
We are being asked to define our values

The value that shouts at me from these pages in Exodus
Is we ARE responsible for each other
We are to be the servants of all, responsible to all

It is not about me, or you
It is about US
Being responsible for one another….In a radical way.

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