September 21, 2017- Love Builds a Fence?- Exodus 20:12-15

love commandments

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.

Exodus 20:12-15 (NRSV)

The first three of the Ten Commandments focus on our relationship with God. The remaining seven have to do with our life in our families and our community.

Commandments Four through Seven have to do with our actions toward others as well as our heart toward others. There is an old saying that “good fences make good neighbors.”  This is why God gives us boundaries regarding our relations with others.  The Commandments give us healthy boundaries for living in community.

Honoring our parents means that even though they may be flawed, we must at the very least acknowledge that they have given us birth and life. We are also commanded to respect their authority and the values that they have passed down to us. The Fourth Commandment is one of the few that carry a promise- God promises that we will retain our inheritance that He has given us if we honor our parents and respect those in authority as it is God Who has put them in authority over us.  Should we rebel against authority and violate the law, we open ourselves up to the consequences that disobeying civil law can bring.

In Luther’s Large Catechism he expands upon honoring and obeying the temporal authorities in his explanation of the Fourth Commandment:

“The same also is to be said of obedience to civil government, which (as we have said) is all embraced in the estate of fatherhood and extends farthest of all relations. For here the father is not one of a single family, but of as many people as he has tenants, citizens, or subjects. For through them, as through our parents, God gives to us food, house and home, protection and security. Therefore since they bear such name and title with all honor as their highest dignity, it is our duty to honor them and to esteem them great as the dearest treasure and the most precious jewel upon earth.” – Luther’s Large Catechism (on the Fourth Commandment)

The Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Commandments (Luther’s explanations of them in the Large Catechism can be found here) have to do with boundaries in our relationships with individuals.

The Fifth Commandment tells us to refrain from murder (the premeditated and purposeful taking of a human life) but it also means we are called to lift up those around us by offering help when we can. As Jesus followers we are called to be life-bringers and to shine His light in the world.  Our words and actions should help bring life to the world rather than death and despair to others.

In matters of sexuality, which are addressed in the Sixth Commandment, we are commanded to keep our expressions of sexuality within the marriage bond. As evidenced in society and in the tabloids (as well as in our own personal lives) we see what becomes of people and of families when this boundary is broken.  God puts a boundary around His good gifts of sexual expression- not because they are “dirty” or “wrong” or “bad,” but so this physical and spiritual connection is reserved for a husband and wife in a lifelong commitment to each other.

When that bond is broken, the fallout reaches far and wide- there is financial and emotional hardship for children who must grow up without the benefit of a father (or mother,) possible transmission of horrible (sometimes even fatal) diseases, unplanned pregnancies, lost friendships, and public scandals.  While God assures us that there is nothing that can separate us from His love in Christ, (see Romans 8:38-39) the spiritual and emotional consequences of adultery are deep and lasting and difficult to overcome. God gives us this command for fidelity in marriage (and abstinence outside of marriage) for our own protection, because He knows how devastating overstepping this boundary can be for ourselves and our families and communities. He loves us and He wants to spare us this pain.

The Seventh Commandment appears to be as straightforward as can be, but there is a deeper message in this Commandment also. God tells us: “Don’t steal.” But how do we steal from others?  Obviously violating civil laws against robbery constitute stealing, when we take tangible objects or property that belongs to others, but we steal in other ways too.  We steal when we commit fraud against others, such as failing to give someone an honest wage for honest work- or when we accept wages for work we do not do.  We steal when we fail to help someone when it is in our power to do so.  We steal when we treat other people harshly without cause- we steal their peace and joy.

We know that there is both Law and Gospel throughout the Commandments, and all through Scripture. The Commandments are given to us because God loves us. God gives us boundaries for our own- and for others’- protection.  In these Commandments God gives us the gift of respect for authority so that there is order in society, the ability to have and share life, the gift of intimacy and fidelity, and the confidence that we may retain what belongs to us.

August 15, 2017 – Mistake or Magnificat? Luke 1:46-55

magnificat

And Mary (Jesus’ mother) said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.  He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”               Luke 1:46-55 (NRSV)

Those of us who know the story of Jesus’ conception aren’t terribly surprised by Mary’s song of praise and thanks for the impending birth of Jesus that we know as the Magnificat.  She was blessed like no other woman has been blessed- she was chosen to be the earthly mother of God-in-the-flesh.  None of us can claim that our own children are the very Son of God.  Any of us would be deeply awed and humbled by such an honor- or would we?  In the real world, Mary’s situation was not an easy one.

Mary faced some very real possible consequences connected to her unwed pregnancy. She could very well have been stoned to death had she been accused of adultery. (Leviticus 20:10) Had it not been for an angel of God coming to Joseph to tell him that Mary’s child was of God and not from a forbidden liaison, (Matthew 1:1-18) he would have quietly ended their betrothal.  A woman so shamed did not have good opportunities for marriage, and in that day, a woman’s survival depended on being able to marry well. Yet God made a way, so Mary would not have to go through this experience alone.  Even so, Mary, and especially Joseph, would have to have endured snickers and aspersions among friends and family, and no doubt there were “mathematicians” in the community who would be very aware that the timing of Jesus’ birth wasn’t quite consistent with the timing of his parents’ wedding.

Today unplanned or unwed pregnancy isn’t as culturally unacceptable as it was in Biblical times, but women still face hardship in many instances when pregnancy happens at a difficult time or under difficult circumstances. While there is much to be said for the protective boundaries God gives us for our behavior, we all are prone to venture outside of those boundaries. (It’s called sin, folks… and we all sin in one way or another.)  We all make mistakes, and mistakes in this realm of human behavior are very common.  How we react to the consequences of our actions can decide if an unplanned child is a mistake, or a cause to break into praise like Mary does in the Magnificat. God can take our tragedies and mistakes and turn them into blessings and joy, if we surrender ourselves and our situations to Him.

How are we supposed to know who that child may become, or what gifts he or she has to contribute to the world?

Sometimes in a troubled pregnancy situation, the mother or child has health issues. Sometimes the father of the child wants nothing to do with either the mother or the child.  Other times women who choose life for their unborn children face opposition from the child’s father, or even from their own parents. Unplanned pregnancy almost always brings economic and social burdens, even when mother and child are in good health.  Bringing a child into the world is a major life upheaval under the best of circumstances, let alone with a backdrop of hardship or abandonment.

In difficult situations- whether we contributed to them, or we came into them through no fault or planning of our own- can we still praise and magnify the Lord, and trust that He will make a way?

Sometimes situations that appear to be hardships or burdens- or even tragedies- are blessings in disguise, ways in which God comes to us with healing, divine provision, redemption and new life.

May our souls also magnify the Lord.