Monday, March 12, 2012

The Gift of the Ten Commandments

Since my joke went over so well last week I have decided to risk it another week and open with a joke this week.
What is the Lutheran Ten Commandments?
Just pick your favorite five.
I suppose this joke is told because Lutherans can come across to some as antinomian, or people without the law.
We Lutheran tend to be worldly people.
We don’t refrain from drinking, playing cards, dancing, watching certain movies, reading certain books, or listening to certain music.
Martin Luther himself was a rather crass person.
He used inappropriate words, drank beer, and used tavern music to make hymns.
But we should not mistake this for a person who thought less of the law.
In fact, anyone who has ever spent time with Luther’s Catechism knows that Luther had a very high respect for the Ten Commandments.
In fact, I would argue he elevated them.
He made them into more than mere window dressing we put over our religious nature to pretend that everything is fine.
He went deeper into the meaning of the Commandments and set the bar so high that it is impossible for us to obtain what Luther believed about the commandments.
First and foremost Luther saw the commandments as pointing us towards our sin, and therefore drawing us closer to Jesus Christ who saves us.
For Luther our true selves are revealed when we tried to play God and pretend that we could be “good Christians” by simply following a set of laws.

What then do we say this morning about the Ten Commandments?
First it must be said that the commandments are a gift from God.
We should not despise them because they point us to what God would intend for our lives if we could escape our sin.
The commandments were meant to be a gift to Israel who up to this point are wondering in the desert.
The Ten Commandments becomes the way in which Israel can find the good life they are searching for.
God loves them enough to give them these commandments as a way to live a full life God intended.
I don’t have time this morning to go through each commandment one by one.
That sermon would take too long and well you probably wouldn’t stay to listen anyway.
So I want to concentrate on just one commandment.
I want us to think about how our lives would be if we could just follow one of the commandments.
I would like to concentrate on the commandment that tells us not to covet.
Imagine how good our lives would/could be if we simply did not covet.
If we could somehow find contentment in our lives, how good our lives would be.
If we did not measure our worth based on what other people had we could find joy in simply being who God made us to be.
If we did not covet, every day we would be able to wake and count our blessings.
I know for me I often covet things that others have.
A friend who gets a new television set.
I covet when a colleague who preaches so eloquently that I only wish to someday be able to explain the Gospel in such a way.
God gave us this commandment because to live by it would mean a blessing for each of us.
I know that I am always searching for contentment.
I am praying that I will be able to be satisfied with my life and the things in it.
Because the truth is that my life is nothing but blessings.
I have a great job, a wonderful wife, two great kids, a roof over my head, plenty of food on the table.
Life is good.
But there is that part of me always wanting something better.
Looking at someone else and thinking that perhaps if I just had what they had then I would really be happy.

Friday and Saturday our youth group fasted for 30 hours.
We raised money for poverty around the world.
But I think we did something that was of extraordinary spiritual value.
We reminded ourselves of what the blessings we have.
By not eating we were reminded of how much we get to eat.
I told the kids that the spiritual discipline of fasting hopefully produces two results.
On the one hand, we learn to be thankful for what we have.
We learn to be content with what God has given.
And secondly, we learn that this world is not fair or just.
That for someone living on this planet, a planet that God made and gave us all plenty of food, not to eat for 30 hours is just wrong.

Notice that being content is not the same thing as being complacent.
I should be content with what I have, but I should never be complacent about the state of the world as it currently is.
I have an obligation and a call by God to do everything in my power to make it different.
I have a call to make sure that all children not just my own, but all children go to bed at night safe and fed.

Luther in the Catechism says that it is not enough to merely not want what our neighbors have.
We should also, “be of help and service to (our neighbor) in keeping what is theirs.”
Our thoughts should not be only about our own happiness and desires but also of that of our neighbor so that we aid them in attaining the same things that we enjoy.
By doing this we truly live contented lives because we are not concerned with our neighbor getting more than what we have.

During lent it is always good to take time and thank God for our lives.
To look at our lives and be content with what we have.
What would your life be like if you could be content with what God has given?
How much better would it be?
I guarantee that life lived in thankfulness is better than one lived always thinking of the things that we don’t have.
St. Paul wrote in his letter to Philippians, “for I have learned to be content with whatever I have.”
I pray to God that we too might learn to be content with whatever we have.

We can see from this one commandment what great spiritual gains we would have to learn not to covet.
We see that our lives would be so much better if we could learn to be content .

Why then don’t we do it?
I would suggest that the problem with the law is that we use it as a measuring stick.
Instead of seeing it as a gift that God has given us to help us live a more godly life, we use as a way to judge ourselves and others.
It is always the danger with the law.
The law stops becoming something that gives life and instead becomes for us a way to decide who is a better Christian than others.
Who is more religious than others.

This is precisely why we need Christ.
We need Christ because Jesus reminds us of our true selves.
Jesus reminds us that without God as the center of life we cannot do it on our own.
The key to our contentment is for me to release myself absorption to God.
I know that I cannot by myself of my own free will choose to be content.
But knowing God more leads to a more content life.
I can see that all the things I have in my life are really just temporary.
They all can go away.
The only thing that I can really count on is God.
The commandment when see through this prism are not about being good so that I can please God.
Rather they become about learning to trust God in all things.
The commandments help us to know God and know what God has created in our lives.
To admit the things that God needs to redeem in our lives, and to rely on God to make us holy through the Holy Spirit.
Through this process we can see all the things that God has given us and be thankful.
We can admit when we have been ungrateful to God for this life.
And we can trust that God will continue to make us more content with life.

God gave us the Ten Commandments because God loves us and wants us to have life and have it in abundance.
When we hear God’s word we learn of God’s love for us and we desire to have our lives shaped by God alone.
May we all continue to hear God’s word and allow the Holy Spirit to shape us so that we might learn to live a contented life, because of the riches of Jesus Christ.

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