This week’s headlines were much like any other’s—filled with news that can make us feel helpless:
The devastation and rising death toll from Hurricane Ian—the deadliest in the United States since Hurricane Katrina.
The continuing war between Russia and Ukraine – with thousands of Russians fleeing conscription, a major explosion to the Crimean bridge, and a subsequent Russian barrage on a Ukrainian town, killing at least 17 and wounding dozens.
Lethal capitalist greed from Amazon, who is alleged to be using targeted ads that bundle a chemical with no household use alongside other supplies to sell “kits” to teenagers who then use the materials to complete suicide. Amazon refuses to take responsibility or make change.
Ongoing unrest in Iran around women’s religious freedom; these anti-theocratic demonstrations continue to be met with violence and lethal force with dozen estimated killed and hundreds arrested.
In the face of all this and more it is easy to wonder, “What is the world coming to? Is there anything we can do to save ourselves from this path? Where is God and what can we possibly do to make any difference?” Though it may seem a strange starting point, the Ten Commandments speak volumes into such seasons.
As we struggle with questions like “How do we live in community with each other?,” this covenant between God and God’s people has plenty to say about how we might more fully embody our faith and help co-create peace.
When we come to the Ten Commandments in Exodus, we’ve been following Moses, God, and the Israelites on their wilderness journey. It’s not been easy since they left the banks of the Red Sea. The people have been arguing with Moses and testing God, God has been stepping in to meet their basic needs for food and water, and Moses has had it up to here with being the leader of this rather whiny bunch.
As one preacher explains, “In the context of this larger narrative, the giving of the commandments can be understood as providing the people with a sense of purpose and identity. Although God has brought them out of Egypt and performed a number of miracles, it is not until this point in the story that God tells the people about God’s intentions for them.” (AE)
What we encounter is not simply a list of rules given to whip into shape a stiff-necked people. “They are better viewed as a means to form and nurture an alternative community, bound not by common goals of wealth and prestige, but rather by loyalty to a god who has chosen to redeem a group of slaves from a life of bondage. The commandments mean to sketch out a space where human beings can live fruitful, productive, and meaningful lives before God and with one another.” They are for the sake of creating a community that bears the image of peace, of God’s shalom.
As we look to the text, we see that the instructions address two realms of life—the people’s relationship with God and their relationships with one another. The first four instructions have to do with relationship with God; the last six with human relationships. Both are necessary for a healthy, embodied faith, but the order in which the instructions are given makes it clear that our relationship with humanity has its roots in our relationship with God. The call to treat others—all others—with respect, dignity, and compassion is a direct extension of the very being and nature of God and God’s relationship with us.
This text begins “I am the Lord your God” and ends with “your neighbor.” In doing so, it reveals that life according to the commandments is fundamentally about radical commitment to God and radical compassion for the neighbor. The Commandments are intended to form the character of this community by cultivating a deep and enduring love for God, which then extends out to all creation. (AE) And the central instruction—the one that serves as the bridge between our relationship with God and others—is the Sabbath, “with its insistence on rest and restoration for every person, animal, and field.” (AE)
From the start, the commandments identify God with the act of liberation the Israelites have already experienced. In stark contrast to the oppressive life of bondage they knew in Egypt, what we see here is holy, counter-cultural community building. God makes it possible for the people to view their new lives, even in the wilderness, not as chaotic and terrifying, but as meaningful and fruitful. (AE) They are to be a people of peace, people with a living, breathing, moving faith.
In the midst of our own contemporary violence-laden wilderness, God is forming us into a counter-cultural community. And we are to be a people of peace, people with a living, breathing, moving faith. In Matthew [22:37-40], Jesus sums up the instructions of the Ten Commandments as he answers the Pharisees’ question about which is the greatest commandment. His response establishes the very core of our identity as people of faith: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and will all your soul, and with all your mind…you shall love your neighbor as yourself…on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (NdCW)
So as we come back to our questions about how we live in community with each other, love is the answer. But not love for love’s sake; love for the sake of peace, embodied peace. Peace, completeness, soundness, and welfare. “The ending of war, conflict, or fighting between people and nations. Wholeness, safety, and security.” Love is the answer. Love for the sake of shalom, the intended state of being for all of creation. It involves “the well-being of the whole person in all relationships, personal, social, and cosmic. Shalom means life in a community of compassionate order, marked by social and economic justice.” Love that comes from connection with God and that’s fully embodied—heart, soul, mind, and body…in kinship and relationship with our neighbors. All our neighbors. Especially those most vulnerable and most marginalized. [Repeat/embody after me.]
There is a way to save ourselves from the world’s path of chaos and violence. God walks with us and calls us to name and reorient the world’s narrative of aggression and turmoil with our narrative of faith, love, and peace—the counter-cultural narrative that we see in the Ten Commandments: “Filled with love of God and love of neighbor, you shall be peacemakers.” We are to be witnesses whose lives proclaim that the laws of fear and the preservation of power don’t guide us. Instead, we follow the way of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, and we’re guided by laws of vulnerability and authenticity, which generate love, forge justice, and create shalom. And we follow with our whole selves, we worship with our whole selves, we love and show up with our whole selves: [Repeat/embody after me.] Heart, soul, mind, and body…in kinship and relationship with our neighbors. All our neighbors. Especially those most vulnerable and most marginalized.
As a result, we must confess our sinful capacity to accept violence, aggression, and power-wielding and as normal. And in returning to God and following Jesus, we affirm that we are accountable to and responsible for one another. We recognize that when harm is done to anyone—regardless of cause or justification—we cut ourselves off from neighbor and from God. And we take seriously the call to be peacemakers. As agents of compassion and peace, and we seek “to respond to acts and threats of violence with ministries of justice, healing, and reconciliation.” (Affirmation Two, 2016 GA)
And so as we imagine anew what work the Ten Commandments are calling us to, I wonder what embodied love and peacemaking might look like in each of our lives. What opportunities for justice-seeking, reconciliation, and healing in the world call out to you? Or what old habits or obstacles might you need to avoid? As I’ve thought about these questions this week, here are some ideas I’m collecting for my own contemporary list of love-fueled peacemaking commandments:
You shall read poetry or listen to music or enjoy art to encounter God each day. You shall not numb yourself to the world’s pain with too much Netflix or steep yourself in the world’s violence with too much news. You shall take a walk and sit quietly with God. You shall lean into your discomfort and allow yourself to feel your feelings. You shall not jump to conclusions or hold too firmly your own convictions. You shall reach out to those whose views challenge your own and listen deeply to their experiences. You shall not sit idly in hopelessness about social and political change. You shall feed hungry people, and you shall not ignore the plight of those made poor by inequality. You shall see them with dignity and move in love to meet your neighbors where they are. You shall be a peacemaker.
And so now I invite you to spend a few minutes in reflection to begin your own list of things you might do or avoid doing for the sake of loving God and loving others with your whole self–[Repeat/embody after me.] Heart, soul, mind, and body…in kinship and relationship with our neighbors. All our neighbors. Especially those most vulnerable and most marginalized. What opportunities for justice-seeking, reconciliation, and healing call out to you? Or what old habits or obstacles might you challenge? (Grab a tiny pew pencil or find a pen in your purse or type a few notes in your phone.)
I’m grateful for the witness each of you bears and embodies to the shalom God intends for the whole world. And so with these commitments to love-filled peacemaking in our hearts and on paper, we pray that God might make us a channel of God’s peace in:
[Repeat/embody after me.] Heart, soul, mind, and body…in kinship and relationship with our neighbors. All our neighbors. Especially those most vulnerable and most marginalized.
May it be so, dear ones. This day and each day. Amen.