Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent

Text: Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-17
God spoke, and these were his words:
"I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, where you were slaves.
Worship no god but me.
Do not make for yourselves images of anything in heaven or on earth or in the water under the earth.
Do not bow down to any idol or worship it, because I am the Lord your God and I tolerate no rivals.
Do not use my name for evil purposes, for I, the Lord your God, will punish anyone who misuses my name
Observe the Sabbath and keep it holy.
Respect your father and your mother, so that you may live a long time in the land that I am giving you.
Do not commit murder.
Do not commit adultery.
Do not steal.
Do not accuse anyone falsely.
Do not desire another man's house; do not desire his wife, his slaves, his cattle, his donkeys, or anything else that he owns."

Rescue from the minefield of sin

As the Boeing 707 landed on an airstrip in Vietnam during the war there, a newcomer to the US military presence in that country asked if there were any minefields in the area. An officer on board replied pointing out the window, "There's a minefield, over to the left".

The newcomer described it this way,
"It was not what I expected. What I saw looked like a beautiful soccer field. All around our compound were the flattest and most lush fields I had ever seen. They were as green and flat as the top of a billiard table.... their moist greenness begged to be massaged by bare toes, to be played on, to be marked off for a game of football. The only problem was that they were deadly fields. These inviting fields were killing fields.

I remember one afternoon not long after, seeing a group of kids were kicking a ball right in the middle of one of those minefields. The soldiers who were supposed to be watching the field went colourless, then started yelling, screaming, and waving their arms at those kids, who didnít understand a word of English. It would have been funny, had it not been so dangerous.

One sweating soldier quickly found a map of the field that gave the location of the mines, and his squad cautiously made their way to the children. They grabbed the children, who immediately started kicking and screaming in terror. They thought the soldiers were going to hurt them. Slowly with the terrified children in their arms, the men carefully began to retrace their steps back to the end of the minefield.

At about the same time the children's parents arrived to see the fear on the face of their kids as they thrashed around in the arms of the hefty soldiers. I could only wonder at the terror the mothers of these children felt. I am sure these mothers believed their children were being killed. They tried to run toward the children, but they were held back at the edge of the minefield by another squad of soldiers. The mothers screamed all the more. They didnít realise that the soldiers who were preventing them from running out to their children were actually saving them from the dangers that lay out there in that beautiful patch of green grass.

That night, as I lay on my cot, I imagined what would have happened if the soldiers had listened to the cries of those children and not wanting to upset them any further, put them down saying, "Oh, weíre sorry. We donít want to spoil your fun. Go ahead and finish your game." I tried to imagine the scene if those men on the perimeter of the minefield had stopped forbidding the mothers to run out to their children".

As I read this story I couldnít help but think that if hardened soldiers would rescue kids they didnít know from a minefield and also prevent mothers stepping out into the dangers that lay hidden out there, how much more would a God who loves us as his own dear children want to do the same for us. God is not interested in spoiling his children's fun. Instead out of concern for our safety and wanting us to enjoy life on this earth, he gives us the commandments to stop us from stepping out into a minefield that would ultimately lead to injury and harm.

When parents say to their children -
be aware of people who will try to convince you to get drunk, take drugs or have sex; be choosy about the people you hang out with Ė are they making these rules because they want to limit their children's freedom and prevent them from having any fun? No....of course not. They give their children their own set of "commandments" because they love them and want them to be happy, and healthy, and safe.

As you listened to todayís Old Testament reading from the Book of Exodus and heard again the Ten Commandments, did you feel the love of God coming through those words? As you listened to God's "Do nots" did you feel all warm and fuzzy because of God's love for you. Most likely you didnít.

One reason for this is that when we hear commandments or rules we get all negative about them. We feel that in some way our freedom is being restricted. We like to think of ourselves as independent people who are capable of looking after ourselves. We donít like others telling us what we can and canít do.

We Australians especially don't like to be told what to do. Maybe it goes back to our convict background or the fact that we came to this country to escape unfair laws as the early Lutherans did. Whatever it is, people generally hate being told what to do.

And besides, we live in a society where there are fewer and fewer absolutes. Who can say what is right and wrong for me? I will determine what is right and wrong for myself and by myself. So everyday we jump out of bed and begin acting as if it is up to us to make up the rules as we go along. We believe that it's all up to us to discover what is right and wrong.

