March 7, 2021

“A WINDOW ON THE HEART OF GOD” SERMON FOR SUNDAY, MARCH 7, 2021 THIRD SUNDAY IN LENT YEAR B PREACHED BY THE REVEREND GEORGE YANDO Exodus 20: 1-17, Psalm 19, 1 Corinthians 1: 18-25, John 2: 13-22 The Old Testament lesson we just read recalls God’s giving of the Ten Commandments to Moses. Whatever happened to the Ten Commandments anyway? In asking that question, I’m not talking about the tablets of stone upon which they were written. I’m talking about the words themselves, the decrees God delivered on that mountaintop so long ago and so far away. What has happened to them in our day? There was a time when you might occasionally hear someone trot out one of them to support an argument or to chastise an offender with a rebuke, “Shame on you! Don't you know that goes against the Fourth – or the Sixth – or the Ninth Commandment?” But what of the Ten Commandments as a whole? Do the Ten Commandments really figure anymore in the lives of average people? Many church members would have difficulty reciting them at the drop of a hat. Some of our older church members will recall having memorized them from the catechism in preparation for Confirmation. But of those who at one time had memorized them, many would now be hard pressed to recite them completely and without error. And many, many more people outside the church would scarcely know what we are even talking about. But awareness and knowledge of the Ten Commandments and recollection of their details are of less importance and concern than their influence and impact on moral living. My larger concern in our time together here is with the serious diminishing of the influence of the Ten Commandments upon moral living. It begs the question with which this message began: What happened to the Ten Commandments? What are some of the underlying reasons for their erosion as the basis or framework of our moral code? First, some find the Ten Commandments to be uncongenial to the lifestyles that have been adopted by so many these days. There’s an old story told about how, as Moses came down from the mountain, carrying the two stone tablets on which God had written the Ten Commandments, Joshua ran up to Moses and asked, “Well, how'd it go?” Moses replied, “Well, I've got some good news and some bad news. The good news is I got him down to 10. The bad news is adultery's still in.” It’s an old story, one I first heard years ago. I know I’ve shared it with many people. Not being able to see your faces, I have no way knowing if the punch line of that story provoked a smile or a chuckle from you, but it’s often prompted both. In a way, it’s cute, funny. There was a time however the telling of that same story would probably have seen more people frowning than chuckling. The very fact that we’re moved to laugh at the punch line, or even tempted to do so is, I think, the result of a subtle, subversive moral laxity permeating our society, one that trivialises these injunctions, commandments important enough in God’s estimation to warrant carving them in stone, insisting that people obey them for their own good or ignore them at their peril. The popular em¬phases of our day are upon the positive. By contrast, the Ten Command¬ments seem so nega¬tive, laden as they are with all of those “Thou shalt nots.” Our age responds more far readily to free expression; as a consequence, anything that smacks of repression just doesn’t sell. Our forebears lived in an age of discipline, whereas today almost everywhere, author¬ity is becoming increasingly sus¬pect. Independent thought, freedom of choice and personal creativity are good; discipline on the other hand carries with it a whole freight-load of heavy-handed negatives. Mistakenly, many people today feel that Christianity means only being against things, whether those things are certain values and atti¬tudes, be¬haviours and lifestyles. Consequently, people aren’t so clear about what Christianity is for. The Ten Commandments as a framework for a code of moral conduct seem to be incompatible with the present-day lifestyles of many people. Which leads me to a second point: Secondly, the Ten Commandments fall today on the deaf ears of a generation which no longer feels the claim of a moral order upon them. Unless I miss my guess, the attitude of a large segment of people toward the Ten Commandments nowadays is simply a matter of “So what?” And perhaps we ought not to be surprised. Maybe that kind of a reaction is to be expected from a generation that has for the most part pushed God out of their world and out of their lives. The Russian religious philosopher, Nikolai Berdyaev once remarked, "Man without God is no longer man." In effect, Berdyaev is saying, humankind without God is reduced to “animal-¬kind.” Is he overstating the case? Not if you ask the survivors of the Nazi death camps of the Second World War, or those who have witnessed the horror of genocide in Rwanda or Kosovo, in Sudan or Myanmar. And notice as well how modern literature and television reflect in¬creasingly the thinking of a generation warming to the possibility of a universe without God, or at best, one in which God has turned his back on the Creation and ceased even to care, let alone be involved in its unfolding. From that kind of a world view, however, less and less good emerges, and hence, “So what?” becomes the popular, acceptable moral stance. The grim reality is that many people today have lost any concept of a Being who loves us and therefore has a moral claim upon us. So, if nothing matters and no one cares, there is no feeling of the pull of any ultimate meaning to life. There is no ration¬ale whatsoever for the Ten Commandments in an outlook such as that. Thirdly, in the face of such a harsh, cold assessment of the nature of reality, our idea of Christian love has been reduced to the level of sentimentality. Love has been taken over by one or the other of two modern concepts. There is the notion we find in the secular culture that suggests Love is a matter of emotion only; it has no depth, no fibre, no substance, no lasting quality. Then there are some with a shallow banal take on Christian faith who hold to the idea that love is something without any cost. It's merely a “good neighbour” kind of feeling. Both of these understandings of love, however, are sadly lacking and just plain wrong. For love to rise to the level of that modelled by Jesus, it must involve caring, justice and a reaching out to others – sometimes at a fearful price. Otherwise, it is simple sentimen¬tality without any ethical framework. That’s where the Ten Commandments come in. They supply a kind of road map for living, and the Gospel of the New Testament gives us the will and the spirit to abide by them. Remember Paul's dilemma, the one he wrote about in Romans chapter 7: “For I do not the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do . . . Who shall deliver me? . . . Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ!” It's too easy to say in an off-handed manner, “God loves you, and so do I,” to say it with little regard for the conse¬quences of such a daring admis¬sion. Frankly, the Ten Command¬ments call us instead to declare, “Since God loves us, we should love God and our neighbour as ourselves.” And that kind of love demands heart and soul and strength and mind – dimen¬sions of attitude and action we far too easily avoid or neglect. So, where does that leave us? What’s our take on it? On what basis can a case be made for the Ten Command¬ments? Simply this: In the Ten Commandments we have two basic principles underpinning our religious lifestyle, namely our accountability to God and, our accountability for our neigh¬bour. Regarding the first, our accountability to God, the Ten Commandments are essential to resolving the way we mishandle life's priorities. Note how the Commandments begin: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” Everyone of us worships something. But it is to our peril when we give our allegiance to any but the One, True God. Our besetting sin becomes idolatry. Once upon a time we criticized the heathen in their blindness for their bowing down to images or idols made of wood or stone. But by definition, idolatry is the worship of anything other than God. The idols that would claim our allegiance today are money, class, power, success, prestige, security, all those other things that would demand our devotion. But for every Christian, God must have first place, or else God has no place. Whatever we value most in life will be what we worship, and it is by this choice that our conduct and character are determined. Moreover, this God we worship is not some unknown being. We see God in the face of Jesus Christ. Jesus himself said, “Those who have seen me have seen the Father.” Or as one theologian put it, "God always was what he was – and is – in Christ Jesus." And through Christ, God sought to bring the world back to him¬self, a world filled with people that have broken his laws and put themselves first. The Ten Commandments declare our basic need then to be accountable to God, because of who God is and what God has done for us. The Ten Commandments also outline our second priority: our accountability for the whole of humankind. The first four commandments spell out our accountability to God; the next six embrace our duty to other human¬ beings. And these last six aren’t just social suggestions. Rather, they are really the outgrowth of the first four. In other words, the quality and meaning of our worship of God find their results in the way we treat other human beings. That is to say, if our worship of God is half-hearted, then our service to other people will be no better. There is little point in being concerned about what’s the right thing to do if we don’t have the will to do it. And that’s the ultimate contribution Chris¬tianity brings to human existence, namely, that in and through Christ, we receive the power to perform what the Commandments urge us to do and to be. It’s why our services of worship conclude first with a Commis¬sioning, a command concerning how we are to leave and to live in our going out from worship, and then with a benediction, a reminder of the promise of the power that goes with us, and helps us to fulfil that command in our living and in our loving. To those who would argue that the Ten Commandments have become passé, irrelevant, and powerless to impact the self-indulgent, carefree and creative independence of free thinking individualistically-minded modern folk, Christians are compelled by conviction to assert otherwise. The commandments of God were given to provide a moral, ethical, and even yet today, a legal framework for compassionate, respectful living, one that recognizes the call to live as faithful stewards of God’s creation, loving God and loving all that God has created, includes one’s self, one’s family, and one’s neighbours. The Ten Commandments give us a window on the heart of God, a glimpse into the nature of God and God’s desires and purposes for our relationship not only with God, but also our affiliation with the rest of humanity. As such the Ten Commandments are an expression of divine wisdom that is timeless, and as relevant today as ever. God’s covenantal promises were not limited to the pact God made with the Israelites, those to whom God first delivered those divine decrees. They are for everyone, for all of us, those of every family and community, every society and nation. God has promised to those who would honour God as God, that God’s presence would go with them and remain with them always. Moreover, God has not only promised to go with us in our living and in our loving, but God also empowers us to live and love as we are so called. We are blessed that we might be a bless¬ing to others. God binds up the broken¬ness in our lives so that in turn, we become the ones through whom God binds up a broken world. This is our faith; this is our calling. We have no higher priority. Thanks be to God. PRAYERS OF THANKSGIVING AND INTERCESSION – March 7, 2021 We give you all thanks and praise, O God, Creator of the universe and all that it encompasses. Its wonder and beauty, the breadth and range of its complexity bears testament to your glory and witnesses to your limitless power. The night sky breathes a whisper of peace to our resting souls and the stars that spangle the span of space reflect your heavenly glory even in the face of the coming dawn. As birds begin to stir, raising a serenade to your gift of life, the rising sun brightens within us your divine hope, while creation’s voice resounds in our hearts, reminding us of your unrelenting and unconditional caring. Liberating God: We thank you that you saw your children in bondage in Egypt, unleashed them from chains of captivity and fostered them on a footpath to freedom. Yet all that they – and we – have learned on our journey has not sufficiently enhanced with wisdom our understanding of your person and purpose for our lives; the consequence of our arrogance and