The following is the manuscript from a sermon I wrote for this past weekend. I preached it at the Saturday night service and it did not go well as a spoken sermon. This is due partly to the fact that I didn’t follow my manuscript well and the projectionist got lost, and partly to the fact that it was just too much information for such a small amount of time. I simplified it and preached an alternate version on Sunday morning that seemed to flow better as a speech-act.
I post this version now because I think there is a sketch here for a future paper. This is an important connection between the Entangled Trinity1 and the Ten Commandments/Ten Words found in the Law of Moses.
Faithful to God’s Promise for Community | Exodus 20:12-24
June 28, 2014
When my kids were little I used to play a little trick on them.
Sometimes they would start getting really upset and they would twist up there face and be really angry. I would get this really stern look on my face and say, “Now, whatever you do, don’t smile! Don’t do it. Don’t smile!”
It was fascinating to watch their little minds processing this command. First a corner of their mouth would go up, and they would force it back down into a frown. Then the other side would go up and they would resist. Eventually, the smile would win out and they would admit defeat and we would start laughing. It usually ended up with someone getting tickled.
That’s a cute story, but as I was thinking about it, I think it was dangerous parenting. I mean, what was I thinking? It’s classic reverse psychology, right? Yet, why does it work? It works because inside each of us there is this natural desire to defy the instructions that we are given. I was feeding the beast of rebellion in my children in order to bypass their immediate anger.
Strange isn’t it?
One of the natural processes of human development is the need to find freedom.
We are raised within a family system and a society that tells us what to do our whole life. As we enter adolescence we want more than anything to be what? Free!
Let me ask you a question. What is freedom?
Turn to your neighbor and tell them what you think freedom looks like.
When we think of the word freedom we usually think it has something to do with having the ability to do anything we want to do, whenever we want to do it.
Yeah, that sounds good. Nobody telling me what to do.
Think about that first taste of freedom you had, do you remember when you got your driver’s license? My youngest child now has her driver’s permit. She is so excited for the day when she can get in that car and drive off on her own. Sweet freedom!
We are a free society, right? Our nation was built upon individual freedoms, right? This Friday we will celebrate our freedom from England. We are the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Think about that for a minute. Imagine if our society actually allowed anyone to do anything they wanted to do, any time they wanted to do it.
Am I free to come up and smack you in the face?
At one level, yes, I am free. I have the ability to choose to do that. I could come up to you and punch you right now.
What would happen if I did that? It would probably really disrupt the sermon, for one thing.
More importantly, you would have the right to press charges against me. Why? While I might have the freedom to punch you, we also live in a society where you have the freedom to not get punched in the face, or live in the constant fear of being assaulted. We have laws that protect you from me exercising my total freedom.
You see, freedom is not the absence of law.
What we have here is the tension between two important aspects of what it means to be a human being.
On the one hand we are each unique individuals, created by God, with the right to be free and express ourselves and reflect the creativity of our creator.
On the other hand, however, we do not exist apart from the relationships that we have with everything around us. We were born because of the relationship between a man and woman. We were raised within the relationships of some sort of family unity, in the context of a school and a society. All of this exists within the context of its connectedness to the earth–to water, air, sunshine, plants, and animals.
These relationships are interconnected in a delicate balance and when one individual starts hurting other parts of the system, the system usually swarms the individual and brings it into balance.
So which comes first, the individual’s rights to be free, or the larger system’s need to have balance and order?
Like most things, I think there is a continuum in which there are dangerous and destructive extremes on both ends.
On the one end there are people who think any type of law or rule of conduct is oppressive and seeks total, individual freedom. If that is how we lived, then life would be total chaos, anarchy, and we would all be enslaved by fear and survival.
On the other end is a society that creates so many rules and regulations that life becomes almost impossible to live. Individual freedom is completely stamped out, and anyone who is different from the system is exterminated.
The truth and a healthy life lies in the balance between these two extremes. How do we live in a world where we have freedom, but we maintain the fine balance of the relationships that sustain us?
I think that is exactly what the Ten Commandments are all about.
Today we come to the third in our series on the Ten Commandments.
Last week we learned that these are actually the Ten Words. We also learned that they are not direct commandments as much as they are a promise from God and a vision of God’s promised and preferred future in which we live in peaceful community.
