Zeal for Your House
Trinitarian Congregational Church Third Sunday in Lent
Anthony S. Kill March 4, 2018
Texts: Exodus 20:1-7, 7-17, John 2:13-22
Throughout the centuries, the ten commandments have stood as one of the hallmarks of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Those two tablets of the law were seen as the founding pillars and the true compass for good and righteous living. Now, maybe it’s because I was a product of the1960’s, but I’m just anti-establishment enough that I never liked the having the ten commandments as the centerpiece of Christianity. Part of my issue was that I understand the God of our Christian tradition to be a relational God, a God of grace and mercy and forgiveness, rather than a legalistic deity, while I always thought that the Commandments seemed to come out of a law-code concept of religion.
Also, I think I still harbored some childhood images of the commandments being the “house rules” of a strict parent God, a stringent set of ‘rules of play’ for us in the game of life. So this disciplinarian God would wait on the sidelines to blow the whistle on us if we broke the rules or stepped over the line. That is an image of God as primarily a legal judge, who convicts us and passes sentences of punishment on us if we transgress the law; or as a performance judge, who rates our success or failure like the judges at the Olympic games — “Let’s see, Tony’s scores for today add up to 5.5, 5.3, .7, 5.8…”
But I’ve come to realize that the most important, the most vital words of the Exodus law code weren’t even included in the commandments as we learned them and memorized them as children. The most important words are in the very first sentence of the passage Cindy just read: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. And THEREFORE
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage, And THEREFORE you shall have no God’s before me; And THEREFORE you shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain; And THEREFORE you shall remember the Sabbath.
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage, And THEREFORE you shall not kill, not steal, not bear false witness, not covet, . . . . and all the rest.
“I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and THEREFORE . . . .”
The Ten Commandments are not a law code, a list of rules that are meant to float free of their context of God’s loving and saving activity described throughout the first books of the Bible – God’s creation of the world and humankind, God’s choosing and calling Israel’s ancestors, and God’s initiative in delivering the people from the bonds of slavery and abuse in Egypt.
This context, this remembering of God’s relationship to the people keeps the commandments personally oriented: I am the Lord your God. And the word “your” in Hebrew here is singular – I am the Lord YOUR God, Cindy; your God, Sarah; your God Janet, your God, George; Your God, Bill, your God, Tony.
These are words given to you by your God. The law is a gift of a God who has redeemed you. The Ten Commandments begin with a word of good news about what God has done on behalf of “you” as a member of the community of faith.
Thus the covenant contract begins by God reminding us that living by the law is our response to something that God has already done for us. Moreover, the law is a continuation of the activity that God has already initiated in the world. The law calls us to treat the world and one another in the way that God has treated us in history.
God chose us, loved us, and set us free. God chose Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Rachel and Leah. God acted to liberate Israel from oppression and slavery. God has a special concern for the weak and the dispossessed. And ultimately, God sent his own Son, embracing human flesh to express God’s message of mercy and forgiveness and salvation to the world.
The people of a faithful God are called to be a faithful people. The people of a liberating God are called to be a liberating people. The people of a just God are called to be a justice-seeking people. The people of a loving God are called to be a loving people. The people of a righteous God are called to be a right-living people.
The call to covenant law begins with a call to memory, to remember what God has done for Israel, and for us. Because remembering isn’t just about the past; it’s about the future. A person who suffers from amnesia hasn’t just lost his past; He’s also lost his present and his future. He’s lost his orientation — that’s what the word “disoriented” means. Someone without a memory has lost her connection to the world. Life has no center, no direction, and no hope.
On the other hand, one who has that basis in memory – the memory of a gracious and caring and healing God, and a gracious and caring and healing community in their past – also has an orientation to their values in the present and their direction in the future.
In a real, flesh-and-blood embodied community, the word of God becomes a lived experience, and the law of righteousness becomes a spirited, joyful, peaceful and trusting way of being together. This is not a cold law code, this is a warm and attractive way of treating each other. – the blueprint of how people can live well in the world. And it also becomes a moral standard. Because people come to realize that when the blueprint is violated – when selfishness and injustice and gouging profit and abusive power become the standards of society – in the temple or in the marketplace – something is severely out of sync with the world We become a society with amnesia, and we will surely wander off lost.
But if we keep the blueprint and remember whose world and whose temple it is, then we will be able to build in our generation the sacred temple and the holy city — the temple of the spirit and truth, and the city of healing and justice and peace. Amen.