foolishness is evident in the brokenness of our world, revealing how your creation is held captive by our selfishness and greed. In consequence of our undoing, your created order cries out for renewal and restoration to wholeness, while our own pain-shattered hearts echo the need for healing and peace. In response to the chaos we have visited upon your creation, you sent your Son Jesus into the world, filled with zeal for your honour, and passion for proclaiming the good news of your redemptive love and reconciling initiative. We thank you, great and glorious God, for Jesus who heals the sick, welcomes the lost, enfolds the marginalized, forgives the fallen and grants new life to those dead in sin and self-destruction. For his tough but tender love, his conquest of beguiling temptation, his resolute journey to its climax at Jerusalem, his faithfulness in the face of betrayal, trial and abuse, his devotion to human sisters and brothers lovingly poured out even to death on the cross, we thank you with words that cannot begin to convey the measure of gratitude we would offer in response to his grace-filled life and atoning death. We thank you for your undying care of him and for his risen presence face to face among women and men who became his witnesses, in his and every succeeding generation, even to the end of the world. We count ourselves graced and privileged to be among them and pray for the loyalty and courage to continue their faithful messaging to the world, in our words and in our walk, bearing his love and healing to a hurting world that even now is being renewed day by day by your divine love and grace. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer. God of justice and mercy: we give you thanks for the commandments you conveyed through Moses to your chosen people. Standing as they do at the heart of your everlasting covenant, they bear witness to your person and your purpose, granting us a glimpse into your divine heart and serving notice of your desire that we should be your people, and you our God, bound together in loyalty and love forever. May your ordinances continue to be for us a framework for obedient and faithful living to your greater honour and glory. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer. Lord, hear the prayers we would offer to you on behalf of others, not because we consider ourselves as better and more exceptional than they, such that our prayers claim preferential place in your hearing, but because they are one with us in our common need of your mercy and strength and assistance. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer. We pray for those we take for granted, those who serve us and our needs yet receive little notice and less thanks. May our faces be lowered in humility to see them as you do, worthy of the same unconditional love and benefit you would bestow on each of us. May we be more open to being the answer to their prayers and the agents through whom you would convey your bounty and blessings. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer. We pray for the governments of the world and all the world leaders, that they may uphold what is right for peaceful union between all countries. We acknowledge with shame and sorrow all the sin, hatred and injustice which have led and still lead to violence and war. We pray for the situations in Afghanistan and Myanmar, in North Africa, ranging from Libya and the Sabel region, Ethiopia, Yemen and Somalia, Venezuela and other places in the world where tensions are high, praying that peace may reign over all in the end. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer. O God our Maker, who placed humankind at the pinnacle of your created order, we thank you for our neighbours, our friends and for the people around us with whom we work and share our daily lives. We pray for those who are old and lonely, those isolated because of ill-health, and those who find it difficult to make friends or be accepted. Show us all what we can do to help and teach us to be good neighbours and true friends. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer. Heavenly Father, we thank you for all the joys and blessings of family life, and for the wisdom and patience to weather the challenging times in our shared journey as family. When we disagree and quarrel, make us quick to think before speaking, quicker yet to forgive and to seek forgiveness. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer. We pray for those who are subjected to abuse and live in constant fear. Strengthen the courage of those who struggle to reach out for help, stand with those who offer resources and hope to rebuild shattered lives, that peace and confidence in their security rule in their homes and their lives. Lord, in your mercy, heard our prayer. Merciful healing God: we thank you for the miracles and gifts of healing, even as we pray for all who administer to the sick and infirm. Grant them renewed and continuing strength, that they weary not in well doing but honour the sacred trust you have bestowed upon them in your gifts of healing. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer. Renewing God even as we remember and pray for the healers, we lift before you all who are sick, injured and hurting in body, mind, and spirit. Bestow the balm of your peace, your comforting presence and your power to bring them through their trial. May your blessing be upon them and those who love and care for them, that they experience encouragement and peace, that their sorrows and concerns be transformed into comfort confidence and hope, and their loneliness into fellowship with you. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer. All-knowing God, who knows the needs of every soul and hears their cries before voice is given to them, receive the prayers we would bring before you the names and needs of those known to us at the fore of those concerns we bear in our hearts: Silence Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer. God of deliverance, during this period of Lent, heighten within us an awareness of your unique sacrifice on our behalf and teach us to be humble in acknowledging that all our gifts come from you for the service of people and the spread of your Kingdom. May you live in us so that in all our small acts of sacrifice the light of your resurrection may shine through and give meaning. We offer these our prayers as we gather them together in the words our Lord taught us, saying: Our Father who art in heaven . . . Amen.