Sermon from February 26: Love Carved in Stone
Love Carved in Stone
Transfiguration; February 23, 2020
(with Matthew 5:17-20)
This happened many years ago. My friend was having an affair with a soprano in his choir. I knew about it – I think she told me about it – and I kept quiet for a long time, wondering what I should do. Finally I decided that since I was his friend, I should talk to him about it. So I took him out to dinner, and I said to him, “I’m concerned about your relationship with **.” That was the beginning of a long spiritual and emotional journey for him, as he dealt not only with his adultery but also with the deep personal issues that led to it.
One of the things he told me later was that he had learned something about the Ten Commandments. He said they were there not to ruin our fun, not to put restrictions on us so that we could not do what we wanted, but to protect us. The commandment against adultery, for example, is not because sex is bad. The commandment protects us from the terrible mess we make of our lives and the lives of those we love when we don’t observe healthy boundaries.
Maybe you knew that already. I didn’t, but I may have suspected it; my friend learned it in his own personal experience. His learning demonstrates one of my beliefs about God’s commandments: God wants the best for us. The study of the Commandments that Kathleen is leading this year on Friday evenings in our Omaha home puts it well, and I’ve stolen the title as the topic of my sermon: the Ten Commandments are “Love Carved in Stone.”
This Lent, the Worship Design Group has devised a series that works through the Commandments as a way of discovering how God wills the best for us. Today’s message is a sort of introduction to the series, some reflections on the Commandments in general. They are an expression of God’s love for us, as well as a guide for how we can express our love for God. As a guide for healthy relationship, the Commandments are “Love carved in stone.”
My friend Lindsey asked our Exodus study group once, “Can you think of a system of law anywhere or in any age that doesn’t somehow reflect the Ten Commandments?” These ideas are somehow fundamental to a healthy relationship with God, with God’s creation, with ourselves, and with each other. There was a terrific movie back in 1977 called “Oh, God!” John Denver played Jerry, the grocery store manager selected by God to be God’s messenger, and God was played by George Burns. I was looking for just the clip I wanted, and couldn’t find it, but as I remember it, the message that God wanted Jerry to give to the world was, “It can work.” Just do the things I’ve been teaching you to do, and the world can work. It’s that simple, and that difficult. If you’ve ever tried to keep all ten Commandments, then you know it’s difficult.
Imagine, though, what the world would be like if we did in fact put no other gods before us, so that we hungered and thirsted for God, not for money, power, and the most “likes” on social media. Imagine what it would be like if we did all refrain from theft, and adultery, and murder, and so forth. Imagine what it would be like if we did all step off the treadmill one day in seven to devote time and energy to God, ourselves, and our families and friends. It can work. God wants it to work. God has expressed not only in the Ten Commandments but in many other religious traditions and systems of laws a natural order that would work, if we would follow it. It would create peace among peoples. It would prevent abuse, human trafficking, and professional misconduct. It would bring honesty and fair fighting to our political systems. It would save the planet’s living things from the ravages of climate change. It would work, if we human beings would simply do it. God gives it to us because God loves us and wants our social systems to work, wants our lives to flourish. The Ten Commandments are love carved in stone: God’s love for us.
And the Commandments can be an expression of our love for God. Sometimes your husband or wife or friend or partner asks you to do something, and you don’t really understand why, but you do it because you love them and they asked you to do it. Frankly, we can make a good case for the “why” of all these Commandments – and I’m going to try to do so during this Lent series – but that’s beside the point. It is simply enough that we love God and God asked us to do this.
Behaving this way shows who we are and to whom we belong. On Sundays that I see a sea of red, and it isn’t Pentecost, I know that you are expressing a sense of belonging. You wear your red shirts with a big “N” because you together belong to something. Sometimes when you’re out you wear a “PCM” shirt to show to what church you belong. Some schools use uniforms, and the uniform is a way of showing belonging, such as here at the Korean Christian Academy in Tipitapa, Nicaragua.
Keeping the Ten Commandments is a way of showing that we belong to the Lord God. I remember talking with an Orthodox Jewish woman; she told me she had three teenage boys. One comment she made during our conversation was that they had never been to a high school football game. Why? Because the games are on Friday evenings, during the Sabbath. They keep Sabbath, and they don’t need to ask why: they keep Sabbath because it is what they do, it is part of their identity, it shows who they are and to whom they belong. You may remember that Senator Lieberman walked to Senator McCain’s funeral, because it was held on the Sabbath, and observant Jews don’t drive on the Sabbath. It is who they are; it shows to whom they belong. Whether or not they ask, “Why?” they do it because they love the Lord God. The Ten Commandments are love carved in stone: God’s love for us and our love for God.
That helps me understand what Jesus means when he says that he has come to fulfill the law and the prophets. We talk a lot, especially around Christmas, about how the life and works of Jesus fulfill the prophets, but now I get what he means when he says that he fulfills the Law of God. God’s Law shows us God’s love for us and shows us how to love God. God’s Law shows us how valuable we are to God and how to respect ourselves, one another, and the world in which we live. Is that not true of Jesus? Do not the teachings of Jesus show us our great worth in the sight of God, and the best ways to love God, ourselves, one another and the world in which we live? And does not Jesus’ gift of himself on the Cross make clear the breadth and wonder of God’s love for us?
Yes, of course. The Ten Commandments are God’s love carved in stone. Jesus Christ is God’s love shaped in flesh.
Robert A. Keefer
Presbyterian Church of the Master