6th Sunday after Epiphany—Year A—February 16, 2014
Preached at the Lutheran Church of Framingham
Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight oh Lord, our strength, and our redeemer.
How many commandments are there in the Torah, the Hebrew Bible, as we tend to call it, the Old Testament?
10? 2? 1? 613?
By Jewish tradition, there are 613 in the Mosaic Law. I have to admit, I have never gone and count myself, so I will take the Rabbis’ word for it.
There are 365 negative commandments (items we should abstain from doing)…do not murder, do not make idols or use the Lord’s name in vain. 365: one for each day of the year.
There are 248 positive commandments (items you should be sure to do)…remember the Sabbath, honor your mother and father. 248: one for each bone in the human body.
Many of the 613 commandments can no longer be observed since there is not a standing Jewish temple in Jerusalem. They instructed Jews up to the 2nd century CE how to properly remember the Sabbath and honor God. However, if you think about the 10 commandments as the summary of the 613, you have better luck.
In the Small Catechism, Martin Luther explains what it means to follow each of the Ten Commandments in the 1500s, and models for us how we can figure out how to follow them in this century.
Just a couple of weeks ago, the Confirmation class reviewed the Ten Commandments and read through and discussed Luther’s explanations. After hearing the explanations, some commandments the students found easier to follow…they made more sense when the basis of the commandment was clear. However, after hearing others, the students found that it was in fact harder.
Just like today’s reading from the Sermon on the Mount, Luther says like Jesus that even thinking about killing them or wanting them dead is equivalent to actual, physical murder. The Confirmands thought they were in the clear as far as murder goes until they heard that.
The widening of commands that Jesus employs in Matthew is not done out of meanness or for want to see God’s people suffer. It is just the opposite.
Think about the “Greatest Commandment:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
What it comes down to is relationship! God wants to be in relationship with you, and lays out how you can ideally do that. But God also wants you to be in relationship with creation—humans, each other in particular. Because we are sinful, we tend to fall short in relationships, so God provides some suggestions of how we have good relationships with one another too.
All these commandments are not some checklist of what we must do to be in relationship with God or one another, but they are a roadmap of how to have a good relationship, how we can choose life—as an individual and as a community.
It is like the difference between: “if you eat healthy food, I will give you $10” and “if you eat healthy food, you will feel better.” If you try live your life, carry out your relationships in accordance with the commandments, God will not give you some unrelated award, instead you will just consequently have better relationships, a happier, more fulfilling life.
And that is ultimately God’s hope for each of us—Abundant Life! The commandments help us to have a glimpse of that here on earth, and we will fulfill experience it, for the rest of eternity, when Sin is finally wiped out completely upon Jesus’ second coming.
All the exaggeration and hyperbole about what we should do to ourselves instead of breaking a commandment is simply included to emphasize exactly how much God values relationship.
Cause remember last weeks excerpt from the Sermon on the Mount:
Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Least in the kingdom isn’t so bad.
God wants us to follow the “rules” for our own sakes, not just for the sake of the rules. This is really a matter of communal relationship, not a matter of individual purity.
Life is the reason for the law, and life remains the reason that Jesus strengthens the understanding of what the law entails. It is all out of love, for the sake of our relationship with God, but more importantly with one another. We can continue to blatantly disregard the commandments, and we will still be in the kingdom of God. Or we can strive to ever to do better to fulfill the, and the outcome will be life!
I pray this week that God continue to bless your strong, healthy, life-giving relationships. I also pray that God would show you a new way for those less than healthy, damaging, life-draining relationships. May the Spirit continue to guide you on the path towards whole relationships so that you might participate in the abundant life that comes with them. Amen.