COMMUNITY CHURCH OF THE MONTEREY PENINSULA
P. O. BOX 222811
CARMEL CA 93922
Rev. Paul Wrightman, Pastor
Independent and United Church of Christ
July 19, 2020
This week we restart our Wednesday evening Bible Study group via Zoom. We’ll be meeting from 6 through 7. I’ll be sending out complete instructions on how to access Zoom to all previous Bible Study participants on Tuesday the 21st. If you’re interested in starting or restarting to study the Bible, now would be a good time to start, as we’ll be beginning the Gospel of Luke. Just let me know if you’d like the Zoom instructions by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We continue our sermon series on the most important texts in the Bible from Genesis through Revelation. Today we conclude our discussion of those texts that Christians know as the Ten Commandments.
Stay safe. Take Good Care. And remember that Jesus IS Emmanuel – God WITH Us! Paul
WORSHIP SERVICE FOR JULY 19, 2020
INTRODUCTORY READING John O’Donohue, Contemporary
Light cannot see inside things.
That is what the dark is for:
Minding the interior,
Nurturing the draw of growth
Through places where death
In its own way turns into life.
In the glare of neon times,
Let our eyes not be worn
By surfaces that shine
With hunger made attractive.
That our thoughts may be true light,
Finding their way into words
Which have the weight of shadow
To hold the layers of truth.
That we never place our trust
In minds claimed by empty light,
Where one-sided certainties
Are driven by false desire.
When we look into the heart,
May our eyes have the kindness
And reverence of candlelight.
That the searching of our minds
Be equal to the oblique
Crevices and corners where
The mystery continues to dwell,
Glimmering in fugitive light.
When we are confined inside
The dark house of suffering
That moonlight might find a window.
When we become false and lost
That the severe noon-light
Would cast our shadow clear.
When we love, that dawn-light
Would lighten our feet
Upon the waters.
As we grow old, that twilight
Would illuminate treasure
In the fields of memory.
And when we come to search for God,
Let us first be robed in night,
Put on the mind of morning
To feel the rush of light
Spread slowly inside
The color and stillness
Of a found world.
SUGGESTED MUSIC O Jesus, I Have Promised drolas94 You Tube
OPENING PRAYER Angela Ashwin, Contemporary
I cannot fathom or hold you;
I can only ask you
to take hold of me.
I cannot grasp or contain you
in a formula or tradition;
I can only ask you to fill me with yourself,
and make me part
of the mystery of your presence
in the world.
SCRIPTURE READING: Exodus 20:17
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.
SERMON: TRUE CONTENTMENT
Pastor Paul Wrightman
(The underlinings simply mark the words I would emphasize if delivered orally.)
Our Jewish brothers and sisters do not refer to the Ten Commandments as laws, but as “teachings,” or “instructions,” or simply as “words,” meaning words of life.
What we Christians call the “Ten Commandments” are known in Judaism as God’s gracious gift of life-giving teachings, teachings that, if followed, give life direction, substance, and contentment.
These ten life-giving words are a vital part of the Torah, which itself is understood in the Jewish tradition as the way, or path, to life. The Torah consists of the first five books – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy – of what we Christians tend to call the “Old” Testament, with the mistaken implication that the “Old” has been superceded by the “New” Testament. Jesus held the Hebrew Scriptures in high esteem and explicitly states that he did not come to abolish them but to fulfill them (see Matthew 5:17).
The Torah was put together in its final edited form during the time of the Babylonian Exile. It was understood to be the lens through which the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures were to be interpreted.
Since the Torah ends abruptly with the death of Moses, before the so-called “conquest” of the Promised Land, acknowledging the primacy of Torah leads to the astonishing insight that what the Jewish people prized most highly was very, very different from what other peoples prized most highly.
Instead of territorial conquests, the formation of the nation, the exploits of famous leaders, or even the building of a magnificent temple to serve as the focal point of the national religion, what is of greatest importance to the Jewish people when seen through the lens of Torah is their relationship with God.
The Torah, although put together in its final edited form in the 500’s BCE, contains material which is much older. Among this much older material we find the “Ten Words,” or what we know as the “Ten Commandments.”
The scholarly consensus is that the Ten Commandments served as the core, the nucleus, of the covenant that God made with the Hebrew people through Moses. They are so much a part of God’s covenant, God’s relationship, with Israel, that without them there would be no Israel.
Consider the historical context. A large group of people who had been enslaved for a significant length of time in Egypt has cried out to their ancestral God. The amazing thing is that God responds to the cries of these enslaved people.
