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Rules and Relationships

On the last Sunday before the season of Lent -- as this Sunday is -- it's the custom of the church to hear the Gospel story of the Transfiguration.

The transfiguration story is the one where Jesus takes Peter and James and John up a high mountain, where they received a stunning glimpse of Jesus' divine glory. There are parallels in the Transfiguration story to the Old Testament story of Moses ascending the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments.

What I find fascinating is that when Moses came down the mountain, he had a set of rules for the community: a civic code, and 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 someone TO worship: the Living Son of the Living God, 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!"

It's not that the Ten Commandments are unimportant. In fact, during the season of Lent, we begin each Sunday service with a recitation of the Ten Commandments as a way of reminding ourselves of how important they are to living full and free lives.

It's just that being in relationship with Jesus changes the way we understand and follow each of the Ten Commandments.

Obvious examples include Matthew 5:21-37, when Jesus focuses our attention away from the actual physical act of murdering someone or committing adultery with someone -- actions which we may or may not have done in our lives -- toward the root cause of murder (anger), and the root cause of adultery (lust), which are emotions or feelings or inclinations which every human being has.

And not just murder and adultery: Jesus also radicalized (rooted) the commandments about Sabbath observance, honoring one's parents, and stealing, not to mention the commandment against having another god or making idols.

Put another way: if we are rooted (radical) about following what Jesus called "the first and greatest commandment" (love God with all your heart, soul, strength and might, and love your neighbor as yourself), then observance of the other commandments comes easily, and flows naturally.

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, 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 (as Love, incarnate) he was.

And the dynamic remains the same today: ever notice how infrequently religious-rule-followers quote Jesus? And conversely, ever notice how infrequently Jesus-followers quote rules?

As Frederick Buechner writes, "Principles are what people have instead of God."

As we'll be reminded, throughout Lent, when we respond to each of the Ten Commandments with "Lord, have mercy upon us and incline our hearts to keep this law," God does not want something "from" you--even your obedience.

God wants YOU.

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