Sermon for the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 22

Text: Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-17
And God spoke all these words:

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

“You shall have no other gods before me.

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.

“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work.

“Honour your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

“You shall not murder.

“You shall not commit adultery.

“You shall not steal.

“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour.

“You shall not covet your neighbour’s house. You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.”

The Way

A radio show host interviewed people on the street about a whole range of topics including some questions about the Bible.

He asked one passer-by, “Who according to the Bible was swallowed by a whale?”  “That’s easy”, came the reply. “Pinocchio”.
The interviewer said to another man, “Complete this sentence: “Let he who is without sin....”.  The response, “have a good time?”
“Do you know what the Ten Commandments are?” he asked one young lady. “Sure”. “Can you name any of them?” “Don't cheat, don’t smoke, don’t do drugs and oh yeh, humour thy father and mother”.
When one person was told that “You shall not commit adultery” was one of the Ten Commandments, the immediate response was, “No way. Everyone does that”.

The Ten Commandments are rules, and no-one likes rules.  Remember Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden had only one rule and yet they managed to mess things up good and proper.

When a police officer pulls over a speeding driver he will most likely politely say, “Do you have a reason why you were breaking the speed limit” and it doesn’t matter what good justifiable reason might be given, he still proceeds to write out a speeding ticket.  The law is quite clear.  It is very black and white. We might say the rules are unfair, too black and white but in the end, there’s no getting away from the fact that a rule has been broken and there are consequences. 

The rules are humbug when we forget they exist for everyone’s protection.
Parents make rules for their children, not because they want to be mean and nasty, but because they love their children.   
When parents say that 8.30 is bedtime, they want to make sure that their child’s energetic young bodies and minds get plenty of rest. 
When they ask their teenager be home by a certain time, it’s because they know from experience, what can happen out there in the late hours. 
It's true rules and laws can be used oppressively and lovelessly, but here I’m talking about the rules that a loving parent or responsible government make to keep people’s lives, welfare and property safe.

Sometimes a child might feel that their parent’s expectations are restrictive and unreal, but that doesn’t change the fact that mum and dad have said this because they love their child very much.  The rule is a gift of love to their child.

As you listened to today’s Old Testament reading from the Book of Exodus and heard again the Ten Commandments, did you feel the love of God coming through those words?  As you listened to God's “Do nots” did you feel all warm and fuzzy.  I would guess – most likely you didn’t. 

One reason for this is that when we hear commandments or rules, we get all negative about them.  A person commenting on today’s idea that “morality is what I want it to be”, said,
“We no longer rely on religious tradition for answers to life’s big questions.  We don’t need the Ten Commandments in order to live an ethical life.  We like to think of ourselves as independent people who are capable of thinking for ourselves.  We don’t like being boxed in and we definitely don’t like being “commanded”.” (Ana Levy-Lyons).

It comes down to this – who can say what is right and wrong for me?  I will determine what is right and wrong for myself and by myself.

If a woman is pregnant and it isn’t convenient for her to give birth ... it’s her body so she can deal with that problem. 
If money is needed to support a habit, … a home can be invaded or a person knocked over in the street to get what is needed.
If someone believes they are not being given a fair go … being rude and abusive, using bad language, and violence is okay. 

A real life example.  Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb were philosophy students at Chicago University and came to believe they were “superior humans”, a concept taught by Friedrich Nietzsche (this idea of “Ubermensch” had a powerful influence on Nazism in Germany).  Leopold and Loeb believed they were above the law and so planned and murdered a 14-year-old boy. Their defence lawyer made a most dramatic appeal and argued that Leopold had absorbed the ideas of Nietzsche.  He said, "Your honour, it is hardly fair to hang a 19-year-old boy for the philosophy that was taught him at the university." 

Can you see what has happened here?  Rather than listening to God's concept of the sanctity of human life as expressed in the commandment “Do not commit murder”, these fellows swapped it for mistaken human ideas and an innocent life was taken.  Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb willingly and carefully planned their murderous act.  We know how easily we swap God’s values with the world’s values.  Suddenly our best intentions have somehow been side-tracked and we find ourselves up to our necks in trouble because of our sin.

