Love Carved in Stone: A Fresh Look at the Ten Commandments
EXODUS 20:1-6, MATTHEW 22:34-37
I am fascinated by the Avenger movies where gods and super-human heroes battle the forces of evil. They are wildly popular and three of these movies are among the 10 highest-grossing movies of all time. I began watching them to help me understand the culture of my grandsons. Power, resilience in the face of personal and physical struggle and defeating evil are the values demonstrated in these movies.
Power can be an idol, as can be money, work, family, possessions, status, education, sports, points of view or entertainment.
The 14-year-olds who participated in this year’s confirmation class were a lively bunch. Talk about sports, scouts, school and siblings quickly bubbled up. In a conversation about idols, I mentioned that idols weren’t usually objects for us. Rather, idols are those things that keep us from putting God first in our lives. In asking what their idols were, the young people simultaneously said, “video games!”
Family, work, education, sports and entertainment can be good and life-giving. They are things that we love. However, they become idols when they drive our choices and we allow them to squeeze God out of first place. Author Eugenia Anne Gamble comments: “It is not that God does not care about these things. Nor is it that these things do not deserve our time and attention. They are good things. But they make poor gods.”
In our world of competing demands and 24/7 news, we may struggle to focus on God. Gamble asks us, “In what ways do you struggle to put God first in your life and family?” As I considered this question, what immediately came to mind was running off to work without making time to read Scripture, pray and reflect on the day. For some time, I was faithful at praying most mornings, using the Presbyterian Daily Prayer app. (You can download it for $2.99 — just Google “PCUSA Daily Prayer app.”) But lately, it has been more hit and miss. What I need to do is go to bed and get up earlier. Sigh, that would mean limiting my television watching. And let’s not think about how my binge-watching television may be addictive.
My second response to Gamble’s question about our struggle to put God first is: “Well, I don’t look at my spending through the eyes of Jesus’ commandments to love God completely and love my neighbor as myself.” After reading about stewardship last year, I marked my credit card in permanent ink with a cross to prompt me to think about my spending habits, but I stopped using that credit card. I don’t know how to put a cross on my Amazon account.
While I am being a bit tongue in cheek, I realize that I have slipped into the spiritual vice of sloth or acedia. Kathleen Norris, in her book “Acedia and Me,” tells us that “at its Greek root, the word acedia means lack of care.” Restless boredom, escapism, unwillingness to commit and apathy are symptoms of acedia. Changing one’s habit to align ourselves with Christ’s teachings and priorities is difficult because it requires honest reflection about ourselves. We must quit blaming our lack of time, other people or multiple demands. We have to look squarely at our desire for escapism and tell ourselves that the buck stops with us and we are capable of putting God first.
Ironically, the only cure for acedia and other spiritual vices is to keep on keeping on with a discipline of prayer, thanksgiving, worship and service. Being in a prayer group helps. Having Christian friends with whom we can be honest can be of great assistance, particularly if they don’t try to fix us. Being outside in beauty can aid us in getting back on track with God. Reading Christian authors can revive us. Hiding the television remote could work. I may try that.
“Have no other gods before me.” We do this when we focus on how God brought us out of bondage — whether the bondage was pettiness or lack of self-worth. To call to mind the times God reached out to us through a hymn, a friend or a story from Jesus can be renewing. To remember how prayer changes us – as when the Holy Spirit comes to visit, bringing a gentle presence and a quiet rest – is life-giving. Letting go of idols is possible when we rest in God’s love.
What God offers us, again and again, is the invitation to an abundant life — a life within healthy boundaries. Daily, let us pray that we accept the invitation.
ROSALIND BANBURY is the interim pastor of Tinkling Spring Presbyterian Church in Fishersville, Virginia.
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