Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Ten Commandments Part 3: Loving the Ones We Can See, Exodus 20:12-17

Scripture can be found here...

I have a subscription to That means that, every single day, sometimes more than once a day, I receive an email from them highlighting their newest finds. Whatever you want, you can probably find the prettiest, shiniest, coolest, tastiest, newest version of it on this website. And, full disclosure, from them I have purchased, in no particular order: earrings, boots, a necklace, olive oil, a lamp, peanut butter, and a panda costume. I have looked at chairs for my living room, stools for my kitchen, lots and lots more jewelry than I purchased, sunglasses, steaks, and bicycles. Their slogan? “F@b is everyday design.”

But here’s the thing about this website. I have noticed something about myself, something that happens inside me when that daily email comes and I find myself poring over it to see what I might possibly need. Want. Need. And what I have noticed is not good. It’s not that I turn green and monstrous, not exactly. But I start to feel uncomfortable, unsettled. I’ve never checked it, but I bet my blood pressure rises. This website, which is brilliantly designed, turns on something in me that I don’t like. It turns on a desire to have what I do not have. It turns on a longing to acquire cool or pretty things just because they are cool and pretty. It turns on covetousness. And so, as much as I have liked the things I have purchased there, and even though I am a repeat customer and will probably buy more fabulous finds in the future, I had to do something to hide that “everyday” subscription from myself. I didn’t like feeling like that. I don’t want to feel like that.

Now, you are probably wondering. Isn’t “coveting” the last commandment? Why is she starting with that one? The answer is simple, though it’s not something I figured out on my own. The whole second table of the law, the whole part of the Ten Commandments that has to do with “loving your neighbor as you love yourself,” can be answered and solved by adherence to the last commandment. “Do not covet.” Dishonoring your parents, killing, breaking marriage vows, stealing, lying about your neighbor—there is a good argument to make that they all start with coveting.

Professor Rolf Jacobson puts it this way:

[Take] King David. He was hanging out on the roof, his eyes fell upon Uriah’s wife Bathsheba, and boom! He wanted her. So he took her. As the king, he was already married and had plenty of access to women in the palace. But he wanted Bathsheba, too. Se he took her. And then, when she turned up pregnant, he arranged for Uriah—and the entire military company he was leading into war!—to be abandoned in the midst of the battle. They all were killed. And it all started with a little coveting (See 2 Samuel 11-12).[i]

Here’s the big thing: God loves us. God wants us to be happy. God created us in the Divine Image, to be in a covenant with Godself, but also to live in God’s creation in peace and harmony. To covet is to predispose ourselves to anxiety, and fear. To covet is to lose our peace. To lose our peace is to lose our connection with God. To read the last six commandments is to encounter a vision of a world that is either steeped in anxiety and fear, or steeped in love—it just depends on how you look at it. Let’s take them one at a time.

The commandment to love our parents is not directed towards children, but towards adults. It’s directed at those of us whose parents are elderly, who need our help, who need us to look at them, not as problems to be solved, but as fragile and beautiful images of God, just like we are. Will we let our anxiety rule us, or our love?

Most of us learned the sixth commandment as “You shall not kill,” but there are multiple Hebrew words for killing, and the one used here indicates, almost always, premeditated murder. The God of the living values life. We are to value the lives and safety of others as highly as we value our own. We are in the midst of an incredibly polarized conversation on guns and gun regulations in this country. I think both sides in the conversation are filled with fear and anxiety, one about the loss of rights and the other about the loss of life. Nothing will be accomplished until we are able to talk to one another from a place of peace, from a place of genuine concern for one another.

The commandment against adultery asks us to hold disruptive desires in tension with the happiness of others. This is the very nature of marriage vows: we choose to place the needs and desires of another person on a par with our own. We promise to love one particular other as we love ourselves—and to not admit another into that covenant.

“You shall not steal” seems straightforward until someone with the mind of a John Calvin helps you to understand its many subtleties:  

Now there are many kinds of thefts. One consists in violence, when another’s goods are stolen by force and unrestrained brigandage. A second kind consists in malicious deceit, when they are carried off through fraud. Another lies in a more concealed craftiness, when a man’s goods are snatched from him by seemingly legal means.[ii] All theft is a violation of God’s image in one another, whether we are talking about an individual breaking in to steal a laptop or a corporation claiming as its own property the drinking water we all need to live.

The ninth commandment, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor,” sounds like it is about giving testimony in court, and of course, that’s one of its applications. But the temptation to say things that are not true about people we don’t like, or who threaten us, or who have something we want, is something that starts in early childhood and doesn’t ever really leave us.  The bible has a cure for that: “Speak the truth in love,” and we can’t ever go wrong.

God loves us—all of us. God wants us to be happy. God loves you and me, and also the guy at the office whose voice sounds like nails on a chalkboard, and also the cousin who sued my parents right when my mother was dying, and also the husband or wife of that person who makes your heart skip a beat, even though you know it shouldn’t.

Get ready for a shock. The law isn’t about you. It’s about your neighbor. Again, wisdom from Professor Jacobson:

We  [say], “OK, God, we’re down with love. But, how do I love my neighbor?”

God says, “OK, let me be a little more explicit here. Make sure everyone gets one day off each week, take care of the elderly, don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t have sex with someone else’s spouse, don’t hurt your neighbor with your words, don’t desire your neighbor’s stuff. That’s how you love your neighbor.”

Because the law isn’t about you. It’s about your neighbor. And God loves your neighbor so much that God gives you the law. And God loves you so much, that God gives your neighbor the exact same law.[iii]

Do we want a world steeped in fear and anxiety, or one steeped in love? Do we live our lives as troops ready for battle or as loved ones gathered around a table? The world we create in concert with our great Creator has everything to do with which path we take. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” What will it be? Will it be fear? Or will it be love? Thanks be to God. Amen.

[i] Rolf Jacobson, “Commentary on Exodus 19:1-6, 20:1-17,” Narrative Lectionary Resources, Working Preacher Website,, Accessed 7-5-2014.
[ii] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.8.45.
[iii] Jacobson, Op. cit.

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