by Linda McMillan
God said it, I believe it, Let’s dance…
You laid down your commandments, *
that we should fully keep them.
I am one of the lucky few who was raised and educated by Southern Baptists. At a tender little age, I knew the books of the Bible, who wrote them, and when. And, if you asked me a question, I had an answer, and usually a chapter and verse to go with it. Oh, I was good!
I appreciate all I got from the Southern Baptists, but obviously it wasn’t really my path. I still sing the songs, though, and one of the songs I remember goes like this:
God said it, (Bum, bum, bummmmm)
And I believe it,.(Bum, bum, bummmmm)
And that settles it for me,…
And then you sing that verse over and over and over… I don’t know how many times… Until the campfire goes out, I guess.
There are two things wrong with that little song – besides the fact that it lacks a proper ending, I mean. One of them is that belief has never been part of the equation. God says something, and that’s the way it is. For example, God said, “Let there be light…” even though there was no one there to believe in it, there was light. And all creation was done in this way, without a single belief involved. If no one ever believed in God, there would still be God and there would still be love. God is love. Belief isn’t part of it.
The other problem is that it’s not settled. God’s word is not settled at all. She still hovers over the deep places and moves wherever we will let her. There’s nothing settled about it. The actual scriptures are not cast in stone. It’s too simple to erect a stone monument with some scriptures on it and say that it’s God’s word. It’s not. Jesus was God’s word, and the Christ spirit that followed him is the word with us right now, not a stone. Stones are dead. God’s word is living, moving, she’s dancing! No, it’s not settled.
But, if it’s really as loosey-goosy as all that, then, we have to wonder what it means to FULLY KEEP the commandments? If the word is hovering, and moving, possibly changing, then how can we know if we’re doing it right? Jesus shows us in this morning’s gospel reading when he reads the law, affirms it, and then explains what it means to let the grace and love of the law which was given long ago, permeate everyday life for those people, on that day. Because the law is not for the past, it’s forever.
These “But, I say…” statements of Jesus are sometimes called the six antitheses. Today’s reading only has four of them, but you can read ahead a little. It’s OK. In the antitheses, Jesus is not offering a superior law, not deepening it, or even humanizing it. He is taking something that was relevant when it was written, and making it relevant in the moment. That is how we fully keep the commandments, by dancing with them until the sweat of God’s body has soaked our own clothes and keeping the law becomes our own great good.
Regrettably, some of these antitheses statements have now been cast in stone and settled in some people’s minds. The antitheses teaching on divorce has been used to accuse instead of to protect, the antithesis about calling someone a fool has been used to propagate a completely baseless theology of something called Hell… it doesn’t even exist. That was not what Jesus intended. Most certainly nobody should pluck out an eye, or chop off a hand… Don’t do it! What Jesus models is gently embracing the law, for it is precious; letting it woo our hearts, and move us to the divine music in our own time and place.
In this passage, we can read Jesus’s words, or we can look at his example. What he shows us is that the law is not a list of rules, it’s for dancing!
Linda McMillan is in Yangon, Myanmar
Image: Simchat Torah