(Exodus 19 & 20)
There’s a peculiar story told about a glass hotel that sits on a lake. Every room has a balcony and despite the efforts of management, they cannot get people to stop casting fishing lines off the glass balconies. You can imagine that fishing lures and glass could make for some occasional broken glass. And so the owners called in consultants to address the problem. Everyone had ideas but nothing helped. That is until one woman said confidently that she could stop the practice virtually overnight. Of course they were skeptical. So what is it you can do that no one else has been able to do? Because frankly, we’ve tried everything! “It’s simple” she says. Take down the no fishing signs.”
Human beings are predictable and sometimes we act like children. We like to do precisely what we’ve been told not to do. Don’t eat that. Don’t run in the hall. Keep off the grass. Don’t covet. Don’t. Don’t. Don’t. We don’t like don’t. And so we rebel in some misguided attempt to be independent. And being independent is often based on the dependent relationship of doing the opposite of someone who must make the first move so that you can make your move.
This entire notion of rebellion and independence are good to consider as we read about Moses delivering the Ten Commandments. Maybe we need to be open to what we don’t know. And so…
We pick up the story of the exodus three months after the parting of the red sea. The people have arrived at Mount Sinai where God gives them the law-the ten commandments. We all know the list: Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy, honor your father and your mother, do not steel, covet or bear false witness, etc. We know the list and we can recite which ones we’ve broken.
It’s easy to question the timing and wonder if God is enslaving them with new rules. In reality, God gives them the law in love, so that Israel will know how to live out their relationship with God. Not just for Israel’s but that she would be a blessing to others.
One thing I’ve learned from my Jewish friends is that they regard the law as giving them the freedom to keep life holy. They are stewards of commandments given to enhance the well-being of community. In their paradigm, the law was not given as a new kind of bondage but a new kind of freedom! Living inside the lines of the law has the power to show love and give life, was what one Rabbi once told me. That is most assuredly an “eagle’s wings” perspective.
Next month one of my favorite people is flying in from Texas. His name is Russ and he is professor at Texas State University. He’s coming to St. Paul for an educator’s conference and for his wedding. Russ is a bit unusual, kind of a hybrid. As a child he was baptized and raised Christian but when his parents died he was moved to an aunt’s home and the aunt’s family was Jewish. His resulting faith is a beautiful blend of Judaism and Christianity. To Russ I will always be Rabbi Robyn. And when he bought a new home, he invited me to bless the mezuzah that was to be affixed to his front door frame. Mezuzah literally means door post in Hebrew. A mezuzah is a decorated cylinder (like the one printed in your service bulletin) that contains a small parchment scroll inscribed with words known as the Shema. The Shema speaks of the commandments and says in part:
And these words which I command you today shall be upon your heart. You shall teach them thoroughly to your children, and you shall speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road, when you lie down and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for a reminder between your eyes. And you shall write them upon the doorposts of your house and upon your gates.
The mezuzah is a visible reminder that every time you enter or exit—you are vowing that every action will be holy.
Keeping it holy (or of God) is the daily hope of every person of faith.
These well-known Ten Commandments that were given to Moses contain the foundations for faithful living, Jewish or Christian. If we simplified them, here’s how they would read
- God first
- Only God
- Respect God
- Enjoy God
- Respect your roots. Be nice.
- Value life
- Keep your commitments
- Live honestly
- Speak truthfully
- Be content
Using the law as a lens, maybe this is what Jesus was getting at when he said, “I have come not to abolish the law but to fulfill it.” Jesus’ life and death turned the law into gospel, an embodied truth leading to holistic salvation. What would happen if we formed our personal and communal ethics, our gospel way of living, based on… keeping God first, respect, living honestly, speaking truthfully, and regarding life as holy?
Perhaps all that has divided us will merge. And both men and women will be gentle and strong. And then all will cherish life’s creatures, living in harmony with each other and the earth.
And then everywhere will be called Eden once again.+
* The final lines of the entry are inspired by Judy Chicago’s poem, “The Merger.”