Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice, and said, "All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do." —Exodus 24:3from the baptismal liturgy:
Now behold, one came and said to Jesus, "Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?" So Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments." —Matthew 19:16-17
The way we know we've been transferred from death to life is that we love our brothers and sisters. Anyone who doesn't love is as good as dead. —1 John 3:14
Blessed are those who do his commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city. Revelation 22:14
"In Christian love you have presented these children for Holy Baptism. You should, therefore, faithfully bring them to the services of God's house, and teach them the Lord's Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments. As they grow in years, you should place in their hand the Holy Scriptures..."
A few days ago I serendipitously happened to buy a book by former New York Times foreign correspondent Chris Hedges; it's Losing Moses on the Freeway: The 10 Commandments in America, and in the author's story I recognize major parts of my own journey. In the prologue, author Chris Hedges explains God gave us the Sinai Covenant, the commandments, in order to enable and sustain community—"They [the commandments] were for the ancients, and are for us, the rules that, when honored, hold us together and when dishonored lead to alienation, discord and violence."
Chris Hedges opens the first chapter, Mystery, with his experience as a young seminarian serving a people and a church in the inner-city Boston neighborhood of Roxbury; its normative violence and human degradation, crumpling, decaying physical infrastructure, pervasive aura of wastedness and death amounted to a setting previously unknown (and probably unimagined) by him. On page 10 he calls it ghetto, and I'll define "ghetto" as any place - whether financially affluent or impoverished, ethnically and socially self-described or characteristically anything else - where nothing much goes in or out of that wasn't there the day before. By not interfacing with or even seeing people and ideas "other than" my own and my own kind, I fail to appreciate my uniqueness or even my identity.
On page 18 Hedges, son of a pastor, admits in words essentially identical to what I've said and written dozens of times over the past few years, "The church was part of my daily rhythm. I look at the world through the eyes it gave me." And also parallel to my experience he says, "But I also knew the church's dark side, its self-righteous smugness, its crushing piety, the way it used religion to exalt itself and how it often masked human cruelty behind the quest for virtue and piety." [page 19] To that I'll add the petty viciousness, self-centeredness, and destructiveness of both local and judicatorial church politics.
I relate closely to the author's anger as he chronicles [page 11] smashing a glass bottle against the front door of the church building as "...an ending, a final conclusion to a life spent in the powerful and claustrophobic embrace of the church. It is meant to be a break from God. But you trade one god for another. This is how life works. We all have gods."
For myself, the unanticipated separation from full participation in the church to which I'd devoted years of my life and that had played a central role in shaping my goals, lifestyle, and my entire worldview is like experiencing my own death.
On page 11 Hedges says we circle back to the origins our our lives, "if not to embrace it then to understand how it shaped us, to examine with less heat and anger our marks and scars." I'm still examining the mosaic in order to find my place, just as I try to discern ways I've helped create it as it has created and recreated me.
On page 175 the author wisely reminds us "They [the commandments] do not call us to practice total self-abnegnation, empowering others, as I did at first in Roxbury, to abuse us. They call us rather toward mutual respect and mutual self-sacrifice." In words from a pastor with whom I worked alongside, "God calls us to serve, but not to be walked all over." To illustrate his advice of setting (physical, in this case) boundaries so you won't be broken and violated, Hedges gives the example of Martin Luther King, Jr. walking from Montgomery to Memphis with a detachment from the National Guard. [pages 29-30]
From the Holy Communion liturgy in the Book of Common Prayer:
God spake these words, and said:
I am the Lord thy God who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have none other gods but me.
Lord have mercy upon us, and incline our hearts to keep this law.
Examine your lives and conduct by the rule of God's commandments, that you may perceive wherein you have offended in what you have done or left undone, whether in thought, word, or deed. ...
Ye who do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbors, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in his holy ways: Draw near with faith, and make your humble confession to Almighty God, devoutly kneeling.
Like the Israelites formed in the searing heat and God's minimal yet faithful supply of the exodus desert, we are above all a people, a nation. In Lord's Day, Sunday, Sabbath worship we retell, re-enact in baptism and the Eucharist and reclaim the meta-narrative of our deliverance from death into life, of Jesus' death and resurrection. Although sometimes I think I loved the Church more than I loved Jesus, after beginning really to hear my story, someone asked me why on earth I'd remained in the church at all and I replied, "This is where I find the sacraments!"
As I wrote in the class handout for class 4 of the Theology of the Cross series I developed and facilitated during Lent 2007 and the following summer, Theologian Jürgen Moltmann describes baptism as "sign, witness, representation and illumination of the Christ Event" and we can claim the same about the Eucharist. We also know Martin Luther did not understand sola scriptura – "Word Alone" outside of grace alone and Christ alone. The sacraments are actions of the entire Church in every place and time. Do they belong to Jesus? Yes, of course, but Jesus uniquely charges and authorizes his followers with continuing his life-giving action in baptism and the Lord's Supper.
In the Love chapter: "But by giving up parts of ourselves for others, by accepting that we must be willing to lose life to create and preserve life, we honor the core of the commandments. The commandments hold out to us the possibility of love." [page 173] Chris Hedges [page 174]: "The covenant offered by the commandments, the covenant of life, is the covenant of love. It is a covenant that recognizes that all life is sacred and love is the force that makes life together possible. ... But it is never too late to turn back. Atonement permits a new way of being. It calls us to life." [pages 173-175] We are people of Maundy Thursday, who have been given and who have received Jesus' New Commandment, the mandate of love faithful unto death; by faith and in the Spirit we have infinite access to Jesus Christ's atonement for the buying back, the redemption, for the life of all creation.
To quote Moltmann again, "Nomadic religion is a religion of promise!" John the gospel-writer tells us God makes tabernacle, a portable temporary shelter, "pitches a tent" with us, traveling essentially unencumbered so as to be able to pick up easily to continue the journey alongside creation. Like Jesus of Nazareth, we are created in the very image of God, both fully human and completely divine and claim our Divine Nature until the human and divine hardly can be distinguished from each other.
Then Moses took the book of the covenant, and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, "All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient." —Exodus 24:7
The Hebrew bible witnesses to God among us in tabernacle and temple, in the prophets and in the people. Doing The Word, "Performing the Scriptures": The Word made Flesh—doing the Word? Try simply being the Word, God's gracious, unmediated presence? Jesus and us! Losing Moses on the Freeway... people in vehicles move fast on freeways and on toll roads, too, and they tend to travel by themselves and distracted by media. In any case, it's not an optimal situation for observing a neighbor's needs or for slowing down enough to respond to anyone else's situation or recognizing one's own needs, either. Every day the implied give-and-take of "conversations" in Gmail strikes me as a possibility of moving away from anonymity and alienation to being known and connected.
In the Idols chapter about the band Phish Chris Hedges observed, "The experience of belonging to the crowd appeared to give to followers a new, vibrant community, even as it destroyed community." [page 45] But baptized into the reconciling Christ event, we no longer live under the reign of death, its idols and its artifacts, but in the alternative community countering individualisms of covetousness, greed, commoditization, consumption, superfluity and (ultimately) despair.
here we will take the bread of new birth,
here you shall call your sons and your daughters,
call us anew to be salt for the earth.
Give us to drink the wine of compassion;
give us to eat the bread that is you;
nourish us well, and teach us to fashion
lives that are holy and hearts that are true.
Marty Haugen, Here in This Place/Gather Us In, © 1982 GIA Publications, Inc.
my Amazon review: law that binds; commands that free
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