Category Archives: Basics – 10 Commandments

Sermon – 22 March 2015 – Philip


Readings: Philippians 3: 1 – 12 and Matthew 6: 25 – 34

‘Seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness.’

Well you may or may not have heard of the name, John Stuart Mill but he was a philosopher in the 19th century who wrote about a variety of things.  And as part of my recent holiday reading I came across something he said that really caught my attention and made me stop and think, in fact, I found it rather disconcerting.  And it was because in 1859 John Stuart Mill wrote an essay in which he was trying to explain the process by which words lose their meaning.  And in seeking to illustrate his argument, he came up with the view that the best example he could give of this were Christians.  And he said this:

‘Christians seem to have the amazing ability to say the most wonderful things without actually believing them.’

And he then went on to give a list of things that Christians actually say: things like – blessed are the poor and humble; it’s better to give than to receive; judge not, lest you be judged; love your neighbour as yourself and so on.  He then concluded by suggesting that as far as Christians were concerned, the sayings of Jesus seemed to produce hardly any effect in them at all beyond saying that they believed them.  Well whether you agree with what he says or not I’ll leave you to think about.

But it certainly began to make me think once more of how I, personally take to heart the words of Jesus and act on them.  Just how seriously do I take the teaching of Jesus? Am I selective and just take the bits I like and then gloss over the others?  And I find myself constantly being challenged along these lines by various Christian social activists.  People like Tony Campolo and Jim Wallis and many others.  In fact, I went to hear to Tony Campolo speak at York Minster a couple of years ago.  And he often refers to himself as one of those ‘Red Letter Christians.’  And you’ve probably seen those Bibles where the words of Jesus are printed in red, in fact, Janet has one.  And Tony Campolo says this:

‘The goal of Red Letter Christians is simple: to take Jesus seriously by endeavouring to live out his radical counter-cultural teaching as set forth in Scripture and committing ourselves first and foremost to doing what Jesus said; especially embracing the lifestyle prescribed in the Sermon on the Mount.’

And so as we proceed with our sermon series looking at some of our basic Christian beliefs it gives us an opportunity to reflect on the things we say we believe and how seriously we do take them and the extent we may put them into practice.  And just think of the difference it would make in our world if we truly began to act on all that Jesus teaches in those red lettered verses.
And so what I want to do this morning is to pick up on those words of Jesus which I started with and where Jesus says: ‘Seek first God’s Kingdom and his righteousness.’  And it’s the second part of that phrase I want to look at and what it really means ‘to seek God’s righteousness?’  And that’s our theme for today and I have three simple points.

And so firstly let me suggest it means seeking to be in a right relationship with God through faith in Christ. And do you remember that bit in our first reading from Philippians where Paul, the author is reflecting on some of the things in his past and which others of his day would regard as a sign of success and to his credit.  And he says “look I consider all these things as nothing compared with knowing Christ.”  He says:

‘I consider them rubbish that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.’

And knowing Christ is what’s important – that living relationship we can enter into with him.  And we can only begin to know him and be in that relationship with him when we turn to him in faith and repentance – and as the rest of the New Testament shows us; that means faith specifically in what Jesus did for us on the cross. And it was there that he bore the guilt of our sin in himself so that we might share in his righteousness and be right with God.  And it was on the cross that Jesus did for us what we could do for ourselves; our sins were laid on him and his righteousness was accounted to us – and we accept it by simple faith.  It’s not something we can achieve through our own efforts – it’s the free gift of God – and that’s what grace is all about.

And we see this principle operating in the Old Testament as well.  And so if we go way back into the book of Genesis we see God making certain promises to Abraham.  And it says: ‘that Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.’  And we see the Apostle Paul reminding his readers of this very same point in his letters to the Romans and Galatians.

