Job Descriptions

Lately, I’ve seen a whole lot of posts and heard even more stories of people who have been extremely hurt by the church or other religious institutions. Even if they do not tell the full tale, the way they speak of God and believers easily belies the pain behind their words. And it is gut-wrenching to say the least.

I also see many believers trying to write-off these experiences as – “those were people, not God.” Or belittle them by saying, “well, if you just believe enough…” Or even worse, try to convert those who have lost their faith back into whatever fold they represent through either fear or erroneously concocted witness.

Every time I either want to slap my palm to my forehead or give someone a good “Gibbs-smack” to the backside of their noggin.

You know, I actually have friends and family members who are both agnostic and atheist. And believe it or not, I do not panic about it. Nor do I worry about it. For several reasons.

One is that I was told to love everyone. Where they are. However they are. And especially people who are loving individuals who know they are loved – those are not humans that I am too concerned about from a safety standpoint.

From a faith standpoint, the God I serve is far bigger and more expansive than some pithy little tyrant who cannot handle a creation having questions and problems and shouting matches from time to time. My God is Love. One that seeks out and searches and pursues us even beyond the gates of death itself. And when that God became flesh, Jesus said that it was the faith of friends that can save, too. So again, why should I worry.

Lastly, it has never, ever been my job, or your job, or our job to save anyone – at least where eternity is concerned. It is our job to care and serve and save lives and bodies and broken souls that are fighting battles here and now. That’s what my Lord did. That’s what we’re meant to do. And that’s the very best witness we can ever give.

Love with tangible, reckless, profligate, radical intensity. With everything we have. Just like our God has loved us.

The rest will sort itself out. The rest is God’s job. Period.

The Morning After

This morning is a different kind of morning after. We are dealing with a death that has a profound effect the world over. Why?…

I still remember that first morning after. I woke up late on a school day only to find my relatives sitting with my mom and my favorite teacher in my living room waiting for me. When the words left my mother’s mouth that my father was gone, my world spun out of control and, in many ways, it has never stopped.

But the thing is… the world just keeps on spinning.

Thirty-one years later I can attest that whatever may be happening in our own personal lives, the rest of the world will keep on moving forward. They will do their best to be kind. To try and remember that we are hurting. Yet there is a quintessential part of our human psyche or maybe it’s our culture that just doesn’t want to deal with death and the scary parts of the medical arena, especially when grief gets complicated. Because humans are always complicated and life is far more complex than it looks on the surface.

This morning is a different kind of morning after. We are dealing with a death that has a profound effect the world over. Why? Well, for two reasons. One is that we have had a ruler, a woman at that, who proved what strength, poise, compassion, and service, along with a bit of humor, can look like over a period of seventy years in a time when modern technology allowed all of us to watch very closely. The second reason is that there was a time when the sun did not set on the British Empire. Which means that with the death of Queen Elizabeth II, the grief is going to be complicated. Complex. Downright messy in a lot of cases.

All of us need to remember that we never get to dictate the terms of someone else’s story – especially if they have experienced something we never have such as subjugation, oppression, or injustice. Nor do we get to choose how they will grieve or respond. If you do not know from your own experience, then simply be quiet and listen and learn. It is our God-given job in those instances to stand with the oppressed – not to direct their position or voice, especially given that voices have often been far too long denied in most circumstances.

Now, that being said, all those who feel so able, I hope you will join me in offering up prayers for the Queen’s family and all those who loved her. For yes, as a person she was truly remarkable. I also offer my prayers for our cousins across the pond as they make important decisions about the future of their nation in the coming days and years. And for all those who find grief in any expression from her death, I hold you in prayer as well, that you may also find peace one day.

Lastly, for anyone who is reading this who is grieving from their own tragedies and are in the midst of their own struggles, know that you are not alone. It has been thirty-one years and I am still not over it. There are better days, to be sure. However, some days are just impossible to breathe.

Know you are loved. Know you are not alone. Know you can do this.

Ten in Two

A contemporary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rabbi Joachim Prinz once said that “Neighbor is not a geographic term.” He was making the same point that Jesus does in this parable. Your neighbor is every other human being on this planet…

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And Jesus said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

Luke 10:25-28

It is summary day, my friends. We have made it all the way through the Ten Commandments. And today is the day we look back to see what we have done and to take one more gander at what Jesus, an observant member of the house of Israel, had to say about the whole thing.

We must always remember that the Ten Commandments have been taught to children and adults since Moses dropped the third tablet (thank you Mel Brooks).

When Miss Dixie taught her Sunday School class about them, her students were quite shockingly astute. For example, after learning they were to honor their father and mother, the young teacher asked them, “Is there a commandment that teaches us how to treat our brothers and sisters?” And without missing a beat, little Cindy responded, “Thou shalt not kill.”

Out of the mouths of babes, right?

So, before we look at what Jesus said about the body, let’s take a look back at what we have learned together this summer:

First, the very beginning, the commandment upon which all the others sit is that our God is one – the one who saves. Our God seeks us always, because God loves us no matter what. It is therefore our job to work with everything we have to stop placing other gods or things or goals or ourselves where God should be in our lives. To instead let God’s Love rule.

Second, we are never to put God in a box. Whether that box looks like an idol of wood or stone or clay or instead like our minds trying to keep God contained into the shape we wish God would look like. We are instead to open our eyes and minds and hearts to who God truly is: something far more vast and wonderful than our minds can imagine.

Third, do not use God’s name as if it has no significance. Rather than being a prohibition on all cursing, this commandment has far more to do with ensuring that we are honoring the very meaning of God’s name – which is “life” itself. This means that our word is not merely the oaths that we give but more importantly is the testimony we give with our lives to the God who loves us and calls us to remember that all life is sacred by following the way of Christ.

