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4/14/24 Sermon

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Deuteronomy 5:11-22

New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition

11 “ ‘You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses Their name.

12 “ ‘Observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 14 But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your slaves of any gender may rest as well as you. 15 Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.

16 “ ‘Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you, so that your days may be long and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

17 “ ‘You shall not murder.

18 “ ‘Neither shall you commit adultery.

19 “ ‘Neither shall you steal.

20 “ ‘Neither shall you bear false witness against your neighbor.

21 “ ‘Neither shall you covet your neighbor’s wife.

“ ‘Neither shall you desire your neighbor’s house, or field, or slave of any gender, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.’ ”

22 “These words the Lord spoke with a loud voice to your whole assembly at the mountain, out of the fire, the cloud, and the thick darkness, and They added no more. They wrote them on two stone tablets and gave them to me. 

Acts 1:6-8

New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Creator has set by Their own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 

Psalm 78:1-7 Nan Merrill

Listen well, O peoples of the earth,

to inner promptings of the spirit;

Let silence enter your house

that you may hear!

For within your heart love speaks:

not with words of deceit,

But of spiritual truths to guide you

upon the paths of peace.

Do not hide this from your children;

teach of the inward Voice, and

help all generations to listen

in the Silence,

That they may know the Beloved

and be free

to follow the precepts of Love.

It is worth noting what happens in Luke’s scriptures just before and immediately after the verses that Peggy read for us this morning. Last week we read the verses that appear ahead of these… “You will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” (Acts 1:4-5) 

This morning, Peggy read, So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Creator has set by Their own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 

Immediately after these verses Jesus is lifted up and is gone from their sight. We will read those verses closer to the day of Ascension, celebrated forty days after Easter. 

Ignoring Jesus’ promise of their upcoming commission by the Holy Spirit the disciples asked their burning questions… not what about this Holy Spirit thing? How’s that going to work? …but is this when you fix the world? When are you going to fulfill what we were expecting to happen? When are you going to overthrow the Roman government? Jesus side-steps the question with a vague answer… It is not for you to know when... Perhaps Jesus intended for them, and for us, to figure out the answers for ourselves.

The question about restoring the kingdom is keeping the disciples stuck in the past. Quit waiting for some future kingdom, Jesus seems to say. Start living in the now. 

Are we too stuck in that past? Waiting for a kingdom of heaven rather than making this life a heaven on earth? “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” Perhaps, Jesus is putting the emphasis on them, when the disciples will restore the kingdom, when we will restore the kingdom. It is no longer for Jesus to do, it is for us to do. 

The question is not, “to be or not to be…” The question is “to do or not to do?” 

The simple answers are: receive the power of the Holy Spirit; be witnesses of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth; continue the work and ministry that Jesus started. 

Our Hebrew scriptures list not once, but twice, the ten commandments that God delivered to Moses for the people. They appear in the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. In the verses in the Book of Exodus God speaks in first person. In the Book of Deuteronomy, which means “second law” Moses speaks in the first person about receiving the tablets. 

What are these laws, these Ten Commandments about? They are about keeping us in harmony with God and all of God’s creations, including other humans, including the earth and flora and fauna. 

I read in my “Connections” Commentary that “Our Biblical laws were offered to a liberated people to keep them free.” I appreciate that context. God “freed” the Israelites from their captors and then laid these laws at their feet. God freed us once, now we need to maintain that freedom and peace. The Ten Commandments are our “how to” book. 

The laws given to Moses for the Israelite people, for us, are good laws. For the good of all the people. For the good of all the creatures. For the good of all creation. 

Thou shalt not! Perhaps that is the language that was required to get the attention of the Israelites. Sometimes the situation requires commands, as to a toddler – Do Not Touch. HOT! – for their protection and safety. I imagine God was shouting, STOP doing what you are doing, Start living like you were intended to live, in unity, with kindness and respect and dignity. 

Good laws are compassionate to ensure all people have the same rights and dignities. Good laws do not take rights and dignities away from some and give them to others. 

I like to think that we have evolved. We can take a more positive approach to life. We can apply ethical principles to our decision making, such as: 

  1.  promoting the well-being of others 

  2.  avoiding and preventing harm to others

  3.  respecting the self-determination and choices of others

  4.  treating others fairly and equitably

  5.  being honest and trustworthy 

We make many nuanced ethical decisions each day as adults. Or at least I pray that we do. 

It is worth asking ourselves, why do we honor God and try to live a good life? Not to avoid punishment but to enjoy the benefits of our choices, to improve the quality of our lives and the lives of others. 

We need to continue to evolve from our own ways, those of the me/mine mentality, to God’s ways of inclusive love and justice for all. We need to balance our freedoms with our responsibilities. 

Whenever I lose sight of that, I come back to one of Judy Chicago’s written pieces from her “Dinner Party” installation. 

And then all that has divided us will merge

And then compassion will be wedded to power

And then softness will come to a world that is harsh and unkind

And then both men and women will be gentle

And then both women and men will be strong

And then no person will be subject to another’s will

And then all will be rich and free and varied

And then the greed of some will give way to the needs of many

And then all will share equally in the Earth’s abundance

And then all will care for the sick and the weak and the old

And then all will nourish the young

And then all will cherish life’s creatures

And then all will live in harmony with each other and the Earth

And then everywhere will be called Eden once again

When we follow Jesus and apply compassion and love and justice to our decision making we can frame our choices in positive prose. Thou shall love your God. Thou shall love your neighbor. This allows for extravagant love and compassion to flow through us. 

Luke, in the Book of Acts, writes that Jesus sends his followers to witness to the ends of the earth. No wonder the first question out of their mouths was about not what they should do but about what Jesus would please do for them. We are compelled to turn words into actions so that God’s ways become our ways. It is a hard way to live. It is arguably the only way to live. 

You all know the joke… A person standing on a NYC street corner asks a passerby, “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?” The answer? Say it with me. Practice. Practice. Practice. 

How do we enter the Kingdom of Heaven? Or make this a place heaven on earth? Practice. Practice. Practice. Practice love. Practice inclusivity. Practice kindness. Practice these things in thought, word, and deed. 

How are we being faithful witnesses? How do we let the light of God shine through us? 

That is exactly what this church community has done this weekend. Our light is shining at the Ellsworth hospital for one of our own. Compassion. Love. Kindness. Thank you to all who were able to help this weekend, to all those who have helped in the past, to all those who will help in the future. When someone is in need, we are there. Our lights shine brightly casting a loving glow out into the world as we follow the precepts of love. 


Rev. TJ Mack April 14, 2024

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