Exodus 20: 1; 14-17
20Then God spoke all these words:
14 You shall not commit adultery.
15 You shall not steal.
16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
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.
Last week I compared this series on the Ten Commandments as a two season TV show.
We had the fall season and now the winter season.
The fall season was about our relationship with God.
This season was to be about our relationship with each other.
So far, so good.
But then the network executives (the staff) got together Wednesday and looked at the scripts for the rest of season 2.
The execs thought that the prohibitions against stealing, lying, “adulterying” are pretty self-explanatory.
One of the execs pointed out that four of the last five commandments are all basically about “stealing”.
Stealing someone’s life.
Stealing someone’s spouse.
Stealing someone’s possessions.
Stealing someone’s integrity.
These actual acts of stealing are not all that is forbidden.
There is the last commandment.
The last one is prohibits even “thinking” about stealing.
Maintaining a mindset that encourages stealing is equally forbidden.
And we already talked about the fact that “just thinking about it” was forbidden, too, when we talked about murder last week.
So … nothing really new here … series cancelled.
Now, no one likes a series to be cancelled mid-season – it needs a conclusion!
We have to tie it all up, right?
How do I tie these last five commandments together?
Better yet, how do I tie all the commandments together?
Let’s start with the last five.
Killing, “adulterying”, stealing, lying, coveting.
What is damaged in all these acts?
Relationships with others, clearly.
But more than that.
The human community is damaged systemically.
Damaged in a way that separates us and pits us against each other.
This is not what God intended.
God created the human community because God thought it was not good that we be alone.
We need community.
We need to get along.
We need some rules to tell us how to get along.
The last five commandments are those rules.
According to Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann, these commandments are concerned with a kind of “acquisitiveness” that destabilizes the community.
What do they say?
Simply put, don’t steal what is not yours.
Don’t even think about it!
That is not in our nature.
We are like the toddlers described in the “Toddler’s Creed” by Berry Brazelton.
If I want it, it’s mine.
If I give it to you and change my mind later, it’s mine.
If I can take it away from you, it’s mine.
If I had it a little while ago, it’s mine.
If it’s mine, it will never belong to anybody else, no matter what.
If we are building something together, all the pieces are mine.
If it looks just like mine, it is mine.
We all have a bit of that in us.
That is why we have so much trouble getting along.
We cannot get along because we covet.
We are covetous and envious.
We want things we do not have and so we spend our time figuring out how to get them.
And once we figure out how to get them … we often do it.
And when we can’t get what we want, we envy those who have it.
Envy turns into anger or depression.
And anger and depression destroy communities.
Melanie Klein, a well-known psychologist, defines envy as “the angry feeling that another person possesses and enjoys something desirable – the envious impulse being to take it away or to spoil it”.
What might that look like in the 21st century?
Think about Facebook.
You are sitting at your desk Monday morning and you take a quick turn around your virtual community.
What did the folks do over the weekend?
Wow, look at the pictures of that party; that food; that game; that house; that life.
There is a moment when you think – why was I not invited to that party?
Why don’t I eat stuff like that?
Why was I not at the game, not asked to play?
Why don’t I have a house like that?
Why don’t I have a life like that?
I would do anything to have that!
Nobody likes me … everybody hates me … even me.
The next time you see the people in those pictures, you are more distant.
Community begins to crack.
It has always been that way.
Listen to the New Testament book of James, my favorite New Testament document after Mark.
4Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? 2You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. 4Adulterers! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.
Human beings spend a lot of time coveting something that someone else has.
It’s why we fight.
We are toddlers.
James puts a darker twist on it.
We are cravers
Friends of the world
Enemies of God
James likens this to devilish temptation.
So, what do we do about it?
How do we avoid it?
How do we control ourselves?
James says to do this:
7Submit yourselves therefore to God. … 8Draw near to God, and [God] will draw near to you.
How do we do that?
Here is one way I think.
It requires us to change the way we think about our lives.
Instead of focusing on things we do not have, and want, be thankful for the things we have.
An attitude of gratitude.
Gratitude to God, who is the provider of all.
When we spend time in gratitude, we do not steal.
And as John Wesley put it, our good will between people comes from our gratitude to God.
James might say that gratitude is a way we submit to God.
We live lives of “Gratitude and benevolence”
… [G]ratitude to God, our supreme Benefactor, and benevolence to our fellow creatures.
Christine Pohl, author of Living into Community – Cultivating Practices that Sustain Us says it a bit differently.
Gratitude is … vital to sustaining communities that are holy and good. … [G]ratitude or giving thanks is surely a response to the epidemic of complaint, envy, presumption, and dissatisfaction that undermines human relationships and plagues human communities.
Gratitude also draws us closer to God.
Karl Barth, perhaps the greatest reformed theologian of the 20th Century, said that to believe in Jesus Christ is to be grateful.
Grateful that God has come near.
Grateful that we are drawn to God.
Submitting to God and drawing near to God discourages envy and so encourages community
So we have tied up the last five commandments.
Can we tie all ten together?
Pohl offers this in her book.
Our thankfulness to God is shown in the care we give to one another and to our enemies.
In other words, how we relate to each other depicts how we relate to God.
The first five commandments describe our need to have a thankful and loving relationship with God.
We are commanded to worship only the one true God and worship nothing else.
We are not to diminish God by invoking God’s name for trivial things.
We are to mimic the rhythm of God, working and resting.
We are commanded to care for our parents, the way God cares for us.
Put all together, we are to love God.
The second five are how we relate to each other:
Put all together we are to love each other.
These are all interrelated.
We cannot love God if we don’t love what God created.
We cannot love each other if we do not love the one who created us.
Our relationship to our fellow human beings is evidence of our relationship with God.
Our relationship with God should be evidence of our relationship with others.
Jesus says these are the only two real commandments.
Loving God and loving each other.
It creates a universal loving community that includes creator and creation.
It would be nice if I could say, “Just do it!” and be done.
But there is one other thing we need to discuss.
How can we ever meet that standard?
It seems impossible, doesn’t it?
That is Jesus’ point when he talks about the commandments in the Sermon on the Mount.
For us, it is impossible.
So, we need help.
We need someone to intercede for us.
Happily, we do.
Jesus came to bring us forgiveness for our inability to follow the rules.
This forgiveness, grace, is a gift.
What Diana Butler Bass calls an “untargeted gift”.
[God’s] gifts are not targeted. Then simply are. Then are not obligations to be repaid [like targeted gifts]; rather, they are gifts to be enjoyed. There are no expectations of exchange. No transaction involved. … [I]f you understand in your heart that gifts and gratitude are part of the very fabric of the universe, you will both be a better person and do good in the world. … This is all encompassing Grace.
A gift from the God and gratitude from us.
That is how we can live the Ten Commandments.
But all this takes practice.
How do we do that?
How about this recommendation from Krista Tippett’s book Becoming Wise:
Start the day with this thought.
This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!
A start to the day with praise to God and thanks for the day God is giving you.
Then as we move through the day, we can use Paul’s words as a lens through which we see the world.
Philippians 4: 8-9
… whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
Look for the good and be grateful for it.
It will instill love of God and love of neighbor.