The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. E. Bevan Stanley
October 4, 2020
Proper 22, Year A
Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20
Then God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me. In the Name of the one, holy, and undivided Trinity. Amen.
We start with the Ten Commandments. This is a simple, forthright expression of a vision for the people of God. This is apodictic law. It does not say what will happen if we do not obey these commandments. They simply say, “This is the way it should be. This is the way you should be as the people of God.” Eight out of the ten commandments are prohibitions. No idols, no murder, no theft, etc. There are four commandments that treat of our relation to God and six that deal with our relations with one another. The only two positive laws form the hinge between these two sections. The fourth commandment says we she have one day in seven set aside for God. We are not to be engaged in working to get ahead or more, or even to survive. We are to remember we are creatures of God. That we depend on God for our lives and that all we have comes from God. It is a day to rest in God’s love, and enjoy God’s blessings. The fifth commandment tells us to honor our parents. This is the human dimension of the fourth. We remember that we did not create ourselves; we were given life by our parents. We were nourished and raised by our parents. None of us are self-made people. We need to remember that we are creatures of God and our heritage. It is interesting that there is no mention of love in these commandments. These are the ABC’s, the fundamentals of living in a community.
In the course of living as the people of God, we develop a large amount of case law. If someone’s ox gores a neighbor, this is what we will do about it. Then there develops another set of statutes about the how to worship God. Sacrifices, washings, rules about food and so on. As this body of law builds up it tends to favor the wealthy and powerful. Poor people cannot afford to sacrifice animals or have two kitchens. As a result only the rich can fulfill the religious laws. It also gets more and more complicated. Only well-educated scribes can understand it all and they make a living out the law’s complexity. This is very much like our IRS code and the profession of CPAs and lawyers who make their living off of the law’s complexity. The prophets warn the People of God, that they are neglecting the welfare of the poor and powerless. Then Jesus comes and says that what God wants is summed up in the two commandments to love God and to love the people around you. Jesus gives the sermon and the Mount with its beatitudes as a new vision for the people of God. Jesus tells this parable against the chief priests and the pharisees about how God wants people to live out the divine vision for the People of God, and how the leaders are failing to pursue policies that would accomplish that. Jesus warns there will be a change in leadership if those with power do not use that power for the benefit of the poor. The Jewish leaders understood him well enough to want to kill him. As today, there were two different visions of what it meant to be the People of God. Of what it means to be a nation, or a people, or a society.
Paul is an example of one who actually embraces this change. He tells us in the reading this morning that he was raised in a privileged home. He knows his genealogy, he was educated, and lived a disciplined life as a Pharisee, following the law zealously. When the followers of this radical preacher Jesus started getting too much attention, he defended the status quo, even to the point of killing followers of this new Way. Then the risen Jesus intervened, and Paul lost his vision and was given a new vision. A vision that the community that God had in mind was not one of exclusion but inclusion. That we were to learn to follow the commandments of love in the way we relate to each other in our communities.
Today we are coming up on an election. There are differing visions of what it means to be the United States. As Christians in a representative democracy, we have an obligation to vote and to encourage all our fellow citizens to vote. We have an obligation to choose one vision over the other. We need to pray not only about what might be in our own self-interest, but also about what will be in the interest of all of our citizens, and what will be in the interest of our country. God loves us all. God wants us to love each other and be generous and kind to one another. We need to know that laws will benefit all people equally and that laws will be enforced equally.
Paul says that all the good stuff he inherited, he counts as garbage compared with coming to know Jesus and the message of love. He admits he has not fully lived into this new vision, but he is working at it. And rather than looking back on his past errors and the harm he had done, he presses forward into the future to make the community of God that Jesus envisioned a reality. May we do the same. Let us also “straining forward to what lies ahead, . . .press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”