Fourth, since the beginning, God has desired for us to have the opportunity, every single week, to rest and reconnect. To love and be loved. To know and be known. To be a part of the creative process. To ensure our body’s wellbeing. To let our spirit feel peace. And for those of us who follow Christ to follow in our ancient sibling’s footsteps: to recommit ourselves to the work of Christ that will see God’s love and justice done on earth as it is in heaven.

Fifth, while children are meant to give honor to those that love them, we who raise children are meant to create family environments built on mutual love and respect. Parents or caregivers are meant to ensure enough resources and proper boundaries for their children. Children are meant to learn limits and how to show courtesy to people of all ages. And children and meant to learn how to be loving, healthy, hopefully fun, and servant-minded adults by watching their parents.

Sixth, we all know we are not supposed to kill people. What we need to remember is that it is our job to make God’s life a priority. So anytime we give into anger, or fear, or hatred that turns us against our neighbor, it is as though we have killed them.

Seventh, God created us to be loyal and loving to one another, in relationships that are healthy, life-giving, and loving. We are to take are vows seriously and never enter into them lightly. 

Eighth, remember that there are countless ways we can loot people’s lives, as individuals and as bodies of people. It is not just about objects or property. It is about healthy, livelihood, reputation, their future, their ability to flourish, sometimes their very life. Sometimes in ways that a simple “I’m sorry” will not make up for. We need to be mindful of our actions and of the Lazaruses at our gates.

Ninth, do not put up with lies. Do not tell them. Do not accept them. We have to let ourselves be uncomfortable so we can finally deal with whatever problems we are actually facing. Protect your integrity. Let love rule.

Tenth, not everything in life has to be a competition. We cannot control our initial reactions, but we can control our intentions, our meditations, our plans, our choices. We can consciously decide on a better path forward that puts people first including our neighbors – all of our neighbors. 

 There you have it. The Ten Commandments. Most of them not meaning what we originally thought or what we were taught. Why? Well, probably because we took them largely on face value or didn’t actually listen to what Jesus said. And what are Christians always supposed to do? Listen to what Jesus said…

Speaking of which… Let’s look at our gospel lesson. So, in three of the four gospels, Jesus has to answer this question about which of the commandments is the greatest. It is always in a context where he is being tested by a lawyer (ahem) or a scribe. They are wanting to know if he knows his stuff. If he is really a part of the tradition. And also, if they are really the best at what they do. 

Jesus was not the first to summarize the law in this way. Other famous rabbis had made the same connection. So he was actually quite firmly within the tradition when he gave this answer. It was not a shocking revelation on its own. It was a good summary of the law – loving God (the first four commandments) and loving your neighbor (the last six commandments).

Then we come to this passage in the gospel of Luke. The lawyer decides to press his luck. And Jesus does something truly controversial. He begins this tale to explain the commandments: a man is attacked by bandits and left for dead. A clergyperson walks by, sees the hurting man and scurries along. Not wanting to be troubled. A person of the historic ruling class, let’s just go with a politician walks by, doesn’t have a camera crew, sees the hurting man and scurries along in a hurry to their next meeting. 

Now, here is the clincher, you need to picture someone you have historically hated. Assumed the worst of. A group of people you have thought would attack you on sight. Rob you. Beat you. People you had thought were the worst of the worst. Do you have a group in your mind’s eye?

Those are the Samaritans. We do not understand this now because of the millennia standing between us, but the hatred between them and the Jewish people was deep seated. For Jesus to say that a Samaritan helped this poor wretch was the same thing as us hearing that Malcom X helped the Grand Dragon of the KKK. It was controversial. Unheard of. Shocking and beyond belief. 

A contemporary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rabbi Joachim Prinz once said that “Neighbor is not a geographic term.” He was making the same point that Jesus does in this parable. Your neighbor is every other human being on this planet. It is one of the first lessons I teach to our younglings, because it is that important. And whether our relationship with them last ten minutes or ten years or fifty years, we are meant to show the same love and compassion that God has called us to have for ourselves, for our families, and for our friends.

Because here it the reason Jesus said hang all the law and the prophets on these two commandments: we get really confused when we don’t keep it simple. We tend to want to hold each other to ridiculous standards while ignoring how badly we are failing ourselves. So Jesus and the other rabbis said, nope. Stick with this. Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. In John, Jesus went even further to say, you know what, just love your neighbor. Period. (Because we can’t love our neighbor unless we are loving God.)

So what do we take away from all that we have learned? Well, hopefully that things are rarely what they appear to be on the surface. That’s a good start. Second, if you’re wanting these mandates to use them against someone else, you have missed the whole point. Third, they were written by God and messed up by humans almost immediately because we’re fallen creatures, so cheers.

But no, seriously. What should we remember? Love. Love is the whole point. Run everything through that test. Is what I’m thinking, saying, doing going to serve God’s love and life, God’s justice and peace? If not, well, you may want to rethink your plans.

God’s love is messy and beautiful. But it is worth it, as Christ himself knows from real experience. As God’s own self knows from real experience. And the Holy Spirit is waiting to push us further into that fray. So… are you ready?

To Covet or Not to Covet

…not everything in this life has to be a competition. Not everything has to be stolen or coveted. At the end of the day, it may be difficult to completely control our initial thoughts. However, we can control our intentions, our meditations, our plans, our choices beyond.

X. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. Neither shall you desire your neighbor’s house, or field, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

Being the mother of twin four-year-olds, something with which I have become all too familiar these days is a set of regulations entitled the “Ten Toddler Rules of Possession.” (I’m very grateful to whatever parent finally wrote these all down.) If I like it, it’s mine. If it’s in my hand, its mine. If I can take it from you, it’s mine. If I had it a little which ago, it’s mine. If it’s mine, it must never appear to be yours. If I’m building something, all the pieces are mine. If it looks just like mine, it is mine. If I saw it first, it’s mine. If you are playing something and put it down, it becomes mine. If it’s broken, it’s yours. Pretty sure I’ve seen some grown-ups play by these rules over the years…

Ah, my friends, we have done it. We have come to the end of the set. Today we are looking at the tenth commandment. Woohoo. We did it. (There will be one more sermon in the series to look at what Jesus had to say about the commandments…) But just think of how far we have come! 

