n the movies the dour Moses comes down from his mountain top confab with God, hefting stone tablets with the ten commandments on them. Through the lens we have inherited from our civilization, we see this as someone with dominating authority laying down the law, obey or else… We get that. It is how the world works. Those with the ability to deal out superior violence make laws that must be followed or else they will punish the law breakers. This provides an order for living around other human beings, an order that we have grown so used to that we rarely if ever, think about alternatives.
But our faith tradition guides us away from the common worldview towards the upside-down worldview of love and not fear as the foundation of living with our fellow humans. With this alternative lens we can see today’s reading, not as God laying down the law but as God providing us the means to live together in harmony and justice.
The setting of this reading is in the middle of nowhere. A group of escaped slaves have embarked on a journey not only to a new land but to a new way for humans to live together so as to not replicate the exploitative and violent system they have fled.
The Ten Commandments have three parts which focus on behavior towards God, towards neighbor and towards ourselves. Jesus provided a shorthand version of the these when he offered two commandments: love God with your whole being and love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus rightly put love as the organizing principle and power behind God’s alternative way of living in community.
The first commandment is to have no other gods. Since the God of the Exodus stands on the side of slaves and all the other gods supported the inequitable, violent order of civilization, it makes sense to not follow those gods. This is less about God being jealous and more about being clear about choosing the radically alternative worldview and values this God offers the world.
Idols are access points to the ultimate truth that represents our idea of power. The problem is that desiring an access point comes out of the Domination worldview. Access points to the divine are places of special access, meaning access that only some people can obtain. If they join the right religion, if they pray at the sacred site, if they participate in the right ritual, they can have special access to the divine and special access will lead to improved outcomes. But the radically different worldview offered by the God who sides with slaves points us away from special access and towards universal access. Everyone everywhere has access to the love of God and nothing we do can alter or improve on that. All we can do is decide whether we choose to accept that love and live as reflections of it.
The last six commandments are direct ways to maintain equitable and so hopefully peaceful relationships with others. They are a fairly basic list of behaviors to avoid. These are behaviors that bring harm to others and in so doing perpetuate the idea that we are somehow disconnected from the wellbeing of those around us.
To honor your parents had particular meaning in a community which sought to maintain a worldview in direct opposition the dominant worldview of everyone else. Imagine the worldview of the community that followed the God who stood with slaves as an island in the sea. The sea was the dominant worldview of civilization. If you choose to leave the island, no matter which direction you went, you would end up in the same sea. The radically different worldview of the community of escaped slaves had to be handed down from generation to generation. If you walked away from the community of your parents, you would be walking directly into the worldview of Domination.
Then there is the commandment to make the Sabbath holy. If the first commandments are about loving God and the last are about loving neighbor then this is about loving self. Sabbath is about rest. It is about taking time every week to disengage from the demands of the world around us. Like our daily bread, this weekly rest is meant as a gift from God. Disengaging doesn’t mean finding more enjoyable ways to spend time mired in the values of Domination. It means resting and immersing ourselves in the alternative worldview God’s love offers us and finding ways to recharge ourselves for the difficult work of challenging the ways of the world throughout the rest of the week. In Sabbath rest we step away from anxiety and fear, from the unending race to succeed and accumulate. This is how we love ourselves.
It is challenging for us these days, this understanding that Sabbath rest is found in the context of a community rooted in the alternative values of God’s love. Alone, or in nuclear family groups it is difficult to avoid despair about the state of the world and our ability to move the world in a very different direction. Sabbath rest is truly found in the context of community.
Some people taking a psychedelic drug have profound experiences in which the limitations of self fade away and they feel connected to a universal consciousness often centered in love. When such experiences happen, it leaves a lasting alteration about how these people see themselves and the world. Other people have had similar experiences through some sort of spiritual practice. Some have it amidst a profound emotional crisis. But we don’t need to have the experience of this universal consciousness; we can simply choose to believe in a loving God and live our lives accordingly. That’s what sits at the heart of Jesus’ commandments to love God, neighbor and self and it is what sits at the heart of the ten commandments. God, neighbor, and self are all connected in the love of God.
All the hurtful, harmful thoughts and actions in us and the world are there to protect and assert our sense of self from others or over others. We have been taught by uncounted generations to close ourselves off from the universal unity of God’s love. We make better soldiers, we make better consumers, we make better slaves if our worldview is shrunk down to make us isolated fearful individuals protecting or asserting our sense of self.
Life as we have come to know it, with all its pain, fear and loss is a transient projection, a movie screen dramedy placed in front of our eyes, blocking the wonder of a sunset or a honeybee, blocking our empathy for others, blocking our connection to the undying unity of all things in the boundless sea of the unconditional love that is God.
God, neighbor, self, there is no separation but what we create. The divided reality humanity has constructed is feeble lie. We are all of the same tribe. We are all of the same family. We are all connected, not only to each other but to the honeybee and the stars. When we cut ourselves off from our most profound connections through God’s love we lock ourselves within a collapsing cycle of fear and harm.
We need each other. There is a link between the universal consciousness of God’s love and day to day behaviors like not lusting after what your neighbor has. To live into the love of God is to care for neighbor and self.
There is nothing to win. There is no need to assert or defend our egos. There is only love to experience and share in ways practical and profound. That is the truth that liberates us from mute acceptance of systemic harm. That is the love that frees us from anxiety. There is no special substance to ingest or special spiritual practice required. Though some have achieved enlightenment many who have sought universal truth through drug or guru have done more harm than good. We don't need to wait for a mysterious awakening. We don’t need to feel it, we just need to choose to believe in the unconditional love of God and live within its logic. Live it ‘til you love it. Share it to heal the world and in so doing be healed. Amen