Saturday, March 27, 2021

Lent 6B

Prayer of Hope

O Lord, our God, victim of violence on a cross,
look with compassion upon all involved in shootings this week
in America and around the world.

Receive into the arms of you love those who have died.
Comfort those traumatized by these horrendous events.
Wrap your Everlasting Arms around those who mourn.
Heal those whose hearts and minds are terrorized.
Strengthen those medical personnel who minister to the wounded.
Protect the law enforcement officials to risk their lives for our safety.
Calm all whose memories of violence are triggered by this shooting.
Bring the gunmen to repentance and redemption,
and deal tenderly with his confused family and friends.

Hear our cries of lament as we seek to understand the incomprehensible,
and deliver us from the evil of violence in any form.
Through Christ we pray. Amen.

From the United Methodist Church: Litany on the Tragedy of Gun Violence

Mark 12:28-34

28One of the religion scholars came up. Hearing the lively exchanges of question and answer and seeing how sharp Jesus was in his answers, he put in his question: "Which is most important of all the commandments?"

29Jesus said, "The first in importance is, 'Listen, Israel: The Lord your God is one; 30so love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.' 31And here is the second: 'Love others as well as you love yourself.' There is no other commandment that ranks with these."

32The religion scholar said, "A wonderful answer, Teacher! So clear-cut and accurate—that God is one and there is no other. 33And loving God with all passion and intelligence and energy, and loving others as well as you love yourself. Why, that's better than all offerings and sacrifices put together!"

34When Jesus realized how insightful he was, he said, "You're almost there, right on the border of God’s kingdom."

After that, no one else dared ask a question.

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

Today's Reading from Mark

One more time I'm blogging the focus passage from Mark in the booklet we're using at church to guide our Lenten reading of Mark's gospel. In Mark, Jesus' journey to Jerusalem and the cross is relentless; every year on the Sixth Sunday in Lent we re-enact his entrance into the city riding on a donkey and surrounded by excited onlookers waving leafy (palm?) branches. Today's reading is Jesus' last discussion or dialogue with questioners before his trial and execution. His declaration about love of God, self, and neighbor being the greatest commandment and the path to life satisfies him and silences everyone else.

In Three of the Four Gospels…

…so take notice!

Synoptic gospels Mark, Matthew, and Luke that view Jesus' ministry in similar ways all record Jesus' reply to this question from the scribe or religious scholar. Matthew and Luke call him a "lawyer."
Matthew 22:34-38

34When the Pharisees heard how Jesus had bested the Sadducees, they gathered their forces for an assault. 35One of their religion scholars spoke for them, posing a question they hoped would show him up: 36"Teacher, which command in God's Law is the most important?"

37Jesus said, "'Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.' 38This is the most important, the first on any list. 39But there is a second to set alongside it: 'Love others as well as you love yourself.' These two commands are pegs; everything in God's Law and the Prophets hangs from them.'"

Luke 10:25-28

25Just then a religion scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus. "Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?"

26Jesus answered, "What's written in God's Law? How do you interpret it?"

27He [the guy who asked Jesus] said, "That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself."

28"Good answer!" said Jesus. "Do it and you’ll live."

The Ten Words

Three weeks ago for the Third Sunday in Lent we discussed the Ten Words of the Sinai Covenant that God gave the people after they'd been freed from slavery in Egypt, while they still were on the way to the Promised Land. Following the Ten Words (sometimes literally translated into Decalogue) brings heaven to earth, creating God's love, mercy, and righteousness within the community and radiating outward into the rest of the world. Heaven comes to earth in the Ten Words; heaven touches earth in Jesus Christ, God's incarnate Word. The commandments and Jesus recognize all life as sacred. In these three Great Commandment scriptures, Jesus (in Mark and Matthew) and his hyper-religious interlocutor (in Luke) summarize the Ten Words by quoting "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is One" from Deuteronomy 6:4 along with "…you shall love your neighbor as yourself" from Leviticus 19:18.

Theology. Context.

The evangelists who wrote the four canonical gospels recorded some history of Jesus' birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension; they also presented carefully crafted theology. Mark places today's conversation with the legal eagle-religion expert as the last in a series of give and take exchanges between Jesus and The Authorities. As a rabbi-teacher, Jesus constantly engaged others in conversation; many would have had similar content. As an itinerant preacher, Jesus undoubtedly developed some outstanding homilies he'd tweak or contextualize so they'd relate to his current listeners. As a famous example, we have Matthew's Sermon on the Mountain and Luke's Sermon on the Plain that are parallel yet with distinct differences because he addressed different audiences. The events of the week before Easter that we call "Holy" occupy a large portion of Mark's gospel with its focus on Jesus' identity and purpose. Today's scripture portion ends with, "After that, no one else dared ask a question." In real life was that Jesus' final engagement with religious or political powers that be? It's impossible to know. But Mark the evangelist places it there to demonstrate Jesus' overarching authority.

