Thursday, February 18, 2016

With Murder in our Hearts #6 in a series on the Ten Commandments

 Exodus 20:1-17

And God spoke all these words:

"I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 

"You shall have no other gods before me.

"You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

"You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

"Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

"Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.

"You shall not murder.

"You shall not commit adultery.

"You shall not steal.

"You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

"You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor."

Matthew 5:21-22
"You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.'   But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca,' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger

I have been preaching a series of sermons on the Ten Commandments, and on this day, since we are taking them in order, we come to this one, “you shall not kill.”

Strange sermon, perhaps, to preach on St. Valentine’s Day.

Well, St. Valentine is someone we don’t really know much about, other than the fact that he himself was murdered. 
Maybe I should have taken the liberty to reorder the Ten Commandments and preach next week’s sermon today – and hold off on murder until later.  After all, next week’s sermon is all about sex.
But – on this Valentine’s Day, the subject is murder.
You want sex?  Come back next week – today, it’s murder.

Now, I would hope that this is something no one is guilty of.  I don’t know, maybe there are one or two ax murderers here.  But I hope not.
If I tell you not to murder anyone, most of you are probably good with that, thinking, “no problem. No plans to murder anyone.”
Until you get to the New Testament Lesson and there is Jesus expanding our understanding of murder.
If you are angry with someone – same as murder in your heart.
If you call someone a degrading name?  Murder.
If you hold something against someone?  Murder.

Well, take a look at us.

We are an angry society.
Have you been watching the political debates?
Politicians openly reject political correctness, but if you listen they are simply using that as an excuse to say rude and even hateful things.
Sports figures feel free to behave badly (and parents often shout obscenities at volunteer coaches).
Workplace violence rarely makes the front page.  It is not that it is on the decline, but rather it has become so common place.
On Social Media, people say outrageous things they would never say face to face.  Hiding behind a cyber wall seems to bring out the most mean spirited comments.
It is more than words.  It is rage.
“Road rage” has become part of our lexicon.
An 11-year-old boy in Jefferson County, Tennessee, has been sentenced to spend the next eight years in juvenile prison for the murder of an 8-year-old girl, according to a court document.
The boy was found guilty of first-degree murder for shooting MaKayla Dyer in the chest with a shotgun after she refused to let him play with her puppy.

There is in the mind of some folks a fine line between anger and murder.

A grown man, 70 years old, allegedly became so angry in a movie theater in which another patron was texting during the previews, that he took out a gun and shot and killed a man and wounded the man’s wife – all over a simple text before the movie.  He is still waiting to be tried. 

Another man was so outraged at the loud music coming from another car, that he pulled out a gun and shot and killed a 17 year old, and fired at several others.

We are an angry society.

And it does not always lead to murder.  We bully people.  We degrade people.  We hurt people.

As children, we were taught by our peers to sing a chant when confronted with angry words, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt you.”
But that is not true.  It is the words of others that hurt us,   and while they may not injure our bodies,   they devastate our souls.
We know the pain that we have received from others.
We need to be aware of the pain that we have given to others.
It is easy to commit murder, to kill another, without actually taking another life.
When we harbor anger toward another person, we commit murder in our hearts.
When we call another person a name,  or in anyway degrade or insult that person, we kill a part of his or her dignity.
When we refuse to forgive another person for the wrongs they have done to us, we kill a part of a soul.
When we demonize whole groups of people, we become demonic in our own conduct.

It is time for us to rise above the culture of hate and bitterness and to become civil once again, and if we as Christians don’t lead the way, who will? 

Who will lead this nation back to civility?

Will the late night comedians lead the way to civility?  No, they will keep making jokes about our lack of civility.

Will the pundits on the 24 hour news stations teach us to respect people of different views?  No, their ratings will soar whenever the bitterness in society soars.

We as Christians must model for society what is like to love our neighbors, and to be civil to one another.

There is in this nation a momentum of bitterness.  It has an energy that is growing and growing.  This sense of momentum reminds me of something I read several years ago that was written by a survivor of the Holocaust. 

Corrie ten Boom wrote about anger and bitterness and she said that love and forgiveness are things that need momentum.  She likened it to letting go of a bell rope.   If you have ever seen a country church or a camp ground with a bell in the steeple,   you will remember that to get the bell ringing,   you have to tug for awhile.  Once it has begun to ring,  you merely maintain the momentum.   As long as you keep pulling,  the bell keeps ringing.  Corrie Ten Boom says forgiveness is letting go of the rope.  It is just that simple.  But when you do so,  the bell keeps ringing.  Momentum is still at work.  However, if you keep your hands off the rope,  the bell will begin to slow and eventually stop.
It is like that with love and forgiveness.  When you decide to love and to forgive,   the old feelings of anger and bitterness and hatred and unforgiveness may continue to assert themselves.  After all, they have lots of momentum.  But if you affirm your decision to forgive,  that angry and bitter spirit will begin to slow and will eventually be still.   Love is not something you feel,   it is something you do.  It is letting go of the rope of hate.

Frederick Beuchner says that anger, of all the seven deadly sins, is the one that is perhaps the most fun.  

"To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain that you are given, and the pain you are giving back, in many ways it is a feast fit for a king.  The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself.  The skeleton at the feast is you." (Wishful Thinking p.2)

It is time for our nation to return to civility.  And we can lead the way.  We can learn once more to disagree without demonizing.  We can learn to let go of the bitterness, and find healing.

And now unto God the Father,
God the Son,
And God the Holy Spirit be ascribed all might, power, dominion and glory, today and forever, Amen.
Copyright 2016. 
Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved

Ministers may feel free to use some or all of this sermon in their own ministries as long as they do not publish in print or on the Internet without ascribing credit to the author.