Sermon for 5th Sunday after Pentecost Narrative

Narrative Lectionary Year 4

1 John 1:1-4

Today we move from the desert mountain of Sinai forward in time, from centuries before Jesus walked the earth to the early days of Christianity. Welcome to our next summer sermon series, where we move from the book of Exodus to the New Testament document known as 1 John. We don’t know very much for certain about this letter, but we can make educated guesses based on what is written there. The first thing to notice is that this letter has a lot of similarities in writing and themes to the Gospel of John. In fact, the verses that we have before us today sound very similar to the opening chapter of the Gospel of John, which is why these two readings have been paired together. However, there are some differences in these two documents as well. So scholars theorize that, while the Gospel of John and 1 John may not have been written by the same person—and we note that neither of these two documents has a name attached to them; it is tradition that assigns them both to someone named John—it is very probable that they were written in the same community of Christians. Tradition associates the ministry of the apostle John with the city of Ephesus, so it is possible that 1 John originated with the community of Christians in Ephesus, but we don’t know for certain.

What we can also deduce from this letter, and from 2 and 3 John as well, is that the community was experiencing schism or division between different factions who believed different things about Jesus. Whereas the Gospel of John was written to show that the human being known as Jesus of Nazareth was also the Son of God, it appears from 1 John that some groups of Christians were going too far in the other direction, and claiming that Jesus was more divine than he was human. So, what does that look like and why is it a bad thing? Well, if Jesus is more divine than he is human, we run the risk of having our faith become too much of a private thing, a “me and you, Jesus,” kind of thing. These are the people that would say they don’t have the need to come and worship Jesus with other members of the Christian community, because they are spiritual, but not religious—they worship Jesus on their own terms. One of the things that 1 John is written for is to counteract that attitude, and to remind people of how important it was that Jesus was human as well as divine, and how that translates into a need for a flesh-and-blood Christian community.

You might be saying to yourselves, “Well, of course, Jesus was both divine and human. We get that. And I understand the need for flesh-and-blood community and worship; otherwise I wouldn’t be here today.” But, let’s go a little bit deeper and examine these assumptions, and I’m going to start with two Gospel stories of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances. In the Gospel of Luke, when Jesus appears to the disciples on the evening of Easter Sunday, their first reaction is that Jesus is a ghost. Well, of course they would think that—because they had seen Jesus die in the most gruesome way possible, and no one ever comes back from the dead! But Jesus invites them to touch him, “for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And just to emphasize the point, he eats a piece of broiled fish in front of them. Ghosts don’t do that—Jesus was resurrected in the body, not as some kind of spirit floating around! And in the Gospel of John, we have the story of Thomas, who wouldn’t believe Jesus was raised until he put his finger in the mark of the nails and his hand in Jesus’ side. And when Jesus appeared to Thomas, he invited Thomas to do just that. We’ve heard these stories so often that we don’t think about it anymore: Jesus was raised in the body—and because of that, we have the same promise, that we will one day be raised in the body—not as spirits floating around on clouds playing harps, but in flesh and blood walking around on a renewed earth.

That’s one of the points that 1 John is trying to make in our reading today: “We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life.” Jesus isn’t just some spiritual being floating around in the clouds with God. Jesus was a real-live flesh-and-blood human being, someone who could be seen and touched, and somehow, at the same time, the Son of God, divine. In some miraculous, mysterious way, the Divine Son of God came to earth and became one of us, flesh-and-blood, a real human being. That is the mystery that 1 John is proclaiming to us. And because Jesus thought it was important enough to take on human flesh and blood, then that means not only our spirits but our bodies are important to God as well.

So again I ask, what does this look like in today’s society? Well, I think our culture struggles with this as well. On the one hand, we have doctors urging us to take care of our bodies so that we can live healthier and longer lives. Trust me, I’ve been on the receiving end of that speech more times than I can count! As I mentioned last week when I was talking about the commandment against coveting, we also have the advertising industry bombarding us with messages to join fitness clubs, to go on diets, to use the right soap, lotion, perfume, and so on, so that we can be beautiful and somehow more worthy of love and other good things in life. But on the other hand, there is a growing pushback in our society that it is our spirit that is more important than our body. I recently read a review of a movie called Every Day. This is the only place I’ve read about it, but apparently it came out a few months ago. The premise is this: a being without gender inhabits a different body each day and meets a shy teenager named Rhiannon—each day in a different body. In other words, the spirit remains the same, but it is only the body that changes; the body is unimportant. The idea behind this is that the outside appearance of a person doesn’t matter so much; rather, it is the spirit of the person that you love.

