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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Tuesday, September 29, 2020  

Today’s Scripture Reading  |  Exodus 20:1–4, 7–9, 12–20

Then God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name. Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work.

Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.” (NRSV)

Ah, the Ten Commandments, those good old familiar words to live by, carved in stone for all to see. What do we have to say about the Ten Commandments? “These are all good ideas. We should pay more attention to them.” Simple ideas, delivered with a lot of thunder and lightning. And the Israelites, when they heard all the thunder and saw all the lightning, said to Moses, “You go talk to scary God,” and Moses said, “It’s only scary so you’ll know to behave yourselves,” and he went off to take extensive dictation from the Lord while the people went off to have a golden calf party, like you do when you’re so scared you really want to behave yourself.

Clearly the effect of the display was not what was intended.

When you ride a bike, you learn pretty quickly that the bike goes where you are looking, so you should look where you want to go. If you see an obstacle, you look at the way around it and not at the obstacle. If you look at the obstacle, you’re going to hit it. Your brain may be saying “Avoid that!” but if that’s where your eyes are, that’s where the bike is going to go.

This may be why people have had trouble with the commandments since the day they were written down. Only two of them are phrased in a “Go this way!” manner: Remember the sabbath and Honor your parents. The others? They’re all “Avoid that!” And like a bike (and the Israelites), we manage to hit them, with the result that we spend more time picking ourselves up off the ground than actually riding the bike.

In the New Testament, Jesus gives us two commandments, and they’re both “Go this way” commandments: Love God, Love your neighbor. We’ll make good progress toward God’s kingdom if we keep our bike (and our intentions) pointed in the “Go this way” direction.

Lord, help us to focus our intention on the things you want us to do. Steady us when we stumble, and help us see your direction. Amen.

Written by Rob Koon, Coordinator of Fine Arts

Reflection and prayer © Fourth Presbyterian Church

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