Reflection and Prayers
So, who remembers where we and the Hebrew travellers were last week? Just in case the memory is a little hazy, let me remind you. Six weeks into the journey out of Egypt and the Hebrew people were in the wilderness between Elim and Sinai, feeling a little hangry [hungry + angry]. We saw how God provided, but not without some expectation about how the people should handle the divine provision. Well today, we find them a week further into their journey with God as they’ve made it to Mount Sinai where is going to explain to them a little more about the requirements of the new community. So the people have set up camp at the foot of the mountain and have been told to have a good wash and put on their best togs for God’s about to pay them a very important visit. And God’s not messing around here. We’re talking thunder and lightning – very, very frightening – trumpet blasts, earthquake, smoke – the full works. God has got their full attention as we read what happens next…
Well, they had a bit of a day of it, didn’t they? The receiving of the 10 Commandments is, of course, a pivotal moment in our faith history. For some, it celebrates the wondrous handing over of the divine blueprint for a new humanity. For a few, it marks the final time in history that God spoke directly to the people. And for many, it marks the acceptance of laws which have become the foundation stone for societies across the western world. But I wonder how we relate to them today? I wonder if you could have listed all 10 of them? It’s a challenge still given to those who are claiming asylum in the UK due to the persecution of Christians in their home country. Would you have passed this apparent Christian litmus test? Do the commandments themselves sound familiar and comforting, strange and archaic, easy to read or impossible to follow?
Well, for our first set of questions – for which won’t have any oral feedback – I’m inviting us to think about our everyday relationship with the 10 commandments.
1) Which of the ten commandments do you find easier/harder to obey?
2) What role do you think the 10 commandments – or the following ones (see the next chapter!) – have in the lives of Christians today? Do they influence your behaviour or view of what’s right and wrong? Should they?!
3) If you could add one commandment to the traditional ten, what would it be?
So how did you get on? Personally speaking, I might find the command to not murder an easy one but keeping the sabbath holy, honouring my father…? There are certainly a couple there with which I sometimes struggle. And what about an 11th commandment? Perhaps you could share your answers in chat. You may or may not remember that, back in the early 2000s, the Methodist Church asked for suggestions for the 11th commandment on 250 000 beer mats. Among the winning entries were –
- Thou shalt not worship false pop idols
- Thou shalt not kill in the name of any god
- Thou shalt not consume thine own body weight in fudge
- Thou shalt not be negative
I’m not sure how well I’d do with those ones, either! Well, those of you who have read on in the story will know that an eleventh commandment did follow. Along with a twelfth and a thirteenth, a fourteenth…in fact, 613 commandments in the Hebrew Testament, starting way back in Eden with the instruction to ‘be fruitful and multiply’ (Genesis 1:28). Which is another commandment that I could do better at…but that’s for another day!
For now, I invite us to think for a bit about why God gave the newly liberated people these rules for a new way of life. What might they tell us about God and about humanity? Where is the good news to be found in this passage and the surrounding story? And how might we live out the message form this passage afresh in our prayers, words, and actions this week?
As usual, we’ll be asking each group to feedback one thing on each question…
- What do we learn about God and about ourselves from this passage?
- Where do you hear good news in this passage?
- How might we live out the message from this passage in our prayers, words, & actions this week?
I wonder, then, how today’s reflection will affect how you think about, or act upon, The Ten Commandments. For some of us, the commandments and the two tablets on which they were written, might remind us that the ways in which we treat each other are inseparable from our understanding of, and relationship with, God. Perhaps they remind us that our faith is not something private, not something to be confined to a certain building or hour in our week but should inform the ways we relate to our families, our neighbours, ourselves. Perhaps they remind us that the God we praise is the God who liberates the oppressed, who blesses us with times of rest, whose name should be abused for our own ends.
Or maybe you think of the commandments as being like a teacher or mentor (Galatians 3:24-25). That God gave the Law to Israel to help them establish their new, more compassionate society – a place, unlike in Egypt – where work would not define your worth, where you wouldn’t have to keep up with the Joneses, where truth and gratitude would take the place of fake news and greed. Perhaps, as Richard Rohr suggests in our Lent book, we all need these building blocks, boundaries, and a sense of identity in our youth so that we might have the strength to face the complexities and contradictions of life and it’s only later, with some loss and learning, that we can more fully embrace God’s grace and love for all.
Or maybe, like the Biblical scholar David Clines, you think the commandments might only be good news for some, assuming, as they do, that they are addressed to married, home-owning, Israelite men who have children and possessions and slaves. Maybe – as the issue of male violence against women dominates our headlines again whilst the Government proposes sending asylum seekers abroad – maybe you’re wondering about how we might speak up for women and children, foreigners and the forgotten today. Maybe you’re inspired to think about how we can pray, campaign, and vote for laws which seek to serve the good of all, not simply the interests of some.
