Elizabeth M. Deibert
Let us pray: “God of mercy, grant that the Word you speak this day may take root in our hearts, and bear fruit to your honor and glory, for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord.” I just returned from a trip to NC for my mother’s birthday. It was a trip which defines the delight of duty. Of course, I needed to be there – duty. Of course it was tiring and expensive 24 hour turn around. But what a delight to make my mother happy on her 85th birthday! A delightful duty.
NRS Exodus 20:1 Then God spoke all these words: 2 I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 3 you shall have no other gods before me. 4 You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, 6 but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments. 7 You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses his name. 8 Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work-- you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it. 12 Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you. 13 You shall not murder. 14 You shall not commit adultery. 15 You shall not steal. 16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. 17 You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. 18 When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, 19 and said to Moses, "You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die." 20 Moses said to the people, "Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin."
Today we look at the Ten Commandments as a gift. There is something in every one of us that resists rules and boundaries. We want freedom, not restraint, even when restraint is good for us.
Young children must be taught not to snatch away toys from their peers. (8th Commandment –do not steal) They are taught not to hurt other people (in the pattern of the 6th Commandment – do not murder) , to keep their promises (leading toward the 7th Commandment—do not commit adultery), to use respectful words (3rd Commandment – do not take the Lord’s name in vain), not to talk about people behind their backs (9th Commandment – do not bear false witness) , to be respectful toward their parents (5th Commandment), and not to be greedy when there a plate of cookies on the table (10th Commandment – no coveting things that rightly belong to someone else).
We need a mature attitude toward a set of rules because they protect us, guide us, help us. Especially in the hard times, rules guard us from danger and destructiveness. They provide some security and purpose by giving direction for living. Think about Moses and Israelites. They had been wandering in the wilderness for so many years. Life there was difficult. They often went without food or water, and as you heard last week, that made them irritable indeed.
While at Sinai, the people waited a long time for Moses as he went up and down the mountain to speak with God. In their impatience and uncertainty about God, they took matters into their own hands and had Aaron construct a golden calf to worship. They had been arguing and complaining to Moses a lot. Moses was at his wits end, trying to lead the people through the wilderness. They said they’d rather be slaves again back in Egypt. When people are out of control, out of patience, out of their comfort zone, that’s when they are most likely to be out of touch with God’s ways and desires. Also when people begin to question God to the point of putting other things before God, then they are in great need of direction from God. Thus the 10 Ten Commandments were timely. God’s people needed to be roped back in, reminded of who they were and what was expected of them.
Those of you born a generation before me have a reservoir of scripture learned at an age when things stick. How many of you learned the 10 Commandments as a kid? 23rd Psalm? The Beatitudes?
Christian children today do not learn those very well, if at all, but we assume the heart of Judeo-Christian values are still shaping their lives, as they shaped generations before them. Not really. Not so much. We have a generation of Christian youth who are not very Christian at all. As Kenda Creasy Dean of Princeton Seminary says, many of today’s youth are “Almost Christian.” They want to feel good, do good, and believe in God.
And if they are not getting what they want, they might question God. They are reflecting the faith they see and hear in us, a faith which is not very substantial.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that Judeo-Christian scriptures should be taught in schools or that the Commandments should hung in public courtrooms. Richard and I were co-pastoring a new church in Montgomery, AL, when Judge Roy Moore came into the public arena. Judge Moore was removed from office as Chief Justice for Alabama for his refusal to remove a monument of the 10 Commandments from the state courthouse when ordered to do so by a federal judge. I do not want public figures like Roy Moore, a fundamentalist, defining the faith for me or for the children growing up in a pluralistic society, where respect and understanding are desperately needed for building peace in neighborhoods and among the nations. I don’t want the fundamentalists of any faith group asserting themselves to try to control society’s beliefs.
But I do want us in the church to take our role seriously to teach the faith to the kids in our own congregations. We need to get serious about teaching the content of Christian faith to our children – not because we fear Muslims or any other faith group, but because we want our kids to be able to know and affirm the heart of what we believe. The Commandments are a good place to begin, especially when understood in light of the Great Commandment given by Jesus Christ. Love the Lord your God with all that you are, and love your neighbor as you love yourself. That’s how Jesus summarized the Ten Commandments into two essentials. Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind. That covers Commandments 1-4 – Worship God. Have no idols. Guard the name of God. Keep the Sabbath holy.
Love your neighbor as you love yourself. That covers Commandments 5-10. Love and honor your parents. Respect life. The life of another person, even an enemy, is precious in the sight of God. Keep your promises, especially to those with whom you have made a sacred covenant to be faithful. Don’t steal other people’s stuff. Don’t talk about people, especially if it’s not true. Respect boundaries and don’t lust after other’s people’s cars, boats, houses, bank accounts, or spouses. Don’t even go there in your mind.