Many of us remember from our Sunday School days the story of the burning bush and the calling of Moses. What we may have forgotten, however, are the astonishing words that God speaks to Moses. Immediately after getting Moses’ attention in the theophany of a bush that burns but is not consumed, God reassures Moses by stating: “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Exodus 3:6).
Then God goes on to speak some of the most amazing words in all of Scripture. God says: “I have seen the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians…” (Exodus 3:7-8a).
As far as we can tell, this is the first time in the recorded history of any people in its dealings with God where God is revealed as taking the side of the underdog, where God is revealed as seeing, hearing, and knowing the suffering of a downtrodden group of people, and doing something about it, namely, liberating the people from slavery in the event known forever since as the Exodus.
The Exodus is seen by our Jewish brothers and sisters as the paradigmatic event in their relationship with God. Thus, at the very heart of Jewish faith and practice is the affirmation that God is primarily to be understood as a God of liberation.
Rather recently, beginning around the 1970’s, a good number of Christian biblical scholars and theologians, especially in third world countries, have acknowledged the Exodus event as being paradigmatic for Christianity as well.
Currently, the most robust and creative theology in both Judaism and Christianity is known, fittingly, as liberation theology.
Try to imagine yourself as one of a large group of Hebrew slaves that have just been freed from slavery. You have been liberated from living in servitude at the very bottom of the most hierarchical society on the planet, namely, ancient Egypt.
You have suddenly been transported from the one extreme of having your every move dictated and circumscribed to the other extreme of being completely on your own.
You are aware that the God of your people, the Hebrews, has intervened on your behalf, and you can scarcely believe that God would take up the cause of a bunch of slaves.
But, to be honest, in spite of the fact that you and your people are now free, your predominant feeling is that of a deep-seated terror that this new-found freedom will soon devolve into a free-for-all of anarchy and fear.
There are already unmistakable signs that anarchy and fear are already beginning to take over when your leader, Moses, has the people camp at the foot of the mountain, Mt. Sinai. Moses goes up the mountain to commune with this strange God of liberated slaves. In his absence the anarchy and fear that Moses has barely been able to hold at bay overwhelm the people. They choose to re-enslave themselves by making a God fashioned after the gods of Egypt, a golden calf, a fertility god who defines freedom for them as the ability to do whatever one wants.
The people are headed for self-destruction when Moses returns from the mountaintop with ten life-giving words from the God of liberation, with ten life-giving teachings that, if followed, will free them from their destructive urges and lead to fullness of life with each other and with God.
Moses explains that these teachings are the heart of God’s covenant, or relationship, with God’s people.
As Moses shares the ten life-giving words with you and your people at the foot of the mountain, you begin to get a sense of what real freedom actually looks like, of what real contentment actually feels like.
You get a glimpse of how awesome these teachings of this God of liberation are, of how they are able to transform destructive anarchy into creative order, of how they are able, over the long haul, to ensure that this new-found freedom lasts.
In short, as Moses shares these ten life-giving words with you and your people at the foot of the mountain, for the first time in your life you have a vision of a future which is open and abundant and filled-with-hope.
This is the all-important context, historical and theological, of the Ten Commandments.
What does real freedom look like? The Ten Commandments are God’s answer to that question.
The first commandment isn’t really a commandment at all, but a crucial teaching, the foundational teaching upon which all the commandments that follow are built: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Exodus 20:1-2). Thus speaks the God of liberation, constantly reminding the people of God’s mighty acts on their behalf.
In their original order, the commandments begin with God and then expand from God like concentric circles, gradually increasing their circumference to encompass life in its many dimensions.
For many of us, the commandment closest to home is the one we are looking at today, the tenth one, “You shall not covet.”
“Coveting” is an old-fashioned word which means to strongly desire something or someone that is not yours.
The operative word in this definition is not desire, which is a God-given drive that is good in and of itself; the operative meaning is the object of one’s desire, namely something or someone that is not one’s own.
As such, coveting covers a multitude of sins, everything from houses and cars, to education and careers, to other people’s relationships, to looks and athletic ability, to talent and good-fortune, and everything in between!
An immediate challenge that presents itself to many of us is that the word “sin” no longer plays well. It probably wouldn’t be going too far to say that the majority of people in twenty-first century American (and European) culture no longer even know the meaning of the word.
We need to come up with another word or phrase that captures the original meaning, but in a more contemporary way.
The original sense of the word “sin” derives from the world of archery and means “to miss the mark.” In a biblical and theological sense sin signifies the underlying reality that each of us fails to fully become the person, the image of God, that God our creator desires we become.
An alternative word that suggests itself is “brokenness.” While many today can no longer affirm that we are all sinful, almost everyone can agree with the observation that we are all broken in one way or another, that all of us fail in various ways to live up to, and to live into what we know is right and good and whole.
