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Belmont, CA 94002
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One Commandment or Ten?


Rev. Kristi Denham
Congregational Church of Belmont
October 8, 2017

"Can you identify with the Israelites in the wilderness? If you have any sense of history, do you remember a time when our world, or at least our nation, was struggling to protect our freedoms? Perhaps we still are. As the Israelites had escaped from bondage to others, so have we. We now have enough to eat, enough to drink. As the Israelites received Manna from heaven and quail at evening, and water from a rock, according to the story, so have we. So it was that a people in the wilderness who were under great stress felt a need for the next essential thing ~ a set of laws to live by. In times of crisis people want laws they can trust to keep the peace.

Other civilizations at the time if early Israel were developing law codes. Most were based on the idea that a natural hierarchy existed in society. Those with money and power had more value than those without. Our own Constitution was founded on similar assumptions: Women, slaves, native Americans were all considered of less value. Each culture claimed some divine guidance in their creation. The Ten Commandments put God first. Do we?
The words of our Scripture Lesson are no-doubt familiar to all of us. Some would suggest that they belong in our courts of law today. I am not one of them. And I have been asking myself all week what do these words mean to me in a time of such chaos and anguish as ours? Do they speak to you in this troubled hour? What words resonate for you? What seems dissonant and difficult? Listen again, with an open heart and mind:
Then God spoke all these words:
(One) 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. What comes before God in our lives? If God is love, how do we answer that question?

(Two) 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. What are our idols?The Market Economy that cannot be questioned?Our fear-based media that reports every violence to the exclusion of whatever good is happening in our world?
(Three) 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. This isn't about swearing! It's about claiming we know what God wants for others.Those who are sure we are living in the end times and demand that we pray only in the name of Jesus to be saved may be taking God's name in vain!

(Four) Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. For six days you shall labor and do all your work. Keeping Sabbath is hard.How important is it in these crazy times?
(Five) Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. It does not say obey. but respect is foundational for family and for civilization.

(Six) You shall not murder. Is killing in war because someone else commands it okay?Can we forgive the murderer?
(Seven) You shall not commit adultery. How deeply committed are our relationships? Can we forgive the adulterer?
(Eight) You shall not steal. What if you are desperately hungry. Can we forgive?

(Nine) You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. Can you lie to an enemy? Who is my neighbor?

(Ten) 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. Do we belong to each other?Do multinational corporations doing agribusiness as they take over all the family farms break this commandment?Do we just ignore the language of slaves and women as property?

Jesus said that there was need of only one great commandment: You shall love the Lord your God will all your heart and all your mind and all your soul and your neighbor as yourself. Do all these laws reflect that essential teaching?
Now is not a time for me to preach to you. My heart is breaking for all the anguish I see in our world. I take comfort in the assurance that the God of my under-standing is weeping with us, and longs for us to know we are surrounded with arms of comfort and care. There are acts of kindness and compassion all around us.
I watched a program on CNN that gave tribute to the 58 people who lost their lives in Las Vegas. Every one of them was so full of love and caring for others. I think of the 22000 who didn't die that day and realized there is so much more goodness in this world than tends to be acknowledged.

I have found that the things we say out loud become more real. So I invite you to share with us what brings you strength in times like this. We can trust one another with our hearts and minds this day. I invite you to share your thoughts and feelings with us. What is important to you. Perhaps we can grow together in deepening trust and love as we open to each other in this crazy time. What do you think? What are you feeling? How can we help one another?

As I passed the microphone through the congregation many shared their wisdom with us. One spoke one word as a declaration: Community! Another pointed at her dog in the aisle and reminded me that our blessed animals truly give us strength. (Although she was actually just hoping I wouldn't trip over her!) Another spoke of practicing giving smiles away to everyone she meets as a spiritual practice. Someone said they practice saying thank you and helping others every day. One spoke of turning off the television and remembering to take care of herself first if she is going to be able to care for others.

We blessed each other with our stories and I came away feeling supported by the wisdom all around me. Amen.