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After the events of this past week and all that has taken place, I wanted to preach a ‘simple sermon’ this morning. And so this morning, we will consider the 10 Commandments. A very small subject. My first thought was that in the 20 minutes that we usually devote to a sermon, I would give each Commandment a simple, 2 minute explanation. But even that seemed like it would probably get too complicated.
So, this morning I want to make just one, simple point about the 10 Commandments. And the simple point is this: “The 10 Commandments are good.” To which the proper liturgical response would be: “well daahh.”
So, let’s give it a try and see how it goes.
“You shall have no other gods besides Me.” So, right off the bat, we’ve got a problem. We’re already not so sure that this commandment is good. It’s a little too restrictive. Everyone knows that the problem with Christianity is that it’s too darn exclusive and needs to be more inclusive of other religions and other gods. This commandment is not good.
“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord, your God.” This is a good commandment. The name of God is precious and sacred, to be treated with honor and dignity – not to be misused. In fact, we think this commandment is so good that we hesitate to use God’s name at all for fear of misusing it. It’s better to just let the pastor use God’s name. He’s been properly trained.
“You shall honor the Sabbath day and keep it holy.” We’re pretty convinced that this is not a good thing really. Sometimes the Sabbath day interferes with kids or family or business or leisure – and when it comes right down to it – these are the things that feel duty bound to honor and keep holy.
“You shall honor your father and your mother.” Parents tend to think this is a real good commandment. Children tend to think it’s a bad one. Parents think it would be good if children had more respect for their elders than they do. That’s the problem with the world today, you know. The problem is with the politicians. They are such jerks who have baked beans for brains.” But, yea, I think that the 4th Commandment is good. Children should honor their parents.
“You shall not kill.” Everyone agrees that this is a good commandment. Unless of course it’s a life you didn’t plan on having or is too old to take care of itself or too handicapped to be productive. Then we think that this good commandment is really bad.
“You shall not commit adultery.” This commandment is still open for debate. A lot depends on just which kind of adultery you’re talking about here. Are we talking about ‘same sex,’ ‘pre-marital sex,’ ‘extra-marital sex,’ ‘casual sex,’ or ‘cyber-sex?’ As long as it’s ‘consensual,’ what’s the harm?
“You shall not steal.” This is a good commandment. No one should steal what belongs to someone else. Where this gets confusing of course is when God says that everything belongs to Him and expects us to be good stewards of it. He expects us to give away 10% of what He gives us – and anything less than that He calls – stealing. So, if you just ignore all that, the 7th commandment is good.
“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” Good commandment. But then again, this one is just about words and a little gossip about someone else is fun. And besides, everyone knows we didn’t really mean what we said. Right?
“You shall not covet.” Good commandment. We all agree, it’s good to be content with what we have. But if it’s good to be content with what we have – just think of how much more content we’d be if we had what we see that or neighbor has.
So maybe my attempt to preach a simple sermon titled, “The 10 Commandments are good” is not going to be so simple after all.
But of course we think that the 10 Commandments are good. At least, generally speaking. They’re good for society. (Have you ever noticed that this is always the move we make when we’d like to get the spotlight off of us?)
The 10 Commandments are good for society. We all agree that the problem with this country today is that we’ve taken the 10 Commandments out of the courtrooms and schools. But I wonder, how many of us who feel that these commandments are good for society and therefore on display, have them on display anywhere in our own home – say, on their refrigerator along side the number for Chinese Take Out.
I wonder how many of us who say that the 10 Commandments are so good – can actually recite them – and explain what they mean – both in the negative, what we should not do – and in the positive, what we should do?
If you’re a good Lutheran, you have a ready answer for my cynicism. The reason you don’t have the 10 Commandments posted anywhere in your home and pay little or no attention to them is because you know that they are not necessary for your salvation. You know that you are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, for Christ’s sake alone – and not by the keeping of the 10 Commandments.
And that is very true, and I’m sure Luther would be very proud of you. In fact, the 10 Commandments are NOT GOOD for getting into heaven. The 10 Commandments are a BAD thing if you think that by keeping them, you can earn your way into God’s love and favor.