Doing the Word

Then God spoke all these words: "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; [therefore] you shall have no other gods before me." … Exodus 20:1-3

• Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice, and said, "All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do." Exodus 24:3

• But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, so that you may do it. Deuteronomy 30:14

Much later, the Apostle Paul quotes Deuteronomy:
• But what does scripture say? "The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart," that is, the word of faith that we proclaim. Romans 10:8

In these passages, the Hebrew Dabar is the Word that created heaven and earth. "Dabar" is speech and action in one. Speaking Dabar and its cognates generates life, creates a new reality. The commandments' covenant of love acknowledges all life as sacred; acting in love makes life together possible. Doing these words creates life and holds us together as families, churches, and communities. Not doing the words negates life, leads to discord, violence, and death.

Martin Luther begins his Small Catechism – traditional preparation for First Holy Communion – with the Ten Words or Commandments. As Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann reminds us, "It is the God of the Commandments with whom we commune."

The Golden Rule "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," isn't explicitly in the bible, but it can be an excellent guideline, particularly once we know a individual's or a group's history, preferences, and needs.

• The way we know we've been transferred from death to life is that we love our brothers and sisters. Anyone who doesn't love is as good as dead. 1 John 3:14

• Blessed are those who do his commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city. Revelation 22:14

End of Lent Questions

How has your Lent been? Did you follow any particular devotional practices? Did you participate in any service activities, or find helpful ways to mitigate yours and a few neighbors' COVID loneliness and stir-craziness?

Besides the end of COVID, worldwide vaccinations, and a revitalized economy, what are your hopes for the Great Fifty Days of Easter?

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Lent 5B

A Prayer in a Time of Violence

Saving God, in these last weeks of Lent, we cling to the promise of your glorious resurrection.

Bloodshed and hate, fear and death are our daily news. We yearn instead for your daily bread—for the grace and love we need to survive, for the justice and wholeness you want for your children. We have repeated destructive patterns for so long that we don't know how to live together, much less to love each other. We have acted out our hate and wasted precious life too many times to count. We see so much violence that we can hardly envision peace. We need you to break in, Lord. Break into this world, into our lives, into our hearts. With deep and desperate hope, we wait for you. And as we wait, we pray:

Come, Lord Jesus, to shatter the order of violence with your disruptive peace.
Come, Lord Jesus, to replace the death all around us with reverence for life.
Come, Lord Jesus, to root out the hate and loathing that live in us; stop us from hurting each other and ourselves.
Come, Lord Jesus, to release the chokehold of our fear; free us to know your joy.
Come, Lord Jesus, to show us that we cannot undo one sin with another; turn us back toward you.
Come, Lord Jesus, to hold the pain and sorrow we can no longer carry; heal and comfort us with your love.
Come, Lord Jesus, to show us how to live; give us the wisdom, courage, and fortitude we need to tell the truth and to be changed.

Come, Lord Jesus, come. Amen.

by Pastor Rebekah Close LeMon – Atlanta, GA

Mark 11:15-19

15Then they came to Jerusalem. And Jesus entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; 16and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. 17He was teaching and saying, "Is it not written,

'My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations'? [Isaiah 56:7]
But you have made it a den of robbers." [Jeremiah 7:11]

18And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching. 19And when evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.
Today's Reading from Mark

Again this week I'm blogging the focus passage from Mark from the booklet we're using at church to guide us through our Lenten reading of Mark's gospel. In Mark, Jesus' journey to Jerusalem and the cross is relentless; by today's reading Jesus has arrived in Jerusalem. Every year on the Sixth Sunday in Lent we re-enact his entrance into the city riding on a donkey and surrounded by excited onlookers waving palm branches.

In All Four Gospels…

…so take notice! Synoptic gospels Mark, Matthew, and Luke record this Temple Cleansing incident after Jesus reaches Jerusalem before his trial, conviction, crucifixion, and death. Historical evidence indicates that's when Jesus probably confronted the temple money-changers and merchants. However, John places it at the start of Jesus public ministry, theologically setting the stage for Jesus' mercifully justice-seeking presence throughout his ministry.

Luke 19:45-46

Then Jesus entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling things there; and he said, "It is written,
'My house shall be a house of prayer' [Isaiah 56:7];
but you have made it a den of robbers." [Jeremiah 7:11]

Matthew 21:12-13

Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changes and the seats of those who sold doves. He said to them, "It is written,
'My house shall be a house of prayer' [Isaiah 56:7];
but you are making it a den of robbers." [Jeremiah 7:11]

John 2:13-15

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.

