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God’s Covenant: Living in Freedom

March 6, 2021

On this Third Sunday in Lent, we continue our journey through the Covenants between God and God’s people. These covenants aren’t dusty old rules in law books that sit on the shelf to be pulled down from time to time in order to win an argument or prove a point. This Sunday we will explore the most famous (and sometimes infamous) covenant between God and God’s people, the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments have been used and misused by so many through the ages for religious or political ends. I remember memorizing the Lord’s Prayer as a part of the Sunday school “earn bookmarks for memorizing scripture” when I was growing up. To be honest, I didn’t earn as many bookmarks as some of my classmates did and I know for certain that I didn’t memorize the big ten! Decades later I realize that it is one thing to memorize something like that and another to actually consider/understand the deeper meaning of our sacred texts.

The Ten Commandments defined the way that God related to God’s people and the way God’s people were called to relate to God and others. When the people were liberated from bondage, they had only known the life of a slave for generations. When Moses led them out of Egypt and the distance from the place of their enslavement increased, life indeed changed dramatically. One of the biggest adjustments was that they had the opportunity to think for themselves and build a community. Instead of the Egyptians being in charge and telling them what to do, they were in charge of themselves. God brought them out of the land of bondage… now what? How do we act? How do we work together and treat each other? How do we treat God? This was a major shift in the people’s way of living, being, and worshipping. These words of covenant, of love, of freedom were a gift from God for the people of God as the liturgy says.

Unfortunately, the story from that point forward had its share of ups and downs, twists and turns along the road. What began as the gift of freedom and belonging became, over time, an unwieldy set of rules and regulations. Where God had given a set of guidelines to follow, the religious authorities turned the covenant into laws which nobody had a chance of being able to keep. What had once been a covenant outlining how to live in freedom with God and neighbor had become chains that imprisoned the ordinary person of faith.

It was into this scenario that Jesus stepped on the day he entered the Temple and confronted the shady dealings. This marketplace was a racket and the religious elite were making the money. The Temple had literally been turned from a house of prayer to a den of thieves! Jesus was furious. He made a whip and drove out the moneychangers and the ones selling livestock and birds for sacrifice. Passover, the major festival which commemorated the bringing of the slaves out of Egypt and making them the people of God, had been turned into a racket instead of a holy festival of remembrance. The poor were being fleeced in the most holy place in all of Judaism. No wonder Jesus was mad!

Jesus lived and taught a message that was different from the religious leaders of his day. He taught radical concepts such as love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you, walk the extra mile, forgive not seven times but seventy times seven. Just as the people had been brought out of slavery and had their chains removed at the time of the first Passover, Jesus was bringing the people out of another form of slavery and bondage. The Law that was meant to liberate had become a prison. Jesus came to open the doors of the prison fashioned by the high priest and his cronies. He came to liberate the poor and the oppressed. The kingdom he was inaugurating was the polar opposite to the kingdom that was oppressing the people.

As I reflect on this story today, I wonder what it is saying to me? Jesus was furious at the way the poor were being treated by the ones who were supposed to serve them. How often do we get furious when we see the poor being taken advantage of? How often are we angered by the mega-churches pastors who have their personal jets and multi-million dollar mansions while grabbing money from those who have nothing at all. The church today needs to take a good, hard look at itself. The leaders (yes, I am looking in the mirror) need to look at themselves and their motives. What are we called to do and to be as Christ-followers?  

The beloved community which Dr King often spoke of and wrote about was a community based on love of God and love of neighbor. The beloved community was what Jesus taught about when he talked about the Kingdom of God and its upside down economy of grace and mercy. The beloved community is what the Prophet Micah was describing when he said that God’s people are called to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.

Are there tables that need to be overturned in our own hearts and our own systems of belief, dear reader? Is Jesus challenging us to make a course correction and follow him instead of the ways of the empire? I don’t know about you, but Jesus has given me a lot to think about as I look to my own life, actions, and walk.

  1. “I don’t know about you, but Jesus has given me a lot to think about as I look to my own life, actions, and walk.” Jesus keeps busy doing all of that in my life. Thanks for your message.

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