My eight-month-old daughter is an avid crawler. She has the synchronized movement of her limbs down to an art. She can dart across a room faster than I ever imagined was possible. This can be adorable at times, like when we are reunited after some time apart. She will hear my voice at one end of a room and scurry as quickly as she can to fall into my arms to greet me. But she is as fickle as she is fast. If in the midst of her crossroom race, she hears our dog bark or perks her ears to the ring of the telephone, my hoped-for greeting is gone. She is, to put it mildly, easily distracted. Thankfully, her easily distracted nature is due to her young age and her stage of development. Sometimes I wish I could claim the same in my shortcomings, but I know better.
On the journey of Lent, it is easy to get distracted. In some traditions, we are invited to either give something up or add something to our lives to help us focus our relationship with Christ in the forty days of Lent. We are to supercharge our discipleship in preparation for the grand celebration within the Christian faith, Easter Sunday. But just as a child must crawl before he or she walks, we too must journey through Lent before we flower the cross and celebrate the risen Christ.
So here we are halfway through. If you gave up chocolate, you may have snuck a few candies or at least have been very tempted to do so. If you promised yourself you would exercise every day, you might be considering skipping a day or two, “just to give yourself a break.” The Lenten journey is not an easily traveled path. It is uncomfortable and challenging to focus on the rough spots of our humanity in our desire to be more like Christ. We would much rather speak of our strengths than our weaknesses, especially in Lent. In this season, it does not take much to be distracted.
We know from the journey of Moses and the Israelites in the verses preceding our text for today that their wilderness wandering had taken them to Mount Sinai. Moses summoned the elders to prepare them for a word from God. The people responded appropriately. They said they would do everything God asked them to do.
What proceeds is the text that has shaped nations and people groups. God offers the boundaries of all boundaries to help focus the Israelites through their wilderness wanderings. He gives them the Ten Commandments to help alleviate distractions on their journey to the Promised Land.
It is important to note at this point that the Ten Commandments are not forced upon the Israelites in anger or retaliation. They have not misbehaved or turned their backs on God, as they will do many times as the story in Exodus unfolds. God gives them these words out of grace and love. God begins the conversation by reminding them of their relationship. “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” God recalls their relationship before laying out the new boundaries. Grace and love precede restrictions and guidelines. They are the foundation for this new kind of connection with God and with each other.
Grace and love are critical to the deliverance of the Ten Commandments. It is not as if they are easy to accept. The Israelites will come to be trapped in a cycle of denying God, starving, feeling lost, and wanting to kill their leaders; but first God gives them boundaries for their relationships with God and with each other for their time in the wilderness and beyond.
God nurtures the relationship between the Israelites and the divine through the first four commandments listed in verses three through eight. In a firm but loving way, God invites the Israelites into an exclusive, intimate, and holy covenant.
Through the last six commandments, God sets the boundaries for healthy and respectful community among the Israelites. God knows they have a long journey ahead of them. They will spend generations wandering in the wilderness. The guidelines must be set. The rules must be in place, lest chaos lead them further and further away from the Promised Land. A lack of food, misguided leaders, a jealous God, and grumbling people are enough to distract any group of people by themselves, but when added together, disaster can reign.
All the commandments are important, and each is significant alone and taken as a part of a collective group. However, the way we relate to the first commandments informs how we will relate to the latter ones. The same is true in our relationships. Our relationship with God informs our relationships with others. If we focus on our relationship with God and take seriously the commandments referring to our commitment to God, the other commandments will seem less like rigid rules or forced boundaries and more like natural outpourings of our Christian journey.
Just as we are in the midst of our Lenten journey with the goal of Easter a few weeks ahead, this text speaks to us from the journey of the Israelites who wandered in the wilderness searching for the Promised Land. While the distractions are different today, they are nonetheless all around us. The Israelites probably wished many times that they could “be there already.” And for us, we might think life would be so much easier if we skipped from sweet baby Jesus in the manger at Christmas to the risen Christ celebrated on Easter Sunday. Or perhaps we are tempted to skip from the Hosannas of Palm Sunday to the flowering of the cross on Easter Sunday. But there is important work to be done in Lent, especially as we draw closer and closer to Easter. This journey is here to prepare us for the holiness of Easter and make us more Christlike for the rest of the year. God’s words of love, grace, and boundaries help us along and keep us focused. May these words help guide you on the remainder of your Lenten journey—distractions and all. Amen.