Thursday, March 9, 2017
Lenten Reflections on the Catechisms: The Ten Commandments
Alternating during the Wednesdays of Lent, I am taking turns with the local Lutheran pastor preaching or guiding meditations and reflections on themes from the catechisms.
Shared on Wednesday, March 8, 2017
Scripture reading: Exodus 20:1-17
The giving of the Ten Commandments was a moment of extreme fear. If we read on, this is what we find: that God spoke these words out of something like thunder and lightning, darkness and fire, and smoke on the mountain.
The voice of God spoke directly to his people, and the people were almost scared to death. They were surprised that the God who created everything, and who rescued them from generations of slavery endured under the system of the world’s great powers, and who defied the laws of nature, and who took care of them in the wilderness; that such a God could speak to them and that they could hear his voice and live.
What if the storm was much more than the face or the presence of God? What if the fire and smoke were the face of what God was giving to them in his words on the mountain?
Perhaps God’s love for us, and our true love for God can be like a storm. Perhaps our true love for others and the ties that bind us to them can be like fire and smoke. Could there be fear in such things that could almost scare us to death? Or could there be great dangers, or great gambles, or great and daunting demands in such things?
What if the honoring of parents, or being involved in the death of another human being is like a storm? What if guarding the truth or envying what others have is like a storm? And, so, what if the love of God Himself is nothing less than a storm?
If that were so, then what purpose do the commandments serve in such a storm? How might the commandments help us?
The Ten Commandments begin with a kind of introduction: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” There are two words in the Hebrew language, in the Old Testament, that we translate as Lord. One of those words means “the boss”. The other word, spelled in four capital letters, covers the special name of God (Jahweh, Yahweh; which, in the past, English speakers also used to translate as Jehovah). This is the word or, rather, this is the name that’s used in the commandments and the law.
This word “LORD” is not a name like Sam or Suzy. It describes the mystery of all personal identity: I am who I am. That’s the name for Lord used in the Commandments. This name of God asks us to personally know (or to learn) who God is: by experience, by prayer, by how we live, and by how we respond to life and to other people.
How might these Ten Commandments enable us to learn about the God who created us and who loves us? How might the Ten Commandments help us to learn who God is?
The introduction also told the Israelites (and it tells us) something more about who God is. The God of the Ten Commandments (the God of the law) is the God who rescues us, who sets us free, who delivers us from forces and circumstances that seem too big for us to deal with, who changes our lives in ways that are not humanly possible. This, from the very start, is the God of grace, the God of gracious self-giving and love.
If we belong to such a God as this; how does this enable us to understand what God is after? What God is looking for from us, in the Ten Commandments? How are the Commandments designed to produce the results that a God of grace and self-giving love would want?
When we talk about the Ten Commandments, it sounds as though we were talking about rules and orders. A better translation would replace the term “The Ten Commandments” with “The Ten Words”.
This doesn’t soften the commandments. This doesn’t reduce them to being only the ten suggestions.
In Hebrew, the whole idea is that words are powerful. Human words have great power. The saying that “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me” isn’t true. Words can hurt, and words can bless. Words weaken and words empower.
God’s words do this infinitely more than this. God’s words make things happen. God’s first word was, “Let there be light.” And there was light. God’s words have created everything that exists. One day, they will create a new heaven and a new earth.
God’s words can recreate anything. They can recreate you.
How might God’s words in the commandments change you? How might they recreate you?
In some ways, you and I, in our lives, are living words of power. With God, this is infinitely true. The Gospel of John tells us that the God who speaks into being everything in creation is something like a word. “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God… All things were made through him… And the word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth….” (John 1:1-14)
We know this word as Jesus. In Jesus, God became one of us, and (for a time) lived among us as simply as any another human being. Then the word, this word called Jesus, started recreating those who paid attention to him. Jesus, the living word, began to recreate them through his way of living, and through his spoken words. So, they followed him and stayed with him.
Then this word called Jesus took upon himself the sin of the world, which is our own sin, and died for those sins.
Something like this had to happen, because our sin comes from so deep within a human nature that has separated itself from perfect reliance upon God and, therefore, we always fall short of his commandments. We are never quite in step, never in true harmony, with the life God that wants to speak into being through us.
Great harm comes from this; greater harm than we know. This, after all, is where God’s law and our relationships give us the fears and the dangers that are greater than those that come from storms, and smoke, and fire.
Our nature, separated from God by sin, runs too deep to be changed, or reshaped, by mere words alone. God’s word had to become flesh: as solid, and as real, and as lived out as we are. God’s word had to become a real part of us: as real as our own brains, and hearts, and flesh, and blood.
So, this word, that we call Jesus, became one of us, and stood in for us, and died for our sin, and carried that sin away from us. Jesus buried that sin in his own grave, and then he rose from the dead to give us a life of resurrection, in which our sins die daily, and we rise daily to a new life; a holy life. Holiness means a life in tune with God’s harmony: a life in keeping with God’s purpose for us; God’s word to us.
How do we receive that new source of life through Jesus, in which we live the gracious words of God?
How do we maintain that new source of life, through Jesus, in which we live the gracious words of God?
May the mercy and peace of “the word made flesh” in Jesus dwell within you. May the law of God become, for you, not only a word of fear, but a word of grace and love.