2.  And then secondly, righteousness not only means being in a right relationship with God but it’s also living out that right relationship with God through obedience to him.  We can’t just say: “well if salvation is a free gift from God, what does it matter how we live?”  But it does matter – it matters immensely.  And look at what Jesus says in John’s gospel – and again it’s in red letters.  “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching.  My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home in them.”  And this obedience should not be seen as some kind of unwelcome imposition on us from above; no – it is a loving response to all that Jesus has done for us.

And James in his New Testament letter tells us that faith that stops at words is not really faith at all.   We can’t claim to have faith if our lives remain unchanged.  Where faith is real it will spill over into what we do and how we behave.  It will manifest itself in our personal moral integrity, in obedience and in seeking to do what is right before God.  Faith without deeds is useless says James.  The evidence of true faith shows itself in a commitment to love and serve others and following the example of Jesus.

And if we go back again to our Old Testament example of Abraham again we see that he was not only counted as righteous by God because of his faith but he lived out that righteousness through his obedience.  And we see that in Genesis 26 when the original promise to him by God is renewed through his son Isaac, and as it’s renewed as God says: “it was because Abraham obeyed me and kept my requirements”

3.  And so we have looked at righteousness on a personal level – as seeking to be in right relationship with God through faith in Jesus.  And also at righteousness as living out that relationship with God through obedience to him.

And now there’s a further aspect of righteousness which we need to consider and that brings me to my third point which is the social dimension of righteousness.  And it relates to doing all we can in seeking justice and pursuing righteousness in an unjust world.

And I am given to understand that in the original bible languages the words justice and righteousness are almost a single word.  They are virtually interchangeable and have a similar meaning.  And they are words that recur time and time again throughout the whole of Scripture.

And so when Jesus says: “Seek God’s righteousness” his original hearers would instinctively have known, from what we call the Old Testament, what he meant by it.  And that it meant active concern and action on behalf of the poor and the needy, the widow, the orphan, the homeless, the hungry and the naked.  And they would also have known that it meant honouring and obeying God’s command that such disadvantaged people should be looked after and cared for.  And I love those words of the Old Testament where the prophet Isaiah says:

‘Learn to do good! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed.  Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.’

And so once more, we can go back to the example of Abraham.  He was not just counted righteous by God for his faith and or for his personal obedience but we also see this other aspect of righteousness as well when God gives his own reason for calling and choosing him.  This is what God says to him in Genesis 19:

‘For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just.’

And then something else we see in the Old Testament, is the prophets who are passionate about justice and righteousness; about freedom from oppression; about the promotion of civil rights and justice in the law courts; about integrity in business dealings and about honour in the home and in family affairs.

And this is why it is important that as Christians we support missions and agencies like Christian Aid; Tear Fund and many others and all those which we support as a church, which campaign for justice and seek to alleviate suffering in a world in which there is so much injustice.
And it’s part of our mission as Christians to this hurting world.  All our mission flows from the mission of God and it’s what Jesus commissioned us to do; it’s part of building for his kingdom.  And yes there is a day when God is coming to put things to right when Jesus comes again; when heaven and earth become one and when as the prophet Isaiah puts it:

‘when the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.’

But we are not called to just sit back and wait for that to happen we are called to live now in the light of what is still yet to come.  And this is what Tom Wright says in his book ‘Surprised by Hope.’ He says this:

‘What we can and must do in the present, if we are obedient to the gospel, if we are following Jesus, and if we are indwelt and energised by the Spirit is to build for the kingdom.’
Well it’s time for me to finish so let me briefly recap on what it means to seek God’s righteousness?

1.  Well firstly it means seeking to be in right relationship with God through faith in Jesus.
2. Secondly it means living out that right relationship through obedience to him.
3. And finally it means doing all we can to seek justice and pursue righteousness in an unjust world.


Philip Newell – Reader
Sermon preached at St Laurence’s, Scalby Holy Communion on Sunday 22nd March 2015 (am).

