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Based on the Lectionary readings for the Third Sunday of Lent
Exodus 20: 1-17

2003 March 23
Kenneth F. Baily, Senior Pastor

Living Together

There is an oft-heard church story about an elderly woman who was mailing a Bible to a friend. She placed it in a box, taped up the box, and took it to the post office. And as it was being weighed and stamped for delivery, the postal clerk asked the woman, "Is there anything breakable in here?" She paused for a moment and said, "Only the ten commandments."

I am worried about things that are breaking this morning. It seems that a lot of things are getting injured. And I carry a deep, deep sadness about decisions, divisions, declarations, and expectations that are pulling us apart as children of God: that are pulling apart the very creation of God even as so many people try to do what is right and good and best.

I do not desire to deliver an angle on world events today. But I desire to lift up my concerns and my hopes and to set them before God and to build together with you and with God a fabric of faith that may not be broken. For this is a tough week. Tough for Americans and for Iraqis. Tough for Christians and for Muslims, among others. It is tough for peacemakers and for those who support or serve to enforce the policies of war. We don't have to re-state our perspectives today. Mine are on the web. I hear yours often and thoughtfully. And there is need ahead for us to discuss them and to act on them. But this morning, again, I feel the call to comfort.

Most of us have lived through times when moments such as this have divided our nation and have divided our communities of faith. Most of us have seen how difference of opinion or interpretation or experience have torn people apart from each other, and we have seen how long it takes to repair those tears. And we know that there is a time when faith or prayer or philosophy should cause us to follow new paths, even those which divide mother from child and son from parent, as Jesus says. But we know also that finding our common humanity and our common endowment from divinity is a much louder call and that what we do to mend creation and preserve community is often the greatest contribution to any moment and to every future. So I seek those things today. I seek the building, healing resources that are Back to top ours already.

Prof. William Willimon says that the Ten Commandments do this. He says they are apodictic: they don't argue or reason but state. And these statements, he says, are graceful resources for how to live together in happiness. I agree.

The commandments give us values for the community and the individual. They see a whole that is greater than its solitary parts. Like America where our more perfect union or we the people are values as high as our personal rights.

Jesus adds that the love of God and neighbor and self are the essence of life, displaying the basics of the Ten Commandments. He says we build communities through love.

We need to do that, and I have an idea about how to try it today, from the depth of my spirit, although it deserves refinement and deeper thought. But I set it before you, hoping that it helps.

I think that I need to do something manifest today, something constructive. Perhaps we could make an offering, set out our community-building gifts. I long to make external what is also internal so that we can be empowered, challenged, guided, and comforted by the gifts that are ours. I suggest that we take our many gifts and make of them one offering. Instead of a great pronouncement we could make a simple offering.

So I will lay four things by God's altar today for the duration of our journey through Lent, perhaps our journey through war. They are four things that are bigger than any one or group of us but uniquely connected to each of us. And I want to set them out rather than just name them because their strength is beyond symbolic, and their real presence allows me both to know that I cannot control them Back to top and to realize that God does inhabit them, and I must carry their calls into the world when this service is ended.

I set them by God's altar to represent each of us and all of us. I set them out as reminders, as inspirations, as common ground. I set them out to guide our days.

First I'd like to set a Bible on our table.Holy Bible It represents our common faith. It represents Abraham's full family. It contains commandments and forgiveness. It has prayers of pain and visions of a time without tears as well. By it we put our story out there and remind ourselves of who we are, what yet we may be, and what we all share in hope. I put one extra thing inside the Bible. It is a copy of St. Francis' prayer, "Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace." It's pretty ancient. It's pretty simple. It is a prayer to God.

Second I'd like to put a copy of our US Constitution before God.Constitution and oath It's not perfect. It's not global or divine. But it is ours, and we are better for it. I don't mean this as a political statement but as something that holds us together. It is beautiful, and it is hopeful. And I put something else inside it, too. I put the oath of office for those who serve in the armed services inside of it. Because they are with us in our prayers these days. They are part of us. They are our responsibility. We are not divided from them, even if our views of history are diverse.

Stuffed bearThird I put this stuffed animal from my office before us. It has been handled by many children over the years. It comes with their auras, if you will. This Lent, during this war, we need to keep the care of our children before us and we need to keep the concern for all God's vulnerable at our forefront. Back to top God knows vulnerability. It takes the strong to protect the weak. That is our task.

purple Advent candleFinally I place this candle beneath the cross. It is an Advent candle. It is purple for royalty and for penitence. Its flame symbolizes greater light as well as the perseverant prayer that darkness never has the last word. It is a small candle. Keeping it lit is up to us.

This is my pledge: I will not be frozen. I will not be mesmerized by uncertainty. I will not numbed. I will not be immobilized. I will not be afraid.

I will strive to be faithful. I will strive to remember. I will commit to being loving. I will endeavor to follow God. I will work to sustain community and to repair what is broken.

These symbols will help me in these weeks ahead. They are not perfect. Maybe you would add something to them. Maybe you can draw something from them. Maybe they are just suggestions of how we may be or what God will offer. Suggestions to keep more than just the up-to-the-minute bad news in your mind. But to keep the timeless good news in your heart. And that good news is that this is still God's world, and we can follow God, depend on God, and live in Jesus' way, together. Amen.

Copyright 2003 Kenneth F. Baily.  Used by permission.

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