*You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath,*
*or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them… Exodus 20*
I try to figure out why it bothers me so much when I read about the US court judge who insisted on placing a big stone block with the Ten Commandments etched on it in his courthouse, and then defied a court order to remove them. What’s not to like about the Ten Commandments?
Well, there’s the matter of the First Amendment to our Constitution; those pesky words about making no law respecting the establishment of religion. These were the very first words of the Bill of Rights. We might ponder why this was so important to the people of the very young United States of America. Something about having religion crammed down their throats didn’t sit well with them; this was a big part of the reason many of their ancestors fled Europe to settle here.
I would love to ask this judge if he’s ever wondered why he never got to preside over a case of someone accused of not properly observing the holy Sabbath, or sent someone to jail for being covetous.. The reason, simply put, is that these transgressions do not violate the law he swears to uphold. If the Ten Commandments inform his legal judgment, that’s fine; he can hang a copy in his private study.
But my objection to the placement of the Commandments goes deeper than the US Constitution.
It seems that these Commandments speak to me; they invite me, yes, even instruct me, about how to have a close relationship with God, and with the community in which I live. They’re God’s instructions to me, not my instructions to others; they challenge me to live my life in a holy and respectful way. If I lay them loudly before others, I have made the tablet on which they are written an idol, and I end up using this idol to throw orders at others about how to relate to God and community. I am not entitled to do that; nobody is. At best, I am welcome to invite others quietly into a relationship with the holy – with the author of those words, not with the words themselves. God is God; the Ten Commandments are not God. They are awesome, but they are not God.
Rules – or Commandments - are strange things; we need them to live in community, but we sometimes tend to bludgeon others - and even ourselves - with them. Likely we’ve all felt that in one place or another – including, sadly, in church. So what do we do with theses stone-carved rules that lie at the center of God’s covenant with us?
There’s a reason we read Scripture in worship. It invites us to think, pray, imagine, and re-think – all of which bring us closer to God. Slinking away from church feeling bludgeoned or scolded doesn’t bring us closer to God. Might we talk about Law as being grounded in love and grace?
Of course we might. Sunday at 10 AM. You have wisdom on this subject too. I seem to say that a lot, only because it’s true.
Lenten Sabbath blessings-
PS Remember to set your clocks ahead by one hour tonight before you retire; you don’t want to be an hour late for a service that will include terrific music from Don Houghton and Ned Houston. They always make our time together even holier.