In some ways, this is a good message. It teaches us to look beyond the appearance of a person and to love the good qualities of that person: kindness, loyalty, friendliness, responsibility, and whatever other personality traits we find attractive in a friend or a mate. But that is not to say that we should completely discount the body in which we find the spirit that we love. The reviewer of this movie, Cara Strickland, writes, “I think it matters that you are exactly your height, with exactly your vision of the world. At just over 5 feet, 2 inches tall, I see things differently than my 6-foot brother does. It matters whether our hair is curly or straight and if we bite our nails. It matters how we walk, laugh and what we do with our hands when we’re nervous. All of these things and more shape the way we see the world and the way the world sees us. All of these things make us who we are.” In other words, love for another person means embracing the complete person, both body and spirit, and committing to be with that person completely, both body and spirit.

And this is what Jesus did, and this is what 1 John, and we, too, proclaim: Jesus loved us so completely, both body and spirit, that he, who, yes, was divine, took on human flesh and lived among us. God became human in the person of Jesus, and in Jesus, God now understands what it is like to physically be a human being. In the person of Jesus, God laughed and God wept; was hungry and thirsty and was tired. And yes, on that Good Friday so long ago, God in Jesus died a physical death on the cross. For us. Because God loved us so much. This is the mystery that we proclaim. It’s a mystery that even I and all those of us who spent years at seminary cannot understand with our minds, but can only cling to with faith. Somehow Jesus was both divine and human at the same time, and our struggle in faith is to not go too far either to the divine, which would mean thinking of the material world as completely bad, or too far to the human side, which would mean that Jesus was nothing more than another teacher and there would be nothing about his death which would save us.

So, what does all of this mean for us in practical terms? We come together on Sundays to hear the good news: that God loved us so much that God came to be one of us in Jesus Christ, and died on the cross for us. We understand that God loves the material world that God created. From this, we can understand that we are to love one another, both body and spirit, and care for one another’s needs that are both in the body—such as hunger, thirst, shelter, and so on—and one another’s spiritual needs—caring for people who are grieving, who are lonely, who are depressed, and who wonder where God is in their lives. Not only this, but we are to see the material world that God created as good and to care for it as God does—by recycling, by taking good care of the animals that God has given us, by working to reduce pollution, by not using chemicals that could harm life, and by so many other ways. The material world is not disposable and the spiritual world is also not disposable. We are creatures of both spirit and body, and both of these things matter.

Let us then proclaim this word of life that we have seen and heard and touched with our hands to all of those around us. And let us have fellowship with one another and with God the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ—caring for one another, both body and spirit, and coming together to worship God each week so we may go out into the world once more refreshed. And when we do this, we pray that our joy, too, may be complete. Amen.

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Sermon for Pentecost 4 Narrative Lectionary

Narrative Lectionary Year 4

Exodus 20:17

Today we have arrived at the last of the Ten Commandments. In the first sermon, we talked about the background for which God gives these commandments: how God established a relationship with the Israelites by freeing them from slavery in Egypt. God doesn’t give these commandments so that the Israelites can make God love them by following them; God gives these commandments because God loves the Israelites, and the Israelites are to follow them so that their relationships with God and with one another will run more smoothly. We then talked about the first three commandments, which deal primarily with our relationship with God: putting God above everything else, not misusing God’s name, and remembering the Sabbath day. Last week, we covered commandments four through eight: honor your father and mother; do not murder; do not commit adultery; do not steal; do not bear false witness against another person. Even though these five commandments have to do primarily with our relationships with other people, they all flow out of the first commandment. If you look at Luther’s explanations to these commandments, they all start with, “We should fear and love God, so that. . .” We cannot have a right relationship with God unless we are willing to work on our relationships with one another. And so, this brings us to the last two commandments, or, in some traditions, it’s one commandment: the commandment against coveting other people’s things.

