The Love of Neighbor - Decalogue IV
A Homily for Advent IV
December 20, 2020
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
Text: Exodus 20:12-21
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Today we wrap up our exploration of the Decalogue – over the last month, I hope and pray that we have been encouraged to see God’s incredible holiness, his incredible love for us, and our need for his kindness and mercy in our lives.
There is nothing more central to the Christmas story than the intermingling of those things – for as nice as it is to spend time with family, to laugh over large dinners, to exchange gifts, and drink mulled cider – but the incarnation of Jesus Christ is why we gather.
The fact that God became man and dwelt among us –
that Christ was willing to humble himself for us.
That our savior is called Immanuel – God is with us.
These are the reasons which we gather to celebrate – these are the reasons we sing hymns. Because God came down to redeemer sinners such as you and me, to give us life and to be our hope.
Sometimes its hard to grasp sin – sometimes it is hard to see the ways in which we fail to love God. But God in his wisdom created man and woman in His own image, created humanity to reflect him and remind the world that it belongs to God.
So, even if we may not see the ways in which our relationship with God is suffering – we can see our sin pronounced in how we relate to other people – and this morning we come to the last six words – the last six commandments that tell us how we shall live.
Honor your Father and Mother.
You shall not murder.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not bear false witness.
You shall not covet.
These are basic societal norms. Few societies have thought, “hey, it’s okay to treat your family poorly.”
Few societies have endorsed taking a life.
Few societies have thought adultery to be okay.
Most societies have valued property rights in some form another.
Most societies have held that telling the truth is a virtue.
But this list is more than just a list of things that make someone a good person.
No – This list tells us something about the nature of God – shows us the ways in which we’ve failed to love God and our neighbor – and reflects God’s goodness in his created order and where we are being sanctified towards by the strength of the Holy Spirit.
We can get stuck on the minutia of these commandments and miss the point – that God’s hope for His people is to create a Holy people – a people set aside – a people consecrated to His service. As such these laws are there for the process of converting our heart.
One of the most beautiful pieces of imagery in scripture is this idea that God will take our hearts of stone – and replace them with hearts of flesh.
Have you ever felt hard hearted – have you ever felt like your heart was incapable of being able to feel? Have you ever felt like where the thing that should be pumping blood through your body should be, there is a lump of stone?
I suspect we have all felt this pain in one form another – with the inability to forgive someone, the inability to care for someone, the depth and breadth of pain that we often feel in this world. Or perhaps we have messed up big time – and as mental darkness sets in – we wonder – how could God ever love someone like me? We wonder how we could cover up that sin. Our heart becomes this lump.
Yet, to us in that darkness God has promised to give us hearts of flesh. He has promised to replace that hard heart – with a tender heart.
And the Law shows us that we cannot get that heart without Christ. The law shows us that we must be come utterly dependent upon God.
The first word this morning - Honor your Father and Mother. Acts as a middle point between the laws about honoring God and honoring our fellow man.
Parents hold a special place in the order of creation – there is no other way to create human life. You need a man and a woman to come together – even with new technology – you still need a man and a woman to create life.
Parents – in a very real way can reflect the way in which God has behaved. A person cannot be cooked up in a petri dish, a child cannot be formed out of nothing – but rather a creative act is necessary – and in this way the parents reflect God.
This tells us – that paternal love for a child should reflect the love of God for his people.
And we read so often about God’s love being like that of a good father’s – we read so often of God’s love being better than even the love of good parents.
While this commandment does not come out and say it – it is implied that parents are called to love their children as God loves us. Parents – you are called to love sacrificially.
But likewise – children, you learn to love God by learning to love your parents. In the best of circumstances – when there are good parents – you see what God’s love looks like.
In the worst of circumstance – in hard relationships – you see how much better God’s love if than the love of the world. You see his sustaining and tender care. The parental relationship – in its creative power, in its nurturing care – is designed to reflect God’s love for his people.
You shall not murder.
Here we have three things to keep in mind – the plain reading – that murder is bad, second, the value of a human life, and finally, what Christ tells us about this.
Taking a human life is a terrible thing to do – when we read this – the word used describes the violent destruction of another’s life. While there’s lots of debate as to whether this could be used in support of pacificism, this does not seem to be the case.
Rather, it seems to be how our translation has rendered it – the vile act of murdering another is what God had in mind and this seems to be consistent with the whole witness of scripture. For in murdering another you literally destroy another life – you literally destroy one who is created in the image of God.
But it also tells us of the incredible value of a human life
– and here is where we want to pause –
A human being is created in the image of God – created to reflect his glory and goodness in this world. When a life is taken – this shows us the heart.
As such – we should never take death lightly – we should always champion life.
We should mourn and fight against abortion,
we should mourn war and pray for peace,
we should despise violence.
I do not want to say here that there is never a time to go to war – certainly there have been times in the past where it was necessary, nor do I mean to say that that there is never a time to defend one’s self or the lives of the most vulnerable amongst us – but we should not celebrate death, we should not celebrate violence but rather we celebrate the gift of life and mourn death. Mourn that which reminds us of the fall – and focus on Him who is the giver of life.
This morning I found myself reading an article about a professor who was known to have a rather caustic way of engaging with others. Earlier this year he posted a tweet that many found offensive and this led to his forced early retirement. From there he received uncountable tweets, and emails filled with vitriol and hatred, filled with vile threats
– this hatred pushed him to suicide.
In a very real way – this hatred was more than just vile words
– it was murder.
