A Covenant is Not a Contract
First, we read the sacred story of God giving the Ten Commandments to the newly liberated Israelites. Read the full story of Exodus 19:3-7; 20:1-17 here.
Then, we experience the story told through Godly Play as a story of the Ten Best Ways. Watch the story here.
I think when most of us think of the Ten Commandments, we think of them as rules, which is….only kind of true. It seems the Commandments are less like the instruction booklet that comes with a board game, and more like the rule of life held by monastic communities. Every order of monks and nuns has a Rule of Life which is like a handbook on what they value and what rhythms of life will allow them to hold those values…together. God shows them these 10 best ways in order to guide and guard them as a people, to help them unlearn the habits of empire that were ingrained in them in Egypt. To help them find a new way that serves life and community rather than death and ego.
When Jesus was asked to name the greatest commandment, he summarized them all as an extension of loving God above all else with our whole selves. He said it is to love God with all your heart, and all you soul, and all you mind. And what naturally follows is to love your neighbor as yourself. Love God. Love people. All the other commandments hang on these two. These are the core values for this rule of life. Here God shows Moses and the people what that looks like in practice. We humans are gonna need specifics when it comes to how we practice love in concrete ways. Beyond even then 10 commandments, the people will eventually have as many as 613 commandments in the whole Torah to specify how to live together as God’s people.
But underneath it all, at the foundation, is a promise - a promise of liberation and a promise of relationship; a promise that God will never leave us and that no matter what…God loves us. At the root of it all is God’s big wide covenant, which extends to all of creation through Christ.
A covenant is different than a contract, it's the mutual binding of lives together. Rather than something that protects its own interest from the other, it builds a new thing alongside one another. A contract connects two things with a sense of obligation, a covenant not only connects but integrates them in love, care, and hope.
We can easily harbor bitterness toward God and religion for the feeling that we are being asked to live up to an impossible standard in order to earn God’s approval. Fair enough. This is too often the what we hear either explicitly or implicitly from churches and teachers. But it was never the law that saves, it was always the covenant. It has always been God’s faithfulness to us, even when we mess it up, even to the point of death, so that we would have life and life abundant.
The commandments are given, the covenant is made on stone, not because God looks at the people she freed and says “ok, now you owe me,” but as a gift that will allow them to experience freedom that isn’t just in name only, but in practice. These “best ways of living” are the scaffolding which supports and facilitates the promised freedom. It is the organizational foundation that allows for even greater creativity and more profound love. It brings our hope out of theory and into practice.
If you were to receive the commandments for a community of faith, what would they be?
What are the things that you think would help a community live into God’s hope for us? What really practical pieces are needed to support this life together? What do needs to be established as important for loving God? And for loving neighbor?