“With the order of the commandments, God makes it possible for the people to view their new lives, even in the wilderness, not as chaotic and terrifying, but as meaningful and potentially fruitful. As many scholars have noted, the Sabbath commandment at the center of the Decalogue, with its insistence on rest and restoration for every person, animal, and field, communicates that life is about more than productivity and work.” (Amy Erikson, Workingpreacher.org )
We know that staying within these parameters makes our lives more spiritually and emotionally healthy, just like exercising and eating lots of vegetables and less sugar, fat, and red meat makes us more healthy, physically. We know that living outside the commandments means more heartache and pain for ourselves and others. We know that ignoring commandments leads diminishes spiritual strength. In a sense, it clogs the arteries of our spiritual heart. So why do we not choose to live within the constraints of commandments? Well, first of all, because we have not really focused on the content of the commandments. And second, because it is darn hard, just like physical exercise and resisting french fries. It is especially hard when we read Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount, where he challenges us to think beyond our simple understanding of the commandments to a higher level of moral reasoning.
You have heard it said, “You shall not murder.” But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment... You have heard it said, “You shall not commit adultery,” but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. You have heard it said, “Do not swear falsely,” but I say to you, do not swear at all. You have heard it said “Love your neighbor” but I say to you, “Love your enemies and pray for those who mistreat you.” “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? With the judgment you make on others, you will be judged.” Jesus challenges people to look beyond the letter of the law to the intent of the law. He challenges all who might think they’ve got the law mastered. (Matt 5-7)
How can we possibly delight in a set of duties which are trapping us in sin at every turn? Our delight in Christian duty begins with a heart of gratitude for who God is and what God has done for us. We can rejoice with the Apostle Paul that through the law and our disobedience, we see our need for grace, and called to forgive and love back.
Paul says to the Romans, “But law came in, with the result that trespass multiplied, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that just as sin exercised dominion in death, so grace might also exercise dominion through justification leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. What then are we to say? Should continue in sin, in order that grace may abound? No way, absolutely not,” Paul says. He goes on to talk about how we do not want to be slaves to sin. (Romans 5 & 6)
So I return to the notion of delighting in our duty. Andrew and Rebecca, our teens, do not delight in kitchen duty, which they share on an every other day basis. No many of us do delight in the dishes, unless we cultivate an attitude of gladness. It is a matter of discipline and attitude. You can grumble that you have to do the dishes, or you can focus on being a help to your family or yourself and making the kitchen a more enjoyable place to be. A servant spirit is a Christ-like attitude which must be cultivated by practice – just like learning a musical instrument or mastering a sport requires hours of practice.
Discipline and attitude are everything when we are working to live as Christ calls us. In marriage, seeds of adultery are sown not just the moment there is lust in the eye, but it begins the moment you stop delighting in the things that you love about the one whom you married. It’s easy to name flaws in a spouse, but can you creatively express personal frustration, while continuing to delight in your life partner’s charming qualities? Sometimes a marriage is so badly damaged, it cannot be saved, but Christians should always approach divorce with penitence, trusting God to forgive when we have done all we can to heal a broken marriage.
Covetousness is a huge problem in our culture and nobody questions it at all. It begins the moment you allow yourself to move away from a spirit of gratitude to God for the many blessings of your own life. We are among the wealthiest 5% of the world’s population, but we want more. Perhaps we will look back on this recession as one of the best things that could have happened to our overgrown consumerism. How could we possibly think we deserve more? Let’s get on with thanking God for what we have. If you must compare yourself with someone, compare yourself with someone who doesn’t own a computer or have running water. Idolatry begins as soon as we let any activity or person or passion become more important, more urgent, more consuming that our devotion to God.
There’s a reason the commandments begin with God -- our relationship with God affects our relationships with others. If you do not wholeheartedly trust God, it is difficult to endure personal relationship problems because you see no way through. If you begin to idolize other people or be guided by your own personal passions more than you love God, you will have trouble keeping commandments 5-10. If you are not in close relationship with God, praying and taking time to build your spiritual muscles, then you will have trouble truly loving your neighbor, whether that’s your wife, son, colleague, person on the street or in your church.
If we can delight in God’s great love and in the gifts God has given us, particularly the people God places in our paths, and we can continually build that spirit of delight into our lives, rather than diminishing it with our disobedience, our slavery to sin, our grumbling, then we will want to live in ways that please God. Then duty can become delightful because we rejoice in what is right, not just in what satisfies our self-centered urges. But this delight in duty must be intentionally cultivated. I challenge you to live a life so exemplary in commitment to God and compassion for neighbor that the children of this church and the people of this community will want to model their lives after yours. They will see you operating out of trust in God, even if your church becomes temporarily homeless. They will see you struggling to forgive and understand your neighbor or family member, even when you have been betrayed by them. They will delight in following your footsteps because you have so faithfully followed Christ’s.