Sunday, 11 March 2012 ~ “Words for Living”

Scriptures: Exodus 20:1-17 Ps. 19:1-2, 7-9 John 2:13-22

LET US PRAY: God of grace and glory: bless our hearing of Your Holy Word, that the words of our lips and the meditations of all our hearts may be pleasing to You. Amen.

We have all grown up with those wonderful “words of wisdom” that our parents and families always shared with us … such as:
• Don’t talk to strangers.
• Pretty is as pretty does.
• Takes those snakes outside … they don’t belong in the house! (My Grandmama’s way of telling us to leave nature IN nature)
• A place for everything and every thing in its place!
• Never go to bed angry … Don’t go away mad.
• Apologize … and MEAN it!
• (when my sister and I would be fighting”) ‘She started it!” … (and Mama would reply:) ‘And I’m finishing it!”
And, the all time classic: Always wear clean underwear when you go out … you never know when you might get into an accident!
MANY of these make us laugh … but ALL help us live fairly & safely in community.

Today’s reading from Old Testament is not what we might expect on this 3rd week of Lent. Lent is a season that is filled with more somber readings … a season that calls us to reflect on how our lives don’t embody the Kingdom of God … on how we have fallen short of living in the image of Christ. However, today’s story presents us with a rare gift … an opportunity to grow deeper in relationship with God in Christ.

Our reading comes right on the heels of last week’s week OT reading when God made His covenantal promises with Abraham and his descendants. To reinforce this promise, God now sets out the most famous Words for Living ~ the 10 Commandments. And, think for a minute how critical they were to the daily life of the children of Israel.

• Through Moses, God has led the people out of slavery in Egypt and through the Red Sea
• In love, God has guided them by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night AND has sustained them with manna in the wilderness.
• Finally they arrive at Mt. Sinai ~ where they were to camp for a very long time!

And, we are not just talking about some little camp meeting. No! This was a HUGE gathering, consisting of 600,000 MEN … besides women and children! AND, as you can imagine: a community of people this large most DEFINITELY needed rules to live by! The 10 Commandments were a gift from God, intended to provide structure and protection for their lives, both as individuals and within community. Without this structure, there soon would have been nothing but total chaos!

I have to admit: there was always something that disturbed me about these rules. They are written in very NEGATIVE language! Don’t do this … don’t do that. And the problem is: this approach doesn’t give us any positive guidance for living a good & faithful life.

Every year, when we study the 10 Commandments, I ask my confirmands to re-write them … and turn them into more positive statements for life. And, every year, we usually just flip-flop the wording … and so we go from ~ DON’T LIE … to TELL THE TRUTH.

Which is OK ~ to a point. BUT, it still doesn’t provide a concrete lesson for how we might live our lives in a more in a more pro-active manner ~ a manner that will help us build up a stronger sense of community among us … whether that ‘community’ is within our immediate families … our local neighborhoods … or the villages and towns around our globe.

This morning, I would like to take another look at these Commandments, viewing them through the lens of our faith lived fully as God in Christ intended it to be.

The first 4 Commandments are centered on God and focus on our individual relationship with God. We are called to remember:
• Our God is a loving and faithful God … which means that He deserves ALL of our allegiance and faithfulness, offered with every ounce of our beings.
• And, if we are living up to that credo, then money and possessions and power will NEVER become the focus of our lives … nor will they become the means by which we might exploit others.
• And, of course, when we are startled or in times of stress … well, we will be able to curb our tongues ~ AND set a good example for others ~ when speaking about OR to God … using words of praise and thanksgiving rather than anger or cynicism.
• Remember that we have been entrusted with the awesome responsibility of being good stewards and caring for ALL of creation ~ people, animals, nature, the globe ~ and that for 6 days, we can do our best to live up to that responsibility. However, 1 day each week should be devoted to simply resting and being filled with God’s presence and renewed by His Spirit. (Ps. 46: Be still and know that I am God)

Having centered ourselves and our daily lives in God, we can then focus on the remaining 6 Commandments that encourage and reinforce ‘right’ living within community.
• We are reminded that we are not self-made creatures … each of us is a remarkable blend of the rich history and traditions that we have inherited from our ancestors … and what better way do we have of honoring our heritage than by sharing WHO we are with others … and perhaps even melding the best of our styles with the best of our neighbor’s lifestyles, thus enriching ALL of our lives.
• We know that ALL life is a precious gift from God. With this commandment, we are called to NOT just value life in general BUT to accept the awesome responsibility to do what we have to do to preserve and protect life for EVERY living creature ~ regardless of their background, gender or lifestyle.
• When I preside at a wedding, I remind the bride and groom that they are making an abiding promise to their life’s partner. Respecting their vows and commitments to each other not only establishes a strong marriage but also undergirds wholesome family values and strengthens extended family ties that cannot be easily broken.
• Take the time to count ALL of our blessings and not just material possessions, and by doing so, we will soon discover that we don’t need to rob anybody else of their fame and fortune in order to be RICH!
• Gossip, slander and innuendo only shreds the fragile fabric that binds us all together and opens the door to misunderstanding and hatred. We can build and strengthen community ONLY by speaking the truth in love ~ whether we are speaking TO a neighbor or ABOUT a neighbor.
• And, finally: be satisfied with what you have! Recognize that God truly does give us exactly what we need … when we need it. So, we don’t have to lust after what everyone else has but, instead, can pour our energies into discovering what our neighbors need most … and providing it when they need it.

Living faithfully in community as children of God is not just a matter of checking off the commandments we excel at … or noting the ones we have to work harder at. Rather, God’s Commandments were given to us as a gift to help us shape our love of God and our love of one another.

In the same way, the journey of Lent comes to us as a gift and opportunity to:
• Mold the witness of the church
• To renew our commitment of faithfully worshiping and praising our God;
• To reshape our lives in the image of Christ; and
• To deepen our love of neighbor, both near and far.

Can you imagine the difference it would make in our lives, in our world, and in our ability to be centered in our faith ~ simply by not being satisfied with NOT doing something but actively finding ways to positively live out God’s Wonderful Words for Living!

What a challenge! What a gift! Thanks be to God! Amen.

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