Tuesday, January 3, 2012


On the Tenth Day of Christmas...

FOR THE PERSON WHO HAS EVERYTHING. Ever give or receive one of those "for the person who has everything" gifts? What about a gift for a person who has nothing? Or for a recently-appointed leader? Or for a couple just beginning their life journey together? Or for a community just plotting its course or a nation begin birthed? Today’s gifts are perfect for these occasions. Opening them, we hark back to something familiarly old and are invited to embrace something promising enough to dramatically reshape our future.

CENTERING COVENANT. According to tradition that this old English song is part of a clandestine catechism, the "Ten Lords a Leaping" are the Ten Commandments. They did more than anything else to form the Hebrew people into a distinctive and cohesive people. The Decalogue gave them unique identity. It truly made them peculiar among neighboring nations. And when nothing else seemed able to hold them together, the Ten Commandments did. The Ten Commandments formed the core of their covenant with the unseen Yahweh, the exclusive relationship about whom is the first of the Commandments. Through the Ten Commandments, they became principled in their actions, successful in their dealings, and enduring in their posterity.

LOOK FOR THE PRINCIPLES. How we approach the Ten Commandments makes all the difference in how or if we incorporate them into our lives. I learned them mostly as prohibitions and this is how most people think of them. A bunch of "Thou shalt nots" is the lingering and negative impression. Another approach is to explore the provision of each commandment. What does each commandment affirm about life? What does it uphold as valuable? What does it preserve and promote? Look for the covenant principles behind the "Thou shalt nots."

WHO BREAKS WHAT? E. Stanley Jones talked about the fact that we do not break the Ten Commandments, or any other God-given precepts. Instead, we break ourselves upon them. The commandment holds; we yield. Richard Foster puts forth the image of a life-giving river with boundaries. When the boundaries are observed the river provides for many aspects of life. When the banks are flooded and breached, it becomes a rampaging torrent leaving chaos in its path. So it is when we go beyond the Commandments. The boundaries are not set because we cannot be trusted; it is that covenant life simply cannot survive beyond them.

THE LETTER VS THE SPIRIT. What happens with the Ten Commandments in the New Testament? The encounter with the rich young man in Mark 10 is indicative of the way Jesus interpreted the Ten Commandments and the Law. Keeping them minimally or self-righteously may well miss the mark. There is something beyond the letter of the law that is life-giving; there is a spirit of the Commandment that invites us to an authentic and growing relationship to self, others, and God. It is this life in the Spirit, with its hallmark of love, that brings the Ten Commandments into the realm of provision and affirmation of all that is life-giving.

READ & REFLECT. Journaling/prayer possibilities: Open the Ten Commandments and read them separately and thoughtfully. What likely principles or life-affirmations can you discern behind each one? How are you incorporating the Ten Commandments into your life? Which of the Commandments have implications for you in relationship to the larger community? Offer thanks for the Commandments and for the Spirit who brings them to life within us and within our communities.

MERCIFUL DESIGN. Charles Wesley wrote the following lyrics in reflection of the Law of God:

Father, Thy merciful design
We see and joyfully approve;
Thou kindly dost Thy laws enjoin
To make us happy in Thy love.

With joy we own the gracious end
For which Thy laws were all bestowed;
Thou dost each command intend
Our present and eternal good.

A BENEDICTION. May you find God’s commands gracious in intent, directive in decision-making, and sweet in fulfillment. May the open to you a freedom not found elsewhere or before. Amen.

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