1st Scripture Reading: Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10 & Psalm 19
Like God’s people of Israel, we too forget…we forget how we got here, we forget who made us, we forget that there are laws for our living.
As I watch in dreadful fascination what is happening in our world, I am moved by the words of Nehemiah and the Spirit’s voice within me to bring before us all again this morning God’s Laws, given to Moses in the second book of the Old Testament – pretty much right at the beginning of our spiritual journey as God’s people.
The prophet Ezekial gave us this message from the God of Israel: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh – and I will put my Spirit in you.”
And so, my brothers and sisters in Christ, I invite you to listen with open hearts and minds, and attention to the Holy Spirit moving within you, as I review with you the Ten Commandments that Nehemiah read and interpreted for people like us so very long ago, people who forget what God desires from them and from us.
The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:3-17)
- You shall have no other gods before Me. Money shall not be your God, nor fame, nor political influence, nor sexual dominance, nor work, nor alcohol or drugs, nor any other thing shall be more important to you than honoring your Creator.
- You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. There is no structure, or statue, or image of any kind that is worthy of worship. A picture of Jesus is not real. An artistic rendering of some item of God’s creation, tho a beautiful thing in it’s own right, cannot be considered as even close to the value of the real thing. We must not be deluded by idols or likenesses as things to be valued. I think of works of art which bring in millions of dollars at art auctions – paintings whose value is based on the preferences of wealthy people – who spend vast quantities of money exploited from the work of others, to purchase something they can show off to their friends. Money that could be so much better utilized to steward the natural beauty which is so threatened in our world.
- You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes (God’s) name in vain. Last Fall I took a philosophy course at the college during which I heard over and over again, arguments to persuade young students that there is no God. The Big Bang is the answer to how we were created, and human mental capacity will solve all our problems. I reminded the instructor that “the Big Bang Theory” is just that – a theory, and that the arguments presented did not prove there is no God, but that we are faced with a mystery. We do not know, and perhaps will never know how we got here. To me this is Holy Mystery – a sacred body of knowledge we are not privy to, and may never be. In this commandment we are called to be respectful, even reverential to things we do not understand, and power we cannot replicate.
- Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. One day a week we are called on to rest from our daily preoccupations and to take time to remember who we are and to whom we belong. This commandment protects the labourer from unhealthy exploitation, and keeps in front of us all how privileged we are to be living here on Earth.
- Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you. We have a crisis unfolding in long term care for our senior population. And even if we can access that care, we are finding that it may not be as good or as compassionate as we would like for our elder relatives. Caring for our elders, our parents especially in their old age is part of our journey. We feel guilty when we pass it off to someone else when we could have taken on the responsibility ourselves. Of course, that is not always possible, but finding ways to stay in relationship with our parents is holy work.
- You shall not murder. Very succinct. No qualifications. We must examine our values and listen for the guidance of the Holy Spirit when faced with issues such as abortion in the first trimester, entering the military in times of war. Intention to murder another human being is clearly against the Law.
- You shall not commit adultery. Please note that there is no mention of homosexual unions here, and no exemption for polygamy. I don’t believe polyamory would fall within the Law either. Monogamy would be fairly clearly prescribed in my view, but gender specificity is not.
- You shall not steal. It’s not OK to steal – not to shop-lift or help yourself to stuff that doesn’t belong to you. It’s not OK, in my view, to steal natural resources from other countries, impoverishing the people and polluting their water supplies, or to sell our own resources to enrich the pockets of the rich. It’s stealing to divert water from the river that irrigates your neighbours crops. It’s stealing to gain control of your demented parent’s will and deprive your siblings of their share of the estate. People of God, we know if we look inside our hearts, what stealing is.
- You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour. We can see a lot of that happening south of the border, for our edification if not our entertainment! Civil society demands that we do only to our neighbour what we would want that neighbour to do to us. The Golden Rule. When there is no reasonable expectation of truth-telling, then society begins to crumble.
- You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbour. Covetting, or wanting to possess, is the precursor to stealing, or murder, or bearing false witness, or dishonoring your spouse, your children, or your parents. Covetting opens the door of our hearts and minds to darkness and evil intentions. Children of the Light, we must cleanse our minds and hearts of covetous behaviour, and repent of it when we find it within ourselves.
Like the disciples of Jesus, like the people of Nehemiah, we are weak. We make mistakes. We will drown in our guilt if we do not turn to God. Guilt will eat us up from inside, will torment our dreams and keep us from sleep. Guilt will make us ill, and healing can only come from repentance and forgiveness – from turning our lives over to God. Please take these commandments home with you, and if you like, make some notes yourself on what each of them means to you.
I will close these remarks with a quotation from the famous Baptist preacher, Charles Spurgeon:
“Without the Spirit of God we can do nothing. We are as ships without wind, or chariots without steeds. Like branches without sap, we are withered. Like coals without fire, we are useless.”
Friends, we are brought together here by the Spirit as the Body of Christ in the world – just as the disciples were. We are not perfect, as they were not perfect – but we will be made perfect by the grace and unfailing love of our God. Let us open our hearts and minds to the Spirit’s transforming work.
Hymn #21 MV “Open Our Hearts”
2nd Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 & Luke 4:14-21
“Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach…”
Filled with the power of the Spirit… I wonder, maybe you wonder, could Jesus have done the things he did, reached all the people he did, started a spiritual movement that spread over all the earth, if he had not been filled with the power of God? He was, after all, human – a man born of a woman. But he was “filled with the power of the Holy Spirit”. He was filled with the power of God.
But what’s that got to do with us, you might say? We are mere mortals, this stuff doesn’t happen to us! But maybe that’s what’s wrong with our churches today. Maybe we have become what Charles Spurgeon described: “ships without wind or chariots without steeds. Like branches without sap are withered. Like coals without fire, we are useless.”
After all, didn’t Jesus say shortly before his ascension: “I tell you the truth: it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counsellor (Holy Spirit) will not come to you, but if I go, I will send him to you.”
Jesus knew that we needed to be filled with Divine Light – knew that without the power of God we could do nothing – knew we were weak and imperfect vessels of clay. And yet – power did come on the followers of Jesus at Pentecost – and power will come on us if we pray and believe. And that power in us is the hope of this world, the Way to the kindom of God on earth, the salvation of God’s dream for humanity. Without the infilling of the Spirit our churches are withering, our Christian lives seem empty and without purpose. Where is the excitement of the early church? Where is the sap in these branches of the true vine of Christ? It’s right there, children of God. It surrounds us and waits for us to ask. There is much work to do. Let us respond to our calling to be Christ’s body in the world. Let’s reach out to the lonely and the broken and the desperate. We have the answer – Christ is the answer. The Holy Spirit waits on us, to work with us to revitalize our church.
Let us pray:
Holy Spirit we ask right now that you come on us with power, fill us with your great light, and empower us to take the message of Jesus, the Way of Love into this broken world. Hear the pain in our hearts, and the disappointment with our lack of connection. Heal us as we let our hearts reach out to you with longing and repentance. Show us how to rebuild your church into the vibrant, joyful community that is our heart’s desire. Move on us now, Spirit of God, that we might feel and know your presence. Blow thru this place, explode our hearts and split open our minds to the truth of your presence. Without you we are nothing. Fill us now we pray in the name of Jesus. Transform and perfect us so we can truly be of service to you and to this world that you so love. (silence) Amen.
Hymn: “Living in the Light” -Linnea Good