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Rules, Relationship

On the last Sunday before Lent, it’s the custom of the church to hear the Gospel story of the Transfiguration, the story of Jesus taking Peter and James and John up a high mountain where they received a stunning glimpse of Jesus’ divine and eternal glory.

There are many parallels in the Transfiguration story to the Old Testament story we’ll also hear this Sunday, which is Moses ascending the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments.

What I find fascinating, and hope to explore more fully in my sermon this and next Sunday, is that when Moses came down the mountain, he had a set of rules for the community, a civic code, as well as a list of precise instructions for worship.

When Jesus and his disciples came down the mountain, they had not a code, but a person--and not instructions on how to worship, but a person TO worship: Jesus.

God’s message in Exodus was, “Love me by obeying these commandments.”

God’s message in the Transfiguration was, “This is my Son, whom I love: listen to him!”

Being in relationship with Jesus changes the way we follow each of the Ten Commandments.

Obvious examples include the Gospel lesson we heard a few weeks ago, Matthew 5:21-37, when Jesus focused on the root cause of murder (anger) and the root cause of adultery (lust), thereby pulling the rug out from under all of us and removing any ability for us to judge others.

But Jesus also radicalized (rooted) Sabbath observance, honoring one’s parents, and stealing, not to mention the commandment against having another god or making idols.

My point?

Despite what you may have heard all your life, our call as Christians is not primarily to follow rules, but to be in relationship with--to be in love with--Jesus.

In fact, I’d argue it was “rule-followers” who a) drove Jesus up the wall while he was alive, and b) finally had him killed when they realized how subversive, original, and un-controllable he (as Love, incarnate) was. And the dynamic remains the same today.

As Frederick Buechner writes, “Principles are what people have instead of God.” As Peter, James and John found out that first Transfiguration day, and as we’ll be reminded Sunday, God does not want something “from” you--even your obedience.

God wants YOU.


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