I asked earlier if you felt the warmth of God’s love as you heard the Ten Commandments being read and I said that most likely you didn’t because we all hate rules. 

Another reason you probably didn’t feel God’s love is because The Commandments make you feel guilty.  When you look closely at the way Jesus interprets the Commandments and then Luther’s explanation in his Catechism, we soon realise there isn’t one that we have any reason to feel comfortable about. Where the Ten Commandments outlaw adultery, Jesus outlaws even sinful sexual thoughts and desires; where the Ten Commandments outlaw murder, Jesus outlaws even the hateful intent. In the light of the New Testament the Ten Commandments are not simply rules but they tell us what we should do in a positive sense to help and care for others.  They are a way of life.

You don’t have to be the sharpest pencil in the box to soon see that God has offered us a way of walking, that’s what the Old Testament word for law – Torah – means – Torah means instruction for walking God’s Way – but instead of following God’s way – God’s Torah – in this life we have preferred our own way. 
God sees not just our actions, but also our attitudes; 
not just our hands, but also our hearts; 
not just our words and works, but our thoughts, desires, imaginations, and motivations; 
and he sees that there is not one person on this planet who is able to walk the walk God’s Way.  Disobedience, sin, and death are very real.
He sees that we
need divine, out of this world help, if we want to have a relationship with him, to be friends with him and to have any chance of  life with him forever.

There is a story (and it might well be more legend than true) that tells how one night, Martin Luther went to sleep troubled about his sin. In a dream, he saw an angel standing by a blackboard and at the top of the board was Luther’s name. The angel, chalk in hand, was listing all of Luther’s sins, and the list filled the blackboard. Luther shuddered in despair, feeling that his sins were so many that he could never be forgiven. But suddenly in his dream he saw a pierced hand, writing above the list these words, “The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin.” As Luther gazed in amazement, blood flowed from the wounded hand and washed the blackboard clean.

God did for us what we cannot do for ourselves. 
God took his obedient Son and nailed him to a cross for you and me. 
God made Jesus our sin.    
All of our attempts to leave God out of our lives,
the ways we have ignored his love for us,
found excuses for why we have not given him honour, or spent time with him in worship, prayer and reading his Word
acted like disobedient children,
held grudges and hard feelings against others,
talked about others behind their backs,
got all our priorities out of whack and making ourselves the sole love of our life,
all these were nailed to the cross.
As he hung there dying, he carried every sin, from the smallest to the greatest failure to live God’s way.  He died to make us perfect – God’s saints. 

Now can you feel the love of God.  He hasn’t lessened his Commandments.  That would be like a parent saying – “Go and do as you please. I don’t care what happens to you”. That would be cruel and unkind.  Our God is a parent who has shown us The CommandmentsThe Way to safety and happiness but has also given us Jesus, The Way, the Truth and the Life when our own egos, self-centredness and stubbornness get in the way of following God’s Way.  He gives us freedom from our disobedience.  He gives us the freedom to be like Christ.   

Do you have a Small Catechism at home somewhere? If not, you can go on the internet and search for “Luther’s Small Catechism”.  Have another look at the Ten Commandments and Luther’s explanations and you will see that these are not just rules, but they are The Way of walking God’s way in love toward God and others.

That’s precisely how we see the Ten Commandments from a New Testament perspective. As people bought with the blood of Christ, they show us how we should walk as followers of Christ.  They are not just rules but guide us how to truly honour God and what it means to be like Christ to our fellow human beings.

Take the Commandment “Do not murder”. Luther says about this.  “We should honour and love God, so that we do no bodily harm (that is, cause any hurt or injury) to our neighbour but help and befriend him in every need.”  What is happening here is that this commandment is not simply about taking someone’s life (which most us can manage quite well), but it goes much further than this.  There is a proactive angle – namely to love, care, help, befriend, be generous, and be gracious.  In other words, be Christ to that person.  Treat that person as Jesus would.  Each commandment has this aspect to it – showing us as God’s holy, beloved, chosen people how to be his holy, beloved, chosen people to those in our lives. 

God give us wisdom to honour and love God as he truly deserves. God give us the grace to be as gracious to others as God is gracious toward us.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

4th October 2020

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