Maybe you’re just confused about this whole commandment thing or are still thinking about the 11th commandment and just how much fudge you could eat! If so, perhaps we need to take a breath and remember the words of Jesus, given over dinner with his friends one evening, saying – ‘A new commandment I give to you – love one another’. That seems a pretty good place to start!
Our prayers for ourselves and others today will be centred upon other words of Jesus but they might also illuminate our Lenten journey with Moses and co. You see, read on a few chapters and those at the foot of the mountain get a little forgetful, bored and a bit idol-worshippy, building a golden calf of which Moses isn’t a big fan so he throws the two stone tablets on the ground and smashes them. Israel’s future with God appears to be a little precarious and Moses requests that God shows him God’s glory…which God does, in a way – go to chapter 33 and you can read all about it. It’s a bit of a weird passage but essentially, God tells Moses to go stand on a rock, God passes by whilst Moses is in the cleft of the rock, face covered by God until He’s nearly gone by but then God lets Moses see a tiny part of the back of Him. If Moses saw any more, God tells him, he would die.
As I say, a little…unusual! But back in the 4th century, a Turkish Bishop called Greg suggested that Moses’ experience with God there is a little bit like our prayer life. For so often our words and phrases might feel so small in the presence of the glory of God but within the whirlwind of life, God places us on a solid rock – on the foundation stone of Christ – and so praying his prayer together can anchor us within the chaos of life.
Today, to allow us to encourage us to really think about the words we’re reading, Pam is going to read an extended version of Jesus’ prayer – the ‘dance mix’ from Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber. So together, let us pray –
Our Father, Our Mother, Our Holy Parent, The Source of All Being from whom we came and to whom we return, you who knows us better than we know ourselves. Jesus called you Abba and so shall we, even as we may have an ambiguous relationship with parenthood – Be to us our Holy Parent, the one who loves without condition.
Who art in heaven… Our Father who art in everything. Our Father who art in orphanages and neonatal units, and jail cells and luxury high-rises, who art in law offices and adult book stores, and in rooms alone with suicidal people. Our Father who art in the halls of Government and the halls of tenements.
Hallowed be thy name. Holy is your name. Ever since the beginning we have attributed our own sin and ego and wishful thinking and greed and malice and racism and ambition and manipulations of others to you and to your name – and yet your name remains holy.
Thy kingdom come… God, right now we beg you to bring more than just a small measure of heaven to earth because, if you haven’t noticed, we are in the middle of a global pandemic and millions are sick and dying, not to mention, the Earth is on fire. It’s a mess down here Lord, so we need your Kingdom to speed the hell up. We need wise leaders, and just systems and an extra dose of compassion for all of us.
Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven. Thy will and not ours be done. Forgive us when we use prayer as a self-help technique by which we can get all the cash and prizes we want out of your divine vending machine if we just kind of bug you to death through ceaseless prayer, because when it comes down to it, we know better. You are our Father whose name is holy and whose love is boundless and who wants, as our holy Parent, to hear our prayers.
Give us today our daily bread. Give us today our daily bread, our daily naan, our daily tortillas, our daily rice. Lord, give us real bread, even when we keep reaching for those literal and metaphorical Krispy Kremes. Give us the gift of enough-ness. May our response to perceived scarcity always be increased generosity for we are your children and from you we receive everything. Give us today our desire for the neighbour to be fed. Give us today a desire for a good that is held in common.
And forgive us our sins. As we forgive those who sin against us. Forgive us when we hate what you love. Forgive us when we would rather anesthetize ourselves than feel anything. Forgive us for how much we resent in others the same things we hate in ourselves Forgive us for the terrible things we think about our own bodies, bodies you have made in your image. Forgive us for thinking we know the hearts of our enemies.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Deliver us from the inclination that we too do not have evil in our hearts. Deliver us from religious and national exceptionalism. Deliver us from addiction and depression. Deliver us from self-loathing. Deliver us from self- righteousness. Deliver us from high fructose corn syrup. Deliver us from a complete lack of imagination about where you are in our lives and how you might already be showing up. Deliver us from complacency. Deliver us from Complicity.
As Jesus taught us, we are throwing this bag of prayers at your door. We are not asking nicely, Lord. We are your children and we are claiming your promises as our own today. Some of us are holding your feet to the fire, some of us don’t know if we believe in you, some of us are distracted and just going through the motions, some are desperately in love with you….but all of us are your children. Use these prayers to hammer us all into vessels that can accept the answer when it comes. For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever.
And the children of God say…AMEN.
@2020 Nadia Bolz-Weber. Those interested in receiving more prayers and reflections from Nadia might want to sign up to her website at https://thecorners.substack.com/
One more step along the world I go.