So, if you turn to page 1161 in the back of the red hymnal, you’ll see the Seventh, Ninth, and Tenth Commandments. The Seventh: You shall not steal. We are to fear and love God, so that we neither take our neighbour’s money nor property nor acquire them by using shoddy merchandise nor crooked deals, but instead help them to improve and protect their property and income. And the Ninth: You shall not covet your neighbour’s house. We are to fear and love God, so that we do not try to trick our neighbours out of their inheritance or property or try to get it for ourselves by claiming to have a legal right to it and the like, but instead be of help and service to them in keeping what is theirs. And the Tenth: You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour. We are to fear and love God, so that we do not entice, force, or steal away from our neighbours their spouses, household workers, or livestock, but instead urge them to stay and fulfill their responsibilities to our neighbours.
So, in other words, these last few Commandments we are looking at are all about don’t take what’s not yours. But instead, as Luther always says, go out of your way to help the people around you keep what’s theirs.
Of all of the Commandments, these are the ones that we’re actually the worst at keeping. Our entire economy is structured around “getting the best deal,” while simultaneously obscuring the fact that our best deal comes at the cost of someone else’s worst deal. Our cheap goods come at the cost of underpaid labour somewhere else. You just need to watch documentaries like “Walmart: The High Cost of Low Price,” to see that those cheap shirts are made overseas by people who aren’t paid enough to live and are sold to you by people who aren’t making a living wage. Or google “bottled water documentaries” to see how water companies are bottling water at the source, paying only pennies to the municipalities in which they are, in order to sell that water back to us and to those who live right next to what was previously a free source of water. Our profits are someone else’s loss. A largely unregulated market means that people can set whatever price for goods, resources, and services that they want. If you can afford it, great; if you can’t, too bad, and along with all of that, it’s “buyer beware.” We have grown up in this economy, along with the idea that we need to look out for ourselves first, and so we think it’s normal, and therefore acceptable, but Luther certainly didn’t. He criticized those who “sell their goods as high as they please.” He was angered by those who sold products for more than they were worth, he had no tolerance for people who saw their neighbour being cheated and did nothing about it. When homeowners raise the selling price on their houses just because they can, or because the market can handle it, thereby pricing regular people out of the market, that’s breaking the spirit of these commandments. Luther would not have been impressed.
I could go on and on with examples of how we fail to follow these Commandments. We just simply, as individuals and as a country, do not go out of our way to “be of help and service in helping our neighbours keep what is theirs.” For goodness’ sake, we are sitting on treaty land that was gained through legal trickery and relied on the First Nations’ peoples not understanding the implications of what they were getting into, and we still are not fulfilling our part of the treaties. We are so deep into breaking these commandments across the board, that there is no getting out, whether it is buying a house on treaty land, drinking bottled water, or benefitting from a pension that invests in the stock market. We are deeply imbedded in a devastating economic system that relies on these Commandments being broken at every step.
But I know that we don’t want to be. Look, I am not here to make you feel bad. I know that you already do. We are here because we want to do better. We want to be better. The Ten Commandments as a whole are fundamentally about right relationships with God and with our neighbours - they are about living in the world so that the words and deeds of our lives bring life to those around us. And we know that there are so many times when we fail to do that. With the best of intentions, we go out into the world, we leave church and go back to our families, or our work, and we try our best, and we fall into old habits. We do things or say things that disrupt our relationships. We sin. We fail to bring life, and instead we bring death.
But we don’t want to. As Jesus said to the disciples, “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41b) And as the apostle Paul said, “I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my body another law at war with the law of my mind.” “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” (Romans 7:22-23, 19) None of you come here on Sunday morning to say, yeah, I totally got one over on somebody this week! None of you rejoice when you have hurt another, none of you is here to brag about the way you’ve broken one of the Commandments. You are here because you want to “be of help and service to our neighbours” both locally and globally. You are looking for ways to make your life better, and to make the lives of others betters.
So, on the one hand, I have to say, Sorry, that will never happen. You can’t. We are too enmeshed in the systems of sin, we are slaves to sin, and we will always do things that disrupt our relationships, we will always bring death, we will always break all of the Commandments, one way or another. But, on the other hand, I say to you that life never came from you to begin with. The source of life, of our lives, of all lives, is not us. The source of life comes from outside of us, from Christ. This is grace and this is why we call Christ our salvation. Because it is Christ who brings life to the world, and to us. Christ in you, and through you, brings new life to the world.
And here’s the thing - Christ coming to be in you, Christ bringing you new life, Christ using you to bring new life, has absolutely nothing to do with you. To be sure, it’s somewhat humbling, humiliating even, to think that what we do or don’t do has absolutely nothing to do with Christ choosing to live in us. On our good days, when we’re feeling pretty successful at these Ten Commandments, we like to think, Yeah, I’m awesome, of course Christ lives in me, of course Christ is using me to bring life to the world. But, sorry to say, your success has nothing to do with it. At the same time, what a relief that is! Since we have more bad days than good days when it comes to following the Commandments, it is such a relief to know that Christ is living in us and using us to bring new life even when we ourselves are doing awfully at it.
All of this is to say that Christ makes happen what you really want to happen, which is to bring life to the world, to follow the Ten Commandments, to fear and love God and build up those around us and bring life and restore relationships. Christ does this. Christ abides in us to make this happen. Week after week, Christ freely offers himself to us in the bread and wine, and lives in us, so that we might bring life to others. The Ten Commandments tell us how to bring life, Luther’s “But instead” tells us how to nurture the lives of others, but it is Christ in us who enables us to actually do it. Week after week, the Gospel is freely proclaimed in this place, through hymns, through Scripture, through the sermon (hopefully), so that you might receive the Word of life. Week after week, the body and blood of Christ is freely given, no matter what you have done in the week, so that you might take into your very bodies that same life, and in receiving new life be transformed to offer that life, the life of Christ, to others.
The Ten Commandments are a gift to us, meant to tell us what true life looks like and how we might contribute to that life in others. Christ is the one who brings that life to us so that we might not just see, but also experience, what that life is, and gives us the power to share it with others. Thanks be to God. Amen.