In my local congregation, we are currently journeying through Lent and to be honest, most of us are learning we are not as disciplined as we have previously thought. This journey for our community is a prime discipleship opportunity as we share what we are learning along with easy and the difficult moments. At least a few times in the past week, I have heard my congregants mention how hard it has been to give up something and that they should have thought about something different to give up. Would it be easier if they had chosen something different, likely not as we are learning how much we are shaped by our daily habits.
On a humorous note, Andy and I have given up television and YouTube videos (Andy’s guilty pleasure) and there have been a few times we have been tempted to slip back into old habits and turn on the TV (which we literally unplugged) or to surf the internet to find something to laugh about- he seriously finds some of the most random things out there.
During this second week of Lent, I will say that the rhythm of discipline is still being defined. Once something is set aside for a while, it’s easier to be aware of how much time, whether intentionally or not, is devoted to such activities. I’ve noticed that there are moments where we are open to better conversations with one another without the distractions of a TV in the background. A few nights when I’ve had some downtime, I’ve literally come home to a quiet house and have had moments of silence and reflection that are usually difficult to find in my life. At first, this was awkward, yet now, I am getting into a good place in welcoming this quietness and stillness. Sometimes it takes obediently walking away from the comforts and distractions the familiar to be available and open to hearing from God.
Our passage this week takes place in the desert where the Israelites have been journeying toward the destination of The Promised Land. This desert was uncomfortable and filled with the unfamiliar in absolutely every single way. They had been set free from slavery, had survived a chase by Pharaoh’s Army by walking across the sea on dry land, and God sustained them by providing manna, quail, and water from the rock. In all of this, they remember life back in Egypt while enslaved and begin to long for the days of the familiar, even though the familiar was unpleasant and yet strangely comforting to them. Perhaps this is because their lives were filled and structured so much that they were constantly busy and didn’t have time to think. Now, as they are in the desert, they are literally at God’s mercy and they have nothing else to do but wait.
God was working during this waiting and awkward time on the journey through preparing the Israelites for life in the Promised Land. They had come from a kingdom where Pharaoh’s laws were held in highest regard and now they are being re-oriented to a way of living that identifies them as the People of God and how they are to live.
The first four commandments are relational between God and the Israelites. May it be known that nothing else other than God’s power and grace delivered them from slavery in Egypt. God is to be respected and to be the priority in their lives above all else and because God is more powerful than any other entity, nothing should be made in attempt to resemble or place God among the other deities like the graven images the Egyptians used to worship their gods. God’s very name is Holy and is not to be carelessly used on the lips of the Israelites. Finally, the Sabbath, day of rest, is to be honored and no work is to be done. These relational points between God and the people establishes a turning point from what was previously lived in their life of slavery. The former ruler viewed himself as God through abusing people and power. God provides people with a covenant and freedom from the bondage they previously knew and is established in love.
The second half of the commandments are referencing how the Israelites are to live with one another as God’s people. Right relationship with one another is crucial in bearing witness to the nature of the One True God. In the former kingdom, relationships with one another could have been strained due to the unbearable stress and limited resources and acting contrary to what God is asking was likely occurring in the lives of the Israelites. These commandments place a high value on life together in community and the quality of life that was lived.
The two aspects of the 10 commandments of loving God and loving neighbor are crucial to the testimony and witness of the Christian Faith. At times, living this out is not easy as we are tempted to put ourselves and our wants before God and before the good of others. The ideal is to live in the balance of pursuing God with all energy and looking out for our neighbor’s well-being. To do this, is easier said than done at times. It takes practice and discipline to build our lives around these values and to live them well. Sometimes it even means taking the uncomfortable steps into the unfamiliar to get back in touch with God.
These commandments were God’s law to God’s people not just to be taken as a “badge of holiness” and lived out in competition with one another in the community of faith in the form of rigid legalism, which causes separation from community and devalues a person’s life. Instead, these commandments helped to redefine the value of the life God created through the call to honor The Lord and one another with the utmost love, respect and grace.
Our journey through the desert and towards the cross is early in its process. Daily we are faced with decisions of how we will honor God and our neighbor in our habits and practices. There will be days where temptation is strong and we long to go back to what makes us comfortable. Yet, in this journey, we can also look to the days ahead as we grow in God’s grace to be shaped in a manner that bears the reflection of Christ’s transforming work in our lives.
May God meet you in the empty and awkward areas that fill your days as you wait and as you move forward one step at a time and may you see on this journey how God has sustained you through the unfamiliar. Journey well.