Actually, when you read the whole story, what you see is that while Moses was on the mountain receiving the 10 Commandments from God, God also gave Moses the instructions for the building of an altar. And along with the altar came detailed instructions for acceptable sacrifices for the people to make on that altar for forgiveness for not keeping the 10 Commandments.
When God gave the 10 Commandments, He already knew that we would not be able to keep them perfectly enough to be perfect in His sight. Our perfection before God only comes through the atoning sacrifice of an innocent lamb who sheds its blood for guilty sinners.
So then, why then did God give us the 10 Commandments? Answer: Because they’re good. Not for God. God doesn’t need anything in these 10 Commandments. Whether we keep them or break them doesn’t change God’s life at all.
God gives the 10 Commandments because they’re good – FOR US. We need them, our neighbor needs them, our society needs them, the whole world needs them. If we all lived according to the 10 Commandments, life would be GOOD.
If we lived by the 4th commandment and children honored the parents and other authorities, from Presidents to School Teachers to Policemen… just think of how GOOD that would be for us all.
If we lived by the 5th commandment and treated human life as the sacred and holy gift from God that it is, and did all that we could to support our neighbor in every bodily need… what a safe world this would be for all of us.
If we lived by the 6th commandment, marriages and families would be the places of refuge and security and loving care that they were meant by God to be.
If we lived by the 7th commandment and no one stole anything from anyone, how freely would we be willing to share what we have, both with our neighbor and with the Lord.
And if we lived by the 8th commandment and everyone put the best possible construction on everything we said about everyone else, without adding even the smallest spark of gossip, we’d be free to be our own unique selves without worrying about what others will say or think or whether we would be accepted or rejected.
And if we lived by the 9th and 10th Commandments and were actually CONTENT with what we have – how good would that be. Grateful for all that we actually DO have and not the least envious of what we don’t have.
The 10 Commandments are good. They’re good for us. And if we lived by them, our lives would be good.
I know that all of this sounds pretty utopian and idealistic and completely impossible. But what is impossible for us, is just the kind of thing to which God loves to say, ‘watch this.’ If we think that God has given us these 10 Commandments as an IMPOSSIBLE DREAM, knowing that we can never live up to them – you’ve got it all wrong. Your God is too small.
St. Paul says, “God works all things for GOOD to those who love Him.” (Romans 8:28). And the 10 Commandments are the very definition of what is GOOD – not just GOOD in general, but GOOD spelled out in 10 point detail.
When God created the world in six days and put the man and the woman in the garden of Eden to tend it and care for it, it was “very good.” The 10 Commandments were the way of life in the beginning, and they were the only way of life – and so life was GOOD, VERY GOOD.
Of course, the serpent convinced Adam and Eve that these 10 Commandments were not really GOOD, in fact, they were really BAD. “You shall have other gods.”
So, God sent another Adam, a 2nd Adam, into the world who believed that the 10 Commandments were GOOD, if for no other reason that God gave them to us – and God is GOOD. And He kept them – perfectly. Both according to the letter and according to the spirit.
And now God is making all things GOOD again through HIM. By His atoning sacrifice on the cross shaped altar, and by His resurrection on the 3rd day and His ascension into heaven, God has once again declared His “very good” over His creation. For Jesus’ sake, who kept the Commandments perfectly, He credits everyone who is IN JESUS with His perfect obedience to His Law.
The realization of that hasn’t come yet, at least not for us. In heaven it has. Life in heaven is lived according to the 10 Commandments – not by compulsion or by the law’s demands. But each and every saint in heaven is delights in the law of the Lord, and is able to live by it as easily and naturally as it is for them to love the Lord God with all their heart and soul and mind and their neighbor as themselves.
I know it seems like a terribly painful adjustment to go from our miserable condition here and now to that blessed condition in heaven. Change is hard and this one seems so radical. But this is where we are headed. This is where the world is headed.
Seems to me it would be smart if we started to make the adjustment now.