During my Covid wilderness wanderings, one of the paths I have walked is in response to the racial tension that continues to surface in our country. In an effort to learn and understand not only the origin of this crucial social issue in our country, but my complicity in it, I have set myself to reading several books on the topic and listening to podcasts that feature well-rounded discussion and have been in honest conversation with my friends who are people of color.
In each of these arenas I have heard over and over the term “social contract,” which is an implicit agreement among the members of a society to cooperate for social benefits, for example, sacrificing some individual freedom for overall community well-being. Which means, as a society, we agree that it is detrimental to community health for an individual to be allowed to urinate in public. We pass laws and regulations governing this action so the public is protected from having to deal with this unpleasant and unhealthy activity and agree to limit our freedom by refraining from this practice.
Our country is founded on a social contract called The Constitution, and begins thus, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America." This preamble undergirds the rest of the document we hold dear and which directs our government (in its purest intent) to ensure the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness to all equally created citizens.
Our denomination has a social contract called The Book of Order which governs how each region and individual congregation will live in holy community together. It guides us in all manner of holy community, worship and discipline. Each of these social contracts declare for our nation, or folks within our denomination, what is needed to ensure overall societal/community well-being. Each social contract recognizes the sad fact that humans, if left to their own devices, will be destructive to themselves, the people around them, and to the environment in which they live.
This Sunday I will continue the journey through the Gospel of Matthew, but our Old Testament lesson is the ultimate social contract—The Ten Commandments. Some commentators refer to the Ten Commandments as the preamble to the 613 laws contained in the Law of Moses. The Ten Commandments, handed down by God to Moses on Mount Sinai, constitutes the covenantal or communal agreement between God and God’s own people, and this “social contract” is referred to as a Suzerainty treaty. This means it is a contract or agreement between two unequal parties, such as a king and vassal. At God’s initiative, this contract was given to the Israelites in order to further God’s plan of salvation, and God knew full well it would not be the Divine who would break the contract.
Furthermore, at the time of the Exodus, this community was exclusive to the Israelites whom God rescued from Egypt but in Christ, included all nations, genders and socio-economic classes. Once Christ completed his earthly ministry, death, resurrection and ascension, the Law was fulfilled once and for all, ushering in our adoption by grace through faith alone. Even so, from the beginning, Christians have struggled with the place of the Ten Commandments in the life of the church and the individual. How does the Law relate to the good news of the Gospel where we have Jesus himself, bring it to two, love God with heart, mind, soul, and strength and your neighbor as yourself?
As you can imagine, there are multiple Christian answers to this question, just as there are multiple answers to many questions put to the whole of humanity. People should be able to agree, but human beings are never able to completely agree on anything. So with thoughts of social contracts and who is breaking them in our country, with declarations from all sides of the political arena about division and who is responsible, we are left to sift through rhetoric, misinformation, and growing distrust. Maybe the most helpful relationship we can have with the social contract the Israelites made with the Divine God in whom we also put our trust, is to recognize that God is holy, the moral law is holy and that Jesus is the focus of the law. If we say we love Jesus, then obeying the Ten Commandments becomes a way of showing God that we love not only God, but what God loves.
If everyone who professes belief in Jesus were to do their very best to love God, neighbor and self, then maybe we would not be susceptible to all the forces that seek to make our very selves a commodity for making money or gaining power. Maybe we would not need to post the Ten Commandments in public spaces, because the law would be written in our hearts. Wait. That rings a bell:
“It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant they broke, though I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. “But this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD. I will put My law in their minds and inscribe it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they will be My people. No longer will each man teach his neighbor or his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquities and will remember their sins no more.” Jeremiah 33:32-34
“And this is My covenant with them when I take away their sins." Romans 11:27
“It is clear that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” 2 Corinthians 3:3
“Now about brotherly love, you do not need anyone to write to you, because you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another.” 1 Thessalonians 4:9
“For this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord. I will put My laws in their minds and inscribe them on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they will be My people.” Hebrews 8:10
Brothers and Sisters, over and over scripture declares the Law is written in our hearts if we know the Lord, so let us do our best to hold ourselves accountable to it for the sake of Christ who fulfilled it on our behalf! This is especially important now, right now in the history of our country. We need to stop pointing fingers at the “other” and start tending our own hearts so that it is never said that we did not hold up our end of the contract.