Looking at the tenth commandment, by instructing us not to covet, not to want something that isn’t ours, God is attempting to steer us, to direct us, into a way of living that is not only good for others, but good for ourselves as well.
In other words, God, in giving us the instruction not to covet, is doing God’s best to liberate us from a path that can lead only to jealousy, resentment, anger, and rage.
Let’s look at a low-level example, an example, however, that can be extrapolated to include the underlying dynamics in a wide variety of situations.
Something that is quite ordinary, say, a lawnmower, suddenly becomes extraordinary if our neighbor buys a new one – especially if it’s a ride-on. We wonder, how come they get to have that and I don’t?
The problem is not primarily that I see my neighbor riding his or her new mower and it makes me jealous: the deeper problem is that I now see my neighbor as my competitor and no longer as my neighbor.
The Bible is littered with stories about coveting what is our neighbor’s, turning that neighbor into our competitor, and then engaging in a host of “sinful,” or better, “broken” actions, actions that not only hurt our neighbor, but actions that always turn out to be self-destructive as well.
Joseph’s brothers covet the affection of their father, and sell Joseph into slavery because of it. King David covets his neighbor’s wife, Bathsheba, leading to coerced sex, adultery, deception, and murder. King Ahab covets his neighbor’s vineyard, leading to murder and theft.
These are stories of people who have everything and yet are dissatisfied because they don’t have what belongs to their neighbor.
We may not engage in thoughts and deeds that are as broken as the action of Joseph’s brothers, or as destructive as the thoughts and deeds of many of the kings of Israel, but all of us know what it’s like to be living in the bondage of resenting what someone else has and wanting it for ourselves.
The Hebrew people had just been freed from slavery and God gave them ten life-giving words to keep them from returning to slavery.
One of the surprising things about the Ten Commandments, or ten life-giving words, is that they are as relevant today as they were more than three thousand years ago.
The wording may sound a bit out-of-date: “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 else that belongs to your neighbor.”
But the underlying teaching – don’t resent the relationships, gifts, talents, and belongings of others – remains the same.
And the truly big question for us today is the same question that the just-freed Hebrew slaves asked three thousand years ago: How in God’s name do we pull this off, how do we keep from coveting, how do we not resent?
If the desire behind the coveting and the resenting is, in itself, a good gift of God – if desire is nothing less than the force of attraction which propels us toward God and others – it would seem that the only way to tame our disordered desires would be to encourage them to be taken up, taken into, the greatest desire of all, our desire for the good, the true, and the beautiful, which many wise men and women throughout the ages have understood to be, ultimately, our desire for God.
How do we keep from wanting something that does not belong to us? By wanting something else even more!
And the only something else that is big enough and strong enough to handle all our desires and transform them into various shades of good turns out to be someone else, namely God.
And not just any God will do. Desire is personal, so it has to be a personal God.
Desire run rampant generates suffering, so it has to be a God who does not stand aloof from human suffering, but wants to do everything possible to alleviate it.
In short, it has to be a God like the one we met earlier today, a God who dares to say concerning the suffering of an oppressed people: “I have seen, I have heard, I know, and I have come down to deliver them” (see Exodus 3:7-8a).
Desire run rampant enslaves, so it can’t be a God who is into making slaves out of people; it has to be a God who is deeply into liberation.
We find such a God in the giving of the ten words of life, in the formation of Torah, in the passionate justice-advocacy of the prophets, and in the love relationship between God and people celebrated in the Psalms.
Such a God should be no stranger to us.
Jesus knew this God simply as his “Abba,” his loving Father, and invites us to get to know his Abba as our Abba.
This concludes our sermons on the Ten Commandments. What did you find most surprising about this approach to the Big Ten?
Concerning the tenth commandment, “You shall not covet,” what have been your biggest challenges in coveting to date? If, like many of us, you have been wrestling with the same issues for many years, what can you do at this point in your life to make a definitive break with them?
CLOSING PRAYER David Adam, Contemporary
Loving God, you are an ever-present help in trouble:
In our darkness come as light
In our sadness come as joy
In our troubles come as peace
In our weakness come as strength
Come, Loving God, to our aid
Open our eyes to your Presence
Open our minds to your grace
Open our lips to your praises
Open our hearts to your love
Open our lives to your healing
And be found among us.
SUGGESTED MUSIC Called as Partners in Christ’s Service
First-Plymouth Church Lincoln Nebraska You Tube
Patiently and persistently, God loves.
Relentlessly and unconditionally, God loves.
Now and forever, God loves.