I don’t know about you, but the weather that we have had this past couple of weeks has lifted my spirits and fostered the notion that it is about time to start some spring cleaning. A chance to get rid of those things that are unnecessary and distract. A chance to focus on the things that truly matter in our lives.
Jesus does his own spring cleaning as he enters the temple and turns over the tables. He chases all of the livestock out with a whip. He empties the money changers bags. It is a call to keep the temple a holy place and not be distracted by those seeking personal gain.
God calls Moses to do a little spring cleaning as well. The people of Israel are reminded that they are God’s children when Moses is called upon to consecrate them. This prepares them to encounter God through Moses and the Word that he will share with them after speaking to the Lord on the mountain. This third covenant that we encounter during Lent is God’s promise of community revealed to us in the Ten Commandments. It is the promise of Community, showing a way for us to live in relationship with God and our fellow sisters and brothers.
When we read past our lesson in Exodus, we read of the trembling and fear that grips the people of Israel.
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, and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.” Then the people stood at a distance, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was. (Exodus 20:18-21)
God knows the way of the people, and God knows how easily humanity can be tempted and turn away from their faith. It is in the law that is given to them at this point that they shall live their days. There will be constant reminders for them as they continue on so that they will not forget the Lord. It has been easy for them to do that in the past and God knows that they will easily fall into the same trap in the future. Hopefully, these laws that are given will be a sense for them to remain faithful and seek righteousness. Yet, the reality is that God, knows very well that every single one of these commandments will be broken sooner rather than later. The breaking of these commandments leads to a lack of community. The very thing that God is hoping to instill.
We witness a breakdown in community when we fail to be open to conversation with one another. When we fail to listen to one another or choose simply not to hear the other side of the story. We easily do this by surrounding ourselves with friends that are like minded and write off those that we disagree. We listen halfheartedly and then continue on without truly stopping to contemplate what we have heard. Our society fosters this way of interacting.
When we have individuals that step in to question the status quo they are chastised and berated. This drives us even farther from community. A community in which God is encouraging us to live into. The Ten Commandments, we take as nice suggestions, but truly we are not suppose to adhere to all of them, are we?
As we focus less on living into community and more on our personal lives, we forget what it is like to embrace the other. To embrace our sisters and brothers that are different from us. Instead of becoming worldly, we become self-centered.
In the Ten Commandments, the Israelites, now have a road map, on how to live into relationship. That relationship starts with God as we can witness in the the first commandments. That is just the foundation, because the rest direct them how to be in relationship with one another. Walter Brueggemann writes, “The commandments might be taken not as a series of rules, but as a proclamation in God’s own mouth of who God is and how God shall be ‘practiced’ by this community of liberated slaves.”
The commandments come with no judgement attached to them. The people attach their own judgement. The onus for following the law is on the individual, not on any outside source. Now, of course in a civilized culture, we have attached punishments that align with many of the commandments.
The commandments are actually given with a reminder that the Israelites are saved people. “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” It is in this redemption that God now calls the people into a relationship that begins with the Divine. The relationship with God, or the Divine, then extends to the rest of humanity.
In the spring cleaning, God reminds the people that their way of being in conflict before should now be focused on relationship and living into community.
This same promise of community flows down for us today. The Ten Commandments are part of Luther’s Catechism and he deemed that they were a necessity for us to know and practice. In the Large Catechism, Luther writes,
This much is certain: those who know the Ten Commandments perfectly know the entire scriptures and in all affairs and circumstances are able to counsel, help, comfort, judge, and make decisions in both spiritual and temporal matters.
God desires to be in relationship with us. We are created in the very image of God and thus as we foster and grow our relationship first with God, our relationships with others will begin to blossom as well. The way that we attend to our relationship with God is the model for which we attend to our relationships with our neighbors.
Lent is a opportune time to focus on our relationships as we take the intentional time to be in prayer. We can choose to do our own internal spring cleaning as we repent of those sins that we have committed against God and our neighbors, both known and unknown. Like Jesus in the temple, we too are encouraged to scatter those things that deter us so that we can focus on our relationship with God. Those things that distract us from living into community. Those things that give us a false sense of hope.
As we get closer to approaching the cross on Good Friday, we are reminded that to do so as a community only strengthens us and our relationship with a Christ that is willing to be crucified to show us God’s love. On the other side of the cross, we know that we are a redeemed people whom God’s covenant continues for us today. One part of that, is that in God, we will ultimately find community. A community that loves and supports one another. A community that not only celebrates one another’s joys, but a community that lifts each other up in the brokenness and suffering.
Let us pray. Welcoming God, you call us into community with the Trinity. A community in which we are surrounded by love and grace. May this relationship and community we foster in you, be the starting point for community with our neighbors. Amen.