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Monument or Movement?
A Monday Meditation by Pastor Baker
August 18, 2008

For the next ten weeks, Monday Meditations will be a little longer than usual since it has been requested that I share my sermon series on the Ten Commandments in this format.

For those of you on this list that are preachers, I highly recommend you consider doing a series like this, even if you are like me and rarely depart from lectionary preaching as a general rule (Ordinary time is a good time to do so). The work of preparing these sermons, studying the commandments, creating a lectionary so they can be interpreted Christologically within the larger canon, and engaging in dialogue with Church traditdion in their interpretation, has all proved to be transformative for me.

For those MM readers who are lay people, I highly encourage you to use these sermons as a mere starting place to do your own biblical and spiritual exploration in how God's commands can be experienced both as gift and training in freedom.

In Christ,
Pastor Kevin
Top Ten Torah Sermon Series Sermon 1
Monument or Movement?

Exodus 20:1-17, Psalm 1, James 1:19-25, Matthew 5:17-20
Few people do not know about the debates surrounding public displays ofMoore Monument the Ten Commandments in schools, court rooms, and legislative buildings. One of the more well known controversies involved Chief Justice Roy Moore of the Supreme Court of Alabama, who garnered national attention back in 2003 for refusing to have a two and a half ton monument of the Ten Commandments removed from the State Courthouse, despite contrary orders from a federalMurphy NC 1 judge (Picture top right). But Chief Justice Moore is not the only one who likes Neveh Synagogue"PDTCs" (public displays of the Ten Commandments) - take a look at this synagogue in Portland, Oregon (second pic right) - or the largest display of the Ten Commandments in the world, which is right here in North Carolina - a display that can even be seen from orbit! (Above on lawn and below from orbit).
Murphy NC orbitIt is unfortunate that discussion of the Ten Commandments today is often reduced to controversy over "PDTCs" - we debate endlessly about whether we should we have them encased in class in school hallways, etched in granite in front of legislative buildings, or hanging on court room walls and legal chambers. Such deliberations, regardless of where a person comes down on such an issue, often serve as tedious and protracted exercises in missing the point. If having God's torah written in stone was the main issue, it is likely that Moses would never have broken the originals (Exodus 32:19). The biblical story does not seem as troubled about where to hang, place, or display God's holy law, as it is concerned about whether or not God's people are living into these ten words with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. As one person has pointed out, honoring God's commandments is more about a movement than a monument.[1] These ten words are not about a monument-commissioning judge, but about a covenant-making God; they are not about constructing a spectacular spectacle, but about creating a peculiar people who are in this world but not of it; they are not about etching God's holy law into stone, but writing the very words and will of God on every human heart.
It is interesting to note that while many people in society have been busy trying to get the commandments put on public display, churches, even the United Methodist Church, have allowed the commandments to disappear from much of our worship, our teaching, our confirmation classes, and our preaching. The other day I was blessed to receive some books from a retiring Methodist minister who was cleaning out his library. One of jewels I ran across were two little booklets that served as a Methodist Catechism from years ago. One was called "The Standard Catechism" and the other, for younger people, "The Junior Catechism." They were done in a simple question and answer format that would be easy for children and adults to study and memorize. What did I find in both? The Ten Commandments. The Catechism copyright was dated 1905, and again in 1929. I am not sure if they were ever printed again after that, but one thing does seem certain - while we have been busy putting the Decalogue in stone and on walls we also seem to have been just as diligent in removing them from our lives, our memory, and our daily practice.
The problem with displaying the commandments in public places is that they are out of context. God's law was given to God's people in the context of worship and covenant. When we place them in courtrooms or school houses we neuter them, rob them of their divinity, and assume they make sense as mere moral guidelines or legal motifs. Sure, it is a good idea for everyone in the world to refrain from stealing and to avoid killing, but how do prosecute someone for coveting? How do you take someone to jail for not honoring their mother or father? You may not know this but Jews, Protestants, and Catholics all number the 10 commandments differently. In the end, they all come up with ten, but in different ways. For Jews, the first commandment is not "you shall have no other gods before me" but Exodus 20:2: "I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery." Ever seen a public display of the Ten Commandments that started with that one? I doubt it.
But what do the Ten Commandments have to do with Christian living and believing today? Everything. Ever since the time of St. Augustine in the fourth century, the church has required candidates for baptism and initiation into the church to learn and know the Ten Commandments. Martin Luther, the great reformer said that "anyone who knows the Ten Commandments perfectly knows the entire Scriptures."[2] John Wesley wrote in one of his sermons that "the moral law, contained in the Ten Commandments, and enforced by the prophets, He [Jesus] did not take away. It was not the design of His coming to revoke any part of this. This is a law which never can be broken, which stands fast as the faithful witness in heaven."[3]