Covet is one of those old-fashioned words that we generally don’t use in everyday conversation. It simply means to desire or to wish for, and it generally has a negative connotation. When we use this word, we are using it to signify that we want something that someone else has. So, for example, at the Blessing of the Animals last year, a family from St. Peter’s in Highspire brought their prize, show dog malamute to be blessed. And when I saw this big, beautiful, fluffy, cuddly, friendly dog, in that instant I wanted that dog. It didn’t matter that I already have a handsome, friendly, sweet-tempered, big black dog who I love to pieces. It didn’t matter that even if I could have taken that dog, I wouldn’t have had room for it in my apartment and I would have had to pay more in rent. None of that mattered. In the face of this beautiful dog, my desire to have this dog—who wasn’t mine—flared up in me. And I think I even confessed my sin to the couple and told them that I was coveting their dog.

In this case, we laugh it off as a joke. We trust one another enough to know who we are—children of God—and we trust that the laws against stealing, as well as other laws, will prevent us, most of the time, from following through on our desires. But the reason that we have commandments against coveting is this: from our desire to have something that belongs to someone else springs violations of all of the other commandments. In fact, I’m rather surprised that the commandments against coveting don’t come before the commandments against murdering and stealing. For example, if you remember the story of David and Bathsheba in 1 Samuel, this is a prime example of how coveting can lead to other sins. King David looked down from a rooftop and saw Bathsheba bathing. He noted that she was very beautiful, and he coveted her, so he sent someone to find out who she was. When the messenger told King David who the woman was, and that she was married, that didn’t matter to him at all. His desire for her overrode everything else, and he sent for her and slept with her, violating the commandments against stealing and adultery. When David then finds out that Bathsheba is pregnant, he brings her husband home and first tries to deceive him, so that they can pass the baby off as his. When that doesn’t work, David sends Bathsheba’s husband back to the front lines and has him killed, violating the commandment against murder. And then he takes Bathsheba as his own wife. David violated all of these other commandments because he had violated this commandment first: You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife.

In many ways, we live in a society that is based on coveting. This is how our advertising industry exists, for example. Commercials continually tell us that we are not complete unless we have the next big car, the newest model of iPhone, or the most perfect house in the neighborhood. They tell us that we are not beautiful unless we lose weight, eat right, wear the right clothes and the right makeup. In short, they create in us desires that lead us to covet what the other person has. Studies even are starting to indicate that too much time on Facebook and other social media platforms can lead to depression, because we covet the seemingly perfect lives our friends have. We don’t always realize that our friends have problems, too, because who posts stuff online that doesn’t make them look good?

Remember that these commandments that God gives us are based on the fact that God has freed God’s people from slavery in Egypt. If we covet things that do not belong to us, we become a slave to our desires, and God does not want to see us return to slavery when God has freed us from sin. Again, this commandment, this law, acts as a mirror and shows us our sin, and shows us our need for Jesus Christ, who died on the cross to free us from that sin, just as God freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. And here is the good news: We have already been given enough. God has given us enough so that we should have no need to covet what we don’t have.

And so I think the remedy for coveting, besides confessing the sin, is to remember what God has already given us and to be thankful for it. In my earlier story, coveting the other person’s big, fluffy malamute dog led me to forget what a beautiful dog I have already been given in Otis, who is a wonderful dog that I can actually bring to church with me during the week because he’s so calm, and who loves me very much. And I thank God for every day that I get to spend with him (and my cat, too!). When confronted with advertising gimmicks that incite us to get the latest iPhone, car, house, or whatever it is, we can look around and be thankful for the things that we already have, and realize that God has given us enough to live. And all those commercials for clothes, beauty products, and weight loss programs? This is perhaps the best news of all: no matter what you look like or what you wear, God has created you and you are beautiful in God’s sight. You are children of God, and it doesn’t matter how you look or what you wear: God loves you, all of you, for who you are.