Sermon – Alastair – 8 March @ Hackness

Ten Commandments – Deutronomy 5:12-15 and Mark 2:23-3:6

In Lent, across the North Scarborough Group, we’re doing our best in our sermons and services to think about the Ten Commandments.  Lent is a time of reflection and self-examination, and, as we did in the confession, we can use the commandments as an aid to reflect.

The Ten Commandments used to be prominent in every church in England, on a big board somewhere in plain view.  I’m not sure why they were so prominent as I’m not sure they were particularly big in the thinking of the early church or even in the Bible.  They were certainly there, in the Bible, and taken seriously, but I don’t think you’d have found them on the wall of a synagogue or an early church meeting place.  They don’t have a central place in the Old Testament and are not mentioned in the New Testament.  Occasionally one or other of the Ten Commandments gets a mention, but they’re never referred to collectively as if they were a key moral code or a particularly important part of the Christian life.

I suspect the prominence in our country is to do with some hangover from 17th Century Puritanism – a sort of Christianity that rather liked to say, “Thou shalt not!” about anything that might conceivably be fun or pleasurable.  But it has got into the psyche of Christianity in our nation – years spent by generations of churchgoers looking up at all those, ‘Thou shalt nots’ and ‘Thou shalts.’  I’m not sure, either when the boards started to come down or weren’t included in many new churches, but the damage has been done. The perception in the minds of many is that God is sat on a cloud frowning and occasionally bellowing, ‘Thou shalt not!’ at us if we get close to enjoying ourselves.

Many think that the Ten Commandments are all there is to being a Christian.  I’ve been told many a time, ‘I don’t go to church, but I’m still a Christian.  I keep the 10 Commandments!’  And I’ve also heard many, mostly, but not entirely, older folk, saying everything would be OK if only people would keep the 10 Commandments.  Perhaps that’s not far from true.  But there’s a danger in thinking the 10 Commandments are all there is to it.  Think for a moment.  Most people think they do OK by the Ten Commandments because they haven’t ever committed adultery, shoplifted of murdered anyone, but you can keep every one of the commandments to the letter and still be an absolute swine!

You may not actually kill anyone, but you can bitch and snipe, and grumble, and insult, make people’s lives a misery, be full of hate and anger at those different from you.  You may not actually commit adultery but what if you ignore the needs of your partner, abuse them, flirt with others, continually think the grass would be greener on the other side of the fence if you had a different partner?  You may not steal, but is your money invested in companies that exploit the environment, rip off poor communities, underpay their workforce, and so on?  It’s not as straightforward as we think.  Jesus made the point in his Sermon on the Mount, that if you are angry with someone without cause, insult them, lust after another’s wife, etc, you are breaking the spirit of the law.

One commandment, though – the one we’re thinking about today – is pretty much ignored by non-Jews today, and I think that is very damaging to us and to our society.  That commandment is Sabbath.  Here’s a little story:
A priest, an imam, and a rabbi were talking one day about how good God had been to them. The priest told of an occasion when he was caught in a snowstorm so terrible that he couldn’t see a foot in front of him. He was completely confused, unsure even of which direction he needed to walk. He prayed to God, and miraculously, while the storm continued for miles in every direction, it seemed to calm just around him, and he could clearly see 100 yards around him and he was able to find his way home.  The imam told a similar story. He had been out on a small boat when a heavy storm struck. There were 20-foot high waves, and the boat was sure to capsize. He prayed to Allah, and, while the storm continued all around, for 100 yards around his boat, the sea calmed, and he was able to return safely to port.
The rabbi, too, had a story. “One Sabbath morning, on the way home from my prayers, I saw a very thick wad of £20 notes in the gutter. Of course, since it was Sabbath, I wasn’t able to bend down and pick it up, for that would be work, neither am I allowed to touch money on the Sabbath.  But when I prayed to God, though everywhere else, it was Sabbath, for 10 feet around me, until I reached home, it was Thursday!”

