So, I did! I did something, a pretty common thing: I blamed my spouse for the problem. I had uploaded videos from flying across Lake Michigan for him to use, and they took up a lot of data, so I texted him to tell him that my email was dying because of these videos and he needed to download them. And he’s a kind and responsible man, so he texted me right back saying that he’d download and save them that night.
And then I thought, hmm, what else could be taking up space? So I clicked over to my trash, selected all, and hit delete forever. And twenty minutes later, when some 40,000 emails dating back to 2013 had made their date with oblivion, the red panic bar was gone and I was only using 65% of my space.
It feels good to take out the trash, doesn’t it?
We’ve come to one of the most Quaker moments in the whole Bible – the giving of the Ten Commandments – and I encourage you to use this time to take a spiritual inventory and then take out some trash. There’s no shame in it. We all let things accumulate: assumptions we make, small unfaithfulnesses that we excuse, little messes (and sometimes big messes) here and there that need cleaning up.
In today’s story, at the base of the mountain where the Law was given, the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke. Friends, God’s presence among us in the silence is just as mighty and mysterious and thunderous.
At Mt Sinai, the Hebrew people were given the Law, which is 613 separate commandments but also so much more. It’s a vision of what deep and brave and centered worship can make us: a just and loving community, one where people are honored and cared for and where nothing is worshiped other than God.
The Ten Commandments are one summary of the law. Another is found in the words of Jesus, when he says that all the Law and the Prophets hang on two commandments: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
Jesus said some things that might have scandalized other rabbis, in his time, but that’s not one of them. Love God and Love People – love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself – was a pretty standard summary of the 613 laws and the story that underlies them.
Love God. Love people. Each one of the Ten Commandments can be read in two parts: as a way that we live in loving relationship with God, and as a loving way of living with one another. Living by this law can be hard, but it’s also freeing – it gives us space and grace to become the reflections of God that we were created to be.
So instead of just talking, I want to take time this morning to experience the grace of the Law together. Let’s gather our hearts, as the Hebrews gathered before the mountain, and listen.
One: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.
God heard the cries of his people, in slavery, God, in the burning bush, called Moses to the task of leading the people out of slavery and sent him back to Egypt. There, Moses confronted Pharaoh… and here is where we often misremember the story.
We remember it as Moses demanding that Pharaoh let the people journey off toward the Promised Land, but that’s not actually how it went. What Moses asks is this: Send off Israel My people that they may celebrate to Me in the wilderness.
Let my people go… that they may worship. Worship is the opposite of slavery, in the Biblical narrative. Worshiping the God who creates and redeems and sustains us, rather than any weak substitute, is the mark of a free people.
How do we practice gratitude for God’s redemption? How do we understand ourselves as those who are no longer in slavery? Are there forces other than God to which we are tempted to give allegiance? What can we do to point other people—family, friends, and strangers alike—toward freedom and toward the God who frees us all?
Two: You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
We like to nail things down, don’t we? We’re striving toward a static image of perfection, one that we can achieve. But real life is in the motion, in the growing, in the developing. God is alive among us, powerfully moving.
How can we rid ourselves of fixed understandings of God? Are we allowing the Word to be active in our lives, and the Spirit to move freely? How can we let go of our preconceived notions about those made in God’s image, and celebrate as they grow and change?
Three: You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
This commandment is about more than just cussing. Names have power. Names that we use for God, for our experience of God and of sacredness, hold a special kind of power. We can use that power in a way that treats God as a tool, or we can use those names to invite one another into holiness.
A child’s first words are often the names of the most important people in their lives: mama, dada. We should name and celebrate the love that enfolds with childlike freedom and joy whenever we see it. Let’s reflect, for a moment, on the names that we use for one another. And let’s look, too, at the names we call ourselves.
Are we sensitive to the ways in which God’s name is used to justify ungodly behavior? Are we aware of the power that names can have, and careful in the names we use for others—and for ourselves? When others use names to degrade people, are we vocal in using names that bless and affirm?
Four: Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
Imagine, for a second, the Hebrew people gathered around the mountain, hearing the law. All they’ve known is slavery. All they’ve known is making bricks for the empire.
And now they hear that that they’re to rest one day out of seven, because they are to be like their God. They aren’t to do any work on this seventh day, and neither should anyone or any animal who works for them. That’s a revolutionary thought. It’s a completely new understanding of who they’re meant to be.