Today we look at what is probably the most difficult of them all, because unlike the rest of this tablet, this one is entirely about our intentions. Yes, yes, Jesus decided to make the rest of these about our intentions, too. Thanks Jesus. But this one really is about what we’re thinking. Coveting. Ooooooo. 

It is a simple enough definition: to want something that is not your own. Fair enough. More specifically, it means to want something that we have no right to. And usually, something that we have to be willing to use dishonest means to attain.

In Hebrew, the word for covet is actually directly related to the concept of dishonest gain. In Greek, there are multiple words for covet. Because of course there are (anyone remember how many words they have for love?). Generally, though, the concepts all bear in common an ugliness. Shamelessness. Detestableness. And in both Hebrew and Greek there is this sense that covetousness that is the exact opposite of generosity.

This week I found a story about a little boy who once won a contest to be pen pals with Robin Williams for an entire year. He was stoked. His siblings warned him that it was probably just a publicist who would be writing him back, but he didn’t care. He poured over every word he wrote to the actor in each letter. 

That same summer, his family went to Disney. And this child waited and waited to see the Genie, who had been played by none other than Robin Williams. Well, as fate would have it, Robin happed to be in the park that day signing autographs. And when this youngling got to the front of the line, he was bouncing up and down and began to ramble on and on about the letters and winning the contest and Robin exclaimed, “Kyle!?!” Then, with a giant grin on his face, he reached into his inside coat pocket, he pulled out his letters, along with the other letters from the contest winners that he had been carrying with him while traveling to cheer himself up.

There are many things we can learn from this story. The generosity of such a big Hollywood star to take the time to write to ten kids and make their year. But also to perhaps realize that sometimes the dreamy lives of others are not always what they seem to be.

You see, there are countless things we can covet in this life. Not just people to whom we are attracted – and yes, we are always responsible for our own lust there, my friends. Not just houses and cars and clothes that appear to be at the top of the market. But we also covet more money. We covet more power. We covet glory. We covet control. And when we covet these things, and I mean really want them, desire them deep in our bones – we get ugly for them. We get shameless. Our behavior becomes downright detestable. We put all these things above our relationships. Above people. And that, that is never, ever what we are meant to do.

In the summer of 2021, the world watched as athletes from around the globe competed in the Olympic games in Tokyo. There were stories of triumph. But more than many games in history, there were so many stories of people coming together. 

Perhaps my favorite story was that of the Men’s High Jump. On August first, the Mutaz Essa Barshim of Qatar and Gianmarco Tamberi of Italy both cleared 2.37 meters. But after three additional attempts, on both sides, neither could go any higher. The officials began to discuss the option of sudden death, when one of the men, Barshim, suggested that they should just share the gold medal. Though there have been other instances of shared medals, this was the first time the Olympians chose to do so. Tamberi jumped up and gave Barshim a hug in agreement. And the rest is history. 

You see, not everything in this life has to be a competition. Not everything has to be stolen or coveted. At the end of the day, it may be difficult to completely control our initial thoughts. However, we can control our intentions, our meditations, our plans, our choices beyond. We can consciously decide upon a better path forward. We can put people first, including our families, but also our neighbors. All of our neighbors. Ensure that generosity and compassion are our main modes of being – because those are extensions of the love that God always desires us to have. We can intentionally take part in becoming who God is calling us to be: the love-filled people who follow Christ into the future.

False Witness

The one about lying. Because ultimately, that is what it means to bear false witness…

IX. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

Today we are on to the ninth commandment. The one about lying. Because ultimately, that is what it means to bear false witness.

There were actually two different Hebrew words used in this commandment – one in Exodus and one in Deuteronomy. The word for “false” in Exodus means lying or untrue. The one in Deuteronomy means empty, frivolous, insincere. Quite similar. Nevertheless, the distinctive definitions offer us greater understanding of what precisely God is getting at here. Because sometimes, it’s not all in good fun.

So, some history. There are three main things you need to know about the Jewish legal system when it comes to this commandment. The first is something quite remarkable about how the system sought to protect those accused: no one could even be accused or found guilty without two, count them, two witnesses against them. Hearsay, also didn’t count. Quite a bit different from our current system. This has both its blessings and curses to it.

Next: if you were found guilty of bearing false witness against another, you would be held liable for the same sentence that they were facing – and then some. So, for example, if the person on trial was facing forty stripes (being whipped forty times), then the person found to be lying about their guilt would be whipped eighty times instead. In other words, false witness was taken quite seriously.

Last, if someone has evidence to give, but does not speak up, they are guilty of a sin against God. Their silence is not neutrality. It is sin. Not doing anything when one is able to is sin. Period.

So, let’s think about some situations where lies and false witness play into our stories…

A child is sitting with her grandmother at the dinner table. And when her grandmother uses the phrase “colored” to refer to someone of African descent, the child begins to correct her before being kicked under the table by her mother. Even though her mother has often taught her the importance of overcoming prejudice. And when her grandmother asks what she was saying, she responds, “I said, ‘I love you.’”

A young man, finally ready to fully accept who he is, tells his parents. But his father responds, “Um, yeah, can you just wait to do this until next year when you’re away at college?”

A grown woman sits at the conference table in the executive suite of an office building and is about to share her opinion about the new account when her male colleague cuts her off and asks her to go get some coffee.

A teacher who loves working with kids and is excellent at his job is falsely accused of hurting one of those children. He is fired from his job, lives with the aftermath of the accusation for years, and is never hired in his field ever again.

A young woman is assaulted by a pledge from a fraternity. When she speaks to her friends who are older members of that fraternity, they convince her not to go to the authorities in order to protect the brotherhood from any fallout. Though the pledge was terminated from the fraternity, he goes on to become a Resident Advisor and uses his position of authority to take advantage of other young women.

