Colossians 3:12-17 and Galatians 3:23-29
Sunday, June 21, 2015
So here’s the question. If we are not saved by keeping the Ten Commandments, then why do we obey them?
We’ve been dancing around this question for a couple of weeks now. It started, as you may recall, with Peter. Who was a very good Jew, and who kept all the Old Testament Jewish laws perfectly. He didn’t eat what he wasn’t supposed to eat, and he didn’t associate with people who weren’t Jews, and he certainly didn’t stay overnight in their homes or have any sort of meaningful conversations with them. And yet, God came to him very powerfully, one day when he was praying on the rooftop of a house in Joppa. And God made the point to him, very clearly, that a new time had come. That he was now to associate with people who were not Jews, and even baptize them, and that people who were not Jews did not have to obey all those laws in the Old Testament. God made the point three times, in fact, just in case Peter may have missed it the first time. And Peter responded, quickly and completely – the way he did everything.
And then you remember how there was a great argument in the Christian church about all this, and how headquarters Church in Jerusalem called Peter and Paul and others back to Jerusalem for a conference, in which they discussed all this – heatedly and at great length. And you remember how Jesus’ brother James finally helped them come to a compromise, and they decided that people who were not Jews did not have to keep all the Jewish laws in the Old Testament, but only the most important ones.
But the question kept circulating around in the church, because here you have all these good Jews who have meticulously kept all these Jewish laws since they were babies, and celebrated all the Jewish holidays and eaten all the Jewish foods, and only the foods that Jews were supposed to eat. And suddenly, they are being told, by Peter and Paul, no less, that none of that is important at all, and the way to have life with God is through Jesus. It was mind-boggling. It was too hard to believe. So Peter and Paul had to say it again and again and Paul had to write it, again and again, in letters that he wrote to the churches all over Greece and Turkey, including the letter to the church in Galatia, which we have just read this morning. And Paul says very clearly, there, that we are no longer living under the laws, but we are living in faith in Jesus. It’s not keeping the laws that makes us children of God. It’s Jesus Christ who makes us children of God. And to boggle their minds even further, he makes the point there’s no difference between Jews and Greeks, and men and women and slaves and free. All of us are descendants of Abraham, and all of us belong to Jesus Christ and all of us are children of God.
So here’s the question again. If all of this is true, then why do we keep the Ten Commandments? If we are children of God through Jesus, if we are already God’s chosen sons and daughters, why bother? Why should we tell the truth when it would be a whole lot easier to tell a little white lie? Why should we take care of our parents as they become older? Why should we be careful to be honest in our business dealings? Why should we be content with what we have in life instead of wanting more and more and more? Why should we resist the temptation to sleep around in the wrong bed when things are going badly at home? Why, in the end, should we bother to worship God on a Sunday? When we have plenty other places to be and plenty of other things to do? If none of that really matters? If keeping the Ten Commandments really doesn’t matter?
Well, Presbyterians have a very good answer for all of that. Presbyterians say that we keep the Ten Commandments to make God love us. We do them because we understand that in Jesus, God already loves us dearly. We are already God’s chosen ones. And we wake up every single day, determined to do our very best, every single day, to show our deep, deep gratitude. (That comes through loud and clear in our Heidelberg Catechism that we read this morning.)
So here’s that looks like. That we wake up every day doing our best to show our gratitude to God that day that we read about in both our passages for the morning.
A woman is getting up in the morning, and she is putting on her shirt for the day. And as she puts on her shirt, she also puts on compassion. And as she puts on her shoes, she also puts on kindness and humility. Or a man is getting ready for the day, and as he pulls on his pants, he also puts on patience. He puts on a shirt for the day, and as he does that, he puts on forgiveness. And then he puts on a belt that holds his shirt and his pants together, and the belt that he puts on is love. That man and women eat their breakfast that day in harmony, and as they walk out the door for the day they take their last little sip of coffee and they are full of gratitude. Which stays with them the whole day.
So that whatever happens to them that day and wherever they are, and whomever they are with, this woman and man are wearing compassion and kindness and patience and humility and forgiveness and peace and gratitude and love. They encounter a conflict at work, and they are clothed with peace. They have a conversation with a friend or neighbor and they respond with humility. Someone offends them deeply during the day, but they are wearing forgiveness. They come up against an unsolvable problem, but they have patience draped over their shoulders. They see a person in some special need, and they are covered with kindness, so they respond, even though they are tired. And at the end of the day, this woman and man come back home to each other and to their family. And they are still wearing patience, and peace and kindness and humility and forgiveness and gratitude and they are still wearing that belt of love which holds it all together. And they spend the evening together, still wearing those clothes.
And I have discovered this. That it’s pretty hard to be angry with somebody for very long if you genuinely love that person. And it’s pretty hard to be critical, or mean spirited or impatient, if you’re truly grateful. It’s pretty hard to fight with other people for very long if your whole life is surrounded by the peace that Christ gives. It’s pretty hard to be arrogant if you’re wearing humility.
So then, we are wearing all those clothes – we are wearing compassion, and kindness and humility and gentleness and patience and forgiveness and love. In that spirit, we keep the Ten Commandments. And in that spirit, we make a special effort to care for our aging parents or other family members or friends - cheerfully. We make a habit of being honest even though it’s hard and even though most other people aren’t. We tell the truth in humility. We celebrate what is good rather than dwell on what is bad. We do our very best to make peace in our homes instead of straying off sleeping in beds where we don’t belong. We learn to be content with what we have. And we come to church on a Sunday morning because that’s one of the best places to show our gratitude to God. Because we are so full of thanks and gratitude that we can’t keep their mouths shut about it. Because we struggle every day to find new ways, or better ways, or more appropriate ways, to show our deep, deep gratitude for the life we have with God.
The life that is full, and rich and satisfying and overflowing with love and justice and peace. The life that overflows in goodness, and great bounty and wealth we don’t have words for.
So here’s the last question for the day: Are you that person we’ve been talking about this morning? Who puts on kindness and humility and gentleness and patience and forgiveness and love every morning and walks around all day in that clothing?