And when I say that God loves you and that you are children of God, I don’t just mean us here in this congregation, I mean everyone in the whole world. This includes those immigrant families who are coming through our southern border and whose children are being taken away from them. This week, our attorney general cited Romans 13 as justification for this: a line where Paul talks about government being put in place by God and how we are to submit to governmental authorities. The Holy Spirit has put it upon my heart to say something about this, because, with all due respect, the line has been taken out of context. If you read the chapter immediately preceding this line, and if you read further afterwards, you will see how Paul talks about the fulfillment of the law being love. And he specifically names the commandments that we have been studying the past several weeks as being summed up by the statement that Jesus also gives us in the Gospel that we’ve been hearing for the past several weeks: Love your neighbor as yourself. And folks, what is happening at the border cannot be justified by anything. I understand that we have immigration laws. I understand that the government has to enforce those laws. But what the government does not have to do is to abandon all human decency and forcibly take a baby away who was nursing at its mother’s breast. God loves these people just as much as God loves you and me. Jesus died for that mother and baby, just as Jesus died for you and me. Jesus is weeping over what is happening at our border.

The fulfillment of these commandments is to love God with all our heart, soul and mind, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. And our neighbor is not just the person sitting next to you today. Our neighbors are every single person on this earth. So go and love your neighbor this week. Call our senators and our representative and tell them to stop separating children from their parents. Write letters and emails. And donate money to groups who are working to help these families and advocate for them, like Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. These are just a few ways that you can love your neighbor as yourself.

St. Paul writes in Romans 13, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.” All of the commandments that God has given us have to do with love: love for God and love for the neighbor. As we conclude this sermon series on the commandments, I am hopeful that we have a better understanding of what it means to love God and to love neighbor. But I also know that the Law will continue to reflect our sin back on us as a mirror shows us our appearance. What I hope we see in that mirror, distorted as it is by sin, is still a glimmer of the reflection of God’s child. For we are all God’s children, wholly loved by God as a complete person. Nothing that we do or fail to do can cause God to stop loving us, and we are freed by that knowledge. So, let us use that freedom wisely. We are God’s children. It’s time that we act like it. Amen.

Sermon for 3rd Sunday after Pentecost

Narrative Lectionary Year 4

Exodus 20:12-16

Last week, we talked about the first three commandments, which had to do with loving God with all your heart, soul, and mind: You shall have no other gods before me; You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God; and Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. We talked about some of the ways that we specifically mess up these commandments, and we talked about how God loves us even when we break these commandments and sin against God. Again, as we move through these Ten Commandments, I want to emphasize that these are not rules that we follow in order to get God to love us, because God already loves us. St. Paul writes in Romans that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. These are commandments that help our relationships run smoothly; both our relationships with God and our relationships with one another. And today, as we move into the commandments that deal more directly with our relationships with one another, I want to add this to the mix. Again, borrowing from St. Paul, this time in his letter to the Galatians, when we are freed from the yoke of the Law, we don’t use that freedom as a license to do whatever we want. Rather, we use that freedom to submit to our neighbor in love. This is how we should look at the commandments that we have before us today.

And we begin with the commandment that every person, at some point in his or her life, has difficulty with: Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. I know all of you parents out there are looking at your children smugly, or if your children are not here, thinking of them, and saying to yourselves, “See—God says it! You have to do it!” But I want you to think back to when you were a child, most especially your teenage years, and try to remember how you felt when your parents embarrassed you, or asked you to do something that you didn’t want to do, or seemed to favor your brother or sister over and above you. And that’s not even to talk about parents who are abusive or otherwise don’t know how to parent their children properly—that could take a whole sermon by itself! And then what happens when you get older, and your mother or father clearly can’t live alone any longer because they’re getting older, but they don’t want to go to assisted living or a nursing home? How best do you honor your mother and father then?

In his explanation of the fourth commandment in his Large Catechism, Martin Luther writes, “It must therefore be impressed on young people that they revere their parents as God’s representatives, and to remember that, however lowly, poor, feeble, and eccentric they may be, they are still their mother and father, given by God. They are not to be deprived of their honor because of their ways or failings.” It seems as though this struggle to honor father and mother that we have is not a new one, since Luther was writing about it. When tough questions arise regarding how we are to relate to our parents, there is no one right answer. The guiding principle in this should be how best we are to love and honor our parents. And each of us will have to decide how we are to do that in our individual situations. There are times when we will get it right, and there are times when we will get it wrong. God knows our hearts, and God still loves us even when we get it wrong.

