Rev. Martha Jacobs
Psalm 19, Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20
Sunday, October 8, 2017
Every family has their rules – both spoken and unspoken. A spoken rule is that you will do your homework before you can play video games or chat on-line with your friends. An unspoken rule is, you don’t talk about the fight mom and dad had last night or that your sibling was sent to detention for smoking pot in the bathroom.
Well, when Moses led the people out of Egypt, they had no spoken or unspoken rules. They were a rag-tag bunch of ex-slaves who were used to obeying their owners. They didn’t have to think on their own. They didn’t have to find food. Their basic needs were taken care of. So, when they left Egypt, they didn’t have a structure to live by, and God knew that they needed some guidance on how to become a nation as they wandered in the desert. So, Moses goes up Mount Sinai and comes back with the rules they were to live by. They needed to become a cohesive group instead of being so fractured. They needed to start thinking for themselves, since that had been frowned down upon when they were in Egypt.
The Ten Commandments led the people to a new way of being human, a way of being in relationship with their God, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt and out of slavery. The Ten Commandments, interestingly, tell us that we need to pay attention beyond our own needs. We need to pay attention to other people and their needs. Through the Ten Commandments, God is teaching them and us not to do to others what had been done to them. As we learn later, when Jesus takes on those who have become so enmeshed in the law that they have forgotten the people, God measures their faith by how they treat the widows, the children, strangers, and their enemies. And, Jesus tells us that the two most important commandments are to love God and love our neighbor, whoever that neighbor might be.
The last line of the psalm that Bill read this morning is one that you have heard me pray before most of my sermons, including today. It helps remind me that it is important that the words I speak always honor God, are true, to the best of my knowledge, and help all of us as we deal with what is happening in our world. So, I have to admit to you that I struggled a lot with my sermon this week because so much is going on in our world. I could have focused on just about any one of the ten commandments – thou shall not murder, of course, is the one that came to mind most of the week – with the mass shooting in Las Vegas.
But, then, later in the week, I read some of the responses to that horrendous act and they were painful in a different way for me. The Commandment that I believe was violated was: thou shall not misuse the name of God. That commandment was violated by those who had taken vows to serve God. There was a clergyperson who believes that the attack on Las Vegas is somehow connected to God being upset with people who are speaking out about how Donald Trump is running this country and not caring for the least of these. Another suggested it was because God hates gambling and drinking and all the other excesses one might apply to Las Vegas and was getting back at those people. There were a few other clergy who bashed various groups in the name of God and as we know, some clergy encourage their followers to vilify others because they call God by another name.
People invoke God’s name as if they really know the mind of God. I would not begin to blame God for the unwise and foolish and devastating decisions we humans make or the things we choose to do or not do. It seems that we choose to interpret these commandments in ways that will suit our own needs, and our own prejudices, forgetting Jesus admonishment to love the stranger, care for the poor, the outcasts, and those most in need. I am at a loss to explain why people do what they do, especially when they choose to harm other people. I also can’t explain why clergy choose to invoke God’s name in a way that is hurtful and not in keeping with what Jesus taught us.
As I’ve said from this pulpit before, and in our Questions of Faith session last month, I don’t have the answers. I struggle with what is happening in our world the same as most of you. But, the one thing I do know, is that death does not have the final word. As I struggled with this sermon, I came across a posting by Dr. David Lose who reminded me that there is a response to the Las Vegas massacre that I hope people are hearing today from pulpits around this country – and that is, that “rather than return violence for violence, in the cross of Jesus, God absorbs our violence and, God responds with life, with resurrection, with Jesus’ triumph over death.” God’s message is peace, not more violence. Jesus “does not return with vengeance, he does not kick anyone out of the kingdom of heaven. Instead, the resurrected Jesus, having taken on the worst that our violence can inflict, comes back and instructs his disciples to take the good news of the Gospel to the very ends of the earth, promising to be with them always.”
Even as we gather this afternoon and next Sunday afternoon to grieve and to celebrate the lives of Elliott Cates and Barbara Offenhartz, we do so knowing that death did not have the last word for either of them and that should give us hope. As I say in one of the prayers I use in our funeral liturgy, “Through the veil of our tears and the silence of our emptiness assure us again, dear God, that ear has not heard, nor eye seen, nor human imagination envisioned, what you have prepared for those who love you.” And, I also say, “We gather to commend to God with thanksgiving this person’s life as we celebrate the good news of Christ’s resurrection. For whether we live or whether we die, we belong to Christ who is Lord both of the dead and of the living.”
That is the bedrock of our belief and sometimes, I lose sight of that as I try to figure out why people do things to harm other people. I don’t have the answer to that. The answer that I do have is that Jesus will not desert any of us, even when we doubt, as Thomas did. God understands our doubts and our fears and our anger. Who better to turn to than one who gets us, who was fully human and therefore understands our bewilderments and our unbelief.
We may never know what motivated the gunman in Las Vegas and I am not sure that matters in the long run. We have the promise that even when it looks like violence is the only outcome and response possible – it is not. Jesus’ death and resurrection creates more possibilities than those we can see, including the possibility of peace. As he said to his disciples, when they saw the risen Christ, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
This may not ease our grief or our anger. It may not answer the questions we have as to why people do what they do. But, it offers us hope and encouragement to keep our eyes on the cross and our hearts on Christ.
Let us join together in singing Hymn 86 Great is Thy Faithfulness. This is a hymn that I often find myself singing when I am at a loss for answers and am grateful that Keith intuited that we would need it today.