Saturday, March 06, 2021

Lent 3B

One Virtual Year

Thanks to everyone who follows this blog! Last time we met in the dining-multipurpose room for Sunday School was twelve months ago. A entire calendar year.

Though I started this blog long ago as a safekeeping place for notes from studies I'd facilitated and some I'd participated in, I began blogging every week after a class member asked after my notes. During real-life meetings I learn a lot from the participants, and I probably teach more than I do with these mini-essays. Live discussions are more dynamic and overall considerably better, but I like how these notes have been turning out, so I'm calling it my "pandemic best." Thanks again!

Exodus 20:1-5, 7-17

1Then God spoke all these words: 2I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 3you shall have no other gods before me.
4You 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. 5You shall not bow down to them or worship them; …

7You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses God's name.

8Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

12Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
13You shall not murder.
14You shall not commit adultery.
15You shall not steal.
16You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
17You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

Declaration from Psalm 19

God's Word vaults across the skies
from sunrise to sunset,

The revelation of God is whole
and pulls our lives together.
The signposts of God are clear
and point out the right road.
The life-maps of God are right,
showing the way to joy.
The directions of God are plain
and easy on the eyes.

You'll like God's Word better than strawberries in spring,
better than red, ripe strawberries.

Clean the slate, God, so we can start the day fresh!
Keep me from stupid sins,
from thinking I can take over your work.
Then I can start this day sun-washed,
scrubbed clean of the grime of sin.

These are the words in my mouth;
these are your words I chew on and pray.
Accept them when I place them
on the morning altar,
O God, my Altar-Rock,
God, Priest-of-My-Offerings.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson

Third Sunday in Lent

Lent continues as days lengthen into Spring. Lent features the color purple that signifies repentance; during Lent we remain especially aware of living in grace, of receiving life as gift.


For the third Sunday in but not of Lent the lectionary brings us another covenant. Here are notes from our discussion of covenants during Lent 2019. Covenant comes from co and venire – a coming together agreement. Exactly how many covenants are in the bible is up for dispute. All biblical covenants are covenants of grace; in many ways creation itself is a covenant. Although we know about the interrelationship of the Trinity / Godhead, God has such passion for giving, for relationship, for grace, creation is like James Weldon Johnson's poem that begins, "And God stepped out on space, and he looked around and said: 'I'm lonely—I'll make me a world.'" We find the Sinai covenant, also known as The Ten Commandments or Decalogue – literally Ten Words – twice in the Torah or Pentateuch: Deuteronomy 5:6-21 and today's reading from Exodus 20.

Events Leading to Exodus 20

For today's Sinai Covenant / Ten Words / Decalogue / Commandments (sometimes called the Mosaic Covenant because Moses was sort of an intermediary), we're in the book of Exodus, which means "departure," in this case departing from slavery in imperial Egypt. After a series of devastating plagues that *apparently* came from the god of the Israelites (there needs to be cause and effect, correct?).…

• Exodus 12: the Egyptian Pharaoh finally tells Moses, "Take all your people and get out of here right now."
• Exodus 13: celebrating Passover; God leads the people by going before them in a cloud by day, fire by night.
• Exodus 14: Israelites cross the Red Sea on dry ground.
• Exodus 15: Song of Moses; song and dance of Miriam
• Arrival at the Desert of Shur. A fresh tree branch sweetens the bitter waters at Marah – nature healing nature.
• Then to Elim with 12 springs and 70 palms.
• Exodus 16: another desert / wilderness of Sin, between Elim and Sinai.
• Bread from heaven, quails from the sky. Manna="what is it," possibly coriander/cilantro seeds
• Sabbath-keeping
• Israel receives the gift of sustaining food; then they know God is Lord.
• Exodus 17: another desert – Rephidim. God provides water from the rock for the thirsty Israeiites, "that the people may drink."
• Exodus 18: elders and judges to help Moses minister
• Exodus 19: three months out of Egypt, the people reach the desert in the shadow of Mount Sinai.

Sabbath-keeping is a specific commandment, yet the Israelites started observing Sabbath before they formally received the Commandments.

• Exodus 19: Moses consults with God, who tells the Israelites if they obey, they will be God's treasured possession (Hebrew segullah), a kingdom of priests, a holy nation. The baptismal hymn in 1 Peter 2:9 famously parallels this and describes us as a chosen generation, royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people. The people respond with, "We will do all the words the Lord has spoken." Exodus 24:3 also reports this response.

Exodus 20's commandments/ Sinai Covenant text begins by telling us "God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt…" therefore. In addition to deliverance from slavery, God's ongoing presence during their desert trek helped convince Israel this God was worthy of obedience, therefore the commandments became a welcome gift of grace.

Sinai Covenant / Ten Words / The Reformers

The desert intermission between imperial slavery and the Promised Land became a time and a place to trust God for everything. Everything. In the desert you can't plan or plant, produce, create, administer, or stockpile. You only can receive life as gift—similar to when we find ourselves in life's metaphorical or actual deserts. The past twelve months?! I'd call this past year both a metaphorical desert and an actual one.

As Martin Luther pointed out, technically we only need the first "no other gods" commandment, because this decalogue or set of ten commands is about putting God first in everything we do by responding to the needs of our neighbor. The Ten Commandments literally are the working papers for our 24/7 lives together as the assembled church, and for our public witness out there in the everyday world.

We've observed how almost every time the Apostle Paul refers to law, he means ceremonial, ritual, sacrificial law (including circumcision) and not the commandments. However, when magisterial Reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin talked about the uses of the law, they meant the commandments. The Reformers' Third Use of the Law is about the neighbor, about the other, about the neighborology word we often used during Luke's lectionary year.

In his Small and Large Catechisms, Martin Luther presents the commandments as the gifts of grace they are by telling us how not to violate them (what does each commandment forbid?) and how to keep them (what does each commandment encourage?); the Shorter and Larger Westminster Catechisms do the same. So it's not only a matter of not breaking the commandments; it's even more about keeping them. As Matthew 19:17 records, when the guy asked Jesus, "What must I do to be saved," Jesus answered, "Keep the commandments. Keep covenant with all creation."


This Exodus passage charges us to keep Sabbath because God rested on the seventh day of creation. Deuteronomy 5 says we need sabbath resting, ceasing from social expectations, to temporarily quit working, earning, etc., because "You no longer are slaves—God brought you out of slavery into freedom so therefore—you shall keep Sabbath." Just as God kept Sabbath rest on the seventh day of creation, because now you are free people (as God is free) and no longer beholden to any empire, you can take a time out. Both rationales remind us God created humanity in the divine image (imago dei), so keeping Sabbath is part of rocking that reality and a way to participate in God's own holiness.

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