• The Rev. Frank St. Amour, III

Sermon - 6 Easter


In the Name...

A Sunday school teacher was discussing the Ten Commandments with her five and six year olds. After explaining the commandment to "honour thy father and thy mother," she asked "What do the commandments say about how to treat our brothers and sisters?" Without missing a beat one little boy answered, "Thou shalt not kill." Commandments. We hear a lot about them in church and, for many people, religion is symbolized by the scowling image of Charlton Heston, I mean Moses, striding majestically down Mt. Sinai bearing the heavy stone tablets with their heavier burden of "Thou shalt not’s". Some people even say that they don't go to church because they don't like being told what to do. But, when you think about it, that's just silly. because there's not a single aspect of life that doesn't involve commandments, from the stop sign on the corner to the IRS, from the boss at work to the dentist who says "Open wide". Every moment of our lives is subject to some sort of commandments. We don't have a choice. But, the odd thing about God's commandments is that it seems we do have a choice. We can follow them or totally ignore them and nobody is going to bother us about it one way or the other. We talk about the Law of God, and yet, there is no mechanism for the enforcement of God's law. No Church Police, no magistrates, no fines or imprisonment. And how can there be? For God's supreme commandment is, as we heard today, Love. Some say this is the strongest commandment in the world, but, truth be told, it is also the weakest, from a secular perspective because you can take the commandments, the laws, of any kind of regime, left-wing, right-wing, Western, Eastern, capitalist, communist, whatever, and impose them on anybody with enough force. But, no dictator can force people to love one another. That is beyond human power to compel. So, if love cannot be commanded, in the human sense, does that make Christianity a feel-good free-for-all? Not at all. Jesus taught many new things about God and one of those was the concept of God as our Father. It was natural in ancient times to think of God as a creator, a king, a judge, a warrior, but, “father” was something new and even radical because to call God a father means that there is a special kind of order in our relationship, the order of family life - the order of rules whose root is love. Our Father has laid down the basic rule and he leaves it up to us to figure out how to obey it. What does it mean to love one another as I have loved you? How should we be living? How should we treat others? We ask these questions, we make choices, and, yes, we get it wrong sometimes. We exhibit cruelty, arrogance, impatience. We justify sloth or lust and call it love. But, God doesn't slam us with thunderbolts when we go wrong. Some people wish he would, though, because then we wouldn't have to think so much. One day a rich young man asked Jesus what he needed to do to be right with God. Jesus told him it was easy. Just keep the commandments. The young man replied he did that perfectly. Really? So, Jesus said if that was the case then all he needed to do was sell everything he had and give it away. The young man, we read, walked off looking sad. Now if Jesus had said, sell all you have or I'll have Peter, James and John rearrange your face, the young man might have accepted that because, to him, religion was about things to do and penalties to be avoided. He didn't see the absurdity of his claim to keep the commandments perfectly. The purpose of every commandment of God, from the Ten on down, has been to teach us how to love - God, our neighbours, and ourselves - and to claim perfection in love is to claim to be like God. Jesus' challenge was meant to show the young man the consequences of his claim. Perfect love means perfect giving - and there was nobody more qualified to know that than Jesus whose love would take him to the Cross. It's hard to be a Christian because we can never sit back and say we've finished the project, we're all done. There's always more loving to be done and more consequences of that love. Billy Graham has said, "There is no such thing as a Christian society. There are only Christians in society." And that is the reality. Jesus wants the world to recognize us as members of his Father's family, living by his rules, but, Christians have not always been very convincing. We talk a lot about the need to evangelize and witness, while the truth is that effective evangelization and witnessing has less to do with how fluently we talk and more to do with how faithfully we live. I'll close today with a story from a big evangelical church which was planning a mission trip to the Indians of Peru. They assembled their team of Bible students, linguists, and all the other specialties they would need. There was a woman in their church, however, who had no special skills, but, who dearly wanted to make the trip. She was very sweet and after much discussion the team decided that she could come as a general domestic. We'll call her Erica. The team arrived at the place they planned to make their base and set up camp. Each day, the missionaries would meet with the local tribal leaders, explain something of the Gospel, and ask permission to preach. Each day, they were refused. In the meantime, Erica was proving to be a walking disaster. She managed to destroy the solar oven on the first day so the team found they would be eating cold food for the duration. She killed the burro by accidently leading it over a cliff, so they had to carry their supplies. She lost half their clothes while washing them at the river. And, in a dozen other ways, Erica proved herself to be a destructive force of nature. The team was also becoming discouraged with their inability to make any headway with the tribal leaders. Nearly a month had passed and they were on the verge of calling it quits. To their surprise, however, at that point, the chief told them he had finally decided to give them permission to preach. He said that he had been watching the missionaries and noticed that despite Erica's incompetence and the hardships she had caused, they never once shouted at, beaten, or otherwise ill-treated her and that was what convinced him of their sincerity to their religion. Yes, the commandments we hear about in church can be disturbing because they can ask us to do things contrary to our inclinations. Especially, one command in particular. The one which says, "Love." In the Name...

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