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What not to do

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Autumn 2019  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  12:15
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Luther not only writes about what we shouldn't do in adhering to the 10 Commandments, but also what we should do. In doing so, we turn a negative list into something positive. Our task as God's people is to make the world a better place -- not doing bad things will only get us so far. Doing good things will help the world become even better and closer to the community that God wants for us all.

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There are many ways to group the Ten Commandments, and many reflections on them over the years, and hopefully many reflections of them by each of us over the years. These are the rules that we are to live by — with God, with ourselves, with each other. These are the rules that are basic to many of our laws.

Honouring our relationship with God

Luther explains the first two commandments in this way:

We should fear, love,2 and trust in God above all things.4

We should so fear and love God as not to curse, swear2, conjure, lie4, or deceive, by his name6, but call upon him in every time of need, and worship him with prayer8, praise, and thanksgiving10.

We should so fear and love God as not to despise his word and the preaching of the gospel but deem it holy2, and willingly hear and learn it4.

Simple, true explanations of the first three commandments — and explanations that I have trouble with.
It is this word — fear — that I struggle with. To me God isn’t to be feared. I know we have the stories of God punishing people for doing wrong, and we do wrong by God, by ourselves, by others — and punishment would be fitting in most of those cases — but we also have stories of God’s abounding love. It is that love that gets me up in the morning, and through my day. The fear of punishment isn’t what motivates me to live in accordance of God’s will. The desire to respond to God’s love is what motivates me. As I’ve dug deeper into this it isn’t a case of terror, but a case of awe and respect toward God — an acknowledgment I guess that God is more awesome and powerful than I could ever be.

Honouring our relationship with others

In Luther’s explanation of the next set of commandments, of course he emphasizes the need to fear and love God, and that should motivate us to not do certain things … but more importantly to do certain things.

not to despise nor displease2 our parents and superiors, but honor4, serve, obey6, love, and esteem them8.

not to do our neighbor any bodily harm or injury2, but rather assist and comfort4 him in danger and want.

to be chaste and pure in our words2 and deeds, each one also loving and honoring4 his wife or her husband.

not to rob our neighbor of his money or property, nor bring it into our possession by unfair dealing or fraudulent means2, but rather assist him to improve and protect it.

not deceitfully to belie2, betray, slander, nor raise injurious reports against our neighbor4, but apologize for him, speak well of him, and put the most charitable construction on all his actions.6

While we often focus on what we are not to do — for that is how the commandments are written (and we create laws to say what people should not do — and create church rules so certain things don’t happen).
Let’s turn that around though and see what we are supposed to do:
++Speak well of
++Be Charitable/Supportive
That list seems a lot more positive — things I can do — and yes, that does mean there are things I can’t do — or shouldn’t do — but I shouldn’t do them or don’t do them because I want to do these more. I want to be the person who helps, comforts, loves, honours, protects, speaks well of, and supports others — for then the whole community is built up.
As Paul wrote to the Thessalonians on how they were to be the church:

11 Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.

Honouring our relationship with ourselves

Of course, we’re not done yet — Luther was never short in explaining things.

not to desire by craftiness to gain possession of our neighbor’s inheritance or home, or to obtain it under the pretext of a legal right2; but be ready to assist and serve him in the preservation of his own.

not to alienate our neighbor’s wife from him, entice away his servants2, nor let loose his cattle, but use our endeavors that they may remain and discharge their duty to him4.

For me, these last two commandments come down to being content with what we have. We might desire to have one of these houses across the road, or maybe something a little more modest but still more than we have now. If we have a place to live — that is clean, and dry, and affordable, and safe — is there really more that we need? There may be more that we want — and sure we can work towards that. If we work towards that though, in the context of all these other things we are to do, we won’t need legal pretext or alienation of neighbours for our focus will have been on the right things all the way along.

Honouring our relationship with all creation

Of course what is missing from all of this — if we were to re-write it today — would be honouring our relationship with all creation — with the Earth — with our pets — with the animals that work for us — and so much more.
I do think though, that we can still honour those relationships too if we can focus on being:
++Speaking well of
++Being Charitable/Supportive
For our God is all those things — to us — to each person made in God’s image — to the world. And for that we give thanks. Amen.
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