You see, there are countless ways that lies, insincerity, seemingly frivolous moments can cause irreparable harm. Sometimes when someone intentionally accuses falsely. But also, far more times, when we are too uncomfortable with the truth and we use falsehoods and lies to make ourselves more content. We choose ignorance while ignoring what makes us uneasy. We choose perfect pretense when our integrity is crumbling beneath us. Oh, the messes we make.

After my father died when I was little, one of my favorite movies became A Few Good Men. I think it was because my father was a JAG attorney for just about his entire adult life and somehow that movie helped me feel close to him (even if it was the wrong branch). 

For those who don’t remember or who have never seen the film, the movie is a murder-mystery about the death of Marine William Santiago at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba. Two men, Lance Corporal Harold Dawson and Private Louden Downey, are on trial for his murder. And a young Tom Cruise ends up being their attorney. It’s honestly an all-star cast, even Kevin Bacon is in it (so yes, you can play that game). And the question the attorneys face is two-fold: did the accused intentionally kill the young marine? And did someone higher up order them to do what they did?

By the end of the movie, we find that they two young men are in fact not guilty of Santiago’s murder, because, indeed there had been quite a coverup and a whole lot of lies happening down at Gitmo. However, there was a third charge on the roster that was never addressed by their attorneys. And as a child, it was the part of the movie that I never fully understood. They were charged with “conduct unbecoming.” And one of the young men does not understand why he is guilty, feeling he has done nothing wrong because he was just following orders. But his compatriot explains it to him: “We were supposed to fight for people who couldn’t fight for themselves. We were supposed to fight for Willy [the deceased].” 

You know, I get it. Sometimes it is really difficult to figure out which way is up these days. A whole lot of lies are headed our way and sometimes it is very hard to decipher fact from fiction. All of us are facing that same challenge right now.

But a wise sage once suggested that “we must all choose between what is right and what is easy.” So here are my suggestions, my friends. First, always be sure that you are not just taking your own easy way out. Protect your integrity. Protect your relationship with God. Do your best not to sin. Do not remain silent when it really matters.

And second, remember that the question we should always ask ourselves is are we putting love first. Does whatever we are choosing to do, to think, to say, does it choose love over hate, over ignorance, over lying, over false witness, over perfect pretense? At the end of the day, if love is our first choice, the rest will fall into the place. If we learn to let love rule, let it open our eyes, our ears, our hearts, and to finally pull our heads out of the sand, then, well, we might finally find our way forward together. Using our voices to support and empower one another as we grow in God’s kingdom of new life.


We must never forget that there are countless ways we can steal from others. Ways we can loot their lives. It is not just about objects or property. It is also about health. About livelihood. About reputation. About their future. About their ability to flourish. Sometimes even their very life…

VIII. You shall not steal.

Today we are on to the eighth commandment. In the second table – that second tablet that teaches us how we are meant to live with one another. And today we are talking about stealing. Theft. Larceny. Burglary. Misappropriation. Swindling. Embezzlement. Fraud. Knicking. Snatching. Raiding. Pillaging. Mugging. Pinching. Heists. Break-ins. Looting. And all the other synonyms you can think of. 

Generally, when we think of this commandment we think of petty thieves who do stupid things. Sometimes, we might think of much bigger thieves, like Jesse James back in the old west or pirates or vikings. And then occasionally, we might remember that the way we finally got to some of the biggest gangsters in history was by proving tax evasion – yet another type of stealing.

So, let’s talk some history, as has become our practice with these commandments from God. The Hebrew Bible was very clear about stealing. If you steal something, the punishment is restitution. In other words, making it better. But the patriarchs went beyond simply restoring what you took. For example, if you stole a sheep, you must restore four. If you stole an ox, you must restore five. In the book of Numbers, whatever is stolen, must be repaid plus one fifth its value. According to Proverbs, anything that is stolen must be restored seven times over.

Getting the picture yet? Stealing is a very big deal. 

In both Exodus and Deuteronomy, the penalty for stealing a person is death. Though we were not alone in this particular sin in the world, I want us to think about the generations of trauma done to bodies on our own soil – not only humans stolen from other places, but children and spouses and siblings stolen from their families arms. For hundreds of years. All in the name of profit. In the name of loot.

There is another historical and theological aspect to this commandment that we do need to acknowledge. This one comes to us from the prophets: ah, you who make iniquitous decrees, who write oppressive statutes, to turn the needy aside from justice and rob the poor of my people of their rights, that widows may be your spoil, and that you may make the orphans your prey! What will you do on the day of punishment…? It is not only things that we can steal. Nor do we have to go so far as stealing a whole person to ruin lives and leave people destroyed in our wake. Also note that this is not written only for individuals. This is written to the full body of people. To the nation. Meaning that it is not only us as individuals who can ultimately steal from one another. We as a body, as a governance, can also do so. And God will not hold us innocent if we stay silent in the face of so many getting hurt.

Think back to the British Isles and everyone’s favorite hero of the people: Robin Hood. Everyone remember the dashing Lord turned rogue? Brad and I actually read Roger Lancelyn Green’s classic to the boys when they were just babies about the green hooded thief and his merry men. He was the perfect example of chivalry, fighting for true king and country, against the evil pretender. But do you remember the heart of that story? The rich paid no taxes while they taxed the poor to the point of extreme poverty – pushing good old Robin to act. Disney’s animated version does the best job envisioning what this looked like. We love a good hero of the people, don’t we?

But what about when we end up siding with the rich? Think about the parable from Luke’s gospel: the story of Lazarus. It is one of Jesus’s most scandalous parables. Remember that this is not Jesus’ best friend, but the poor wretch. Lazarus lives a terrible life. Never able to get food, not scraps at the rich man’s table. Even dogs come and lick his sores, exacerbating his pain. Then he dies and goes to heaven, to nourishment, to wholeness, to rest. The rich man dies and goes to hell. And the tables are turned. Still, the entitled rich man demands that the poor Lazarus serve him in death. Finally, he is denied. Now, this Lazarus is named, while the rich ruler is not. Why? Because Jesus wants us to put ourselves in this story. But not in the hero’s role.

