Saturday, February 12, 2011

Ten Commandments on Steroids?

Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Matthew 5:17-37

This is our third week of reading portions of the Sermon on the Mount. The first week we read the Beatitudes, and thought about what it means to be in need, and to be a blessing to people in need. Last week, we pondered being salt and light in Jesus’ name.
At first reading, today’s part of the Sermon on the Mount seems like the Ten Commandments on steroids. But there’s much more to it than that.
Let’s start with the Hebrew Testament reading, which is the end of Moses’ sermon, given shortly before his death. Obey God’s commandments, and you choose life and blessings; turn away to other gods and you are choosing death and curses.
Early in my time at seminary, my class went to the local synagogue for evening worship. To my surprise, worship that evening was a special occasion: Simchat Torah. On this date, Jews give thanks for the giving of the Torah, the gift of the replacement tablets Moses brought down the mountain for the people. On this day, Jews start the year-long reading of the Torah from the beginning, with Genesis chapter 1. The sermon was about the importance of this day, naturally, and the importance of the Torah in their lives.
If we understand the Torah – the first five books of the Hebrew Testament – to be about Law – about rules and regulations – we independent folks are likely to resent and resist it. But if we understand it as a gift, we can embrace it and rejoice in it as the Jews do. For the Jewish people, the Torah represents relationship: the relationship between us and God, and relationship between and among humans. God loves us enough to give us rules which lead to healthy relationships.
We might contrast the Ten Commandments with the practices of other religions of the time, which were in essence bribes to the gods so they would give blessings – fertility, good weather, success in battle, and so forth. Our God’s relationship with us begins with a reminder of what God has already done for us: I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from slavery in Egypt.
Now, let’s look at the Gospel reading. Jesus has come to fulfill the Law – the Torah. Jesus has come to fulfill the relationship between humans and God, and between and among humans. Often, in people’s minds, the Commandments become a list, where one can easily say: “I didn’t murder anyone today. Check. I didn’t have sex with another guy’s wife today. Check.” In this part of Jesus’ message, he wants us to really think about how we live out the relationships we have with each other. We are to go beyond the letter of the law and look for and obey the meaning of the law.
Luther does this very well in his explanations of the Commandments. Each explanation begins: We should fear and love God so that … . Luther then states both a negative – a Do not – and a positive – do. We should not harm our neighbors in any way, and we should do everything we can to support them. We should not take anything that belongs to our neighbors, and we should do whatever we can to help our neighbors keep what belongs to them.
When we fear –I prefer to use the word revere – when we revere God, we remember that God is God and we are not. When we revere God, we remember that we have a relationship with God based on God’s love and care for us as God’s children. When we revere God, we remember that God wants us to respect and care for each other as God’s children, also. If we remember that each person is God’s child, it should be harder for us to mistreat each other; harder for us to murder, lust, reject, and lie about others.
In the reign of God, which Jesus is proclaiming in the Sermon on the Mount, all people will treat each other with fairness and with respect, as equally beloved children of God. Doing this will make us more righteous than the Pharisees.
So, what does this mean for us in daily life? Jesus gives us some starting points, which I have modified into some advice for us today.
·         Resolve anger with dialogue, respectful dialogue that avoids judgment. Forgiveness for someone who has hurt us is more for ourselves than for the other person.
·         Work hard at marriage so it is not necessary to look outside the relationship for satisfaction.
·         Treat each other kindly, and with justice. No one should be considered a worthless person.
·         Tell the truth about others. If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.
·         Say what is true for yourself, so your words match your heart.
This advice applies in our personal lives, in our work lives, in our community relationships, and in our congregational lives. In all aspects of our lives, communication, truth, and justice are the keys.
In our personal lives, as we celebrate Valentine’s Day, let us share our love and God’s love with one another by communicating kindly and truthfully and justly with each other.
In our community and at work and at school, let us communicate kindly and truthfully and justly with each other even when we disagree on important topics.
At Hope, as we work faithfully to rebuild our congregation, let us work hard to remember God loves each one of us, and to communicate kindly and truthfully and justly with each other, even when we disagree with each other.
Please pray with me. Merciful God, you know our hearts; we do not always treat each other with kindness and justice. Help us to choose to follow your way in our relationships. Amen