Sunday, March 6, 2011

Epiphany 6A

Just what we want to hear on a fine Sunday morning, isn’t.  “My Father gave this set of laws to Abraham, but I’m here to tell you, it is not enough, you have heard it said, but no…I say to you…”

But wait… didn’t Jesus do something on the cross to fulfill the Law?  We might even say the Law doesn’t apply because we live by grace…well yes, but…

True the law, the Ten Commandments were written for the Israelites long ago. Yet if we look at them they reveal God's love, not just for the Israelites, but for us as well. If we follow them, not only do we keep from sin, but we are protected from making choices that are harmful to us and to those around us.  Truly.  Think about it.

The first four commandments have to do with our relationship with God. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make false idols. You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God. Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy.
They show us how to be in relationship with God and his call to worship him. These are pure and without man made additions. There is nothing in these that tell us what we must do here in this sanctuary. They are purely about worshiping God.

We must place God first. It is God we are to worship, not this place or even our prayer book, it is God alone. 

We are not to use God's name wrongly. 

We are to keep the Sabbath holy. It is to be a day of worship and of rest following God's example of resting after his loving work of creation. There are no rules in here for how to do that, just the command that we do so.

The remaining commandments are about how we treat others. There is no need for me to go into painful detail about them. They are pretty straight forward. They tell us how to live in relationship with others. How to seek and serve Christ in all persons, how to strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being.

So then, do the Ten Commandments apply to us as 21st century Christians? Absolutely. While they are ripe with agricultural overtones of days of old, we are still called to these things. They affirm the new commandment we live in, you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your strength and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.
That is what makes following God so simple. It is straight forward. We are to love God and our neighbor as ourselves. On this commandment hang all the law and the prophets.
Just when we think we can do that along comes Jesus who tells us not only are we to follow these laws in an outward way, a way that is seen by others.  These laws are also to become so important to us that we follow them inwardly, in our very hearts as well.  In that place where no one but God sees.  Yep, that secret place no one goes, sometimes not even us.
So not only are we not to murder, we are to live and hold true to the law to the point we do not become angry or insult a brother or sister.  But Jesus, did you hear what he said about me?  Did you see what she did to me?  No, not only are you not to murder, you are not to call names, if you do?  You will be liable to the hell of fire.

We are to make amends, to be reconciled to, to come to terms with our accusers.  If something in our lives causes us to sin, we are to cut that off, get rid of it. 

This is where it gets difficult, isn’t it.  Holding a grudge can make us feel righteous.  Being angry gives us energy.  Gossiping about someone makes us feel better about ourselves.  And besides, it was not our fault, it was their fault!  I didn’t do it!  He did!  She did!  It is reliving that long drive sitting next to our brother or sister in the backseat.

Jesus says, no!  Turn the other cheek; give the clothes off your back.  None of our excuses, justifications, or behaviors are acceptable.  Jesus continues to call us to love.  That’s all.  Love.  Not love in the way that many will celebrate tomorrow.  The love of hearts and roses and cupids.
Instead we are called to love to the point we let others hurts us, to lay down our very lives for them.  The evidence that we follow Christ is not in our theology, or even that we go to church. The evidence that we follow Christ is seen in how we treat one another.

The one thing Jesus taught about most was love. It was not romantic love. Jesus taught a self-emptying kind of love.  A love that binds us together in a relational and spiritual way. A love that thinks of the other before the self. The love that is willing to lay down one’s life for a friend.  The love that Jesus lives and died for, and calls us to. The love that led him to the cross.  The cross he would have climbed up on even if you were the only one on this earth.

Real love isn’t blind. It isn’t ignorant of the facts. Real love is love that continues despite the facts. Real love finds the way to move on despite failure and disappointment.
God is the transforming power of love. It is that very love that allows us to meet those commands outwardly and makes us desire to meet them inwardly.  Yet how many of us will never get angry? Or covet? Or judge someone (even if just in our heads and hearts)?

On our own, we cannot.  That is why need Christ’s first gift the Holy Spirit.  We need the transformation that happens in our hearts as we let Christ have more and more of it.  That continuing conversion in our lives.   Each time we love, each time we give sacrificially of our time and talents, each time we turn the other cheek, we come closer to following the laws in the way Jesus meant for us to.

Remember, it is a journey, a lifelong attempt to become more like Jesus and less like the world around us.  It is through this community, in the sacraments we share together, and on the very cross that allow us to call one another us brothers and sisters that we are able to get closer and closer to the mark.  It is not something we can put on our to do list, our Iphone or our Blackberry.  For most of us it will be a life long struggle.

So let us keep coming together in this place in order to be strengthened and renewed that more and more our inward lives become a reflection of our outward lives.

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