May 6, 2018: Commandments

Pastor Steve Mechem

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1 John 5:1-5 New Revised Standard Version
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

When I was in youth ministry I would do this ice breaker.
I would say of pair of things, and the kids would declare which thing they preferred by moving (running) from one side of the room to the other. Imagine 40 kids, dashing back and forth. It is an energetic, chaotic exercise that lets you see how much you have in common with others, Its easier to do than explain. So lets do it. I won’t make you move, we will do by the raising of hands.

pepsi - coke
a real book - kindle
designated hitter - no designated hitter
pizza - steak
reality shows - scripted TV
mountains - beach
rock and roll - country
movie- play
indoors - out doors
black and white- gray
let your kids, friends win so that they might feel good- win if you can because that’s the way it should work
look up every questionable word in scrabble- celebrate creativity
strictly follow the rules - judge each situation

A “rule,” according to Merriam-Webster is a statement spelling out the proper procedure or conduct for an activity.

One might say (probably incorrectly,) that the world is divided into two types of people- rule followers and folks who make judgements based on situations.

Rule followers can’t understand folks who embrace gray because, lets face it, when we don’t follow the rules, anarchy and chaos rule.

People who look at individual situations can’t understand folks who embrace rules and see things in black and white because every situation is different and a strict adherence to the rules doesn’t take the situation into account.

When my son, Caleb, was younger, I coached his soccer team. I learned the rules to the game as best I could. One thing I learned was that, often, in the flow of the game, if an infraction occurs that doesn’t interfere with the action, the referee just says “play on” and play continues. A rule was broken but the situation didn’t mandate a stop in play. The rules didn’t change, but the situation dictated different action.

Rules are a way of life,
in sports
at school
at work
in a community
in government
in families.

Quite often, Religions are based on rules. We call them commandments. A “commandment” is a hard fast rule that is expected to be followed. It is given by a religious leader, or found in a religious book, or it is understood to be uttered by God.

There are the five pillars of Islam.
There are the five moral precepts of Buddhism.
While hinduism doesn't have a number, there are multiple rules about right living, religious observance, fasting, menstruation, diet, behavior, etc.
And of course, you know there are 10 Commandments in Judaism. Actually, there are many more than that.

613, according to rabbi Simlai, whose sermon, entitled 613 is recorded in the Talmud. He made the claim that there are precisely 613 commandments in the Torah of the Hebrew Bible.

613.

Of those 613 commandments, 248 are positive- do this, perform that

365 commands are negative- don’t do this, refrain from that.

Add to the 613 commands in the Torah, the thousands of interpretations of those commands found in the Talmud and Mishnah and you have a lot of rules to follow.

Many of the 613 commands cannot be obeyed today because they are directly related to activity in the temple which was destroyed in 70 c.e.

Still, 271 of those commands, are still as relevant today as they were when given to Moses.

And our Jewish friends, depending on their particular practice of faith, follow none, some, or all of these commands.

Interestingly, while most Christians don’t adhere to most of the Hebrew Bible Commands, (although they like to force some of them on other people) they have created their own.

My grandmother, Peachie, was a wonderful Christian.

She had a set of rules based in her faith. One of those rules was that there was no card playing in the house (Rook was okay, but not regular playing cards).

She also pitched a fit if you set anything, including another bible on top of a bible. That was sacrilegious.

Most Baptist Church covenants include the following rule “We abstain from the sale and use of intoxicating drink as a beverage.” It is a rule recited monthly in many baptist churches. It is a rule ignored daily by many baptists who recite it monthly.

I attended a Christian College in the late 1970’s where dancing was against the rules. Students were encouraged not to dance on or off campus with the threat of expulsion.

Many of us have been told that cussing is a sin against God, not just taking the Lord’s name in vain, but also using taboo words which are considered socially indelicate or profane.

Some of you were told that going to the movies was wrong and violated the will of God. Perhaps you have been scolded for reading Harry Potter books, because they are… To be honest, I quit listening to the why, but they are bad for some religious reason.

After I became a Christian, I got rid of all my rock and roll albums (some said it was the best collection in my high school), and decided to listen only to Christian music. It was a rule I followed for several years!

Judi was once reprimanded by a woman in our church for hanging clothes out on the clothesline on a Sunday.

Rules. There are so many out there. Deciding what rules are valid and valuable is an ongoing activity for people and societies.

In religious understanding, following commandments is important because following rules means you are obedient to God. In Christian faith, obedience to God’s commands, God’s rules, is evidence of your love for God.

Jesus himself said, “They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me.”

And John intones, “Now by this we may be sure that we know God, if we obey his commandments.”

Okay then, to Love God, we obey God’s Commandments.
But, which ones?

The 613?

The 613 plus talmud?
The 613 minus the ones pertaining to the temple?

There are the 10 commandments that God wrote on tablets. Are those the commands that we obey to show our love for God?

Let’s ask Jesus, as a lawyer once asked him, what is the greatest and most important command. Jesus answered this question thusly, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

While Jesus’ answer doesn’t exclude obeying other commands, it certainly tells us what is of first priority.

And then there is the fact that Jesus added to the commandments by proclaiming a new one (he calls it new, but it is primarily new in its application).

Speaking on the last night of his earthly life he expounds,
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

Jesus further states that by keeping that command, you show your love for God. “If you keep my commandment, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.”

The scripture, after taking all the law, the hebrew bible commands, into account, declares that love fulfills them all.

Paul writes, “for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” AND “love is the fulfilling of the law.”

He goes on to declare that the whole law is summed up in a single command, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

And love understood is not lip service or a philosophical fragment, it is activity. Paul writes, “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

So many rules out there. We keep some. If we are honest, we probably break others.

But really, it seems that there are only two rules which matter most:
1) Love God!
2) Love people!

Love yourself, love your family, love your neighbor, love the people around you, love the stranger, love the different, love the other, love the left behind, love your enemies.

Don’t talk like you love them; act like you love them.

Love God.
Love People.
That is what matters!

Amen