There is an oft-heard church story about an elderly woman who was
mailing a Bible to a friend. She placed it in a box, taped up the box,
and took it to the post office. And as it was being weighed and stamped
for delivery, the postal clerk asked the woman, "Is there anything
breakable in here?" She paused for a moment and said, "Only
the ten commandments."
I am worried about things that are breaking this morning. It seems
that a lot of things are getting injured. And I carry a deep, deep
sadness about decisions, divisions, declarations, and expectations that
are pulling us apart as children of God: that are pulling apart the
very creation of God even as so many people try to do what is right and
good and best.
I do not desire to deliver an angle on world events today. But I
desire to lift up my concerns and my hopes and to set them before God
and to build together with you and with God a fabric of faith that may
not be broken. For this is a tough week. Tough for Americans and for
Iraqis. Tough for Christians and for Muslims, among others. It is tough
for peacemakers and for those who support or serve to enforce the
policies of war. We don't have to re-state our perspectives today. Mine
are on the web. I hear yours
often and thoughtfully. And there is need ahead for us to discuss them
and to act on them. But this morning, again, I feel the call to
Most of us have lived through times when moments such as this have
divided our nation and have divided our communities of faith. Most of
us have seen how difference of opinion or interpretation or experience
have torn people apart from each other, and we have seen how long it
takes to repair those tears. And we know that there is a time when
faith or prayer or philosophy should cause us to follow new
paths, even those which divide mother from child and son from parent,
as Jesus says. But we know also that finding our common humanity and
our common endowment from divinity is a much louder call and that what
we do to mend creation and preserve community is often the greatest
contribution to any moment and to every future. So I seek those things
today. I seek the building, healing resources that are ours already.
Prof. William Willimon says that the Ten Commandments do this. He
says they are apodictic: they don't argue or reason but state. And
these statements, he says, are graceful resources for how to live
together in happiness. I agree.
The commandments give us values for the community and the
individual. They see a whole that is greater than its solitary parts.
Like America where our more perfect union or we the people
are values as high as our personal rights.
Jesus adds that the love of God and neighbor and self are the
essence of life, displaying the basics of the Ten Commandments. He says
we build communities through love.
We need to do that, and I have an idea about how to try it today,
from the depth of my spirit, although it deserves refinement and deeper
thought. But I set it before you, hoping that it helps.
I think that I need to do something manifest today, something
constructive. Perhaps we could make an offering, set out our
community-building gifts. I long to make external what is also
internal so that we can be empowered, challenged, guided, and comforted
by the gifts that are ours. I suggest that we take our many gifts and
make of them one offering. Instead of a great pronouncement we could
make a simple offering.
So I will lay four things by God's altar today for the duration of
our journey through Lent, perhaps our journey through war. They are
four things that are bigger than any one or group of us but uniquely
connected to each of us. And I want to set them out rather than just
name them because their strength is beyond symbolic, and their real
presence allows me both to know that I cannot control them and to
realize that God does inhabit them, and I must carry their calls into
the world when this service is ended.
I set them by God's altar to represent each of us and all of us. I
set them out as reminders, as inspirations, as common ground. I set
them out to guide our days.
First I'd like to set a Bible on our table.
It represents our common faith. It represents Abraham's full family. It
contains commandments and forgiveness. It has prayers of pain and
visions of a time without tears as well. By it we put our story out
there and remind ourselves of who we are, what yet we may be, and what
we all share in hope. I put one extra thing inside the Bible. It is a
copy of St. Francis' prayer, "Lord, make me an instrument of thy
peace." It's pretty ancient. It's pretty simple. It is a prayer to
Second I'd like to put a copy of our US Constitution before God.
It's not perfect. It's not global or divine. But it is ours, and we are
better for it. I don't mean this as a political statement but as
something that holds us together. It is beautiful, and it is hopeful.
And I put something else inside it, too. I put the oath of
office for those who serve in the armed services inside of it. Because
they are with us in our prayers these days. They are part of us. They
are our responsibility. We are not divided from them, even if our views
of history are diverse.
I put this stuffed animal from my office before us. It has been handled
by many children over the years. It comes with their auras, if you
will. This Lent, during this war, we need to keep the care of our
children before us and we need to keep the concern for all God's
vulnerable at our forefront. God knows vulnerability. It takes the
strong to protect the weak. That is our task.
I place this candle beneath the cross. It is an Advent candle. It is
purple for royalty and for penitence. Its flame symbolizes greater
light as well as the perseverant prayer that darkness never has the
last word. It is a small candle. Keeping it lit is up to us.
This is my pledge: I will not be frozen. I will not be mesmerized by
uncertainty. I will not numbed. I will not be immobilized. I will not
I will strive to be faithful. I will strive to remember. I will
commit to being loving. I will endeavor to follow God. I will work to
sustain community and to repair what is broken.
These symbols will help me in these weeks ahead. They are not
perfect. Maybe you would add something to them. Maybe you can draw
something from them. Maybe they are just suggestions of how we may be
or what God will offer. Suggestions to keep more than just the
up-to-the-minute bad news in your mind. But to keep the timeless good
news in your heart. And that good news is that this is still God's
world, and we can follow God, depend on God, and live in Jesus' way, together.
Copyright © 2003 Kenneth F. Baily. Used by