Remember With Your Heart

Deuteronomy 5:1-21; 6:4-9

Last week, we were with Moses as God was calling to him out of the burning bush to go and help the Israelite people be free from their oppressive government and lives of slavery. Moses was trying to weasel his way out of it and had a nice long conversation with God. God persisted in calling a reluctant and fearful Moses, reminding him that God would be with him.

Now, just in case you thought that the freeing of the people began and concluded with the crossing of the Red Sea, today’s scripture reminds us that The Exodus was something that took a long, long time. To free generations of oppression takes, well, generations.

Today, we meet up with Moses and the freed Israelites 40 years later. It is shortly before Moses dies before they reach the land promised to them and he finds himself having to repeat himself to the children of the people that he originally freed. These are the children born in this time of wilderness wandering. And he has to make a case to them that the covenant still stands. That God’s promises are still true. That the promise is still relevant. The 10 commandments were originally revealed in Exodus 20 and now he’s repeating them. He says in verse 2: The Lord our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. Not with our ancestors did the Lord make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive today.

 Perhaps the subtext of what he’s saying is, “Listen, I know you weren’t alive when this all went down and the promise was made to your parents. But it still counts!” Or “Hey you in the back, listen up!” Just as I try and make the case, week after week, that this story still matters to us.

Their frustration would be legitimate, don’t you think? I mean, they’ve been homeless and on the move, in the wilderness, for 40 years. I imagine they’d doubt the promise of the land of milk and honey as they’re confronted with hunger and rootlessness. I imagine them looking around and thinking, “well, this doesn’t look like freedom at all!”

So Moses reminds them that it’s in living that they are free and that the 10 commandments free us to live.

Sometimes the 10 commandments can look like an embarrassing, frozen-in-stone relic to a bygone era.

They can look like a tone-deaf list of rules inflicted on undeserving people.

They can look outdated, irrelevant.

They can look like wishful thinking especially when they are reduced to a list of rules, fought to be displayed out of moral obligation or civic pride. Fought to be displayed so that our society can get it right again, get back to its moral center.

But I don’t think that’s what they’re for. I think that’s a thin reading of the 10 commandments. We often hear the 10 commandments as a list of don’ts. Don’t worship other gods. Don’t swear. Don’t’ work on the Sabbath. Don’t be rude to your parents… when in reality, it is a list that is about freedom. It is a list that helps to give life, that tells you what to do instead.

Justin Bieber is trying to grow up on a global stage and to do that he’s been making statements about God, or really, they’re more about church and the bad reputation of Christianity. He says that going to church doesn’t make you a Christian just as going to Taco Bell doesn’t make you a taco. And while I believe that coming to worship doesn’t make you a Christian, I think he’s making a thin statement about church and why he doesn’t attend one.

Anna Nussbaum Keating, a Catholic writer of a blog post entitled “Go To Church, Justin Bieber” responds to his public statements about church by saying this:

Christians don’t go to church to express how great we are, but rather how small. We don’t go because we’re “good”, “nice”, “decent” people who want other people to know what good, nice, and decent people we are. We go to admit our dependence and need. We go because it’s the last place on earth (except perhaps the therapist’s office) where it’s socially acceptable to cry in public, or to say out loud that we’re sinners in need of mercy, or broken and in need of healing.

 My Catholicism is not unlike a twelve-step program. I go to Mass week after week, like a drunk goes to AA, because I need to. I don’t usually feel like it, and occasionally I miss, but mostly I keep coming back to get my chip.

 I kneel, not because I’m humble, but because I’m proud. I pray, not because I have all the answers, but because I’m seeking them. I exchange the Sign of Peace, not because I love my neighbor, but because Jesus tells me to.

 Ideally, going to church and participating in the liturgy—saying the same words that have been repeated for thousands of years—is about being formed in virtue and schooled in faith. And it doesn’t always work; the formation often takes a lifetime, sometimes more, so we keep at it.

 I don’t know if God needs my prayers, but I know that I do. The act of praying, with all of my beauty and ugliness exposed, brings me closer to the truth of my life and the reality of God’s transformative grace.

 To go to church is an act of self-love, but it’s also an act of self-accusation. Maybe that’s why I often don’t want to go. And yet, without self-accusation (in the light of God’s love), you can never really know who you are, you can never really be free.[1]

The 10 commandments accuse us, don’t they? That we haven’t gotten it right. That we need protection from our own selves. Yet the teaching, the spirit behind them is one of a lifetime of practice. Practicing this life of faith. And the spirit of God is mercy and grace and faithfulness. That’s where these commandments come from, are rooted in.

These 10 ways of living directly address that we are called not to live as solo Christians but in community. And these commandments get right at our lives together, protecting our neighbor from us. Protecting us from us. Jesus even quotes from them as well, always landing on what ended our reading today: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. And he adds, love your neighbor as yourself. Because when you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might, then all the rest becomes clear. And when you remember them in your heart, then you practice living out the rest. You love your neighbor. You make time to play and rest so your neighbor has time to play and rest. You listen to and honor your parents. You don’t hit back. You keep your promises to your spouse with your heart and your mind and your body. You don’t take what’s not yours. You don’t gossip. You don’t spend all your time wanting all the people and things other people have.

These 10 commandments are for us here and now just as they were for the Israelites crashing through the Red Sea and the Israelites wandering in the wilderness. They are for us as we wait for freedom in our relationships, freedom in our places of work, freedom from our calendars, freedom in our families, freedom in our lives.

As Moses said, The Lord our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. Not with our ancestors did the Lord make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive today.

Thanks be to God.