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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Monday, August 27, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Deuteronomy 4:1–2, 6–9

So now, Israel, give heed to the statutes and ordinances that I am teaching you to observe, so that you may live to enter and occupy the land that the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. You must neither add anything to what I command you nor take away anything from it, but keep the commandments of the Lord your God with which I am charging you. You must observe them diligently, for this will show your wisdom and discernment to the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and discerning people!” For what other great nation has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is whenever we call to him? And what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just as this entire law that I am setting before you today? But take care and watch yourselves closely, so as neither to forget the things that your eyes have seen nor to let them slip from your mind all the days of your life; make them known to your children and your children’s children. (NRSV)

Early in my daughter’s teaching career, I visited her classroom on the west side of Chicago. Everywhere I looked there were “statutes and ordinances” around the room, written on sheets of paper, taped to the wall. There were expectations about how to behave, when to talk, what manners to use, and simply what was important to remember within the confines of her classroom. I remember joking with her, saying, “Wow! I’m glad I’m not a student in your classroom!” However, what she knew was that structure brings safety. Certain expectations result in aspiring to live in ways that are respectful of the whole. Care for self alone doesn’t really build a great classroom or a great nation.

The statutes and ordinances God had given to the people of Israel were guides, necessary for their being able to build a great nation. I would guess that the meaning of “great” meant that this new nation Israel would know its boundaries and expectations for behavior. To be great would mean that there would be regard for the forgotten ones. The statutes and ordinances were a rule of life that would sometimes help and sometimes constrain the individual, all in the service of a better community.

Our scriptures—Old and New Testaments—are filled with words and stories and sometimes statutes and ordinances that serve as our way of life as a community. Our human tendency is to chafe under structure and rules and ordinances. Of course we do, and of course we should, when the rules are set up to serve one group over and above others. But if those ordinances and statutes enhance community life, improve how we live together, and raise our awareness of what human dignity should be, then statutes and ordinances are good, because community life—when well-lived and all are cared for—is good, too.

God of all nations, lead us as a people to strive for human dignity, to aspire toward statutes and ordinances that create better community for all. Make us a great people because we care for other people, and a great nation because we seek the best for all. Amen.

Written by Judith L. Watt, Associate Pastor for Pastoral Care

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