‘The Law’, October 8th 2017
The Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity
Main Passage: Exodus 20:1-20
Also Matthew 21:33-end.
If you listen to the audio track, it is a little quiet, so you need to have your volume up!
Opening Prayer: “Father, may the words of my mouth and the thoughts of all our hearts be a blessing to your name.”
“The children were lined up in the cafeteria of a Catholic school for lunch. At the head of the table was a large pile of apples. The nun made a note, and posted on the apple tray: “Take only ONE. GOD is watching.” Moving farther along the lunch line, at the other end of the table was a large pile of chocolate chip cookies. A child had written a note, “Take all you want. God is watching the apples.”
Our sermon today is about the Law. The part of the Law of Moses given on Mt. Sinai – and we are not really sure where that was – could have been on the Sinai Peninsula or perhaps in Northwest Arabia – in any event, the Israelites were on the move and were destined to spend the next 40 years in the “wilderness”. There is a lesson here, perhaps our own ‘wilderness time’ at Nieuwe Erven will be longer and more fruitful than we ever imagined!
Many Christians are under the assumption that the Law applies to us today in just the same way it applied to the Hebrews when Moses descended from the mountain, face aglow and tablets still smoking.
Others believe it does not apply to us and they have some reason for this:
In Romans 6, “For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace.”
In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul says, “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.”
And in Galatians 3: Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.
Laws are for those who are irresponsible, not for those who are responsible – and that is true.
Well, sometimes, I like to have a thought experiment – and it goes like this: does the thing under consideration make sense in the positive and the negative? I mean, we just heard the 10 Commandments – what if decided that we should not only not do them, but do the opposite? In other words, if we ignore them, what would that look like? Do they still make sense for our lives? Consider…
“You shall have no other gods before me.
To do the opposite is: Worship whomever you like.
“You shall not make for yourself any graven image
To do the opposite is: Worship whatever you like.
“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord
Psychologists have proven that cursing helps you!
“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
All of our hockey games will be at 11am, Sunday morning
“Honor your father and your mother
As T Shirts are printed: YOLO – You Only Live Once
“You shall not murder.
It’s the law of the jungle, do what you have to do
“You shall not commit adultery.
Don’t get married; then sleep with anyone
“You shall not steal.
Take it, someone probably owes you, anyway (as in the Gospel reading Matt. 21:33-end)
“You shall not give false testimony.
Everything I told was the truth… lies of omission
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s stuff.
Be number one – you’re worth it
Well, if you put them like that, then we should definitely obey the Ten Commandments! Indeed, the opposites describe pretty well what society looks like today. (Just read aloud the opposites we have just considered, and think how that resembles society today)
You see “Obeying the Law” too often includes using and mis-using the edges or boundaries like the Pharisees in Matthew 12 concerning Jesus healing on the Sabbath or Matthew 15 asking why the disciples don’t wash their feet.Sometimes when we are asking ourselves ‘what are my boundaries’, we are really saying to myself: how far can I go in this, before I sin?
Here are some examples of looking for boundaries:
• God’s watching the apples – I’ll have another cookie…
• When am I speeding? – When there no cameras to record it?
• How far can we go in the backseat of the car? – Get out of the car!
• When am I committing adultery – admiring a woman’s beauty? fantasizing?
All of these are focused on what we can get away with rather than God’s will.
Paul has a warning for those of you occupied with finding this edge Phil. 3: 18, 19:
“For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.”
(in other words: people looking for the boundary, who are “looking for the edge”)
For us, as Christians, the bar is set much, much higher than the search for “the edge”. Paul suggests that – as a Christian, a child of Christ – what you want to do changes, where your hope lies, is different than what the world wants.
Let me tell you – if you don’t know already, and I suspect most of you do:
When you kneel at the foot of the Cross and give your worldly cares and your worries and your aspirations and your wants and your desires over to Christ, you are not even in sight of a “boundary”; you are not weighed down by what others think of you; there is no glory in the shameful things in your life; you are in a position to die to the passions that imprison you …and make the choice to follow Him. A choice to follow Him? – more than that; a choice to be His disciple.
Those of you who know me might say, “Well, Peter…take a look at yourself in the mirror”, Good advice…but I’m in good company and I have a sure Hope – as are all of you who choose the “meat” of the Word over the “milk”. You see, we are joined by Paul who says in Romans 7:21-25,
“So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?”
Happily, he answers his own question: “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (REPEAT)
I tell a story – some of you heard it last time I gave a talk – about Two Dogs. Two Dogs is an Indian Chief who felt he had two dogs – two forces – fighting within him: one dog was evil, looked for what he could get away with, was jealous, self-centered; the other dog was good, loved God, loved others, & sought to be in God’s will. When asked, “Which dog wins?”, he answered, – you know the answer: the dog I feed the most.
I suggest that the 10 Commandments are as true for us today as they were in Exodus Chapter 20, but a lot has happened since then. We – as new creatures in Christ – are not subject to the Law, we are not under the Law, but we are rather urged to constantly seek God’s will – not seek boundaries, or edges, our own will, or other’s approval. God has given us an unfair advantage: His Holy Spirit, which allows us to do and be more than we can do or be under our own effort.
Let me close with this: We can “feed the good dog” the ‘meat’ that brings us into God’s will.
We can do this through regular prayer – Paul suggests ‘prayer without ceasing’, by studying the Word daily, and by making it all real by practicing what we have learned on our neighbors… and giving “our neighbor” a very broad definition!
Closing Prayer: Father we thank you for the layers of guidance and wisdom you have revealed to us. May we take the time to reflect on what this sermon has meant for us, specifically. May we then do what is right in your sight and may we do it to no glory of our own, but glory only to you. In the name of your Christ, Amen.