God's Presence

From the beginning, God's Spirit of Life filled creation. We often study the story of Israel's exodus from slavery in imperial Egypt as they walked through a series of deserts on their way to promise landed freedom. During that journey the people famously knew evidence of God with them as fire in the night sky, clouds during the day. They'd encountered a God who met their bodily needs with water springing from the rock, manna raining from the sky. They received the gift of God's presence in the Ten Words or Commandments of the Sinai Covenant to guide their lives together. This was God with the people, God for the people, not remote and capricious like other deities of the Ancient Near East.

However, just as Israel wanted a human monarch like the other nations, eventually they also wanted to honor God with a temple on a fixed location. You may remember King David being perplexed about living in a house built of expensive materials while God apparently resided in the portable tent of the Ark of the Covenant?

Today's reading references the Second Jerusalem Temple that was destroyed in the year 70—about three decades after Jesus's death and resurrection, not long after Mark wrote his gospel. As a central engine of the local economy, the temple employed near-countless workers and artisans. Our twenty-first century culture usually compartmentalizes life into work, play, family, private, public, religious, secular, and that's ok because most humans need categories and order to get through days, nights, weeks, and months—probably more so during the pandemic. Needless to say, though people in Jesus' day engaged in activities similar to ours, they didn't have a concept of sacred-profane, holy-mundane; those are very post-Enlightenment, and even during the time of the sixteenth-century Reformers they didn't have much currency.

By Jesus' time and for Jesus, the temple was an offense because the God of the bible goes everywhere God's people venture and (unlike "fake gods" back then) cannot be contained or located in a particular place. What is more, for Jesus the J-Temple was an outrage because the excessive monetary cost of supplies needed to engage in temple rituals (converting currency into temple coins, buying animals, oil, and grain for offerings) burdened low income "regular people" to a degree that further impoverished them, while at the same time filling the pockets of people who already had more than enough.

God's Presence in Jesus

As Christians we recognize Jesus of Nazareth as God's presence in ways that reflect Old Testament images or types of God's presence alongside the people. Even beyond that, we recognize Jesus as the ultimate showing-forth of God's essence and identity in ways that make Moses and David (for example) pale in comparison.

God's Presence in the Church

In baptism we receive the gift of God's Holy Spirit so that everywhere we go we will be the presence of Jesus Christ-presence of God. In 1 Corinthians 3:16 the Apostle Paul reminds us, "Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?" Later in 1 Corinthians 6:19 he tells us, "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own?" So that's the nature God's presence now assumes: embodied in a human person.

God's Presence in COVID-19 – Violence – Injustice

That's now the essence of God's presence: embodied in humans as temples of the divine. What a gift and what a challenge for God to trust us during these turbulent times!

How's your Lent going?

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Lent 4B

The Fourth Sunday in Lent

We're halfway through of Lent—halfway to Easter! Lent emphasizes repentance, prayer, living in grace, and acts of compassionate service. Lent long has been a season to prepare for baptism at the Easter Vigil or on Resurrection Sunday morning, and on Easter those of us already baptized can publicly renew our baptismal covenant. Filled with images of baptism and unity (unity but not sameness!), "My God is Still Making Good Trouble," comes from the 2020 movie about the late congressperson John Lewis.

From song, "My God is Still Making Good Trouble"

My skin is alabaster and I understand what that means
There's history in my color and a burden in me and this free

And the burden is the wall between you and me
But there's a love that's still turning over tables
And a love making blinded eyes see
There's a healing that's waiting in the water
That's still making saints out of rebels
My God is still making good trouble

Even though we are all broken
There is a dream still worth holding
Let's walk towards the fire and push past the fear
And call hate a liar loud and clear

There's a love that's still turning over tables
And the love making blinded eyes see
There's a healing that's waiting in the waters
That's still making saints out of rebels
My God is still making good trouble
Good trouble…

by Leigh Nash, Matt Maher, and Ruby Amanfu

Mark 6:45-52

45Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46After saying farewell to them, he went up on the mountain to pray.

47When evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and Jesus was alone on the land. 48When he saw that they were straining at the oars against an adverse wind, he came towards them early in the morning, walking on the sea. He intended to pass them by. 49But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; 50for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, "Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid." 51Then Jesus got into the boat with them and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, 52for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.

