Audio is available only for the sermon from this morning’s Fellowship Hall service.
The Ten Commandments are referenced in our text from Deuteronomy. Those are the statutes and ordinances that are referred to in the text. Let me ask you, when was the last time you thought or talked about the Ten Commandments?
Quick check. We do this at school. Turn to your neighbor – and you will be lucky if you have a neighbor like Tom Zych, Elizabeth Shaw or Kermit Lind – and try to name all ten. There will be a prize for those of you who can name all of them. I’ll give you 30 seconds. Go.
How many of you got all ten? How many of you fell short or needed your partner to get all ten? Yep, me too. No shame.
About four years ago, I spent a whole summer writing a book about the Commandments, and my working title was the Dead Commandments. I said it once as a fluke, but it stuck. These cornerstone tenets were things I rarely thought about.
When I was working on this book, a spiritual memoir of sorts, I needed to be reminded that they can be divided into two objectives. The first set tells us how to be in relationship with God and the second set tells us how to be in relationship with each other.
- “You shall have no other gods before me.
- worship false idols
- take the name of the Lord your God in vain
- “You shall Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy.
These will keep us in right relationship with God.
And these will keep us in right relationship with each other:
- Honor your father and your mother
- You shall not murder
- commit adultery
- bear false witness against your neighbor
- covet your neighbor’s house or anything that is your neighbor’s.
What I found out – and I will summarize my 200-page book for you right now – is this: I break every single one of these commandments, and, dude, I am a pretty “good” person as people go! Let’s take them one by one:
- I loosely worship God at my convenience
- I have made idols out of money, property, achievements, others …
- I take the Lord’s name in vain, especially when driving, and I give God blame for things that are solely my own making
- Sabbath? – a whole day? – well, that just ain’t happening
- I spent years not fully knowing and honoring my parents.
- I kill people’s spirits by my lack of understanding and grace
- I have longed for people who were not mine to desire
- I steal from others every time I forget to give them my full attention
- I lie and spread gossip more frequently than I am proud of
- I covet so many people for so much – shoot, just looking out here today: Doris’ good looks and class, Barb Lind’s artistic eye, Ron’s service orientation, Quentin’s good humor. And who does not want to spend a day being Deanne Lentz?
Thank God for Jesus, who gave it to us simple and in more doable terms:
- Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.
- And the second is: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
Ten whittled down to two – much more approachable.
I have always wondered why the greatest commandment asks us to love God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. It’s kind of like the way you swear in court to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
I am not a scholar, just a poet, so here’s what I got to give you:
Loving with all your heart: I think that means we are called to completely know and be known. Think of loving the way you love the people you love most – a partner, a child, a parent: unconditionally, fully exposed, fully compassionate, fully grouchy, fully tired and worn down, eager with hope, needing support, offering support, challenging and being challenged. A deep intimate knowing. A deep openness to be known.
Do you love God that way?
Think about loving with all your soul: For me – my soul tends my deepest desires. My soul houses my purest dreams and wishes. I do not hand that over to very many people. In fact, I do not think I have fully handed that over to any one person, yet. Too dangerous. Too risky. But with this commandment, God is asking us to lay our greatest hope in God’s hands.
Do you love God that way?
Think about loving with all your mind: That means understanding what God has tried to teach us through God’s actions, prophets, and lessons. That means reading and thinking, that means noticing and thinking, that means seeking knowledge and thinking – being actively engaged in the unfolding of the grand story.
Do you love God that way?
Not me, not yet.
And I think that is because of second most important commandment: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
Note that loving your neighbor is hinged to the statement “as you love yourself.”
I thank God that I do not love my neighbors as I love myself, because shoot, they would feel horrible. If I loved my neighbors like I love myself they would be flogged with doubt, they would be flooded with retroactive analysis for every action taken or not taken. I would criticize their singing voices. I would tell them they are not working hard enough. I’d jab at their failure to fully activate their long terms goals. I’d text them in the middle of the night and ask them why the heck they ate that pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream!
Thank God I do not love my neighbors as myself.