We often think that Jesus spent his life giving comfort to everyone. However, that was not actually the case. Much like the God of Israel, Jesus often shared a vision of God’s kingdom that deeply disturbed many, especially those who already had comfort in this life. 

He instead spent much of his life ensuring that those who would otherwise not have comfort gained what they needed. Those who needed to be healed. Those who were physically blind. Those who were poor. Those who were outcast. Those who were overlooked. Those who were dead. And in the final week of his life, Jesus accused those in the highest echelons of authority among his people of outright stealing from the poor – those whom God had told them to help.

We must never forget that there are countless ways we can steal from others. Ways we can loot their lives. It is not just about objects or property. It is also about health. About livelihood. About reputation. About their future. About their ability to flourish. Sometimes even their very life.

And the scriptures have made it very clear that when we have taken from another, it is not enough to merely make amends with a simple “I’m sorry.” We are to make amends with a process of reconciliation – one that takes into account what has been lost and works to reinstate far more than was extracted in the first place. Something God has held God’s people to as individuals and as a body, throughout history. Something we are meant to hold one another and our leaders to, as well. 

So, what then shall we do with this eighth commandment? Well, first and foremost, if we start by following in our Lord and Savior’s footsteps, by loving our neighbor as ourselves – with gumption and gusto – that will certainly help. Next, we must open our eyes to how we continue to break this commandment as individuals and as God’s people, so that we might begin to finally fix the looting that has far too long gone unchecked in our midst. And finally, we must remember that there is always a Lazarus nearby. Always someone Jesus is calling us to find in our midst who needs our love. Our respect. Our aid. We should give it, without judging who is worthy. This day and always. 


…disloyalty is really what adultery is about. It is about breaking relationships.

VII. You shall not commit adultery.

This is every teenage parent’s favorite commandment: adultery. It’s probably up there with murder as one that a lot of people know is on the list. But unlike killing people, there is a whole lot, lot more to this commandment than meets the eye.

So, let’s start with some history. When it was created, the commandment should have probably been translated thus: no woman should have relations outside of marriage and no man should have relations with a married woman. I intentionally made that simple relations, because in many cases women were literally kept cut off from the world.

Here is the even better part: the way the humans immediately translated this meant it had nothing to do with human relationships. This commandment was about property. Yes, you heard me correctly. In ancient Israel, women were property. They were the property of their father and then became the property of their husband, for the sole purpose of bearing children. And men could have more than one wife. And concubines. And slave women to bed. But the women had no rights. This is also why a widow has always been a symbol of destitution – if her husband died and she had no family, she had no ability in polite society to live, because she was not a person and could not inherit either. So yeah…

There were also a whole bunch of death penalties for those who broke this commandment, but historically they were almost never carried out. Instead, divorce was created. Only for husbands. If a wife was unfaithful, she was cast out. Also, if she could not have children for a period of ten years, she was handed a slip of divorce. Those were the only valid reasons. But over time, the rabbis began to allow more and more reasons for a man to divorce his wife. By the time Jesus arrived, simply displeasing your husband was on the list. And note, again, that women had no recourse if they were poorly treated or if their spouse was forever unfaithful. 

If you ever wonder why Jesus was so stringent about divorce, which is where everyone takes this particular commandment, it actually had far less to do with the protection of marriage – which is extremely complicated. It, instead, had everything to do with protecting the women who were consistently and constantly being thrown out of their houses and made into destitute on the whims of their husbands. 

Then we have this saying that we read from Jesus in the gospel of Matthew. If you look with lust in your heart, it is as though you have already committed adultery. You have already broken the relationship. Because the truth is that Jesus is about teaching us how to grow healthy relationships and how to ensure that humans have healthy lives.

During my rounds of chaplaincy that every pastor is, or at least should be, required to do during our training to become a pastor, I had the chance to work on the maternity ward in the biggest birthing hospital in Nashville. Generally, I spent most of my time visiting the women who were on bedrest due to pregnancy complications. Every day I would pop my head in and say hi, just to check on them. 

One day, I came across a young woman who eventually shared with me that she was certain God was punishing her baby for her sins. You see, she was divorced from her first marriage. One that had been abusive. Unhealthy. Cruel and sadistic. She and her first husband had been a part of a denomination that believed that divorce was the ultimate sin. Somehow, she had managed to get herself out of that situation, but not without long-term damage. She was now remarried to a kind and caring man. And pregnant to boot. But she wondered if she was now being punished for getting divorced.

What hateful, hurtful, brutal trauma we have wrought, lo these many years, in the ways we have mishandled this commandment. I have seen far less barbaric renderings used and it still cause decades of damage. And I have seen cultures become so afraid of the “relations” that are meant to happen as a part of healthy human existence, especially between a loving married couple, that in their efforts to dissuade young people from their misguided notions of adultery, they have laid waste to countless marriages in their wake.

So, I want to look at something for a minute. Throughout the prophets, the writers often referred to Israel as an adulterous wife. An odd turn of phrase, to be sure. But why? Much as we see the New Testament writers refer to the Church as the bride of Christ, Israel was often referred to as God’s bride or wife. Meaning that when the body broke the covenant, broke their relationship with God – as individuals and together – they had been disloyal to the very heart of their bond. 

At the end of the day, disloyalty is really what adultery is about. It is about breaking relationships. Specifically, what is at the very heart of our relationship: our bond. Some of those bonds are made without even speaking words – as between a parent and a child. However, far more often, we solidify our bonds by speaking a very specific set of words. Vows. At every major relationship that we make in our life, we take them. Weddings. Baptisms. Ordinations and Installations. Those who serve in different roles and government positions, say their own vows when they begin or renew. We teach our children pledges, another type of vow. And probably the very simplest vow any of us makes are three little words: “I love you,” which is likely why so many fear them so much. Because, ultimately, these are all the same thing: a promise to uphold something – a relationship. Either with God. With one another. Or with ourselves. 

