Last week we began our conversations around stewardship, and Luke and Amy spoke eloquently about how we are all called to “take the next step” together, about how our giving is an absolutely indispensable part of our faith journey, grounded in trust. Many more of you bought these wonderful devotional booklets, and I also hope you noted the prayer calendar. This effort must be ground in prayer. Yesterday we prayed for the Global Missions Committee and the Haiti team, the choir and the Property Management Committee and the Geezers last week. As this next week begins we’ll pray for Church School classes and teachers, supper clubs and lunch groups, the Local Missions Committee and the Neighborhood Mission Team, among others….
These are really important conversations and I need you to join the Stewardship Committee and I in prayerful reflection upon the gifts God has given us, and our response that we might live into Christ’s ministry in this place, together. In a complicated and conflicted world, this place matters. Your gifts – all of your gifts – matter.
I was going to dig into these issues of stewardship a little more fully today, and then we woke up Monday morning and turned on the news. We’ll revisit some of these stewardship themes again next week. But not today. Let us pray…
Here we are again. We woke up Monday morning to Las Vegas, our nation plunged into this too well-practiced cycle, from Aurora to San Bernardino to Blacksburg to Newtown to Charleston to Orlando: Thoughts and prayers, thoughts and prayers, the scramble for information – what we can know and what we can’t. Almost unbearable grief for at least 59 families, thousands more physically and emotionally changed forever. Leaders of all stripes try and figure out what to say and how to be, and we quickly snipe and blame and tell stories of extraordinary courage and bravery with tears in our eyes. And underneath lay the same set of questions: Who are we called to be? How is it that we cannot escape this violence? What can we do to be community, family, to each other, so we might be a people, a nation, a global community which reaches toward our best instead of our worst?
After two months of traveling 150 miles from Egypt, the people reached the base of Mount Sinai. God had accompanied them through the Red Sea, raining manna from the sky, and – from last week’s text – water springing from a rock. They camped for eleven months at the foot of the mountain. On the morning of the third new moon, chapter 19 says, there was thunder and lightning, a thick cloud on the mountain, blast of a trumpet so loud all the people trembled. The mountain was wrapped in smoke, the whole mountain shaking violently, trumpet blasts growing louder and louder, Moses would speak – I don’t know how – and God would answer in thunder. God invites Moses up, sends him down, then speaks directly to the people.
In the uncertainty God offers the law, these Ten Commandments, ten words, ten utterances. John Calvin, our Presbyterian “founding father” wrote of the third use of the law – he is speaking more broadly than the Ten Commandments, but the same principles apply. The first two are from Martin Luther. The first use of the law is to convict us of our sin, the distance between God’s glory and ours. The second is more practical – to restrain social evil, to function as a check, to offer boundaries for the community. The third is Calvin’s contribution – to teach us how to live together. For this law is, Calvin writes, “ the best instrument for enabling [the people] daily to learn with greater truth and certainty what that will of the Lord is which they aspire to follow, and to confirm them in this knowledge.”
How are we to begin to live together? “Here’s how it starts,” God says to the people. Folks have often noted how the commandments begin with matters of the heart, then turn outward to the ways we embody God’s love in our relationships with other people.
You shall have no other gods before me;
you shall not make an idol;
you shall not take the name of the Lord in vain;
remember the Sabbath and keep it holy; honor your father and mother;
you shall not murder;
you shall not commit adultery;
you shall not steal;
you shall not bear false witness;
you shall not covet.
While each commandment is worth books of commentary, I do think looking at the whole, as the lectionary does today, grants perspective. What do you worship, what distracts you from what God would have you do? We’ll explore our idols a bit more next week, but if you took the time and blocked out what you spent your time doing and what you spent your money on, what would that say about what matters to you? Remember the Sabbath is about seasons of worship and rest, rooted in the seventh day of creation. Sabbath is more than going on vacation with buddies or escaping to the mountains, though it can be that. It is resting your spirit, stepping off, for a moment, the train of consumption and production, to remember who claims you. To pray.
