Archive for February, 2014

Life Worship Notes

“You shall not murder.” Exodus 20:13

Do Not Kill

The notes in my Bible state the key word in this sixth of the Ten Commandments translates appropriately as either murder or kill. A quick survey of popular Bible translations shows a slight preference for murder over kill, but both are used. While killing is the taking of another life, murder is the unlawful taking of another life. By earthly law, most killing in war is lawful killing. However, is it appropriate to interpret biblical directives in the context of human definitions of right and wrong? Is it human or divine law that determines when the taking of another life is permissible?

I confess to being a conflicted pacifist. I want to believe killing others is not an effective solution to what ails us. Even in war, the soldiers killing and being killed do not begin, sustain, or end the war. The initiators and controllers of the conflict usually stay safely away from danger. Please understand: the past and present risks taken, and the sacrifices made by military personnel, humble me. I appreciate their selfless dedication and service; and I understand I am able sit at my desk and pontificate because of their willingness to lay down their lives for mine. In spite of my professed pacifism, I imagine scenarios where another person threatens my family. I have no problem visualizing doing whatever is necessary to protect those I love, up to and including killing the person doing the threatening. Is that personal situation significantly different from killing for one’s country? Does this commandment prohibit us from protecting others with all options available? How does Jesus’ command to turn the other cheek inform the discussion?

I turned 18 as the Vietnam War was winding down. When I registered for the military draft, one question asked if I had moral or religious objections to killing others. I thought of this commandment and checked, “Yes.” Subsequently, I received Conscientious Objector status, an interesting designation. Had I been drafted and sent to war, I probably would have served without objection. However, I did not understand how else to reconcile my Christian beliefs with the question about killing. In my mind, I played out a scenario where I had my rifle pointed at an enemy soldier, who was pointing a rifle at me—would I shoot? In John 15:13, Jesus says there is no greater love than to lay one’s life down for one’s friends. Ultimately, it was not laying down my life that conflicted me, but the taking of the life of another. Is it permissible to kill a person if that act will save others? Certainly, that is one justification for war. The Jewish authorities justified the killing of Jesus as necessary to preserve the way of life for the entire Jewish community. It would be helpful if this commandment contained clarifying commentary. As written, some of us will struggle mightily with its application. In truth, I believe that struggle is exactly what God intends.

Come home to church this Sunday. Join the ranks of the faithfully conflicted.

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Honor Your Father and Mother

“Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” Exodus 20:12

The first four of the Ten Commandments address our relationship to God. We will have no gods before our God, we will not make idols, we will not misuse the name of God, and we will keep the sabbath day holy. The remaining six commandments address our relationships with each other. Commandment number five is to honor our mother and father, so our days will be long. As a child, I interpreted this to mean that if I obeyed my parents, they would allow me to continue living. If I did not obey…well, you get the picture (see Leviticus 20:9). To honor someone means to hold him or her in high regard or esteem. I confess I did not always do this, either as a child or as an adult. I was probably too quick to see the human frailties of my parents, although that was likely a result of my high expectations of them. Certainly, today, I continue to reap the blessings of two loving parents, and I grieve for those who are not so blessed.

However, I believe this commandment goes beyond our relationship with our parents.  Our responsibility to care for the elderly is a common theme throughout scripture. Our parent’s generation, as well as the generations before them, laid the foundation on which we live today, both spiritually and physically. We have a responsibility to assure our predecessors are cared for, with love and respect.

However, I believe this commandment goes beyond caring for the elderly. It is interesting to consider the setting in which the Ten Commandments were given. The Jewish people, recently exiled from their slavery in Egypt, were living for an extended period in the desert, awaiting admission to the homeland God had promised. There was restlessness among the people, some of whom were making the case to return to slavery in Egypt as a better alternative than waiting, in limbo, in the desert. George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” I suspect the Israelite parents, who spent their lives as slaves, were not among those making a case to return to Egypt.

An important and practical part of honoring our parents and elders is learning from them. As a child, I often thought the ways of my parents and grandparents were old-fashioned. As I have grown, I appreciate the wisdom of their ways. There is value in the traditions of those who have traveled these roads before us that we do best not to ignore. We honor those generations by learning from their lives in a way that respects their struggles and experience. By utilizing their wisdom and experience, we build upon that which has already been learned, thus helping assure better days ahead.