Sabbath has got twisted in that sort of way.  It was already twisted by Jesus day.  So many extra rules about how to honour the Sabbath and keep it holy had grown up.  There’s a famous example of the rule that, if a lady spotted a grey hair in the mirror, she couldn’t pluck it out on the Sabbath, because that would count as harvesting!  Jesus’ disciples fell foul of that, by plucking ears of corn for a nibble on the Sabbath, but the resulting debate gave rise to his saying, which goes to the heart of Sabbath.  “The Sabbath is for man, not man for the Sabbath.”  That is true of all the Commandments.  They are for our benefit – to make life better, not harder – to make life more restful, not more awkward.  God is not frowning at us, watching in case we have fun!

I remember reading, as a child, the Little House on the Prairie books, and being troubled when I read in one how Laura Ingalls Wilder had been severely told off – even beaten, perhaps, I can’t remember – on the Sabbath because she and her siblings had been having fun sledging!  That was in the late 19th Century, but I know a lady in her 50’s at St Laurence’s who was brought up to believe fun on Sunday was definitely not on!  It was a day for being holy – and for ‘holy’ read ‘miserable’!  But that is to completely misunderstand what Sabbath was, and is, for.  We can badly miss the point if we just stick rigidly to rules and think that’s what the Commandments are about.  Think of Jesus’ opponents forbidding healing on the Sabbath but happy to plot his death.

Sabbath is holy, in the first place, because it was the day God rested from his labours of creation.  But it wasn’t as if God needed to rest.  What is going on is that on the seventh day God enjoyed the creation he had made.  And as it is written in the Ten Commandments, Sabbath is to be kept by the Israelites because they were slaves once, and they weren’t to be slaves again, and they weren’t to make anyone else a slave – even an animal!  But we make ourselves slaves to continual busyness all the time.

Our culture has become what we often call 24/7.  I remember all the arguments a few years back about the Keep Sunday Special campaign.  At the time I didn’t particularly think it mattered, and it seemed wrong to prevent people going shopping just because of my belief, which they didn’t share.  Keep Sunday Special smacked, to me, of the Little House on the Prairie attitude.  But now I’m not so sure.  I think we have lost a lot in losing the specialness of Sunday.  There’s a lad at St Laurence’s left us last year to go to university and is going great guns in his faith.  When he was about 10 he always came to church with his friend, but that friend was a keen footballer, and we lost him to football fixtures on a Sunday.  I wonder, if he had stayed in church with us and his friend, whether he wouldn’t now be like his friend – full of the faith.  And, as someone who doesn’t understand how anyone could conceivably go shopping as a leisure activity, I lament the opportunity all those shoppers would have for doing something more worthy – and all those shop assistants who have to work.  The day for spending time with families seems to have gone and that’s a great sadness.

But, of course, Sabbath in the Bible isn’t Sunday at all – it’s Saturday.  But never mind what day we keep it on – there are always people who will have to work on any given day – emergency services, and so forth.  But we can still keep Sabbath in principle.  Just from a sanity point of view we need to have time off – it’s good if it can be a whole day.  It doesn’t matter if you have fun and do lots of stuff that day, that’s what it’s for, but when do we have time for God?

We can keep Sabbath time every day if we make time for it.  The Sabbath principle is as valuable as it ever was, particularly in a society that has got itself in a big hurry and doesn’t know how to slow down.  Employers seem to expect their workers to work all the time.  Even if they get a day off, they don’t have enough time for their families the rest of the week.  I think that’s a violation of the Sabbath principle.  And even if employers don’t do it, we’re quite capable of doing it to ourselves.  I’m preaching to myself here as much as to anyone else.  When is our Sabbath time.

We tend to feel guilty if we lie in bed in the morning and gaze at the ceiling, or if we soak in the bath until we’re pink and wrinkly.  Even if we stop for a cup of tea and gaze out of the window.  We have ago at our teenagers who seem to be able to snooze until midday.  What a waste of life!  That’s what we think.  Or are we just secretly jealous!?  But I think it might also be true that most of the really important thoughts and ideas we have ever had have come in those moments that we might otherwise consider wasted?  How much of life we miss if we’re always doing something ‘useful’!