Do we understand that we are made for more than work? Do we set aside one day a week and keep it sacred, using it to connect more deeply with God? How do we practice restfulness? In places where we have responsibility, how do we encourage others to prioritize rest?
Five: Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.
This commandment is about so much more than just obeying our parents. It’s about honoring all those who have given us life and hope, all those who have stood beside us, all those who are bringing us into maturity. It’s respecting the people (and bodies of people) who teach us truth and give us guidance. And it’s the first commandment that comes with a promise: if you honor your life-givers, then you will live long in your land.
How are we honoring God as the source of all life? Do we respond with respect and care to those who provide for me, whether physically, emotionally, or spiritually? As caretakers, are we conscientious and honorable?
Six: You shall not murder.
Jesus said, You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.
There’s an anger that is righteous, and an anger that is unloving. We need, perhaps now more than ever, to discern the difference. Righteous anger and Godly love point toward the same goal, but when we harbor hate, we murder one another in our hearts. Every human life is worth preserving, because every human life bears the imprint of God, and our speech and our conduct should reflect that priority.
How can we become more aware of the deep love that God has for every image-bearer? Do our lives proclaim the power to put an end to war? Are we clinging to any hatred or hardheartedness? Have we fully committed ourselves to the welfare and flourishing of all people?
Seven: You shall not commit adultery.
In Jesus’ interpretation of this commandment, he says that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. He recommends that those who have wandering eyes pluck their own eyes out, and that those with wandering hands cut their hands off, rather than committing sin. That’s the Biblical standard: practicing faithfullness and self-control.
God is faithful to us, even when we don’t deserve it. God made a covenant with the whole world, after the flood, that destruction wouldn’t be the end of us. God loves us, and God asks that we respond in turn with faithful love. We’re asked, too, to love one another as we are loved. We’re to be faithful to our commitments- to our marriages, yes, but also to other commitments of love and devotion. Faithful to family, faithful to friends, faithful in the Body of Christ.
Are we resting in God’s covenant promises, anxious for nothing? Do we understand that God is faithful to ourselves and to others, even when we are imperfect, and do we treat ourselves and others as beloved? For those of us who are married: are we fiercely nurturing and protecting our spouse and our marriage? For everyone: are we examples of faithfulness, as family members and as friends?
Eight: You shall not steal.
Nothing belongs to us, in the end. Not our land, not our houses, not our furniture: nothing. It all belongs to God. We are just stewards of these gifts. We respect one another and God as the creator of us all when we respect one another’s property.
And here’s something from the Old Testament to mess with our modern sensibilities: taking care of the poor isn’t something kind and extra that we do. Charity is justice. Caring for the poor is part of righteousness. We cannot be holy people, or a holy community, without caring for the widow and the orphan and the stranger.
Do we understand all things to ultimately belong to God? Are we scrupulous in our use of others’ possessions and careful to repay our debts? Do we cultivate an awareness of how the poor and vulnerable are stolen from? Do our time and finances reflect our responsibility to invest in the work of creating justice?
Nine: You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
In a courtroom, people are asked to swear that they’re telling the truth in that one circumstance. Friends are called to live lives of truth in all circumstances – to be so honest that we can give our word as Friends rather than swearing an oath. But the temptation is always there to say things about people that we think are true, or that are probably true, or that might be true. Our God is a God of Truth. We are seekers of the truth, followers of the light, and this demands that we live radically honest lives.
Do we seek to know God as the source of truth? How is that truth setting us free? Are we honest and circumspect in what we say about others, and careful to protect one another’s reputations? How can we affirm in neighbors and strangers alike the truths that God proclaims about all people?
Ten: You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
Here the commandments explicitly turn inward, on our own wanting thoughts. We must do more than behave correctly; we must practice goodwill for our neighbor. We cannot love our neighbor, fully, if we covet what our neighbor has. If we try to practice the other nine commandments without also practicing interior discipline and seeking soul-level transformation, we will be ultimately unsuccessful.
Are we grateful to God for the blessings in our life? Do we submit our inner thoughts and attitudes to the Light? Do we avoid situations that would incite greed, envy, or lust? How can we practice contentment and joy with what we have?