Dancing to Israeli folk music while on a boat in the Sea of Galilee.
Reading Matthew 6 (“Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow not reap nor gather into barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them.”) while sitting on the hill where Jesus shared the Beattitudes.
Spending 15 minutes in silence in the garden of Gethsemane.
Singing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” on a hilly field outside of Bethlehem.
Remembering the pain of a people who withstood an attempt to exterminate them.
Experiencing the dissonance of Palestinians who live as separate (but not equal) in the land.
Feeling the tension in our shoulders while walking through the chaos of the Temple Mount.
Bombarded by the sounds of minarets calling Muslims to prayer, of Jews reading the Torah at the Western Wall, and the bells of the Church of Holy Sepulchre ringing in the hour.
Realizing that spirituality is impossible to separate from the reality of politics, that faith is impossible to disentangle from conflict, and that hope almost always grows from the ground of despair.
This has been our experience in a land we hold to be holy.
And not just us.
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart…Bind them as a sign on your hand. Fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)
“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.”
Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, in his book Biblical Literacy, highlights an important textual matter in the third commandment. While we are used to the commandment being translated, “you shall not take the Lord’s name in vain,” Telushkin points out that the literal Hebrew translation is, “you shall not carry the Lord’s name in vain.”
Though take and carry are relatively small words, the difference between them is significant. If we think in terms of how we take the Lord’s name, then it can be easy to rationalize our way out of its inappropriate use. But if we truly consider how it is that we carry the name of God, then suddenly we are dealing with something weightier, and more significant. To carry God’s name means that we understand that it is not just our words that reflect our belief, but our actions do so as well.
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.
At a church I served previously, the Children’s Sermon was a part of every Sunday morning worship service. One year, on Memorial Day weekend, I opened the Children’s Sermon time with a question. “Who can tell me what is special about this weekend?” I asked. (I was hoping, of course, for a comment about Memorial Day.)
Without hesitation, a little boy in front of me said in a confident voice, “GOD!”
No matter where we find ourselves, or what we are doing, what is special about every moment is God. This is an important thing to consider when we come to the Third Commandment. Though most of us see it simply as a prohibition against cursing in God’s name, the truth is that this commandment means much more than that, because our lives mean much more than just what we say or don’t say.
The Ten Commandments tell us that God wants more from us. God wants more of us.
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. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.
Like mirrors, idols reflect and (therefore) affirm what we project. Unlike mirrors, they give those images such authority that worship is our only response. Idols are easy to worship. They stay put. They obey our instructions and affirm our agendas. They answer all of our questions with answers that we want to hear (or at least expect to hear). They ask only of us what we want to give. It is easier to worship an idol than some uncontrollable, unpredictable, demanding, even jealous God. Idols are safe. They tuck our sense of right and wrong in the warm comfort of sanctifying the way the world is, the way we are, the way we want the world to be.
This particular commandment doesn’t keep us from ourselves as much as it opens us to experience where and how this mysterious, unpredictable God is breaking in, revealing something new. It invites us to imagine not only what it means to love God but what it means to truly love one another: to offer ourselves beyond our selves, to give up control for the sake of giving into relationship, to remember who we are and whose we are.
What are some idols common in our world today? Where do they get their power? What idols do you worship, and why are they destructive to your relationship with God?