Come home to church this Sunday. Learn from the saints of the church.
Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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Life Worship Notes—February 13, 2104 

“Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work…For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.” Exodus 20:8-11

The sabbath is to be a day of rest. Setting aside one day per week for rest goes back to the creation story (Genesis 1:2-3). Following six days of creation work, God rested. Recognizing the sabbath as a day of rest was the source of much tension between Jesus and the religious authorities of his day. Many Gospel stories tell of Jesus healing people on the sabbath, only to be accused of violating the fourth commandment to keep the sabbath holy. For example, John 5:1-18 tells of Jesus healing a man who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When the Jewish leaders criticize Jesus for “working” on the sabbath, he responds, “My Father is still working, and I also am working.” Of course, that comment drew twice the ire, because Jesus not only confessed to working on the sabbath, but also referred to God as his Father, a statement of perceived blasphemy.

If the sabbath was truly intended to be a day of no work, as the religious leaders seemed to believe, then I am guilty of violating this commandment on a weekly basis. I believe Jesus’ words, about he and his Father working on the sabbath, confirm this day of rest was never intended to become a day of nothing. God continues doing the God-things that sustain life in the cosmos. Jesus clearly felt justified in working to meet the needs presented to him on the sabbath. Elsewhere in the Gospels, Jesus points out the hypocrisy of his accusers by noting they would rescue a sheep that fell into a well on the sabbath. It simply makes no sense to turn the sabbath into a day to avoid doing needful activities.

Perhaps, the intent of setting aside one day per week as a day of “rest” is not unlike setting aside the last hours of the day as a time for sleep. Our bodies must have rest to function properly, and our lives need a break from their normal routines for renewal and recharging. When I was a child, Sundays were family days. We would play family games, eat meals together, and attend church together. Sundays were a break from the weekday routines of school and work. We function best when we break from our routines, at least occasionally, allowing us to attack them with renewed vigor and enthusiasm in the new week. To make something holy is to set it apart and treat it differently, with reverent commitment. The fourth commandment calls us to dedicate regular time for renewal and reflection, if not on Sunday, then on one day.

Come home to church this Sunday. Claim your sabbath and make it holy.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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Life Worship Notes—February 6, 2104 

“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.” Exodus 20:7

Names have power. Names describe what something is and is not, and they limit the perceived essence of the named. For example, the name of the tree outside my window is River Birch. That name establishes it is not an oak, a maple, or a redbud. The name also establishes it as a tree, and not a raccoon, a daffodil, or a mountain. Names define and limit the named in ways that help it be known. When we realize that names have power, we understand that misusing a name is a misuse of power. The early Israelites asked Moses for the name of God. God’s answer, in Exodus 3:14, was “I am who I am.” The people wanted to know something about God, something that would make God more knowable; but God refused to provide a name that limited God’s nature in any way.

Some Bible versions translate this commandment as saying not to use God’s name in vain. However, I believe that translation misses the commandment’s broader meaning. We can misuse God’s name in ways that have nothing to do with cussing. For example, I believe we misuse God’s name when we overemphasize the masculine aspect of God’s nature by constantly referring to God as “He.” Certainly, the Bible is full of masculine references to God; indeed, even Jesus referred to God as Father. Given the male-dominated cultures the Bible arose from, the masculine emphasis is not surprising. However, the true nature of God certainly transcends earthly gender. Unfortunately, referring to God in male terms disenfranchises those who have unjustly suffered at the hands of cruel, abusive fathers or other men on earth. In order to reach these broken souls, we must reach out in ways that help them break their connection between God and a specific human male. My only point is that, while it may be comfortable and common to refer to God as “He,” it is a naming of God that limits God is perceived nature in a way that repels some people. Ultimately, God is not a “He” or a “She.” God is who God is.

This is not to let us off the hook for using God’s name in vain. When we make a common statement of profanity, asking God to “damn” something or someone, we are asking the source of all power in the universe to focus a curse on some object or person. Is that really our intent? Using such language is a clear misuse of the power of the name of God, and one we can only hope God will choose to ignore. Clearly, we need to use God’s name with care and reverence, both for ourselves and for others. Implying erroneous limits to God’s nature or essence, or using the power available through God’s name to the detriment of others are what the third commandment encourages us to avoid.

Come home to church this Sunday. God is calling your name.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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