Christ tells us that to hate our brother is as bad as murder.
In hatred – we severe and destroy and possibility for reconciliation, in hatred, we murder relationships, in hatred we destroy the person’s humanity – even if we do not destroy the person himself.
God does not hate humanity in their sinfulness but hates their sinful actions. God hates the thing that has separated his creation from Himself.
We can acknowledge the hurt that we have been exposed to, we can acknowledge the pain another has caused us to experience – but we also pray for their redemption, we pray for reconciliation, we pray for healed hearts.
Hatred makes hope for redemption impossible and diminishes the humanity of our brothers and sisters.
Leave no quarter for hatred in your hearts.
You shall not commit adultery – here we have three things we must ponder – first the sanctity of marriage and second how our marriages reflect God’s love for his people, and finally what God says about this.
The surface reading of this again – simply tells us of how important the sanctity of the family is. As we learned – it is in the family that life is created – it is here that we gain a bond and depth. It is here that we learn to reflect God’s love for his people.
But – scripture routinely tells us that God’s love for his people is like that of a husband’s love for his wife. Yet – his people – yet we – have a horrible tendency of wandering off. We have a horrible tendency to long for other gods.
Marriage teaches men and women to lay down their lives – to put another first and likewise – it shows us our tender need for God – it shows us his tender care for us. For in our imperfect love of our spouse – we are reminded of how God loves us perfectly – how God came down as Immanuel to pursue us – to draw us to Himself.
God loves you perfectly, God pursues you perfectly, where we have often failed to love, even those closest to us. But still God pursues.
Finally, like with the commandment against murder – Christ takes us deeper – Christ tells us that even to lust is to commit adultery in your heart.
We live in a time where we do not take sexual purity seriously – we do not discipline our mind – we do not seek Christ in these things. Rather, the world tells us to take what we want – tells us that nothing is all that important except for pleasure.
But this too diminishes our personhood and the others personhood.
Lust turns another into an object – it makes the person someone whom we seek to rule over.
My friends, if you struggle with lust – seek the Holy Spirit’s help, pray for a repentant heart, find ways to have help with accountability.
Give lust no quarter in your life. It is not trivial, but rather affects how you relate to others – and affects how you related to God.
Do not be mistaken – lust is deadly.
In some ways – you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness, and you shall not covet can almost be lumped together. For they all, again diminish our relationship with others. They all rebel against God’s goodness.
For in stealing – we seek to take more than God has given, we seek to ruin another’s life for our own benefit, we seek to be our own god so that we can have what is not ours, nor what God has not given.
In bearing false witness we wreck our soul, as we seek to wreck another’s soul. We all know the pain of when someone says something that is untrue about us – and we cause the same pain when we try to tear down another with words.
But here this is another way to look at this – we are often prone to thinking we are functionally okay on our own, that our hearts are good and pure.
Yet, I think for a lot of us, as we reflect upon the Decalogue, as we think about what God has said to us – we start to see that maybe our heart aren’t quite as pure as we thought aren’t quite as good as we thought.
If we let ourselves or others think that we are fine without God, that our hearts are good – we bear false witness to ourselves.
No, we need God – we need Christ’s redemption – we are dead without him. This command reminds us of our need for God – for we would bear false witness if we say anything other than remind ourselves and others of our desperate need for Christ.
But now – I want to talk about covetousness. In my early twenties, a lot of my friends started to get married, by my mid-twenties they started to have kids.
It was hard for me to watch – I had wanted to get married t00, I had wanted kids of my own, and at times, I wondered “why do they get to meet someone and get married? Why do they get that joy of holding a new born?”
It was painful – but what was worse was a little part of me started to resent them – started to feel somehow superior to them. And as ashamed as I am to admit it – I resented God.
It is impossible to love someone while resenting them, it is impossible to rejoice with someone while wondering why you are not blessed in the same way. It is even more impossible to be grateful to God – if you resent that he has not given you the gifts that you want.
I remember there was a moment, or at least a season, where I realized, by the grace of God, how destructive my attitude was – how it was destroying my ability to love my friends well and to rejoice in God’s goodness.
No – we are called to rejoice in the gifts that God has given us – big or small – rejoice in how faithful he has been to us and we cannot do this with covetousness. Rather – God transforms our hearts to be hearts that are grateful for the gifts that he gives us freely.
The law reveals to us God’s deep care for humanity, the law reveals to us our deep need for Him. The law reveals to us that it is in the mercy we find in Christ alone that will redeem us and renew us.
As we enter into Christmastide later this week – we are reminded that God – came into the world to save sinners – the incredibly good news of the incarnation. We are reminded that God is with us. And while we may tremble as the Israelites did at the base of Mount Sinai, seeing the power of God – seeing Christ being led to the cross on mount calvary.
We are also reminded that in the incarnation, in the crucifixion, in the resurrection, and in the ascension, we invited into the presence of God – we are freed from our fear of condemnation, and given a holy love that drives our fear of the world, and a holy fear that drives us to our knees before our good and Holy God.
As we come to Christmas later this week – let our hearts be moved with awe – for though we have all gone astray, though we have fallen short of the glory of God, for though outside of Christ we were dead – Christ came into the world to save sinners – and he has done this – what more could we want for Christmas? What more could we desire than to be given intimacy with Christ?
No matter how deeply the world may tremble – if we keep our eyes on this as our Christmas hope – if we keep our eyes on Christ as the hope of Christmas – then it will indeed be a very merry Christmas.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.