God has blessed us with many talents; God has made us in God’s image. Yet this is something we so often forget or deny.
Let me tell you a story.
At the beginning Faith Leaders, we took a gifts inventory. We had to answer a long list of survey questions, like “On a 1-5 scale, rate how comfortable you are speaking in public.” Or, “Rank how willing you are to devote time to justice and mission efforts.” After some sort of calculation, we found out what our spiritual gifts were.
What shocked me – after this exercise – was the reluctance of my friends to believe their results of the test. There was a whole lot of hemming and hawing.
The friend who often led our closing ritual of petitions and gratitude said, “It says that I’m good at prayer, but, I don’t know about that.”
The friend who hosted our retreat and cooked us the best Minestrone soup, said “I don’t really think I am that hospitable.”
The friend who always had a kind word for everyone, said, “Well, that’s no big deal. It’s just the way I am.”
I couldn’t believe that these very gifted people were hesitant to claim their obvious gifts.
Each of us nodded when someone else spoke: Oh Yes! You are full of gifts relating to prayer. Oh Yes! You are filled with the prophetic word. But, when we were asked to claim our own gifts, we hedged. Maybe out of some sense of humility, maybe out of some experience of comparison, knowing that someone always does what we do well better than us. I do not know. Maybe because we just do not see ourselves fully.
I want to put an end to all of that – in me, in you, in culture at large. I want us to claim our gifts. We NEED to claim our gifts. We need to know and love ourselves.
Because from there, everything in these two most important commandments unravels upwards.
We cannot do the best and biggest things for God and our neighbors until we know our largest gifts and purpose. Do you get that? You cannot love your neighbor until you have some sense of what you can offer them. You cannot love God with your whole heart if it is occupied with even the smallest drop of self-hatred. You cannot love God with your whole mind if any part of your mind is occupied with self-doubt. You cannot love God with your entire spirit and less you know the path of your dreams, your gifts and blessings.
Fulfilling God’s commandments necessitates us claiming – selflessly – our gifts.
I am good at math and I have a systems way of thinking – those, I think, come from genetics. Thank you, mom and dad. In contrast, the gifts I have been given by God are not of me – they seem to bubble up like a natural spring. I can work them and maximize them to a degree, but I am mostly very, very aware that they are not of me. They come from some greater place for a greater purpose. The ability and desire to give sermons – from God. The ability to write in a way that appeals and challenges people – from God. The sweet soft part of my heart that cries every time I tell an important truth – from God.
If you know me, I do not brag about those things. I am in awe and in gratitude for them instead. It’s a wonder and a mystery and I am blown away by God’s blessings laid upon me. I can love myself because God has revealed these to me.
So far, I am 14 minutes into my sermon, so for the last 6 minutes I would like us to do this. I know this next thing is not the normal way we do things at church.
We will all sit quietly for a minute or so to think of the gifts God has blessed us with. Is it a clear mind to understand and interpret law? Is it the love of cooking to share meals with others? Is it the ability to be organized so that your family does what it needs to do?
Then, when I signal, each of us will turn to a neighbor, and tell him or her about the talents and blessings you have been given. Speak without shame or embarrassment. If it helps you say, “I am thankful God has given me the gift of…” Or “God has blessed me with…” Those whose turn it is to listen, just listen. You do not need to comment or assure. Then we will flip roles. Anne will play a little ditty when it is time to flip roles.
How was that? Is everyone ok?
Now, I have a second challenge. Make a list of your gifts and place then where you will see them every single day. Claim and name and remind yourself of the gifts you have been given by our God. God needs us to use them to create God’s kingdom on earth.
Love yourself, with a humble grateful acknowledgement that God has blessed you with unique and powerful gifts.
Love yourself, because only then you can love your neighbor.
Love yourself, because only then can you love God with your full heart, your gifted soul and unencumbered mind.
Thanks be to God who gave his wishes to Moses, to Moses who carried them down the mountain, to Jesus who helped us understand them, and to the Holy Spirit – who will make ways for us to love God with our full hearts, minds, and souls – as best we can – knowing we are blessed and beloved children of God.
Let the people say: Amen.