Friday, June 29, 2018

Tuning In: Tuning Into Each Other

Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

You shall not murder.

You shall not commit adultery.

You shall not steal.

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.  Exodus 20:12-16 (NRSV)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to set us free. Amen.

What. Does. Freedom. Look. Like? 

Over these past few weeks, we’ve been working our way through the Ten Commandments. Or, as I like better, God’s Ten Words. Given to Israel on Mount Sinai. Given to Israel after they had been freed by God from slavery in Egypt. 

It’s probably not too difficult for us to imagine what this freedom might have looked like them. Their enslavement had happened gradually. Over hundreds of years. When everything they made with their hands eventually was no longer theirs, but taken by the Egyptians. Where, over time, they lost hope. And they began to feel as though there was no longer a future for them. That everything they owned or that they made had been taken away. Even, after time, their dignity and self-respect.

And, then, unexpectedly, they were freed. We can only imagine what that must have felt like. When Miriam danced with joy and excitement on the shore of the Red Sea, we can begin to get a glance at what freedom looked like for Israel.

What does freedom look like for us today?  We, who claim to live in the freest country in the world. What does freedom look like for us? Any ideas? Call them out. 

Now, here’s another question for you. What is freedom for? That may be a more difficult question. Any ideas?

What would you say to me if I suggested that the commandments are what freedom looks like? Would you think I was a little confused perhaps? After all, how can freedom look like commandments? How can freedom look like rules and boundaries? And, in particular, for us Lutherans who believe that it is only through God’s grace that we are freed--by the Gospel and not by the Law. How is it that the Ten Commandments are what freedom looks like?

Perhaps the best answer to this question is in Paul’s letter to the Galatians. It is there that we read over and over and over again that we are freed not by the works of the law, but through faith in Jesus Christ. Over and over again. We are freed by faith, Paul writes. For freedom Christ has set us free! 

Paul writes that we can’t rely on the law for our freedom, but solely on Christ. It is through Christ’s action that we receive freedom. Just as Israel received freedom through God’s actions.

So, then, how does freedom look like the commandments? Like the Law?

Paul continues on. Since you have been freed by Christ, now use that freedom. Use it to submit to your neighbor in love. Because freedom isn’t true freedom without boundaries. Freedom isn’t when our children fear gun violence in school, but when we take steps to ensure that they are safe. Freedom isn’t when newly-arrived asylum-seekers have their children torn away from them, but when we seek to ensure that families are preserved and children protected. Freedom isn’t when one feels so alone and hopeless that suicide is the only option, but when they are sought out and loved. Freedom is not the endless satisfaction of every sexual impulse, but the commitment of two people to each other. Freedom isn’t when the powerful take whatever they want, but when we respect the property of others and do our best to help them maintain and keep it. Freedom isn’t when the strong dominate the weak, but when the bodies and lives of all people are respected. 

The purpose of the law is not your best life now, but your neighbor’s best life now. And, since we’re stuck here waiting the fullness of all of God’s kingdom to be re-knit into a new creation, God says to us, “As long as you’re here in this condition, love your neighbor.” And, then God says, “Let me be explicit. Make sure everyone gets a day off each week. Take care of your parents and of the elderly. Don’t kill. Don’t steal. Don’t have sex with someone else’s spouse. Don’t hurt your neighbor or damage their reputation with your words. Don’t desire your neighbor’s stuff. That’s how you love your neighbor.” 

The point of the law is not to make our sinful souls into self-help projects, but to turn one neighbor towards the other. It’s not about self-improvement, but about neighbor-improvement. Note that in our first reading, which we have heard every Sunday for the past three Sundays. Note that in it Jesus says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” which is the second greatest commandment after loving God. The law is like a fence around everything our neighbor values (and we value): property, relationship, reputation, and life.

What are the things that you value? What are the values that you think are basic to living together in community? Perhaps it’s valuing diversity. Perhaps it’s respecting the voices of everyone, regardless of wealth or power. As we move through the rest of our worship, I invite you to find that Post-It note in your bulletin and to write down those things that are important for us to live in community--not just here in this place, but also in our world. Then, as you leave today, there is a map of Oldham County on the wall in the fellowship hall. I invite you to post them there. On the place where we are in community together. 

Because, dear friends, the law isn’t about us. It’s about our neighbor. That is the good news of the second table of the commandments. That God loves our neighbor so much that God gives us the law. And, that God gives our neighbor the exact same law. 

We have been set free in Christ to love God and to love and serve our neighbor. May we do so today, tomorrow, and for the rest of our lives. Amen.

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