From honoring our parents, we move to the next commandment: You shall not murder. On the surface, this seems like an easy one. Most of us have not murdered anybody else, although the dark desire to may creep in when we are especially angry at someone. But both Jesus and Martin Luther do not let us off the hook with this one. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us that we are guilty of violating this commandment whenever we are angry with someone, whenever we insult someone, or whenever we call someone a fool. Martin Luther explains it this way: We are to fear and love God, so that we neither endanger nor harm the lives of our neighbors, but instead help and support them in all of life’s needs. Anytime that we are angry with someone; any time that we insult someone; any time we call someone an idiot or a fool; any time that we fail to help and support someone in their need, then we are guilty of violating the commandment against murder. We may not have physically harmed the other person, but we have damaged their spirit.

From honoring your parents, to honoring the other person by not murdering them spiritually or physically, we move to the commandment against adultery. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus again tightens this up: you may not have been physically unfaithful to your spouse, but if you even look at another person with lust, then you have committed adultery with that person in your heart. Martin Luther is a little gentler in his explanation: We are to fear and love God, so that we lead pure and decent lives in word and deed, and each of us loves and honors his or her spouse. Again, this commandment comes down to truly loving and respecting the other person: first your own spouse, and then the spouse of the other person. Truly loving one another means being faithful to the vows that you have made, even when things are tough in your relationship.

Next, we move to the commandment against stealing. Luther writes, “We are to fear and love God, so that we neither take our neighbors’ money or property nor acquire them by using shoddy merchandise or crooked deals, but instead help them to improve and protect their property and income.” If this explanation isn’t still relevant today, I don’t know what is. We may not have actually physically stolen something from someone. But cheating someone out of something they need to live by a shady deal is the same as stealing. So is refusing to take responsibility for something that is your responsibility. Here in Harrisburg we have the place where the hill crumbled by the apartment complex and destroyed a tire shop down below. The owners of the apartment complex refused to admit that the landslide was their responsibility for many years, forcing the tire shop to close and the man who owned it to struggle for money to survive. Not too long ago, the owners of the apartments above did finally admit responsibility. But the mess still isn’t cleaned up, and the owner of the tire shop is still dealing with financial problems due to the fact that his livelihood was stolen from him. We are to help our neighbors improve and protect their property and income, and in this case, it clearly has not happened. If we think hard enough in our own lives, we will probably come across something that we did or that we failed to do to help out our neighbors with their property, and the law shows us that we stand condemned of stealing.

So, we have gone from honoring father and mother, not murdering, not committing adultery, and not stealing, to the last commandment that we will talk about today: You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. And Luther’s explanation here is so helpful as we seek to understand what this commandment is about: We are to fear and love God, so that we do not tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations. Instead we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light. Gossip has happened since biblical times, but in this age of social media, it seems like this has intensified. And it’s not only gossip, but it is also bullying. And it’s not only bullying, but it’s also the 24/7 news media and politicians who rabidly go after the opposing side, refusing to see anything good about the other person, painting everyone who thinks the way the other person does with the same sweeping generalization, and not even trying to listen to the other point of view. All of this falls under the eighth commandment.

As Christians, though, we are called to a different way. We are called to come to our neighbor’s defense, even and especially if that neighbor is Muslim. We are called to speak well of them, even if I am a Democrat and my neighbor is a Republican. We are called to interpret everything our neighbor does in the best possible light, even when our neighbor does something that, on the surface, appears to be the dumbest possible thing we have ever seen in our lives. None of these commandments that God has given us is easy to follow, but I think this one is probably the hardest one of the bunch. It’s so easy to think that we are right, and our neighbor is wrong, and that our neighbor is just the dumbest, most deplorable person that we have seen. But you know what? Our neighbor probably thinks the same thing about us. So, as Christians, we are called to be humble, to realize we are not always right, and to speak well of our neighbors, not to slander them.