Sabbath says God didn’t create us to be always doing stuff!  He created us to be!  He created us to enjoy him and his creation and enjoy the gift that our lives are.  How do you feel if you give someone a book as a present – one you think they’d really enjoy, and they never actually get round to reading it.  How would you feel if you cook a really tasty meal, and your guest just shovels it down and runs out of the door?  Well multiply that by a lot, and that’s how God feels when we ignore the wonderful gifts of life because we are too busy doing stuff.  Even when we’re too busy doing stuff for him!  Sabbath is a reminder of what life is for.

Someone from St Mark’s gave me this poem a week or two ago and I keep coming back to it.  It’s by R.S. Thomas.  I’ll give you all a copy after.  It’s called ‘The Bright Field’:
I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the
pearl of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realise now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying

on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

The pearl of great price is being able to turn aside like Moses to the miracle of the lit bush.  Life as God intended it does not consist of hurrying.  To be sure, there’s hurrying to be done, but Sabbath reminds us there is much more.  I’m also reminded of that poem, ‘Leisure’ – ‘What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.’

I read this book for Lent a few years ago and found it quite an eye-opener.  It’s called, ‘Do nothing to change your life.’  A double meaning there.  How often do we do nothing without feeling guilty?  If anyone would like to borrow, you’re welcome.

We may not keep a Sabbath Day as such – though it would be valuable if we did – but let’s keep at least some Sabbath Time.

Sermon – 22 February 2015 – Alastair

10am St Luke’s – Exodus 20:1-17 and Mark 12:28-34
Beginning the 10 Commandments series – Jesus’ Summary of the Law

Henry, who was rather elderly, and liable to forget things was unhappy because he had lost his favourite hat.  Instead of searching for a new one in a similar style, he decided he would go to church and steal one out of the entrance porch when the worshippers were busy praying – he knew some of the men who went there wore hats like that.  But when Henry arrived at the church a sidesman intercepted him at the door and showed him to a pew where he had to sit and listen to the entire sermon on ‘The Ten Commandments.’

After the service, Henry met the vicar at the doorway, shook his hand vigorously, and told him, ‘I want to thank you Father for saving my soul today.  I came to church to steal a hat and after hearing your sermon on the 10 Commandments, I decided against it.’ The vicar answered, ‘You mean the commandment ‘Thou shall not steal’ changed your mind?’

‘No!’ retorted Henry, ‘Sorry I’d better go quick!  The one about adultery did it. As soon as you said that, I remembered where I’d left my old hat!’

The Ten Commandments used to be prominent in every church in England, on a big board somewhere in plain view.  I’m not sure why they were so prominent as I’m not sure they were particularly big in the thinking of the early church or even in the Bible.  They were certainly there, in the Bible, and taken seriously, but I don’t think you’d have found them on the wall of a synagogue or an early church meeting place.  They don’t have a central place in the Old Testament and are not mentioned in the New Testament.  Occasionally one or other of the Ten Commandments gets a mention, but they’re never referred to collectively as if they were a key moral code or a particularly important part of the Christian life.

I suspect the prominence in our country is to do with some hangover from 17th Century Puritanism – a sort of Christianity that rather liked to say, “Thou shalt not!” about anything that might conceivably be fun or pleasurable.  But it has got into the psyche of Christianity in our nation – years spent by generations of churchgoers looking up at all those, ‘Thou shalt nots’ and ‘Thou shalts.’  I’m not sure, either when the boards started to come down or weren’t included in many new churches, but the damage has been done. The perception in the minds of many is that God is sat on a cloud frowning and occasionally bellowing, ‘Thou shalt not!’ at us if we get close to enjoying ourselves.

Many think that the Ten Commandments are all there is to being a Christian.  I’ve been told many a time, ‘I don’t go to church, but I’m still a Christian.  I keep the 10 Commandments!’  And I’ve also heard many, mostly, but not entirely, older folk, saying everything would be OK if only people would keep the 10 Commandments.