So back to the hospital, that story I began a few minutes ago. The young woman and I began a battle of scripture. Not something to be undertaken lightly. We would go verse for verse, she trying to condemn herself and me trying to find something that would allow her to see who she truly was in God’s eyes. Until finally, one day, I found the right one to break through: for I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Here is the truth: no matter how many times we break our relationship with God, God still loves us. We are not strong enough to break that bond, no matter how disloyal we may be. 

However, we humans are far more fragile. Sometimes a look is all it will take. Because our hearts and minds are prone to wander. And we have become far too fickle and relaxed in our sincerity when we take our vows these days. Nevertheless, we are all equals here. None of us are property. None are subject to any other. Instead, we all have the opportunity, every day, to choose to grow our relationships with one another and with ourselves in healthy and loving ways. If we begin by holding onto the love of God that will not let us go, growing there first, the others should be a bit simpler.

An important caveat here, though. If you find yourself in a place where someone who should have loved you has not. Has been severely disloyal. Or even worse, you have been abused – hear me say this now: you are breaking no vows by getting out of that place and relationship. Those vows were broken long ago by the other person. It is not your job to “fix’ them. Or save them. That is God’s job. Yours is to protect yourself and your family.

So, then, what shall we say about the seventh commandment? God created it to remind us that we are meant to be loyal and loving to one another. To hold, especially those we marry, in the highest regard, and to do all we can to grow that relationship in health, life, and love. We are to take all of our vows that seriously, however, and never enter into them lightly. Remembering always that God made us for relationship – with God, with one another, and with ourselves. All loyalty must always be given in light of all three: with love for God, love for ourself, even before we give our love to another. By God’s grace, may we all find the balance that was originally intended so that we might see God’s love unfold in this world.

Murder, We Wrote

The commandment not to murder, for most of us, at least, has far less to do with not killing (pretty sure most of us have that down already), and far more to do with living lives that courageously make life a priority. God’s life. Life that is filled with God’s justice for the last and the least, the lost and the forgotten, the hated and the feared. Life that is filled with a love that is untamable, unfathomable, and unending…

VI. You shall not murder.

This is probably the very best known of all the commandments. Whenever a comedic news anchor wants to do a story about the Ten Commandments and polls the population at large, if they can name no other mandate from God – they know we are not supposed to kill anyone. At least, that’s what the King James’ Version said. Frankly, there are lots of directions we can go with this one, but we are going to start with my favorite path first: history.

Why did God choose this one as the commandment right after the most intimate of our relationships between a parent and child? Well, let’s think back to Genesis for a minute. Back in the very beginning, after God created our primordial parents, after they chose to choose themselves in God’s place and were promptly kicked out of paradise, our first parents had two children: Cain and Abel. They became part of God’s own creative process and were given the opportunity to raise children in love, just as God had wanted to do with them. And yet, the next story that we find, as we all know, is about how Cain kills Abel with malice in his heart. He murders him. And Abel’s blood calls to God out of the very dust from which we humans were drawn.

Love comes first. Its counterpart comes next: life itself. For though we are meant to be reared in love, we are meant to learn from the very beginning that life is sacred. It is God’s gift to us. To take it is not our choice.

There are some obvious places this has come up. One is about capital punishment. Interestingly, in Jewish society, in the Levitical laws, though there are countless reasons one might be killed, there are also countless ways that the justice system tries to avoid using the death penalty. There were even rabbis throughout history who went so far to say that they wish they could go without it altogether.

Oddly enough, Rome did not like to kill its own citizens (slaves didn’t count, nor anyone who did not have that citizenship – hence, all the crucifixions). But they actually preferred to avoid the death penalty for crimes when it involved those who were a part of their society. It was actually Great Britain who helped bring it back into vogue in the past centuries.

And this is one I will not specifically say one way or the other, but I will offer this important question: if the point of punishment in Christian practice, as most scholars would suggest, is always to reform, to transform, to provide an opportunity for change to the person who has committed a crime, even the very worst ones (even if it should take the remainder of their earthly life), will the death penalty actually aid in the purpose of punishment?

Another question that the conversation about this commandment brings up is about war. Fighting in battle. Serving in the military. My commentaries provided centuries upon centuries of wisdom about the theories of just war. And I personally believe it is certainly justified at times. As did the people who first held this commandment close to heart. What I always hold up in my own mind is this. Jesus said, close to when he died that those who live by the sword will die by the sword. Meaning, in my mind, that war must always be a last resort, not a first choice. And if there is no other way to protect those you love, we all pray that God will give us guidance in our understanding correctly.

But speaking of Jesus, we need to look at what he said about this commandment. Because, like so many other things in his time, the sixth commandment had been part and parceled out into a strict code of dos and don’ts. And Jesus came into the picture and said, ah ah ah. It is not just what you actually do. It is also your intentions. It is also what is in your heart. It is what is in your soul. For God knows it all. And to me, well, we can get bogged down in arguments about all the ways we can physically murder or kill. But quite honestly, the biggest place we write murder is in our hearts.

For some reason, a lot of stories have been coming to me all at once recently. From a variety of friends, all over the place in this country – since I have lived a lot of places at this point. But they all bear one thing in common. Let us see if you can find it. 

         When I took my Baton Rouge youth group to Texas for a mission trip several years ago now, it was the very first night that the other pastors, all men, realized what I did for a living. And they would not speak to me. Not one word. For the remainder of the week. Because I was a woman who would dare to follow Christ’s mandate as a woman to preach.

         A friend of mine was told that her child was an abomination because of who she loved. In a bible study. In a different part of the country.

         In another part of the country a friend heard a teenage child called a racial slur just within the last couple of weeks because of the child’s ethnicity.