On Facebook, I follow the Bangor, Maine police department page. I have been to Maine before but never to Bangor. I follow the page because someone else clued me in to it; the police officer who administers it is a fantastic writer and gives snapshots of life in small town Maine. At the end of each post, he writes, “Keep your hands to yourself, leave other people’s things alone, and be kind to one another.” I think that’s a great summary of the commandments that we have before us today. It’s all part of Jesus’ command in the gospel of Matthew to “love your neighbor as yourself”. For when we do that, not only do you feel safe and free to live out the calling that God has given you, but I also feel safe and free to live out the calling that God has given me. Furthermore, we cannot have a right relationship with the Divine if we are not willing to work on our relationship with our neighbors. As I’ve said before, we’re not going to get this completely perfect. We will fail, and that failure will drive us to Jesus as our Lord and Savior, who loves us and forgives us our failings, and then sends us back out to love our neighbor again. But because of Jesus, we are free to love one another. So let’s get out there and do it. Amen.

 

Sermon for 2nd Sunday after Pentecost

Narrative Lectionary Year 4

Exodus 20:3-11

Welcome to the second Sunday of the first of our summer sermon series, where we are speaking about the Ten Commandments. Last week, we set the scene for God giving these commandments to the Israelite people through Moses: the Israelites are gathered at Mount Sinai after God has brought them through the Red Sea, given them food and water, and protected them from people who wanted to kill them. Last week, we heard how God established God’s relationship with the people of Israel. These laws that God gives are not arbitrary laws that God made up to take all the fun out of life. And these laws are not something that the people have to do in order for God to love them. If God didn’t love them, God wouldn’t have saved them from slavery in Egypt. The Ten Commandments are to be understood in this way: because God has done this, therefore the people do that. Striving to follow the laws that God gives are a way to make the people’s relationships with God and with one another work more smoothly. With this understanding in mind, we turn today to the first three commandments that God lays out before us.

The first commandment that God gives us is this: you shall have no other gods before me. Different faith traditions number the commandments slightly differently; in Lutheranism, we lump the command, “You shall not make for yourself an idol,” in with “you shall have no other gods before me.” In some ways, this is unfortunate, because we tend to think, “Well, of course I don’t bow down before statues of other gods.” When I was in Turkey, when we visited the ruins of the city of Ephesus, I bought a replica of a statue of the goddess Artemis of the Ephesians, which is a reminder to me of a story in the book of Acts where Paul encounters the worship of Artemis. But I certainly do not bow down to Artemis when no one is looking; it is just a statue; a souvenir. So, we think we’re good with this commandment because we don’t bow down to idols and maybe because we come to worship on a regular basis and bow down to the one true God. But our good teacher, Martin Luther, is not going to let us get away with that. Martin Luther wrote, “Anything on which your heart relies and depends, I say, that is really your God.”

OK, so that makes us think. We are not free of guilt just because we don’t bow down to a physical idol, like this little statue of Artemis. What is it that our heart relies and depends on, then? Is it truly God? Or, is it something else? Probably the most common culprit is money. We all know the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, who worshiped money even above being decent to his fellow human beings. It took three visits from three different ghosts to show him that there were more important things in life, like relationships with his family and giving generously to those in need, before he gave up depending on money as his god. But we don’t have to be as tight-fisted with money as Scrooge was to trust in money above God. If we love money more than God, then we are constantly worried about making ends meet, rather than trusting in God to provide generously what we need. And money has then become our god, and we now love, worship, and trust in money before we love, worship, and trust in God. And we are officially in violation of the first commandment.

