Sunday, March 11, 2012

Digging through the trash for a chocolate fix?

In the TV show Sex and the City, Miranda decides to give up on men and she turns to a worthy alternative. Chocolate. She begins with a half dozen chocolate ├ęclairs from the bakery. After she finishes them off, she realizes they’re not enough. She needs more. So she picks up a box of Duncan Hines and bakes herself a beautiful chocolate cake. When it’s done, she cuts herself a tiny little sliver, eats it, and walks away. But then, she comes back. She cuts herself another sliver. Then she walks away again. In no time, she’s back once more, and she cuts herself a third piece. This time she goes for it and serves herself a huge slice of cake. She devours it. Then, in an effort to restrain herself, she covers the cake with aluminum foil. Well, her resolve doesn’t last long. Before you know it, she’s back. She removes the foil and helps herself to another piece.

You can tell she’s growing more and more disgusted with herself. So, this time she covers the cake with foil and puts it in the fridge. She leaves the kitchen, but shortly returns for yet another piece of cake. By now she’s so totally disgusted with herself that she takes the cake that’s left and she throws it in the trash can. That oughta do it! But then, we see her pondering the unthinkable. And she does it. She actually digs into the trash can for more cake. She’s hit bottom.

Finally, Miranda takes action. She goes to the sink and grabs the dish soap. Then she takes it to the trash can and pours soap all over the cake. That’s what it takes for her to be absolutely sure she won’t be having any more of that sinful chocolate cake.

Isn’t that a lot like the relationship many of us have with God’s law? We find it’s pert near impossible to stop doing what’s obviously harmful to us, and more than anything, we want to do what we know we shouldn’t. Like Paul described it to the Romans -- All the good stuff we want to do we don’t do and we end up doing what we don’t want to do. So, what’s our problem?

When we talk about the Ten Commandments, it’s hard not to think of how heavy they are. We can feel like we’re being crushed by weight of the stone tablets that Moses carried down from the mountain. But are the Commandments nothing more than a burden and an ongoing source of guilt in our lives?

I know that we sometimes joke about the fact that they’re called the Ten Commandments, not the Ten Suggestions. But, did you know that the words, Ten Commandments never actually appear in the Hebrew Bible? That expression wasn’t used until sometime in the 1500s when it was a mistranslation from the original Hebrew which called it the ten words. Or the ten words of the covenant. Commandments or Covenant? Is there a difference? Well... yes!

These Ten words are another of the covenants that God makes with his people in the Hebrew Scriptures. The first one was God’s covenant with Noah. Next came God’s covenant with Sarah and Abraham. Then, God’s covenant with Moses. All of these Old Testament covenants remind us of the fact that our God is a God of relationship. And as God relates to us, he does so through promises based upon trust. That is, covenants.

Isn’t it interesting how the covenant that God made with Moses have been misused through the centuries as an instrument of guilt and fear? Some people even think that just by posting these words in public places, they will produce good, moral people. But actually, that’s never what they were intended to do.

God asked Moses to share his covenant with his people at a critical time. They were being formed into a new nation and they were setting out on their journey to the Promised Land. This wasn’t going to be easy; they needed some guidance. So, we get God’s covenant with the children of Israel. God will be their God and they will be his people. As a gift to his people, God offers them, not simply some rigid rules that they must adhere to or else, but some guidelines to make their lives better.

That’s always the purpose of God’s law in our lives. Jesus understood that. Most of the people around him didn’t. They were concerned about following the letter of the law for the law’s sake. Jesus understood the purpose of the law, that it was given in love, not to stifle us, but so that we might flourish. Of course, if someone needs to be healed and it’s the Sabbath, you heal them. The law of love always trumps all other laws. Because God’s law is always given in love.

In other words, God doesn’t put a 20-foot, electrified, chain-link fence with barbed-wire around us and warn us that if we dare come near it we’re gonna fry. Instead, God offers us a guide rail. We can choose to step over it or not, with the understanding that if we stay inside the railing and honor it, we will have life, in all its fullness. And that’s what God wants for us, life in all its fullness.

God doesn’t call us to strive for perfection, or to come as close to it as we can by following all the rules. God calls us to strive for wholeness, to live fully as the people he created us to be, people created in God’s image.

It’s the reason why God makes a covenant with Noah. It’s the reason God makes a covenant with Sarah and Abraham. It’s the reason God makes a covenant with Moses. And it’s the same reason why God makes a covenant with us at baptism. Because our God is a loving God, and what he wants for us, the people he loves, is life. Not just careful little, rigidly-righteous lives motivated by fear. But big, crazy adventurous lives filled with unexpected surprises. Life, in all its fullness.

That sure beats digging through the trash for a chocolate fix, doesn't it?

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