Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Coveting #10 in series on the Ten Commandments

Old Testament Lesson                                                                Exodus 20:1-17

 Then God spoke all these words:
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before[a] me.
You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation[b] of those who love me and keep my commandments.
You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.
Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lordyour God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lordblessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.
12 Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
13 You shall not murder.[c]
14 You shall not commit adultery.
15 You shall not steal.
16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
17 You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

New Testament Lesson                                                                Luke 12:13-23

13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” 16 Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’18 Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20 But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

And here we are, after ten weeks we now come to this, the last of the Ten Commandments. 

"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."

OK, what’s the big deal here?

          I mean, really.  Is coveting THAT bad?  Is it so important that we not covet that it really deserves a place in God’s top ten list?

          I can think of worse things than this. 

          I mean, this is one thing we have ALL done.

          When it comes to adultery, you may never have had an affair and broken your marriage vows.  A lot of people do, but not everyone.  Few of you have ever really stolen anything.  I’m thinking optimistically and hoping that there are only a couple of murderers here this morning.

          But when it comes to coveting, well, we’re not only guilty of it, we’re good at it.

          You go to a neighbor’s house for dinner and you look around and think, “Gee, I wish I had a house like this.”

          Your best friend tells you about his vacation plans, and you think, “Man!  I would love to have a vacation like that.”

          You can call it coveting, jealousy, longing for, yearning for, craving, envy, whatever. 

          This is a sin we have mastered to the point that we are pretty casual about our guilt.

          What’s so bad about coveting our neighbor’s house, or your neighbor’s spouse, or your neighbor’s ox or donkey – or in our 21st century society, your neighbor’s car.

          It’s not like we are coveting that car, and actually stealing it.

          And it’s not like we are coveting the neighbor’s spouse and then having an affair. 

          We’re just looking.  And wishing.  And admiring.  That’s it.

          So what is the big deal?
          What’s the big deal?

          For one thing, to covet means you are disappointed in God.

          Now every one of us has coveted something, been envious, jealous – whatever you want to call it.

          But most of us would absolutely deny being disappointed in God – but don’t you see, that’s what coveting is.

          Have you ever opened a gift, looked at it, and thought, “That’s the best my wife, my husband, my son, my daughter my best friend in the whole wide world could come up with?”

          Then you have to look at them and say, “Thanks, I love it.”

          My son believes that when you open a gift and your first comment is to announce to the giver what the gift is, then that is a sign the recipient of the gift doesn’t like the gift.

          I think he is right.

          You open a gift, look at it and say, “Ah, a tie.”

          The person who gave you the tie knows it is a tie.  But you have to look at it and say, “Ah a tie,” because you need to stall for time to think of a way to tell a lie, “I love this tie.  I really needed this tie.  This is exactly what I was hoping for.”

          You open up your life and you say, “Ah, my life.”

          You don’t like it.  You like your neighbor’s life better. 

          What was God thinking?  He gave me this life?  Why couldn’t He have given me a different life?  A better life? 

          Disappointed with God.

          How insulting that must be to God.

          He has given you the life you have, and you would rather exchange it for someone else’s life.

You know, if you live at the relative poverty level in this country then you are among top 20% of the richest people on this planet.  We have so much more than most people in this world, but we want more.

          We want our neighbor’s good looks.
We want someone’s youth.
We want someone’s job. 
We want someone’s retirement fund.
We want the golf clubs, the swimming pool, the boat, the this or that belonging to someone else.
Because we are disappointed in God.

          And what a terrible thing it is to be disappointed in God.

          Because the person who lives a life disappointed in God lacks the joy that God desires for us to have.

          First, we are not joyful in what God has given us.  And second, we are not joyful for our neighbor, and happy that God has given our neighbor he or she has.

          You know, I started this sermon by asking what is the big deal about coveting.  Why is it so bad that it is in the Ten Commandments?  What harm does it do?

          Does it harm your neighbor?
          No, not really.

          Does it harm society? 
          Don’t think so.
   Murder destroys lives.  Stealing destroys people's security.  Adultery destroys families.

   Coveting also destroys, but it does it silently and covertly.  It destroys our sense of values.  It misleads us from what is really important.  Coveting makes us think that the "one thing" that gives life meaning is the big house.  Or the most expensive car.  Or the new golf clubs.  Or the winning ticket to the Florida Lottery.

   But life's meaning is not found in any of these.  Nor is life's meaning enhanced by any of these.  For Jesus was right when he said that a man's life is worth more than the possessions he owns.

   What is it that we are looking for in our life?  It has been said that at the end of our life, when we find ourselves in a hospital bed, watching the worried looks on the faces of the doctors, or the frightened faces of our husband or wife, what will give all of our days and years meaning will not be the boat that we leave behind.  Instead, it will be the moments when we helped our neighbor when they were in need.

   What will give our life meaning will not be the car we can no longer drive.  It will be the love we showed to our family.

   What will give our life meaning will not be the nice cash bonus our boss gave us one year.  It will be the way we gave in support of the charities that needed our help.
When you covet what is not yours, you take away from yourself the opportunity to be as happy as God wants you to be.

There as a study conducted a few years ago about the American Dream.  What is the American Dream, and how do you accomplish it?  The study found that if a person made under $25,000 per year, that person felt that it would take $54,000 a year to fulfill the American dream. Those who make $100,000 plus crave an average of $192,000. In other words, the American Dream usually lies nearly twice the distance away.  No matter what you are given by God, you always want more, and you want what your neighbor has.  You can never be happy and content with where you are.  (Amy Bernstein, U.S. News & World Report, July 27, 1992, p. 11.)

As long as you covet what belongs to your neighbor, you hurt yourself by robbing from yourself the opportunity to be content and happy with what you have in the here and now.

   What is important?  Jesus said it well in this morning's lesson.  He told the people that a man's life is worth more than the possessions he owns.  Then He went on to explain that we should seek first the Kingdom of God, then all the other things we need to live will be given to us as well.  After all, what could be more important than the Kingdom of God?

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.