Sermon for the Twentyfirst Sunday after Pentecost

I was discussing life application sermons with someone the other week and I learned that, while nuggets for living found in my sermons are fine, there is a hunger for more and so today I want to concentrate on the life lessons to be learned from our scriptures.

That seemed particularly appropriate for we have the Exodus version of the giving of the Ten Commandments. When I was young and worshiping at Truro Church in Fairfax, Virginia, above the altar were the Ten Commandments for all to read and heed.

The Ten Commandments—some hold them up as a talisman and there have been recent brouhaha as people have tried to erect monuments with the Commandments inscribed on them.

Both the panel above the altar and monuments in Alabama beg the question—Why are Christians bound by the law? The Apostle Paul says that we are freed from the Law and only the foolish place themselves under the Law and then are liable for the 100’s of nuanced prohibitions given in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.

Jesus said that all the Law and the teachings of the prophets are found in two commandments—we might think of them as the Reader’s Digest version: Love God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength and Love your neighbor as you love yourself.

And when we look at the Commandments as given, all can be classified into one of those two concise thoughts. To list each of the ten separately is to dumb them down, and I don’t think it is a stretch to believe that God, having journeyed with the Israelites out of Egypt and into the Wilderness, realizes that they need great specificity—just as sometimes we all do. And the Hebrew Scriptures indicate how even with specificity, the Chosen People don’t get it.

But the simple reality is that everything in our experience as Christians can be codified by these simple words: Love God. Love neighbor as you love yourself. These precepts lie behind each of the precepts of our baptismal promises and what in-reach and outreach are all about.

So life application insight #1: do the stuff you’re supposed to and don’t do what hurts you and others. If you need specific guidance, start with the simple commands of the Big Ten. They are not suggestions.

Now let’s turn to Paul’s epistle to the Christians at Philippi. Here he is contending against those who insist that Gentiles must become Jewish before they can truly be Christians—in short, men line up for the big C which by the way was not performed when you were too young to remember the pain.

Well, there’s not much life application in that but then Paul talks about the loss of all things for Christ—a clear reference to his meteoric rise as a zealous Pharisee and persecutor of the young Church.

I think there are many of us who have experienced if not the loss of all things certainly a major hit in our retirement planning and for our older members whose fixed incomes come from mutual funds or stock portfolios. It is truly a scary time. Particularly as the promised rescue plan did not instantly cause a market recovery.

Paul says rhetorically—what’s really important? And he answers himself—nothing is important but drawing closer to Jesus Christ.

That is Good Counsel for us as well. I’m sure that like me, many have felt powerless to do anything to turn around the many investors whose selling actions have driven down so many stocks.

We are well into the blame game and the reality is everyone has some of the blame. We were asleep at the switch when banks and insurance companies diversified, when Congress underfunded regulators, when ethical business practices put priority on greed and self interest above the welfare of workers, stockholders, and the well being of our country.

The reality is that in this temporal life there is no way to change the past—we need to follow Paul’s advice—forget what lies behind and press on. Things may seem hopeless but we both have the Christian hope which overcomes all. But to put that hopefulness into operation against all the concerns and worries raised by the media is the Christian challenge of our current time.

It means that we will have to sacrifice, to conserve, to rethink ‘business as usual.’ It means that we will have to adjust. Marianne has already told me I will work ‘til I drop so I like Paul will press on to the prize of the heavenly call of God in Jesus Christ.

So the 2nd Life Application: you can’t change the past; stopping blaming yourself and move forward

Which brings us to the gospel: What do we draw from an obvious prophetic parable about the abuses of those who should be stewards of God’s creation and how heirs of the promise of the God the Son could kill God?

Well, watch to whom you rent might be a good starter. And really check their references.

But the real message for life application is found in Jesus’ message to the Pharisees: What you reject will be given to others. I think that applies to the church and to us. Bear the fruits of the kingdom—decency, concern and care for neighbors, faithfulness to God—and live into the potential that God has for us.

And now the 3 messages:

  • Follow the path of the 2 great commandments.
  • Move forward in faith.
  • Bear the fruits—Jesus expects it.

Amen.