Today's Gospel Passage

Most Sundays we discuss one of the scripture readings from the lectionary. However, at church we're reading through Mark's gospel during Lent and the pastor asked if I'd write about the gospel reading from Mark listed in the booklet we're using. Mark especially emphasizes God for all people (not only Jews); in Mark we find God outside established religious, economic, social, and political structures: on the margins rather than in the center. In Mark, Jesus' journey to Jerusalem and the cross is incessant and relentless. Here's the outline of Mark's gospel I blogged at the start of this new year of grace.

Immediately before this reading, Mark's gospel has the parable of Sower and the Seed followed by Jesus feeding 5,000 (men, plus women and children so at least 15,000 people) with five loaves and two fish and ending up with twelve baskets of leftovers.

Textual Notes

• 6:45 "the other side" refers to ethnically different, sometimes geographically distinct people and/or places. Those others sometimes are simply strangers or foreigners, sometimes actual enemies. Genesis 14:13 tells us Abram was an Ivri – a Hapiru or Hebrew – literally someone from the other side. In Jesus of Nazareth we meet the God of heaven, someone from the very other side.
• 6:47 "the boat was out on the sea" This body of water is the Lake of Galilee, and not an ocean or a sea with currents and tides, but Mark calls it a sea to make a theological point about Jesus as Lord of creation.
• 6:48 As Jesus walked on the sea to demonstrate his stewardship of supposedly chaotic, destructive forces, "he intended to pass them by," or "intended go right by them" in Pastor Eugene Peterson's The Message. Jesus had no intention of paying them any attention?! What can we make of this? We constantly find connections between Old and New Testaments; we know Jesus as a kind of successor to Israel's prophets, priests, and kings, though ultimately far more than any of those. The church proclaims Jesus of Nazareth as God incarnate, divinity enfleshed.

In his commentary on Mark, Binding the Strong Man, Ched Myers explains (my paraphrase):

Jesus passing by his disciples isn't even possibly about Jesus neglecting or ignoring them; it references the saving appearance and presence of Yahweh, the God of Israel in (among other places) Exodus 33:19, 22; Exodus 34:6; I Kings 19:11; Amos 7:8, 8:2

• 6:50 "take heart, be courageous," is not the cardiac "heart" word in Greek.
• 6:50 "It is I" / Ego eimi – at the burning bush encounter in Exodus 3:14 Yahweh, the God of Israel, self-reveals to Moses as "I Am." You may remember John's gospel records Jesus in a series of "I Am" declarations? Referring to himself as I Am, Jesus identifies with the God of Israel.
• 6:52 "hearts were hardened or calloused" here heart is the cardiac word. It helps us twenty-first century Westerners to remember the heart in Hebrew biology is the locus of will, action, identity, intention, somewhat like psyche in English. Ched Myers' insight is helpful when he says a hardened heart was the Egyptian Pharaoh's heart condition.

Immediately after this event on Lake Galilee, everyone is back on land with a throng of people. Jesus goes everywhere: into villages, cities, farms, and the marketplace (sounds like some overlap to me, but Mark lists those venues separately), and Mark describes a series of healings.


Hebrew and Christian worldviews emerged from God's self-revelation within contexts where just about everyone believed that distant, unapproachable gods caused natural disasters and disturbances, primarily because of their anger and displeasure with humans. People viewed existence as endless cycling and recycling of the same events. In that world of semitic mythology, water was a symbol of chaos, danger, and destruction.

The experience of God's people Israel and then of the Church was distinctly different. They knew a God so in love with creation that in Jesus of Nazareth God chose to live as a human creature. Not only had the endless recurrence of the very same thing stopped in its tracks, this God promised and provided a hope, a future, and the reality of resurrection from the dead.

Both creation accounts in Genesis begin with water as a life-giving force, not a destructive one.

• In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Genesis 1:1-2
• Streams welled up from the earth, and watered the whole surface of the ground. Genesis 2:6

Water is the womb of creation; water is the womb of our first birth and of our second birth. Baptism immerses us in God's creative power of death and resurrection, as we identify with this planet's history and with Jesus of Nazareth, who was baptized in the River Jordan.

In the focus passage in our Lenten booklet for the 3rd Sunday in Lent, March 7, Jesus stills the storm:

37A tremendous storm came up, and the waves broke against the boat, almost overwhelming it. …39Jesus got up, admonished the wind and spoke to the sea: "Quiet! Be still!" Then the wind died down and there was a tremendous calm. …41They were tremendously fearful and asked each other, "Who is this? Even the wind and the sea obey him!" Mark 4

"Who is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him."

Who are we, the people of God? We live baptized into Jesus Christ, whose Word stilled the storm, so do the oceans and the breakers obey us? God calls us to be co-creators and stewards of creation, to be the presence of Jesus Christ… think about it!

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.