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Monday, March 16, 2009

Dust bunnies and the 10 Commandments

Lent 3, Yr. B: 3/15/09
Exodus 20:1-17, John 2:13-22
Saint Mark’s

     We all spent a good chunk of yesterday morning hunting for one of Stephen’s textbooks. When we didn’t find it in any of the obvious places—the dining table, the computer desk, the family room sofa, on his bed, or (heaven forbid!) the bookshelf on which it’s supposed to reside—we began to resort to a more thorough and desperate search. This is the kind where you start looking in places that don’t see the light of day very often, under and behind and in-between, those harder to reach dark spots we usually ignore. But oh, the shock when I started shining a flashlight around! I guess with 4 people and a big dog, we’ve been breeding large herds of a fuzzy, grimy dust menagerie that’s taken up residence in what are obviously undisturbed locations around the house. When I turned that flashlight on and shone it all around, suddenly, there for my eyes to behold, was a whole lot of dirt and debris.
     Having confessed all of this to you, I can say that I think there's some connection between that experience and today's lessons. All too often, parts of our lives are like those out of the way dark spots. Tucked into obscure corners are occasions of sin, events and thoughts and statements that have been put out of sight and out of mind. They happen, and then either on purpose or with no particular notice they get shoved into our mental closets or drift under the bed of our life. They're far from the largest part of our being, but they certainly exist. We may even glance at them occasionally and decide they weren't really so bad after all. And then something comes along that causes us to remember them or to have to deal with the consequences of them, and we get out our 10 Commandments flashlight, point it at just the right angle, and suddenly see clearly the mess lurking in the shadows.
     The 10 Commandments aren't really in vogue these days; we tend to think of them as something we memorized in Sunday school at age 9 or find on a bookmark in a religious store. I suspect a lot of their unpopularity has to do with our society not wanting to be told what we shouldn't do. That's the most common use of the commandments: to create boundaries that keep us clear of territory that's hazardous to the health of our souls. But I'd like to suggest another use: that of the commandments as spotlights that help us see where we need to clean up the sin we've already committed.
     This second understanding of the commandments explains for me a little better why they appear as a reading during Lent. Lent isn't really a time when we're specifically called to try to be better, more faithful people; we're supposed to be doing that all the time. It is, however, a season of housecleaning, of scrubbing down to the smooth surface of a restored relationship with God. But before you can clean, you first have to know where you've got a mess. The commandments can be the bright light that helps us dispel the shadows of rationalization, denial, carelessness, and apathy, in order to take an honest and thorough look at our lives.
     This same perspective also makes obvious why we might be assigned to read the commandments in conjunction with the story of Jesus clearing out the temple. The people of Jerusalem simply had become accustomed to the chaos, petty dishonesty, and turmoil in the courtyards surrounding the temple. What perhaps had once been a well-intentioned means of helping people faithfully offer their best to the Lord became an end in itself, barely disguised as holiness. It took the light of Jesus—harsh and hot—focused on the situation to make obvious what a mess they'd created and to which they’d turned a blind eye.
It isn't comfortable to shine any kind of spotlight on the dark corners of our life, but until we do, we'll continue what began with Adam and Eve and the snake: pretending that sin really isn't sin.
"That lie didn't actually hurt anyone."
"Everyone else is doing it too."
"Well, she made me angry."
"No one will ever find out."
"It's kinder that way."
“I deserve it.”
     There are all kinds of explanations for why we sin. Life isn’t clear cut, and sin can’t usually be divided neatly into 10 distinct categories, just as the clumps of debris behind the bed come from multiple sources. A specific act of sin, by itself, is only part of the danger to our souls. By God’s grace, through the love and power of Jesus in his death and resurrection, we have a way back to God after the separation of sin. Where it really starts to pile up is if we refuse to acknowledge and repent of the sinfulness of a particular action or event, when we start to believe the validity of our rationalizations or to squeeze shut our eyes in denial. The peril is that the sin accumulating under and behind and in-between eventually threatens to overwhelm our whole house, and after a while we're too embarrassed or scared, angry or apathetic to invite God to come in anymore. It's a fearful thing when sin takes over.
     By all means use the 10 Commandments as a guide to making decisions about your actions. But I challenge you also to use them during the remainder of this Lenten season as a spotlight to help identify the parts of your life, past and present, that need cleaning up, that need the healing and redeeming hand of God. Put them right before you by taking home your scripture insert today, or setting the home page on your computer to open to them for the next few weeks, or bookmarking your Bible or prayer book—they’re listed at the start of the service of Holy Eucharist and in an amplified form in the Catechism toward the back of the prayer book. Asking first for God’s help and discernment—in essence, turning on the flashlight—read the commandments, ponder them, hold your life up to their bright light and try not to shy away from what you see.
     The commandments were given as a guide to the people of Israel by the authority of the God who had brought them out of slavery, made a covenant to be in relationship with them, and was leading them toward the promised land. As you shine these same commandments into your life, don't tremble with fear, but instead rejoice in the knowledge that the God of Israel desires nothing more than to bring us also out of bondage to sin and death into the freedom of eternal life.

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2 Comments:

Hi Mother,

This brings up a question I've had ever since I started. Is there an archive of transcripts or audio files of the sermons?

Matt

By OpenID Matteo, at March 16, 2009 at 8:56 PM  

So far we don't have an archive, though some of us have personal files of old sermons. In due time, we may get some of those on the website, and we'll put new ones on when there's an actual manuscript to post.

By Blogger Betsy, at March 19, 2009 at 3:33 PM  

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