And the stories just get worse from there. Did you catch the commonality? Hate. 

As the wise green sage once said, “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” 

Jesus told us that if we look on our neighbor with anger, malice, hatred in our heart – we have murdered them. I guess being the Word made flesh had its advantages, because the Hebrew word for “murder” also means to break or to dash to pieces. And how often have we managed that without laying a single hand on a person?

Yes, we have written murder into this world in so many fearsome ways. May God forgive us. Yet, we hold within us, by God’s grace, the love that can bring new life to this world. When we are brave enough to live it.

One of my all-time favorite movies has to be Remember the Titans. And I may have used this before, but I will retell my favorite scene again and again, because it will always preach. The two team captains, one black, one white, start off completely butting heads. Unable to stand each other. Can’t even be in the same room, and they’re forced to be roommates at camp. But somehow, someway, they start to see each other through the fog of all the hate the world had told them to feel. 

When Gary, the white captain is paralyzed from the waist down in a car accident toward the end of the movie, Julius, his fellow captain goes to see him in the hospital. The nurse sees him enter and tells him only kin is allowed. But Gary quickly quips, “can’t you see the family resemblance? That’s my brother.” When the whole world told that team they should fight and buck and bother, that team became a family that stood strong together. Even as all the other teams, all the other schools, all the other crowds – all of them entirely white – snarled hatred in their face. They chose love over hate. Life over death.

Because, my friends, that is the honest truth about what we are called to do. The commandment not to murder, for most of us, at least, has far less to do with not killing (pretty sure most of us have that down already), and far more to do with living lives that courageously make life a priority. God’s life. Life that is filled with God’s justice for the last and the least, the lost and the forgotten, the hated and the feared. Life that is filled with a love that is untamable, unfathomable, and unending. Life that is a gift. One we are meant to cherish and protect. To foster and empower. Not only in ourselves. In our families. In our neighbors who look like us. But also in every other person on this planet – because they are children of God, too. 

Yes, we humans may have written murder into the story of earth’s history. But God’s story is far from finished. And just as love will always have the last word, so will life. So let’s get to work, seeing Christ’s legacy of new life here in this world fulfilled.

Your Ancestors

…here is what I will say about the fifth commandment. It has been badly abused over the years and used to cause irreparable harm. Because it is never, ever the child’s responsibility to be the bigger person. To be the grownup in the room. To blindly accept disrespect as a human being from those who are meant to love them totally, completely, and without reservation. 

V. Honor your father and mother, as the Lord your God commanded you, so that your days may be long and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

That morning, I woke up so excited. I was in my yellow footie pajamas. I slid past the rail on my bed that made sure I didn’t fall out and ran down the hall to find my parents. It was my birthday and I was so excited to see them. I must have been three or four at the time, but already I knew this was a very big day. Somehow I managed to stop and slide into the kitchen where they were sitting at the table, camera ready in hand. As they exclaimed, “Happy Birthday,” they pointed to the corner where a brand-new toy kitchen was sitting. It was white, with a little green roof, and a tiny yellow telephone on the side. It was perfect. And as I walked slowly over to examine my gorgeous new gift, I turned back to look at my parents, and immediately… burst into tears. I then proceeded to try to give the present back.

You see, the day before I had gotten into some sort of trouble, Lord only knows what, and they had put the fear of God into me. I had disappointed them. And I did not feel worthy of such a wonderful gift. 

With this commandment, we move into the second table of the law – the one that deals with how we are to live with one another. The first table or tablet gave careful instructions on how we are to live and grow in our relationship with God.

But, God does not stop there. Part of the covenant has always been the way we are meant to live with each other. All God’s children together. Because we cannot do one without the other, honestly. And God has always known that.

So, God begins these six commandments at the beginning. Well, our beginning. Where most of us start out in life: with our parents. Some of us may be saying, e-oh-boy, but you gotta admit, there might be something to this method.

Let’s think about this for a minute: the house we grow up in, whoever is raising us, is going to have a profound effect and affect upon us. They will teach us how to walk, talk, eat, drink, hopefully how to clean ourselves (though a whole lotta middle schoolers seem to miss that step). Whoever raises us, cares for us when we cannot care for ourselves. Provides our first understanding of how we are to relate to others. Shows us our first vision of how we can be in this world.

In the ancient world, around Jesus’ time, the Romans had a terribly horrific practice surrounding the birth of a child. When a baby was born, the child would be laid at their father’s feet and he would either pick it up and claim responsibility for the child, or, if not, the child would be cast out into the wilderness. Birth defects. Too many children. Little girls when you could only afford one or two children. The Romans did this well. And most of those left out were then abducted. Sometimes by wealthy families who could not have a child of their own. But far more often by the arenas for the boys. Or by brothels for the girls. Or by others who would maim them and use them for whatever else. The ancient world was not kind to children.

When I was a little girl, every night after I would take my bath, my mom would wrap me up in a towel, pull me up into her lap and sing: I love my baby, oh yes I do. I really love her, oh yes I do. I love her, I do. Janie McElwee, I love you. I can still hear her voice. Years later, as I was driving between pastoral visits one day, we somehow got to talking about that practice. And she told me this, “I just wanted to make sure you knew you were loved. More than you could possibly imagine.” I realized then that was my first real introduction to who God really was. Because our parents or those who raise us in love, are given to us as gifts from God, in order that they might fill those needs we have until we can stand on our own two feet. And the most basic and most important of all those needs is love.

That is what is missing when we look at this commandment on its face. It appears to be an order to blindly obey your parents no matter what they do to us, how they treat us, or what they command us to do.

The New Testament writers knew better. As they wrote about honoring our mother and father, they also ensured that parents knew their responsibilities to their children. For us, it is always a reciprocal relationship. It is never a blind hierarchy. 

Family is built on mutual love and respect. Parents ensuring enough resources for their children and proper boundaries. Children learning their limits and how to show courtesy to people of all ages. And the children learning how to be loving, healthy, hopefully fun, and servant-minded adults by watching their parents.  