I would like to argue that the Ten Commandments are about being “Faithful to God’s promise for Community.” Let’s say that together.
“Faithful to God’s Promise for Community.”
Last week we looked at the first table, at the words that show us how to love God. This week we look at the second table and explore the words that show us how to love each other.
I think these words show us how to maintain personal freedom while maintaining the balance of our interconnected relationships.
Let’s notice something first. Here are the two tables [graphic] Do you notice anything about them?
The words about God are long and complex.
The words about loving your neighbor are short and clear. That makes sense. God is infinite and we will never understand God.
Getting along with each other is pretty simple. Honor your parents, don’t kill, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t bear false witness.
There you have it. let’s pray.
It is that simple, but remember my opening story about the trick I played on my kids.
Imagine God looking down at us, saying, “Don’t kill, don’t commit adultery. Whatever you do, don’t do it.”
Well, I hadn’t thought about killing, but now that you mention it…
Our natural human rebellion kicks in and we start thinking of ways that we can break this law.
There are two ways that people have historically broken God’s law.
First, there is outright rebellion. We dishonor our parents, we kill, we cheat, we lie. Bam. We are lawbreakers. That one is pretty obvious and it emphasizes the individual sinner.
The second way is much more subtle, and in many ways, more dangerous. We find ways to observe the letter of the law, while internally breaking it all over the place. The more things change, the more we want to control others and make everyone conform.
If we are going to understand the Law and how it applies to us today, we need to understand two things.
First, we are naturally selfish, so we will continually find ways to break the law.
Second, society changes and laws must also change with them. It is when society resists the change that people start dying.
This is what was going on during Jesus’ day in Israel. I think if we want to really understand the Law of Moses, then we need to see what Jesus said about it. Turn to Matthew chapter 5. Matthew chapters 5-7 are Jesus explaining the Law to the people who had lived their whole lives trying to obey the Law, but completely missing the point of the Law.
In these chapters, known to us as the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus steps through the law and exposes this second form of rebellion.
Regarding murder, he says that if you hate someone, you murder them. If you call your brother a fool, you murder him.
Regarding adultery, he says that even if you lust after someone, you have committed adultery.
Jesus does two things. First he points out that everyone is a lawbreaker. We are all sinners, and any attempt to obey the law, and force others to obey the Law, is futile. The Law is not about societal conformity.
Then he brings us the Gospel. The good news.
He makes the Law super simple.
In Matthew 7:12 he says,
“Let me sum it up. Treat others the way you want to me treated. It’s that simple.”
That is why Jesus had to die. God demonstrated love to us by becoming human, completely emptying himself of all the glory and power that he had, and putting us first, so that we might have life.
It is only when we realize that this is God’s World –when we Love God with our whole heart–and we die to self, and realize that we need each other–to Love our neighbors as ourselves–that we will.
There is only one problem. We can’t do this. We don’t have the power to die to self and live to the other. That is why there is one more piece to this picture.
Remember, last week, when I reminded us what the apostle Paul said in Galatians 5:1. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. But Paul went on to say in verse 13:
For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Then, in verse 16, he gives us the key. He says, Live by the Spirit and do not gratify the desires of the flesh.
Here we see the heart of Lutheran theology and the heart of the Gospel.
Luther taught that God reveals Godself in Law and Gospel. The Law exposes the fact that we are all sinners, bent on our own self-interest, which leads to hurting others. The Gospel reminds us that, until we can die to ourself, and live for the good of the other, then we will not know life as it was intended. Eternal Life. God’s Promised and Preferred future, and we can only do this as we yield to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
What do the Ten Commandments have to do with us, today, in the United States in the 21st century. The truth is that society changes. Culture changes. The specifics of Law change from age to age. The specific laws of Moses don’t apply to our culture today.
Jesus, however, isn’t about Law.
Jesus is about the transformation of the heart and the redemption of all societies from the inside out.
When we realize that we are all Hell-bent on selfish desires, that we need a savior, that when we embrace the selflessness of the cross, die to self, then we can live for God and the good of others, and, in every circumstance ask, “what is truly doing to others what I would want done to me.” Then we might begin to actually be faithful to God’s promise of community.
- Simmons, Ernest L.. 2014. The entangled Trinity: quantum physics and theology. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. [↩]