Sunday, October 4, 2020

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

"Love God … and Do As You Please"

Rev. Dr. Scott Landis

Exodus 20: 1-20

I wonder how many of the Ten Commandments you would have been able to recall if you had not just heard them a few moments ago? The Ten Commandments are lauded by many as the governing basis or bedrock of our society – and many will fight passionately to have them inscribed in stone and displayed prominently in public court houses or school buildings – yet the vast majority (including religious folks) cannot quote even half of them.

In a recent Pew research poll, it was discovered that about half of all Americans did not realize that the “Golden Rule” is not one of the 10 Commandments. Which, of course, begs the obvious question – do you know what the Golden Rule is?

In their research they found that more Americans know the 7 main ingredients in McDonald’s Big Mac than even a few of the 10 Commandments. For example, 80% knew the primary ingredients (two all-beef patties), but less than 6 in 10 knew “thou shalt not kill,” is one of the commandments.

Less than half (45%) could recall “honor thy father and mother.” But, 65% knew the Big Mac had a pickle on it.

“Go Figure.”

My point is, while so many have insisted that these religious commands are essential to human decency and public interaction - less than half of all Americans have any idea what comprises them. Perhaps we had better take some time to think about what they are and what they mean.

You can relax. I am not going to go through them commandment by commandment and explain each one in graphic detail. I’ll leave you to read and ponder them at that level of specificity, but I do think there are some general principles and responsibilities that are outlined in these words given to Moses that are important for us to consider.

Of primary importance is that, while pretty specific in nature, the commandments really are a reminder to each one of us that with belonging comes responsibility. When it comes to living in community – and let’s use our church as a primary one – ultimately it is NOT solely about me. Rather, participating in community entails being mindful of how everything I do affects everyone else.

We can think about this behaviorally: for example, MY decision NOT to wear a facemask when entering public settings during our current pandemic – based on MY understanding of MY human rights (and notice how many “MY’s” are in that statement) WILL have an impact on everyone else I encounter. In that example, my decision to exercise my freedom is not taking into account my responsibility to others.

The same is true from a theological perspective. The freedom given to me in the gift of salvation involves responsibility. Sometimes we forget that. It was St. Augustine who said, “Love God … and do as you please,” which may sound like license at first. But think about that a little more carefully. If we truly LOVE GOD – doesn’t that involve a certain amount of responsibility to all others whom God also loves? In fact, how I relate to my neighbor is a direct continuation or expression of how I relate to or LOVE God. So, IF I truly love God, doing what I please will be guided by that same love.

“Make sense?”

We all remember the mandate of Jesus, to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength – AND – your neighbor as yourself.” Loving God definitely has some strings attached – and those strings entail responsibility. [Pause]

What God offered the Israelites through the law he dictated to Moses, presents an interesting dynamic that we still struggle with today. The tension is between responsibility/obligation and freedom – OR what I should do and what I want to do.

Remember, God had released them from captivity – slavery – and provided a leader who told them they would be moving to the Promised Land – a land flowing with milk and honey. In short, they would be free. But they quickly realized that living in community needed some guidelines. What they had to learn was the challenge of living in community. To belong to one another gave them the opportunity to learn that, while it is not always easy, our responsibility is to “Love One Another.”

Furthermore, they had to learn that it was one thing for the LAW to be written in stone – something they could point to as their guiding light, but it was something else for them to realize this same LAW had to be written on their hearts in order to guide their life. What was needed was an “inner transformation” in order for true community to emerge.

Theologian Rebecca Pritchard describes it this way, “The tablets have a vertical and horizontal dimension – but they also have an inner and outer dimension. Each of the 10 asks us to nurture that deep abiding love for the God who is love, the one who frees us, saves us, and forgives us. AND, each of the 10 asks us to live our lives as though we believe in that just and loving God, as though divine being were renewing and remaking human being. When that happens, we can change the world. [Pause]

I was sharing with the folks gathered on our Wednesday Zoom chat the other day that my Hawaiian language instructor, the other evening, went off on one of his many tangents. I love when he does that as it gives us all a break from the rigors of pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary. For some reason he got to talking about a men’s group that he is involved with where they share their experiences on many fronts, job, marriage, parenting, politics, and so on. The idea of responsibility came up in one of their recent gatherings and he spoke up about the ancient yet amazing contemporary Hawaiian concept of “pono,” which basically means righteous, virtuous, proper, just, true.

He went on to say, if we simply ask ourselves the question “Is it pono?” before we act on anything – the world would be a much better place. Kalie, I couldn’t agree with you more.

It is the basis of living in freedom and in responsibility.

So, don’t beat up on yourself too much if you can recite the Big Mac jingle and cannot remember 6 or the 10 Commandments. While the law is important – it’s what is written on your heart that means so much more.

Simply ask yourself the question – given the freedom that you enjoy – is it pono? That inner guide will set you free.


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