That’s perhaps not far off true.  I don’t for a moment think that they are a bad thing!  If the Vladimir Putin’s of this world took them more seriously it would be a far better world – indeed if everybody did it would, but the trouble is people perceive the commandments as coming from outside themselves.  Let me explain what I mean.  The commandments are perceived to stand over and against us, judging us, rather than as part of a relationship with God.  If you don’t have a relationship with God, you may agree the commandments are a good thing, but when they conflict with what you want to do, you’ll try to find some way around them, some excuse not to keep them, or simply ignore them.

I came across this quote from some one called H.L. Mencken: ‘Say what you will about the Ten Commandments, you must always come back to the pleasant fact that there are only ten of them.’  Of course there are many more commandments and laws in the Old Testament, but on the whole people think, ‘The fewer the better!’  They see commandments as limitations to their freedom – things they would rather do without, but their purpose is to give life a decent shape.  If there are no rules you can’t play a game.  If you can do whatever you like with chess pieces there is no chess.  If you can just hit the golf ball wherever and with whatever you please there is no golf.  If you just do whatever you like in life without regard for God or neighbour, there is no life.  It’s a meaningless chaos of every man and woman for themselves.

The commandments were given to give shape to what it meant to be God’s people as opposed to a people living for themselves.  They are part of the Covenant – the relationship based on a promise between God and his people.  Actually the Bible doesn’t call them ‘commandments’, which gives this impression that they stand threateningly over us, but it calls them ‘words’.  “God spake these words and said…”  It’s more like advice for a good life – strong and serious advice, certainly, but the Hebrew doesn’t carry the bossy sounding force of the English word ‘Commandments’.  But whatever we call them, before Moses even came down the mountain they had broken the commandments and he broke the tablets they were written on.  The first two ‘words’ were ‘Have no gods before or besides me, and don’t make a graven image to represent me or any other god.’  And the Israelites had already decided it was a golden calf deity (probably an Egyptian deity) that had brought them out of Egypt and made an idol to worship.

The commands, by themselves, don’t help us to do any better.  By themselves they simply show up how much we fail.  St Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians (3:6) wrote, “The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”  The letter – that is the written commandment – says, ‘This is the way of life for God’s people,’ but without the Spirit you won’t be able to keep this way of life, so the commandment that promises life (that’s why it was given) proves to be death in you.

As I said, the Law stands outside us.  Even in the Old Testament the prophets foretold that it needs in the end to be written on our hearts, not on tablets of stone.  Ezekiel 36:26 says one day God will take away his people’s hearts of stone and give them hearts of flesh; and Jeremiah 31:33 foretold that one day God would make a new Covenant with his people when his law would be written on their hearts.  If Law is outside us we won’t obey it if we think we can get away with it.  Think about the inclination to drive over the speed limit until you see a camera.  That’s probably because we don’t particularly agree with the law, or we think something else (our own wishes perhaps?) is more important, or something else (our own ability to control our vehicle) somehow trumps the law, so we don’t keep the law unless we have to.

The Commandments are a bit different, in that if you believe in God, you believe he sees you breaking them, but the point remains, if the Law remains outside us, it is only ever kept reluctantly, and as our belief waxes and wanes we tend to ignore the law.  But if we see the point of a law and agree with it and accept it – for example if we become aware of the possibility of an accident happening suddenly and unexpectedly, or a child running out and finding ourselves unable to stop in time – then we’ll be more inclined to keep the law, cameras or not.  The law of God needs to be written on our hearts in this way.  It becomes internal to us – part of who we are.  That doesn’t just mean it’s been learned by heart – it means we see the point of it and because we want to live in love for God and love for neighbour we want to keep it.

