A Sermon for 8 October 2017
A reading from Exodus 20:1-21. We continue to hear of the Israelites in the wilderness and what happens when they reach Mount Sinai in the third month of their freedom. Listen for God’s word to us.
“Then God spoke all these words: 2 I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 3 you shall have no other gods before me. 4 You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, 6 but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments. 7 You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses the LORD’s name. 8 Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore, the LORD blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it. 12 Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you. 13 You shall not murder. 14 You shall not commit adultery. 15 You shall not steal. 16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. 17 You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. 18 When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, 19 and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.” 20 Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of the LORD upon you so that you do not sin.” 21 Then the people stood at a distance, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.”
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!
Late in the 1980s, Bill Moyers sat down to interview Joseph Campbell. Campbell’s forty-year career of studying the great myths of the cultures of the world was coming to an end. At the same time, the world’s history was being impacted immensely thanks to the space race that a few decades earlier began to bring us full views of earth from nearly 40,000 nautical miles into space (https://www.nasa.gov.imag-feature/may-18-1969-apollo-10-view-of-the-earth). These were the days before Facebook and Goggle Earth. Campbell’s interview with Moyers regarding the power of myth even took place a year before the invention of the world wide web, which didn’t go live to the general public until August of 1991 (https://webfoundation.org/about/vision/history-of-the-web). Nearly thirty years ago now, the interview also happened a few years before the miraculous Hubble Telescope was launched, which lets us view light images deep into space and time. In the interview, Campbell pauses to reverence the amazing 1969 Apollo 10 and following images of the earth from space. He’s emphatic regarding the truth of that now infamous view. Thanks to scientific technology and the information age, we now readily can see what good theology has been trying to teach for millennia: from space we can see that there are no boundaries between the nations of the earth. Oceans are visible, vast and wide. And land too. Lakes and rivers and mountains and canyons also can be seen. But there are no visible borders between nations at 40,000 plus nautical miles from earth. From space we can see that everything on earth is connected – a truth that underscores the reality of the literal world wide web.
Sometimes it takes new perspectives – vaster sights for us to be moved to marvel at something that was intended to be obvious. The design of the universe is connection. Quantum Physics has been confirming it for a hundred years now. The truth of our planet is one. One intertwined web of life so that what we do here has the power to effect life on the other side of this world. We were not intended to understand ourselves, or any aspect of the creation, as separate. In fact, Reformed Theological Faith declares, what Shirley Guthrie writes in his classic Christian Doctrine text, that “to be a human being means to be created in the image of God.” The implications being three key factors: that: 1. life (is) received from and lived for God in a relationship of thankful dependence and active obedience; (that) 2. life (is) with and for our fellow human beings in a relationship of mutual openness and help; and (that) 3. life that is self-affirming and self-fulfilling . . . (is lived) in community with God and other people” (Shirley C. Guthrie, Christian Doctrine, 1994, pp. 212-213). Anything that separates us from that right-relatedness with God, others, and our deepest selves is sin. Out of sync with how it was intended to be.
Had we the big-picture view of interconnection from space in the first place, maybe we wouldn’t have needed the section of Exodus that is before us today. But it’s here as a gift from God so we will remember. So our lives will reflect the truth. . . . The commandments of God are given to the Israelites in the wilderness some 90 days after liberation from slavery in Egypt. It hadn’t been that long since Moses came in contact with God at Mount Horeb while he was tending the sheep of his father-in-law Jethro. Three new moons after leaving Egypt, the text records that “they came into the wilderness of Sinai . . . and camped in the wilderness” at the foot of that other mountain (Exodus 19:1-2). There Moses, who once had killed a man, began the lengthy conversation with God – instruction after instruction to be passed on to the people so that they would know for certain the interconnected design. So that all of them would learn. So that – free from Pharaoh’s rule – they would have clarity in their new life in the wilderness. What life really was like; and how the One who set them free designed for them to be.
The commandments from God teach that we are in relationship with the Sovereign God of the Universe. Nothing shall come before that. Not Pharaoh. Not a heroic leader. Not our own hungers and thirsts and fears. God is to be first in all our lives. It’s a mystery why the Divine would will it so, other than the fact that God is pure Love. Try to define the Divine any other way and we come up short of the mind-boggling reality of grace. Don’t even attempt it; we’re told in the commands. Just allow the One who claimed the name: I Am who I Am to be. Care must be taken as we live in and reflect to others this truth. It’s to our own detriment when we forget. . . . The commandments from God also describe what life together looks like for those who understand the truth of connection. We honor our parents – the wisdom of the ancestors. We respect life and committed relationships. We live content with what we have. We speak only truth. And satisfied with our own homes, families, and gifts from creation; we reverence what is ours for safekeeping and what is not. . . . Just to be sure we remember it all, we rest every week. We linger long in the freedom of the Liberator as we delight in the generous abundance all around. . . . Remember the whole list of the don’ts; and keep the list of whys before you as well just to be sure you know what it does look like to live together as those connected – rightly-related to God, others, and our deepest selves.
I wish all would remember. Don’t you? ‘Cuz aren’t we tired of the fights about where which commands need to be posted while senseless separation seems to rule the day? Can we bear one more story of a Lone Wolf who decides to take matters into his own hands? Do we honor at all the way God intended it to be when we fail to keep the view from space before us – the view that shows the intertwined web that is life? You know, this is the reality anyone under the age of thirty has known for their entire life. If any of us are struggling with interconnection, then the wisest among those under thirty can lead us in understanding how to live this way. If not tainted by a view of separation, connection is the world ethos imprinted in them since their childhoods when first they started surfing the web. . . . I don’t really know how not to sound kinda preaching today when the commands of God are before us in the text assigned by the lectionary for this Sunday. These are the gifts from our Judeo-Christian tradition which taught a people how best to live together in community. The gifts that still can guide our lives. It almost seems like they are based on God’s assumption that our eyes would grow cloudy. That our perspectives would be limited. That over the years we would forget the pristine blessing of the web which is life itself. . . .
Elsewhere in scripture, they beautifully are summed up fully in two simple statements: Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. And love your neighbor as your very self (Matthew 22:37-40). Do this, we are told. And we shall Live.
For the sake of this entire planet, may we remember the web.
In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
© Copyright JMN – 2017 (All rights reserved.)