From inward focus comes outward living. Honor your father and mother, is not a blind, “do what we say,” commandment to club your kids with, but is about taking care of parents as they age in a society, then as now, that has little use for people when they can’t produce anymore. Some of you know this struggle too well. Caring for parents as they age is complicated, and we are called to bring the best patience and kindness we have, again and again.
The final five tumble out together, and are about how we look toward each other. I tend to think that the root of so much of the tragedy and cultural decay around us has so much to do with how we pay attention and react to each other, in person and online. Seeing each other as created by and beloved of God. We are too often unwilling to take the time and the effort. If we value another person, every person, as someone created by God like us, we would honor their life, we would not kill. If we valued the relationship with our spouse as covenant made with God, maybe we wouldn’t commit adultery. If we really understood that the belongings of someone else matter to them like the things we care for matter to us, we wouldn’t steal. We would speak words that were true. Please God, let us be a people who speak words that are true. We would be grateful for what we have and where we are, not always looking at others – their stuff, their lives, relentlessly comparing and sizing up, don’t covet ANYTHING THAT BELONGS TO YOUR NEIGHBOR, God says.
Here’s one thing I think these Ten Commandments offer us: God wanted the people Israel, this new nation, to know that their relationship with God and their relationship with others are bound together in ways you cannot ever pull apart. And every act, every act of love and kindness, every hug, every smile, every piece of you makes a difference to someone else. The converse is also true. Every snide comment, every frustration, every quip about someone – someone you know or someone you see on the news – breaks that down. Every racist joke or every time you sit in silence. Every gay slur. Every way we don’t pay attention to each other with our utmost, understanding EVERY ACT to another person is how we show how much we love God. In an age in which we’re all too quick to be cynical, too quick to be self-righteous, too quick to be confident we know the way and everyone else is an idiot. We blast an email or tweet. Instead of reaching out in kindness – I’ve said this word a lot recently and I’m going to keep saying it, please, God, let us be kind. To the person in the pews near you, who you know well or who you don’t yet. To a homeless brother or sister. To the mom standing in line for hours to get to the clinic in Port au Prince. To the teacher or person at school or at work who bugs you.
Being kind doesn’t solve all things and feels hopelessly naïve in the face of the brutality we saw in Las Vegas and have seen in town after town across this land. It sounds hopelessly naïve in the face of the political callousness and paralysis that reins. We need to build our kind words and actions on a foundation of courage, of resolve, of anger. We – and I fully include myself in this – need to be angry enough to want this to stop. We need to be heartbroken enough, instead of moving on to the next news-cycle crisis of the week. Reigning in the weaponry on our streets isn’t the only thing we can do, but it has to be part of the conversation. It must be. We have to – and this is more a moral issue than a political one – know that the ways we look to each other, that doing better, all of us, in EVERY interaction, does help weave together in some small way a society in which we actually care about each other – because to be honest I’m not really sure we do right now. That we understand that what affects you affects me, that what grieves someone in Las Vegas grieves us all, and that we are about building a church, neighborhoods and institutions and communities that see the value of every person, black or white or refugee or immigrant or republican or democrat or independent, gay or straight, rich or poor. The God that created and sustains it all calls us, through the Ten Commandments, and through the life and ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ to bear witness to our faith in word and deed toward ALL of God’s creatures. Not in any form of violence, but love. The extraordinary human kindness and compassion and courage we are capable of in times like these, as people laid on top of their friends and got strangers to safety, as people help people in Puerto Rico and other storm-wounded places shows us we are capable of loving God and neighbor. With God’s help, we can. The Ten Commandments are there to teach us how to live together. Will we learn?
All praise be to God. Amen.
 Number 10:11-12 supplies some of the timeline. According to this narrative, it took the Israelites two months to get to Sinai, then they spent over eleven months camped there at the base of the mountain.
 Exodus 19:16.
 John Calvin (1509-1564) on the three uses of the Law I found this blog post helpful, and lays out much of Calvin’s language from ‘The Institutes of the Christian Religion,’ translated and indexed by Ford Lewis Battles, (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), pages 354-361.