We sadly are not very likely to achieve anything, I don’t think, by standing over Vladimir Putin, or anyone else for that matter, saying. ‘Thou shalt not!’  We only really change the world by changing the human heart.  I know that’s not exactly the answer to the Ukraine crisis right now, but it’s the only real hope for the world in the long term.  That’s how the Kingdom of God comes and that is how the world is saved.  Not by shouting ever louder, ‘Thou shalt!’ and ‘Thou shalt not!’ but by loving God and loving neighbour and spreading that love so the commandments become written on our hearts.

Jesus shows us the point of the law – love God and love neighbour – it’s all about love.  Not about whether or not we cross boundaries – it’s all about relationship.  Crossing boundaries can certainly damage relationships, but it is the relationship that is the point of having the boundaries in the first place.  We’ll come onto this in the next few weeks as we consider the commandments throughout Lent in a series of sermons, but Jesus widens the commands to show people the point of them.  He says it’s no good just not killing people.  If you treat them like dirt, insult, hate, burn with anger against them, you haven’t written the commandment on your heart.  If you don’t actually love your partner, always lust after others, fantasize that the grass would be greener in another relationship, then it matters not if you don’t actually commit adultery, you’re not keeping the commandment.

It’s a good discipline in Lent to spend a bit of time meditating on the 10 Commandments, because we can tend to think we do OK by them if we haven’t murdered anyone or shoplifted lately, but if we take each one, in order to see the point of it, it can quickly become apparent how far short we fall.  How do we measure up to the command to have no gods but me?  What other things in our lives take up more time and energy, or are more important to us than our relationship with God?  Do we love God with all our heart?  I may not steal, but is my money invested in companies that don’t pay a fair wage or a fair price to their suppliers?  We may be gaining from somebody else’s violation of the commandment.  There’s plenty of self-examination for us all to do, I’m sure, with these and the rest of the 10 commandments.  But it’s not about beating ourselves up.  It’s about trying to do ourselves good.  We examine ourselves in much the way that we might examine parts of our bodies for lumps.  If we find any we go to the doctor.  If we examine ourselves and find we don’t live up to the commandments we turn to Jesus.  How do we get the commandments written on our hearts?  We can’t write them there ourselves – the Spirit writes them there – but we have to want that and receive it.

It is through Jesus that the law is written on our hearts – he is the mediator of a new relationship with God – a new covenant – the New Testament.  He lived a life of perfect relationship with God.  When we ask him into our lives, we become what St Paul called ‘In Christ’.  We share in his relationship with God and his Spirit lives in us and starts to make us want to keep the commandments – not for their own sake, but for the sake of the love he gives us for God and the love he gives us for our neighbour.  Those, Jesus said, are the greatest commandments.
It puzzles me that those two commandments aren’t written on boards in prominent positions in our churches.  Let’s ask Jesus to write them in prominent places in our hearts.

Sermon – 22 February 2015 – Graham

St Laurence – 10.00 a.m. – Exodus 20: 1 – 17 and Mark 12: 28 – 34

As part of the Northern Group’s teaching programme about the basics of our faith, it falls to me to begin a four week series of sermons about the Commandments – but, as happened earlier in the service, I shall omit the Eleventh of them, which – as we all know – is “Thou shalt not be found out.”

My task is to introduce the Mosaic Commandments, but leave their detailed consideration to others, and then to spend the rest of my time talking about Jesus’ summary of them, sometimes known as the Great Commandment.

As most, perhaps all of you, know, the Ten Commandments form the basis of the faith and practice which Moses brought from Mount Sinai – reputably written on two stone tablets – and which Jews and Christians share. According to the Book of Exodus, he had spent forty days alone on the mountain communing with God. How long he had really spent up there is open to question, though, for, as with Jesus in the wilderness, forty days merely signified a long time.

Having escaped from Egypt, the Jewish nation was feeling its feet as as an independent state, no longer subject to the law codes forced upon it by its previous masters. Almost all the colonial possessions of the great European powers have been given their independence since the end of the Second World War, and have felt their way towards their own codes of law and practice, so many of us can fully understand the position the Jews felt themselves to be in.