If a woman is pregnant and it isnít convenient for her to give birth....she can deal with that problem by terminating the life of her unborn child.
If money is needed to support a drug habit, Ö a person can invade a home and take whatever is needed.
If someone believes they are being unfairly treated or not being given a fair go, itís nothing to be abusive, use bad language, even resort to violence. If someone cuts you off on the road, itís your right to retaliate.
If life becomes too difficult to live, then end it all through suicide or euthanasia.

Friedrich Nietzsche (who lived in the late 1800s) taught that rules about what is right and what is wrong are simply cultural inventions. According to Nietzsche and his followers, subverting authority is a good act of liberation. He taught that might makes right. Whoever is strongest defines what is moral.

Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, murdered a 14-year-old boy. Their defence lawyer made a most dramatic appeal and argued that Leopold had absorbed the ideas of Nietzsche at school. He said, "Your honour, it is hardly fair to hang a 19-year-old boy for the philosophy that was taught him at the university."

Can you see what has happened here? Rather than listening to God's concept of the sanctity of human life as expressed in the commandment "Do not commit murder", this fellow swapped it for mistaken human ideas and an innocent life was taken. We live in a society that desperately needs to be reminded of what God considers to be right and wrong and rediscover God's instruction manual for a safe and happy life in this world.

But how easy is it to fall into the trap of adopting the worldís values and Satanís standards. Isnít that what happened in the Garden of Eden? God had made one rule in the garden saying, "You can eat from any other tree in the garden but do not eat the fruit of the one in the middle". Itís like the sign that says, "Wet Paint". The temptation is too great and we have to touch it to see if it really is wet paint.

Because we are sinful, even our best intentions are sidetracked. If we take the time to reflect on all the commandments we would soon realise that we are hopeless at keeping them perfectly as God demands. What better time of the year than the season of Lent to dust off our Small Catechisms and once again to think about, pray about, reflect on the Ten Commandments. And as we look at them and read Lutherís explanations we will quickly realise that we too have adopted the ways of the world rather than the ways of God. We are reminded of how deep the cancer of sin runs, how deep our need for Christ is.
It is not just our actions that are judged, but our attitudes.
Not just our hands but also our heart.
Not just our words and works, but our thoughts, desires, imaginations, and motivations.
As we revisit the Ten Commandments mostly likely we will see that our attitudes and values do not reflect that we do not love God with all our heart soul and mind and love others as we love ourselves.

I asked earlier if you felt the love of God as you heard the Ten Commandments being read and I said that you most likely didnít because we all hate rules. We feel as if rules take all the fun out of life. Another reason you may not have felt the love of God as the commandments were read is because the Ten Commandments make you feel guilty. It is clear that we have been very slack at keeping most of them, while at the same feeling quite justified in thinking that we have managed to keep some of them. After all I havenít killed anyone or committed adultery.

But in the end that really isnít all the comforting. God intended that we keep ALL his commandments and anything less than that points out how imperfect we are in the presence of a perfect God. Where the Ten Commandments outlaw adultery, Jesus outlaws even the thought of adultery, where the Ten Commandments outlaw murder, Jesus outlaws even the hateful intent.

We are thrown to our knees in repentance realising we have not followed God's way. There can be no celebration unless there is first confession Ė admitting our failure in the light of the Ten Commandments and looking to the cross of Jesus for rescue from God's judgement. God did for us what we cannot do for ourselves. God took his obedient Son, this perfect Jew, and he nailed him to a cross for you and me. God made Jesus our sin. He was made
the idolater,
the blasphemer,
the despiser of Godís Word,
the disobedient child,
the murderer,
the hateful,
the adulterer,
the lust-filled,
the thief,
the liar,
the coveter.
As he hung dying on the cross he carried every sin, from the smallest to the greatest failure to live Godís way, and took on himself the punishment that we deserve. He died to make us perfect - Godís saints. He has rescued us from certain death in the minefield of sin.

The Holy Spirit helps us understand what are Godís ways and urges us to follow his promptings to fill our lives with everything that is good and godly. He comforts us with the assurance that we are forgiven when we find ourselves conforming to the standards of the world and forsake Godís ways.

As part of your preparation for Good Friday and Easter dig out your copy of Lutherís Small Catechism and reflect on the Ten Commandments and as you do ask yourself, "Where have I failed to do what God wants me to do in my life?" Ask him for his forgiveness through our Saviour Jesus Christ. Then praise God for his amazing love.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
19th March, 2006

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