October 4, 2020, When We Are Not Ready For Grace, Pastor David Tatgenhorst
Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20 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. 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. 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.[a] 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 God upon you so that you do not sin.”
As usual, we take a moment for reflection and prayer as we get ready to share our thoughts on the text for this morning. In silence gather your thoughts on your response to hearing again the 10 commandments. We ask God to be with us as we listen and open ourselves to these words.
October 4, 2020 When We are Not Ready for Grace St. Luke UMC
I heard about a Sunday School Teacher who was discussing the Ten Commandments with her five and six year olds. After explaining the commandment to "Honor" thy Father and thy Mother, he asked, "Is there a commandment that teaches us how to treat our brothers and sisters?" Without missing a beat, one little boy (the oldest of a family) answered, "Thou shall not kill.”
There are a fair number of jokes out there about the 10 commandments. I think there’s kind a tension around them, an unease, knowing that we humans manage to follow a percentage of them, but that we usually are not on top of the whole thing. We think of the 10 commandments as law that we are not good at living up to, and we’re pretty sure that somebody deserves some punishment for the transgressions
Well, that’s true, to some extent. We all fall short, including the little boy tempted to kill his brother and sister. I want to propose today though, that we shift our perspective on the 10 commandments - to understand that they are a gift from God, a real gift to help us live our lives not in worry and fear of a God of rules and punishment, but with a sense of connection and cooperation with a God of Love.
When I saw this passage in the lectionary this week, I was particularly uneasy, because we have so recently confronted together a blatant violation of the 10 commandments in our larger church community. The violation has created a ton of problems and contention, and not a little bit of confusion about how to react, how much to talk about it, how open to be, how to deal with a memorial service, and a family, and people who have been grievously wounded and violated. Well, that’s what happens when we mess up so badly. And that’s why I’m calling the 10 commandments a gift - not just a set of laws to be feared and worry about, but a gift from God for living.
You see, this is one of the central convictions of the Jewish and Christian faiths - that human life is to be lived before God , and that such life has order and structure, constituted by God’s commandments. The 10 commandments, according to tradition, were given to a group of people who had been liberated from slavery, and were just beginning to be God’s people in a new land. The commandments were received by Moses as a gift from God, as a revelation of who their God was and is, and how they are called to live.
This gift comes to them to show them how to shape their lives as a community and as individuals to be worthy of the God who has rescued them and created a covenant with them - a new way to live. They have a balance to them and they help us to live in connection with our deepest selves and with God.
Remember that the first 5 commandments talk about how to relate to God - to love God before anything else, to respect God’s name and to keep a sabbath day for rest - not just for worship, but for a break from working. And the fifth is to honor your father and mother - to respect the family that first teaches the connection with God - if things are working right.
The second tablet of 5 commandments, then talk about how to relate to other people - to love our neighbor as ourselves - to not kill, to not commit adultery, to not steal, to not lie, and to not covet or envy what someone else has. Jesus of course, summarizes all the commandments into “Love God with all your heart, and your neighbor as yourself.”
Part of the gift is the delicate balance among these sets of teachings. (They are teachings, you see. Sometimes the word commandments itself gets in our way.) Here’s what I mean by balance - some forms of evangelical Christianity emphasize the love of God so much that the love of neighbor and stranger seems to get lost. And on the other hand some forms of liberalism and social gospel emphasize the love of one neighbor that they don’t root that love in understanding the love of God, the love of the Creator of all things. The way we attend to God shapes the way we attend to our neighbor and the way we attend to our neighbor shapes the way we attend to God.
So you can see, when we violate the teachings - and all of us do, the whole community gets out of balance. The commandments are meant for community and they help bring us back to God’s community. When everything gets out of whack, the gift of the commandments helps to bring us all back. They are not for beating up the one person we can find who broke a commandment. (As much as we’d like to pick up a tablet and bash somebody with it, that’s not what they’re for.) They are teachings to bring all of us back into balance - for all of us to reach for loving God and loving neighbor. That’s why we are so interested in restorative justice, finding ways to help people restore harm that they’ve caused and to come back into community and balance.
Sometimes we are not ready for grace - the grace of restoring community, the grace of accepting or giving forgiveness. That’s just the truth. Sometimes somebody violates the community in a way that it’s really hard to find a way back. But God is always offering a way to all of us. God’s grace is in the Hebrew scriptures as much as in the New Testament, and God’s push to renew the covenant is as present in Christianity as it is in Judaism. Different communities get lost in different ways, emphasizing punishment without a way back to community or emphasizing forgiveness without finding a way to restore wholeness. We all get lost in different ways, but God is always offering a gift to us, a gift of grace, a gift of restoring of balance. It’s not just for somebody else, it’s not just for the one person we think is lost. It’s for all of us.
We may not be ready for it. Sometimes it hurts too much to offer or accept God’s love, but it’s right there. It’s always right here for healing and for renewal of the whole community of God. As we come to the table of grace, we remember particularly this morning that we are part of a whole world community, a global community of love all struggling to get the balance right. We eat and we drink of God love, God’s grace, to renew God’s way in our midst and in our world. This is God’s good news.