The second commandment, according to the Lutheran tradition is, “You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God.” My mother taught me, growing up, that I was in violation of this commandment any time I said, “Oh, my God.” Perhaps many of you learned this was the way to interpret this commandment as well. Or, for those of you who went through confirmation class, you may have learned Luther’s explanation of it: “We are to fear and love God, so that we do not curse, swear, practice magic, lie, or deceive using God’s name, but instead use that very name in every time of need to call on, pray to, praise, and give thanks to God.” Now, that explanation does cover the, “Oh, my God,” part of it, or, as I saw painted once on the back of a semi-truck, “Jesus Christ is Lord, not a swear word.” And I think most of us would say that we don’t use God’s name in order to practice magic. But what about this: saying that God would approve of things that are clearly not God-like? For example, if you are saying that God hates LGBT people, or if you are saying that God hates Muslim people, or that God hates some other group of people, are you not misusing God’s name? Don’t we believe and teach that God loves everyone? Because if God does not love everyone, then maybe God does not love you, either. Be careful what you say God hates, because you may be misusing God’s name.

But all of this is looking at the negative side of things. Do we understand what an incredible gift God has given us in enabling us to use God’s name? We can come to our God in prayer any time we want to. We can talk to God as we would talk to our father, mother, or best friend. We can use God’s name when we want to praise and give thanks to God for the many blessings that God has given us. And yet, we so often fail to do this. We fail to recognize the gift that God has given us, and we get too busy to pray. Or we only come to God when we are in need, and we forget to speak to God when things are going well. So, we are officially in violation of this second commandment as well.

And what about the third commandment: “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work.” And when God says “you” here, God means “y’all”—no one is to do any work at all. Many of us will remember “blue laws”: those laws that forbade businesses from being open on Sundays. Those laws have been eroded over the years. This economy that we have created values money over people. Everyone must work and work and work in order to have enough money to survive. But, as someone once said, God created us to be human beings, not human doings. If we just keep doing and doing and doing with no rest in sight, we will kill ourselves. What would it look like if we started to reinstitute those blue laws? Yes, it was annoying when you ran out of something on a Sunday and couldn’t go to the store to pick it up. But what would happen if we trusted in God to get us through one day—just one day!—without whatever it is we think we need? Not only would we be able to rest, but the people who work in the store would be able to rest, and perhaps then we might be able to appreciate other people for who they are rather than put the ultimate value on the things that they can produce for us.

Of course, there’s another part to observing the Sabbath besides resting, and that is this: “We are to fear and love God, so that we do not despise preaching or God’s Word, but instead keep that Word holy and gladly hear and learn it,” as Luther says in his explanation. If you’re here, then you’ve already got part of this down, and so I feel like I’m preaching to the choir. But, on the other hand, not all of you are in worship every Sunday, so maybe you have some work to do on that. And besides that, every one of you should be in a Bible study. I know that many of you have scheduling conflicts and can’t make it on a Thursday morning. I’ve been wanting to get an evening Bible study started for that very reason. Those of you who would be better able to come to an evening study, please come and talk to me, and let’s get something going. Because if we truly love God, then we should want to make time to hear and learn God’s Word.

The law is a mirror that, when we hold it up to ourselves, shows us our sin and our need for Jesus. The first section of the commandments tells us how we are to love God, and as we have seen, we fail miserably at this. We love and trust other things in life, such as money, before God. We misuse God’s name: using it to curse, speaking wrong things in God’s name, and not calling upon God’s name when we should be. We do not observe the Sabbath rightly: we do not take time to rest and to let other people rest, and we are not in worship and in Bible study as we should be. Jesus tells us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and all our soul, and all our strength, but even though we strive to do this, we fail miserably.

But here is the good news: through Jesus Christ, God has set us free from our slavery to sin. God has given us grace and mercy, and through Jesus, God has forgiven us and has set us free. God loves us. You are each loved by God, and nothing you can do will change that. In his sermon on Friday night at Synod Assembly, Bishop Dunlop said that sociologists note that children will grow in the image that friends and family have of them. If your close family and friends say that you’re smart, for example, you will work harder at studying and you will become smart. So if God says that you are loved—and you are—how will you work to show that you are loved? God gives us these commandments, knowing that we are not going to be perfect at fulfilling them, but loving us anyway and urging us to keep on trying at loving God. So, love the Lord your God with all your heart, strength, and mind. Trust God more than anything else in life. Pray, praise, and give thanks to God in every circumstance. Rest in God’s love on the Sabbath. Trust in God’s mercy and forgiveness when you mess up. And show the world that this is what it means for you to be loved by God. Amen.