Because we learn from what we see. And we teach people how to treat us, even as parents. 

So here is what I will say about the fifth commandment. It has been badly abused over the years and used to cause irreparable harm. Because it is never, ever the child’s responsibility to be the bigger person. To be the grownup in the room. To blindly accept disrespect as a human being from those who are meant to love them totally, completely, and without reservation. 

What is more, we should remember that we are Presbyterians. We do not accept things blindly on faith. We do not shy away from questions. Or from outright rebellion when something is truly wrong (never forget that the American Revolution was nicknamed the Presbyterian rebellion for a reason). Our mothers and fathers going back generations have taught us to show respect for those who have gone before, for those who raise us, but also for those around us. To do right by them. And to do better whenever we can. 

That is our calling as individuals. That is our calling as Christ’s church. To honor our ancestors, as our children will honor us if we have shown them the remarkable all-encompassing wonder our God truly is and keep on reforming in that understanding. This day and always.


…what God has always wanted for us is the opportunity, every single week for us, to love and be loved. To know and be known. To be a part of the creative process. To ensure our body’s wellbeing. To let our spirit find peace. To see our soul at rest, even if only for a time. And, for those of us who follow Christ, to follow in our ancient sibling’s footsteps from the early church: to recommit ourselves to the work of Christ that will see God’s love and justice done on earth as it is in heaven. 

IV. Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you.

This commandment takes us back to the beginning. Not of the commandments this time, but the beginning of the creation. We need to remember at least a little bit about how it all happened. And whether you read Genesis one or Genesis two, you will find that after six days of hard work spent creating and breathing life into a whole world full of wondrous things, God chooses the seventh day to stop. To shavat. Literally, “to rest.” 

Millions of years later, when God chooses to covenant with the people of Israel, God writes this same practice into the ground rules of how the people are meant to live together. Interestingly, if you read this rule carefully, you will notice that there is no mention of worship. There is no mention of prohibitions against cooking or cleaning or playing or talking or studying or any other of the myriad of rules that would end up existing one day.

Instead, God was the God of a people of hard labor. They worked with their hands. As did their children. As did their neighbors and their servants, and, yes, even their slaves. And God said you all must give yourselves a break. You must rest from the hard work you do all week. Rest. Play. Spend time with your family. Remember what God has done for you. Just breathe. That is a sabbath day holy unto the Lord.

But then… the humans got involved. They saw an opportunity and ran with it. And created rule after rule after rule. You may pick up your child, but not if your child is holding a stone – because that would be work. For example.

Eventually, it got to a point where the sabbath became such a burden to the people that their backs bent from the weight. 

When Christ arrived, he challenged the rules. He reminded the people that the sabbath was created by God for the people, not the people for the sabbath. It was made to give us space to simply be. To rejuvenate. To re-create. To feed our souls, our spirits, our bodies. To reconnect with God and with one another. And with his resurrection, which meant the creation of the Lord’s Day (a very different day than the Jewish Sabbath), we were no longer tied to the old traditions any longer.

So what happened? Well, for the first four or five hundred years, Christians were in hiding. They couldn’t take the Lord’s Day off of work and, frankly, the old rules didn’t really apply to them anyway. As long as they made it to worship on the Lord’s Day, which was part and parcel of the Christian community from the get-go, then the rest was hunky-dory. 

From there, slowly, work lessened on the Lord’s Day as the Empire began to control Christianity, or should we say the church sort of controlled the empires. But amusements still reigned and you were still allowed to do many other things on Sundays in addition to attending church.

When the Reformers arrived, Luther and Calvin believed that we all did indeed require a day of rest and refreshment, as God had instituted in the Sabbath practice of the Ten Commandments. However, because we were no longer under the old law, the particular day no longer mattered. And it was up to the individuals and the families to follow through on this practice.

Then the ghastly happened: the Puritans came to power in England from 1644 to 1656. You remember them, right? The ones who believed that Christmas was a heathen holiday? Not a very tolerant people. And while they were in power, the Westminster Standards were written and were taken back to Scotland. They came across the pond with many of the ancestors who helped to create our early laws. Like say, our blue laws. Which is how our understanding of the Lord’s Day being what it may or may not “should” be has arrived.

So then, now that you’ve learned the history of this very, very controversial commandment, and why a major chunk of the world thinks we’re nuts for still debating it, what do we do with the Fourth commandment?

Several years ago, I had the privilege of meeting an author named Maryanne McKibben Dana who wrote this wonderful little book entitled, Sabbath in the Suburbs. She and I have run into each other a few times since we first met and she is one of the more profound practical theologians we have. What her book illustrated, quite clearly, is that in all of our focus on the “correct” performance of the Christian sabbath, the Lord’s Day, in the last few centuries, we have lost touch with its original intended purpose. What she and her family found over the year-plus of research they did was that at the heart of the practice of Sabbath was drawing near to the heart of God: a place full of love. A place full of re-creation and recreation. A place full of justice. A place full of life.

The specific day we take that rest and seek God’s presence is less important. So is the way we worship – though being too far removed from a community of fellow believers for any length of time can very easily lead us down the rabbit hole of self-delusion. How we rest is also not so specifically spelled out, though it would seem that engaging in our usual labors and work would appear to be against the spirit of it all. 

Instead, what God has always wanted for us is the opportunity, every single week for us, to love and be loved. To know and be known. To be a part of the creative process. To ensure our body’s wellbeing. To let our spirit find peace. To see our soul at rest, even if only for a time. And, for those of us who follow Christ, to follow in our ancient sibling’s footsteps from the early church: to recommit ourselves to the work of Christ that will see God’s love and justice done on earth as it is in heaven. 

If we start by seeking to do these things, rather than getting all tied up in knots over who is right or wrong about how we are doing something perfectly, we will eventually find our way to the Sabbath rest our God desires for us.