As progressive Christians we spend a lot of our time emphasizing the relationships of scripture. We have a relational God, a God of covenant, a Christ who ate with sinners and declared the unholy clean. When we talk about commandment we talk about the attempt to trick Jesus and loving saying “Love God and Neighbor” those are the only two commandments we need.

So when the Narrative Lectionary, just a few weeks in it’s first year pulls out the actual commandments, it’s enough to make us throw up our hands. What else can we say? On one hand, are these that hard? On the other, how does one decide what honoring your father and mother look like?

We have the epic scene of Charlton Heston, no, not the one with the rifle, the other one.


We use it as easy rule following to give to children. Love God, your parents, don’t murder or steal, keep hands, feet, and all other objects to yourself. I mean, what’s wrong with rules?

There’s a 10 commandments for just about everything. Here’s a short list: The 10 Commandments of….
Positive Thinking
Mental Health
Positive Parenting
Typography (no… for real)
Zappos (yes, the shoe place)
Making Money

Some of these are “cute”, some absurd, and the last two… well, they clearly haven’t read the actual 10th commandment.

We should be careful to never reduce the Israelites wandering in the desert to a group of whinny toddlers or teenagers, but I do have to say, Moses has a little bit of a “Lord of the Flies” situation on his hands. They need some guidance, some order, some civility or things are going to get out of hand real quick.

Opps! Too Late.

For a seasoned preacher this text might be so familiar that it would be temping to not even read the scripture before writing the sermon (*sarcastic font* WHAT?? We would never!) Reading the (actual) 10 commandments could get a little mundane, kind of like when the Lord’s prayer comes up in the scripture text. So here are a few suggestions:

  • Write on a paper from 1-10. Name the commandments without looking. Now write them in order (if you have a creative congregation you can do this with them as well).
  • Group them together:
    • First 4 are about our relationship God
    • Obeying Parents and not committing adultery are about intimate relationships
    • Stealing, false witness and coveting are about our relationships with our neighbors
  • Rewrite them. I do an exercise with my leadership, about once every few years where we re-write a piece of scripture, we turn negatives into positives and positives into negatives. For example the first line of the 23rd psalm in it’s mirrored version would read: The Lord is not my Shepherd, I will want.
  • So why the need for the rules in the first place? take each commandment and imagine a scenario in which these rules are needed. Shouldn’t be too hard, just open up facebook.

The Narrative Lectionary secondary text is Matthew 5:17.

Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.

If you want to deal with the 10 Commandments indirectly, you can combine it with this text. Does that mean the rules are negated? What does it mean to fulfill this law?

In the preface to the actual commandment God tells Moses that we (the people) shall be a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. What would fulfilling (not just following) the law look like then and today?

If you want to focus on one commandment, may I suggest #4. Take the Sabbath day and keep it Holy. We all need a break now and then, from media, from life. Let’s not forget this was a highly spiritual experience, so much so that Moses has to veil his face it shone so brightly. This is not a trite list of rules for toddlers, but a spiritual and life nurturing guide for humanity and relationship.

Good luck out there preachers. We’re going to need it.

The Reverend Shannon Meacham currently serves Ashland Presbyterian Church in the Baltimore suburbs. She lives there with her husband Reverend Derrick Weston and together they raise their four children. You can find her musings about any and all subjects on her personal blog or listen to Pub Theology Live podcast, of which she is a co-host.

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6 thoughts on “Narrative Lectionary: Rules of Engagement

  1. I have been thinking about something I read (possibly in the New Interpreter’s Bible): “the destination of the Exodus was ‘to me.’” God brought us to Godself, and made promises…and then, if we add verse 8 to chapter 19, the people agree…AND THEN God gives the commandments. Sort of like laying out the pathway of “to me”. Unconditional grace but demanding relationship. I haven’t worked this all out yet but I think I can work with that.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I continue to believe that if we followed the Ten Commandments we would live in a pretty fantastic place.

    Think of something bigger than yourself
    Don’t lie about that thing bigger than you
    Don’t pretend it’s something it isn’t
    We don’t mess with your neighbors things
    Take care of your elders

    Hey, I’m already following your suggestions.

    Thanks Coach,

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Now I’m newly pondering the verse in chapter 19 that says “out of all the nations you will be my treasured possession” in concert with the whole “destination of the exodus was To Me” thing. My brain took this moment (10:20pm on Wednesday night) to remind me that Ekklesia means “called out ones”….how would people know from looking at our way of life, at the way we engage in community together, at the way we interact with the world at large, that we are the Church, the Ekklesia, the treasured possession?


  4. i am having a low energy week, so am reworking a sermon from 4 years ago
    , but will start with the idea that there are rules, laws and covenants.
    rules we make up, like which side of the road we drive on – important, but not necessarily the same everywhere.
    laws are like gravity [i have a science background] it is there whether you like it or not, and you live within it.
    covenants are about relationship – like Teri noted above, God was in relationship with the people before the commandments.
    a long prayer of confession based on the commandments by by Rachael Keefe, and communion, means a short sermon will do.


  5. I want to offer you the opportunity to ascent to these rules. I want to offer you the chance to agree to the covenant that God gave to the Israelites. Now I have updated the language a little and think this might be some rules that our community could strive for and ultimately live by, please say “God give me the strength” after each commandment, of course you have the freedom to choose to agree or not.

    1. There is something bigger than you, you wouldn’t be here without it, don’t forget that.
    2. Don’t pretend that is was something else that got you here.
    3. Don’t lie about the thing that is bigger than you.
    4. Don’t pretend the bigger thing is something it isn’t.
    5. Remember to take a break regularly
    6. Don’t kill one another
    7. Don’t make relationships harder than they already are.
    8. Don’t take what isn’t yours
    9. Don’t lie about your neighbors
    10. Don’t compare yourself to your neighbor.

    Liked by 1 person

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