Well, our first scripture reading today, which Julie read for us, is Paul's letter to the Romans, when he reminds those early Christians about the 10 commandments. Now the 10 commandments were given to Moses 3,500 years ago. And yet, here we are, and we're still discussing and even debating them in 2023.
You may have seen a few months ago, there's a group of lawmakers in Texas, who have proposed a bill that would require all public schools to display a poster of the 10 commandments in every classroom. Now, even though we have separation of church and state in this country, the proponents of that bill say that our society would be so much better if everyone just knew the 10 commandments and followed them.
Now, look… I have no issue with the 10 commandments. I actually think that most people on the planet, regardless of their religion, whether they're religious or not, actually do follow the 10 commandments, even if they can't recite them back to you. Because I've told you before, I think the 10 commandments are so easy. I mean, they're not challenging at all.
So for example, you know, it says, Honor the Sabbath. And I've shared with you ‘Honor, the Sabbath’ doesn't mean to go to church on Sunday. The Sabbath is the day of rest. And we're really good at honoring the day of rest. We love our weekends, most people already follow that.
And it's easy for me to honor my mother and father. They were both such wonderful people who made so many sacrifices for me. And honestly, when I go into a store, I never struggle with the inclination to want to steal something. And I don't ever really struggle with the emotion or desire or impulse to murder someone. And I think most people in this room feel the same way.
And I've shared this with you before, and it always elicits a laugh. But never, once not one time in my entire life, have I ever coveted my neighbor's wife
The 10 commandments are easy. But the commandments of Jesus are hard.
And that's why we never hear these same religious groups wanting to put up posters in public places that say, “Welcome the stranger,” “Set the captives free,” “Feed the hungry,” “Cure the sick,” “Lift up the lowly.”
That's why in that reading from Romans, the apostle Paul is telling the early Christians, Yes, the 10 commandments are important. But he stresses the importance of following the commandments of Jesus, especially Jesus's greatest commandment to love your neighbor as yourself.
Now, when Jesus gave us that commandment, it wasn't new. And it wasn't unique to Jesus. All of the world's major faith traditions have that commandment as part of their core teachings. And several of those faith traditions are much older than Christianity. If you go over to our church's retreat house, across the street, you'll see we have a poster with that greatest commandment in every single faith tradition.
That commandment is a hard one to follow, especially during a time when our nation is so divided. But you know, it was divided in the time of Jesus, and at the time of the early Christians, when Paul was writing to the church in Rome. Now it's important for you to know that when Paul, we call him Paul the Apostle, but he wasn't one of the first 12 apostles of Jesus. In fact, most theologians agree that Paul never met Jesus before he died.
Now there is a story in the Acts of the Apostles of the Spirit of Jesus appearing to Paul after his death on the road to Damascus. But this letter that he's writing to the early Christians is decades after Jesus has died. And that early Christian church that he's writing to is very divided. There are a lot of quarrels and jealousies. And so he's writing to let them know, love one another, be gathered together, united in love. And that's what today's Gospel reading, which I read for you is all about today.
Jesus is talking to His disciples, and he's saying, if there's a member of the church who you have a disagreement with, there are arguments and jealousies – he also is trying to let us know that.
We think that the Christian church is so divided in America today. Well, it was divided all the way back in the beginning. Whenever people are gathered together, there are always going to be disagreements and arguments. But Jesus says to them, if you obey my commandments, then you will be united in my love.
Obey my commandments. So what were the commandments of Jesus? Well, he said, Love your neighbor as yourself. Love your enemy. Bless those who persecute you. Turn the other cheek. Forgive not just one time, but 70 times seven times.
Those are hard commandments to follow. I've got to admit to you, I struggle with those commandments almost every single day of my life. I find it really hard in the nation in which we're living right now to love those who are expressing so much hate, who are doing so much destruction to our nation and to the planet. I find it really hard to forgive those who are persecuting people because of their race, or because of their religion, or because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. It's hard for me to bless people who are doing that type of persecution. And it's really hard for me to turn the other cheek to white supremacists, conspiracy theorists, and people who are trying to take away other people's liberties. I struggle with that every day.
But if I'm truly to call myself a Christian, then I can't just say I follow the 10 commandments of Moses. I've got to follow the commandments of Jesus, no matter how hard they are to obey.
Now I want to be clear. Following those commandments doesn't mean that we are to be silent doormats. We as Christians are called to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. And Jesus wasn't a silent doormat. Jesus spoke truth to the powers that be, and he worked and fought for justice. And we are called to do the same but we're called to do it in the spirit of love, not in the spirit of hate and division. Within the spirit of love.
And that's why he says that famous line in today's Gospel reading, whenever two or three are gathered in my name, I am present with them.
Now, “in my name” doesn't mean the personal name of Jesus of Nazareth, in my name means in my spirit, the spirit of love, when we do things in that spirit, then the presence of Christ is with us.
And so my friends, as we are gathered here together today, in that spirit of love, may we recommit ourselves this day, not just to following the 10 commandments, which are important, but also to following the commandments of Jesus, no matter how difficult they may be to obey.
And may we, the people of Douglas UCC, continue to be that spirit of love in the world. So that truly we can bring about the Kingdom of Heaven, right here on Earth. a just world for all people.
Rev. Salvatore Sapienza
Words of Integration and Guidance
by Rev. Ed Townley
In today’s gospel reading, Jesus is instructing his disciples on how they are to carry his message forward. He is speaking not simply as Jesus of Nazareth, but as Jesus, the Christ—the Presence of God that he is realizing and that he calls us to realize within ourselves. What’s interesting about this passage, I think, is the practical instruction on how to express our innate Christ energy. