How did we get to be the society we are today? How did we get to be the family that we are today? How did we get to be the church we are today? How did we get to be the individual that we are today? If we had it to do all over again, would we have done the same things, established the same norms, lived by the same values at the same times?
Everywhere we look there are formal and informal Laws and Rules that are either formally or informally enforced...and it often seems that the informal ones are often informally enforced with a greater passion!
Did you ever unwittingly cross a line - break a communal norm or a rule without really knowing that it was a norm or rule You know, those Rules that someone only learns about when they have transgressed, and only then--"No one ever asks Uncle Thomas about his glass eye."..."You should always have your yard mowed and cleaned before the Fourth of July parade"....."You cannot sit in that seat because it is where Ms. Jenkins sits every Sunday morning." (this might suggest that you aren't really part of the community yet, or it might suggest the community isn't really ready to share its norms and rules).
We are subject to the rich blessings of our lived experience. Life for each of us is something of a flow chart with many, many forks in the road where we make a choice and that forever changes the route on which we travel. In our communities and in our families and in our individual lives, we learn from our experience, create some subconscious mental footnote and (sometimes, hopefully) change the way we approach similar situations for the future. In this week's lectionary readings, we are given the opportunity to look back across thousands of years of experience for people of faith, look at their experience and the resulting formal and informal rules. We also get to see them ask why there are rules, what are the rules that matter, what rules need reconsidered, what temples need cleansed, etc.
Now we might tread on some wild dogma space here. You have to dance around in the world of free will, works vs faith, and God's omnipotence to even question some of the history of Christianity. We're ok with that -- we believe that questions, not necessarily answers, shape us, stretch us and make us people of faith. Sometimes sacred cows need to be turned in to burgers.
In the reading from Hebrew scripture this week, Moses receives the commandments. Doing a quick tally between the two of us, depending on how you interpret and apply the Laws, we may have not kept at least 9 (maybe 10 if "murder" applies to other than humans) of the 10 commandments. These rules were delivered to a people who had already experienced God's grace and salvation. They were saved over and over again, set aside, told that they would be a great nation. They've spent a little time in the wilderness (and really, who hasn't?). They've rebelled and tested limits and boundaries and here they are, having the needs of their community addressed pretty directly. Here is delivered to them a list of seemingly simple rules. The first ones address the people's relationship with God, and the latter address the people's relationship with one another. Here are the marching orders that will order their society and ensure their harmony with Yaweh. But from reading the rest of the Hebrew story and from living our own, we know that it just isn't that simple.
The Psalmist is pretty happy to place trust in God that is Good to provide a law that makes life choices simple. God's Law is perfect. Hmmm...maybe in an ideal world all of this is simple, but what happens when it is stuff between one person and another rather than one person and their God? How does God's law inform our community laws? Have you ever heard the phrase, "He is so heavenly minded he is no earthly good"?
In his first letter to the church at Corinth, Paul is warning the group about their squabbles and divisions. He is redirecting some discussion about their being special "wisdom," or revelation or knowledge that empowers one as a believer. He is reminding this community that they don't need a bunch of hoops to identify themselves as Christians. They don't need visions or tongues or dreams. There aren't special rules that mark this community and these people. They need their faith, and that is about it. Paul points out that the Jews have Law and Greeks have Wisdom. Christians, by contrast, may seem foolish in their simple faith. And as he will remind them later in this letter, they are fools all right - fools for Christ.
Again this week, we read about an angry and emotional Jesus in the selection from John. The Passover is drawing near and Jerusalem would have been crowded by faithful, law-abiding Jews seeking to make their offerings and sacrifices at the Temple. Jesus enters the Temple and sees the vendors who would have been selling the animals necessary for lawful sacrifice and money changers who were ready to exchange foreign currency. These vendors are all working to feed themselves and their families. Some of them are likely honest and some of them are likely dishonest and taking advantage of folks. Either way, Jesus is mad about the whole thing because people were coming to make sacrifices and buying and selling things in the courtyard of the temple because of laws that were given to / by Moses and had been interpreted and reinterpreted and adapted and messed up in a hundred different ways. He was angry because they were not there to worship God, but instead to fulfill some human-created expectations.
So a set of rules were handed down for the good of a people, but over time, the rules were changed, were reinterpreted, were added to and used to create the righteous and the unclean. How many times do we start out with something good and over time we misuse, abuse and forget the real why? How do we set things right again when that happens? How do we return to original relations? How do we return to God? What are the necessary rules?
I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them; I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, so that they may follow my statutes and keep my ordinances and obey them. They shall be my people, and I will be their God.
Ezekial 11: 19 - 20