If we take the relevant parts of the first five books of the Old Testament at face value Moses seems to have tackled the whole task on his own, ending up by carrying down those two tablets, with the new law code literally carved in stone upon both sides of both of them. But straightway Moses found his ideals and plans in jeopardy because, in his absence, his people had turned away from the one true God to unseemly revelry and worshipping a golden calf.

Moses was incandescent as we can read in Exodus 32: 19 – 20:
“As soon as Moses came near the camp and saw the camp and the dancing, his anger burned hot, and he threw the tablets from his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain. He took the [golden] calf that they had made, burned it with fire, ground it to powder, scattered it on the water, and made the Israelites drink it.”
And, in the voice of Basil Brush, Jews and Christians alike have been taking the tablets for their spiritual and moral health ever since. Boom! Boom!
Nevertheless a second pair of inscribed tablets was soon made and Exodus tells us that, again, God himself did the writing

But as I explained earlier my task this morning is to talk about about Jesus’ very short summary of the Ten Commandments which, under pressure from the Pharisees, he boiled down to just two laws.

Jesus’ deceptively simple formula emerged when a Pharisean lawyer asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”

He said to him, ” ‘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 neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

And it is fair to say that those two linked commandments, sometimes called the Great Commandment., reveal the basis of true religion which starts with loving God, not in some kind of sentimental, feel-good sort of way, but in total commitment of heart, soul, and mind.
And so Jesus cites Deuteronomy 6:5 as the greatest and first commandment and that verse from Deuteronomy is part of the basic creed of Judaism.

“It means,” said the great Baptist commentator William Barclay, “that we must give total love to God, a love which dominates our emotions, a love which directs our thoughts, and a love which is the dynamic of our actions.”

The second commandment Jesus cites is from Leviticus 19:18. Only when we love our neighbour in concrete acts of justice and compassion does our love for God become real – and not merely an abstract idea. As Jesus says in Matthew 7: 16 in the Sermon on the Mount: “You will know them by their fruits.”

But it is important I emphasize the final two words of our Lord’s second Great Commandment, for the Gospel accounts do not record him as saying simply “Love your neighbour” but “Love your neighbour as yourself.”

For, in the last resort, if one doesn’t look after oneself, one cannot take one’s proper place in life, be it in the family, at work or at leisure, or in helping one’s fellow human beings wherever they might be in the world. or in helping the world at large.

To give you one example from my personal experience, I shall always value the advice I was given by Bishop Timothy of Portsmouth who ordained me Deacon on Michaelmas Day in 1987 – a very wise man who previously had been Bishop of Johannesburg, with Desmond Tutu as his Dean and once he had retired he became a monk in Alton Abbey, Hampshire. After dinner on the evening before the ordination, he ended my private talk with him by saying “I expect that after tomorrow you’re going to feel you’re fired up to conquer the world for God, but never forget that come what may – as it will – your major responsibility should not be to the world but to yourself and your family.

Without looking after yourself and looking after them, you will be ineffective and no real long term good to anyone. Advice which stipendiary clergy should take particularly to heart, but sadly – sometimes even tragically – rarely do. So it’s the duty of the rest of us to make sure they take their time off and aren’t forced to attend all the meetings they do and for the rest of us to accept that a home visit doesn’t mean that it’s always the vicar who has to call.

Now to conclude, let me offer you some final thoughts on the two commandments from St. Cyril of Alexandria, an outstanding theologian who died in the year 444.

The first Great Commandment teaches every kind of godliness. For to love God with the whole heart is the cause of every good. The second commandment includes the righteous acts we do toward other people.

The first commandment prepares the way for the second and in turn is established by the second. For the person who is grounded in the love of God clearly also loves his neighbour in all things.

So may God give you grace to obey Jesus’ two commandments in all their fulness, so that you may experience the blessings to be gained from obeying the whole ten which Moses brought down from the mountain.