In other words, Jesus and the Ten Commandments go together. Are they still binding on Christian living and believing? Absolutely. Moses climbed Mt. Sinai so that God's will and God's way could be inscribed on stone tablets by the very finger of God. Jesus climbed a hill called Golgotha so that God's will and way, revealed to Moses and the people of Israel, could be etched on every human heart. In Moses time, stone tablets were placed in the Ark of the Covenant and carried with poles from place to place until they could be put once again within the tabernacle in the holy of holies. Now through Jesus, God desires to place the law of God within our bodies, to be carried around from place to place in our bodies which are nothing less then temples for the tabernacling presence of God.
Matthew's Gospel says it clearly. Jesus did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. This is a truth that is lost on many contemporary Christians. I had this discussion with someone several years ago. I was making some references about Christian discipleship from Scripture passages in the Old Testament. At one point, my friend interrupted me and said: "but Kevin, you are quoting from the old bible. We no longer live under the old bible; we live under the new one." I was dumbfounded. I asked him if that were the case, why he thought the Old Testament books were in the bible at all. "Oh that's easy," he replied, "they are there for background material." Church, let me be clear. The Old Testament is not the old bible, it is the Christian bible; and in terms of the law, Jesus was crystal clear. He did not get rid of it. In fact, what he did to was fulfill it, amplify it, and intensify it.
In Jesus' famous sermon the mount, he comments on the commandments and says things like "you have heard it said 'do not kill' but I say do not harbor anger against another;" and "you have heard it said to not commit adultery, but I say do not lust in your heart." Too often we read the word Pharisee in scripture as a person to avoid because of their legalistic attempts to live righteously - but Jesus turns that logic on its head and proclaims that our righteousness is to exceed that of the Pharisees. In other words, not only are we to know, obey, and keep the commandments to the letter, but we are to go a step further internalizing the spirit that is behind each commandment. No minimalist obedience will do; no attempts to only do what is necessary will suffice; being a good person on the outside is not enough. In Jesus, we receive the fullest revelation of what God intended by the commandments in the first place - namely that they would not only transform our behavior towards God and towards our neighbors, but they would transform out hearts, our minds, and desires, our hopes, and our aspirations.
One day, a rich ruler asked Jesus: Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? You know what Jesus said in response? You know the commandments: Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother. The man responded with "all these I have kept since I was a boy." "You still lack one thing - sell all you have and give it to the poor."[4] What we miss in this story is that the ruler has a monument mentality and Jesus has a movement mentality. Jesus didn't make up another commandment; he simply is teaching the ruler that what he had said was not true. He had not kept the commandments his whole life - if he had, money could not be put before God - if he had, the love of comfort a life of leisure could not detour his faithful obedience - if he had, he would not have turned away sorrowful. Jesus came not to abolish the law but to intensify it and internalize it. But there is more, Jesus also came so that in Christ we might live up to both the letter and the spirit of God's law by the power of the Holy Spirit living within us.
The Decalogue, or Ten Words, were never meant to be a monument but a movement. They are a gift from God, for God's people, and for guiding Christian living and Christian loving. They are words that were given to a people who were journeying from slavery into freedom. Why else would God's very first words be: I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
Christian disciples are still called to journey from our slavery to sin and death into the freedom of God's glorious light and truth; to journey from a life of slavery to possessions, distractions, addictions, and diversions into God's holy freedom of truth of love. In Christ, we can turn from being liars to being truth tellers; we can turn from greed to sharing, from belittling life to honoring life's sanctity. The ten words are words to help us on that journey; words that direct our feet away from Pharaoh's regime of death and towards God's in-breaking reign of life; words that are not just good for holding sinful chaos at bay, but words that call God's community together in worship, in service, and in love for the Triune God who his Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Today, God is looking for people who desire to journey from slavery to sin and death into God's freedom and promised future. Is that you? Then obey the Ten Commandments. Today, God wants you to journey to this table, a type of personal Mt. Sinai, so that God can etch God's holy Torah on your hands, your feet, and your hearts. Is that you? Then feast on Jesus, the living Torah of God. Today, God desires to gather a peculiar people in worship and give them marching for how to move out into the world in boldness and truth. Is that you? Then teach, preach, and live these ten words of life. Amen.

[1] Jan Turrentine, editor, "Honoring the Ten Commandments: Monument or Movement?" by Acacia Resources.
[2] The Large Catechism
[3] Upon our Lord's Sermon on the Mount 5
[4] Luke 18:18-22