Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Community and the Ten Commandments

Exodus 20:1-17, Lent 3 B, March 8, 2015

Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.

The author of Hyperbole and a Half, Allie Brosh, describes a time from her early childhood. Before going to her grandparents’ house to celebrate her grandfather’s birthday, Allie’s mother made a cake. This was a special cake made of two round layers and covered in icing. Her mother even made animals out of marshmallows and toothpicks to top the cake.

Allie was desperate for this cake. It looked and smelled so good that she wanted to eat the whole thing! And she was determined to do just that. She climbed onto the counter and swiped a handful of cake! After her mom saw her grubby hands go for that cake, she moved it on top of the fridge. Yet four year old Allie was not above climbing the fridge to get at that cake. 

Just in time, Allie’s mom stopped her from reaching it. Somehow, she wrangled Allie away from the cake so that Allie could put on her dress. On the drive to her grandparents’ house, Allie stared longingly at that cake, just out of reach on the passenger front seat.

When they arrived, Allie barely got through hugging her grandparents before she asked for that cake. Allie’s mom was smart enough to lock the cake away in the back bedroom where Allie could not get to it. But Allie was not ready to give up yet! She pleaded and cried and complained to her mother. Allie would not shut up until she got some cake!

Not giving in, Allie’s mom told her to play in the back yard. Allie stood by the sliding glass door screaming and crying and pleading. But then she had an idea! She went over to the back bedroom and happily found that the window was open! Allie carefully removed the screen and climbed into the room. Victorious at last, Allie ate every last bit of that cake. She used her hands to shovel the cake into her mouth.

After she had swallowed every crumb and licked away every last bit of icing, Allie was one happy mess. It was at this point that her mother realized that Allie was being too quiet, which was much more dangerous than her tantrums. Her mother found her in the back bedroom groaning in pain and ecstacy. Allie spent the rest of the evening running around wildly and throwing up that cake, but she was too proud of herself to feel bad about it. http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2010/10/god-of-cake.html

Allie’s indiscretion is what you might expect from a young child. Who hasn’t looked at a delectable dessert or an encrusted roast and wanted to eat the whole thing? Unlike young Allie, we know that the social convention of only eating one slice of cake is for our own benefit. Most of us can enjoy the sweet, rich dessert in small amounts without getting sick.

Social conventions like this are often for our benefit as individuals and as a community. As are most rules and laws that we live by. Just as young children do better when they know the daily schedule, we also act better when we know how to act.

This is why the Lord gave the Israelites the ten commandments. The people had just escaped slavery in Egypt. Now they are wandering around the wilderness. Even as they are trying to find the Holy Land, they are also trying to discover their identity. They missed the structured days of slavery. Walking all day was also hard labor, but it was not fulfilling. The Israelites needed direction.

So God gave them the ten commandments. God reminded them who they were as God’s people. God gave them ten basic rules to live by. These set the structure for how they could live as a community. They needed to put God first and their neighbors second. By respecting God and each other, the Israelites could learn how to live as God’s chosen people. 

We continue to hold up the ten commandments as the most important set of rules to live by. They continue to give us a basic structure of how to treat God and each other. That is why the confirmation students study these laws every year. That is why the ten commandments show up in the lectionary four times every three years. These rules are important because they are more than just basic law - they are a covenant. In fact, they are a continuation of the Abrahamic covenant that we heard last week.

This week, I read in the news of a modern day example of a covenantal relationship structured by a set of rules and expectations. This example comes from an unlikely place - a senior living center in the Netherlands. The covenant here is not between the staff and the residents, but between the residents and…the residents! You see, at the Deventer senior home, college students are encouraged to live there too. Those students are allowed to stay rent free as long as they spend at least thirty hours a month with the elderly residents.

The staff takes care of the elderly’s primary physical needs, and the college students provide the companionship that the elderly desire. The youth help the residents go shopping and learn about the internet. One student even brought a group of residents into the garden with cardboard and spray paint to teach them about graffiti. The college students enjoy helping out, and they get more living space than they would in a dorm. Everyone benefits from this intergenerational experience. 

In the big picture, the rules at this senior center are pretty light. The college students have no curfew. They are allowed to drink in their rooms and have friends stay the night. In essence, the students are allowed to still have traditional college habits - as long as they spend an hour a day hanging out with the older residents. The rules provide a gentle structure for everyone to understand their role in this special community. http://www.thejournal.ie/help-the-aged-1814698-Dec2014/

And that is exactly what the ten commandments are supposed to do. Amy Erickson writes, “The commandments, as a whole, present an alternative vision to life in Egypt, a place where there was little interest in regeneration and rest and no freedom… The commandments mean to sketch out a space where human beings can live fruitful, productive, and meaningful lives before God and with one another.” https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1068 

Putting God in the center of our lives instead of ourselves or our children is a radical change for all of us, yet it is what God calls us to do in the ten commandments. God also calls us to care for our neighbors all the time - not just when it is convenient for us. When we follow these ten simple rules, we might just discover that we are creating the intentional community that Christ intended for us. Right here. Right now. Amen.

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