"Letting Go of Our Way and Embracing God's Way"

Uploaded by centexmcc on 11.03.2012

Today's scripture reading, the Ten Commandments, are integral to Israel's rich history,
and we do them injustice if we see them as nothing more than a code of ethics by which to live.
We trivialize them if we pluck them from Holy Scripture, paint them onto a yard sign or engrave them into a courthouse monument,
and remain ignorant of the beginnings of a people called Israel.
These people are a people whose identity was formed despite Pharaoh's attempt to crush their numbers with the mass murder of the newborn male babies of Israel
and despite his attempt to crush their Jewish spirits with enslavement. So eventually, God called out Moses to galvanize the people into a cohesive force
determined to secure their own freedom. And after the failed negotiations for their release – negotiations marked by plagues,
ranging from locusts upon the land, to great sores upon the human body, even to the death of the firstborn upon the families in Egypt –
when negotiations failed, the people miraculously made their narrow escape across the Red Sea to a place they had never been before. And they called this place freedom.
The sky was the limit. At long last their destiny was in their own hands, instead of the hands of their captors.
No more rules imposed upon them, no more threats to their lives. Now they could live as they wanted and worship as they wished without fear.
And so they danced and sang and laughed and shouted until they were exhausted and could celebrate no longer.
But they soon learned that everything in life has its price, including freedom. Longing for the good old days, they cried out,
"If only we had died by the hand of God in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread;
for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger." And so God gave them a gift in the form of manna from heaven.
But still they complained: "We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks,
the onions, and the garlic; but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at."
And so God gave them a gift in the form of quail. But they continued to complain and whereas, once they had been a cohesive people,
united in their quest for freedom, now they were a fractured population – every man, woman, and child for themselves.
And so God gave them a gift in the form of the Ten Commandments. It's as if God was saying, "This is what you were made for.
You were not made to wander, to be afraid, to hunger and thirst, to be lost. You were made to live in a community of justice,
in right relationship with your God. Stay true to these commandments, and this is where you will remain."
The Ten Commandments, and the books of law that follow, were meant to form Israel into a sacred community, a community rooted in right worship of God and living in justice and peace with one another.
The Israelites were to live as neighbors to one another, the foundation of which was knowing the God to whom they belonged.
Even though we aren't Jewish, this story still touches us. MCC churches worldwide welcome people who have been wandering in their own spiritual wildernesses.
We have felt our own bonds of enslavement by the law of the land, by the faith communities in which we have grown up,
and even by our family members. People and institutions have forced upon us inauthentic ways of living,
insisting that our expressions of love be like theirs and that our image of God be the same as theirs.
And when we come out and begin to live authentically, we may feel as if we have made our escape, but it isn't without cost.
Some of us have left behind the security of family relationships, jobs, and faith communities.
And sometimes, like the Israelites, we long for the good old days. Our spirits ache for security and acceptance.
We want life to be easier than it is. But we have had enough of people and institutions who have tried to crush our spirits and so we begin our own quest for happiness.
For many of us it's a quest that takes us into unhealthy and destructive behavior. For others we become obsessed with gathering around us enough friends and money to protect us from ever again feeling vulnerable.
We look for happiness in money, sex, chemicals, power, prestige, accomplishments – you name it. We've done it all.
But if we are honest with ourselves, we will admit that no matter how much money we accumulate, no matter how much power we acquire,
no matter how many chemicals we ingest into our bodies, we are never quite able to fill the hole in our spirits.
And after we have decided that maybe our way isn't working so well, we may finally be ready to let go of it and embrace a new way of life: God's way.
But this new way of life with road marks like the Ten Commandments,
is not, as we may fear, just an exchange of one life of bondage for another.
It's instead, an exchange of a self-focused life for an other-focused one. The Ten Commandments should not be read as divine finger-wagging or moral hand-slapping.
To be bound in covenant with God is to be set free to live as God's people. God's gift of the law to Israel was a means of protecting the community,
now that they were no longer slaves, and opening a path to the flourishing of life. And the commandments are just as pertinent to contemporary twenty-first Century living as it was for the ancient Israelites.
But for them to have significance in our lives, we need to sit with them and reflect on their purpose. We may even try converting the negative form of the commandment
into a positive form and see what effect it has for us. Having 'no other gods before me' means that money,
sex, and power will not wiggle their way onto the altar of our lives, and thus will not be used to exploit others.
Keeping the Sabbath becomes a reminder that all of creation is a gift and we have a responsibility to be wise stewards of it.
Honoring our parents and guardians reminds us that we are not self-made, that we stand on the shoulders of others.
Not bearing false witness reminds us of the dignity of truth and suggests that we should build up the community by speaking truthfully of our neighbors.
'You shall not murder' suggests that others are gifts who bear the image of God for us, and we are even called to heal those who have been harmed.
'You shall not commit adultery' reminds us to respect everyone.
'You shall not steal' teaches us to give more to the world than we take.
When scripture tells us not to covet our neighbor's house, spouse, or property, we are reminded to be content with the necessities of life.
And not taking God's name in vain invites an attitude of praise and thanksgiving toward God, rather than anger and cynicism.
The Ten Commandments are a recipe for joyful living. Ironically, we experience freedom and joy when we abide by God's laws.
Our lives are marked by joy when they are lived out in right relationship with God and with other people, not when we secure enough trinkets in life for our own pleasure.
This morning's Ten Commandments move us from a self-centered life of making sure we get our share of the pie
to an other-centered way of living – the first four commandments addressing our relationship to God, and the remaining six addressing our relationship to each other.
For many people, the Season of Lent is a time for letting go of things, giving up things.
For the next several weeks, we might want to consider giving up our own self-absorbed way of living, and instead, embracing God's way.
Not out of a sense of law-abiding compulsion or self-righteous living. But out of a sincere desire for happiness and true freedom.
We will know happiness, when we seek to live in right relationship with God and with others.
May God grant us the desire to do so. Amen.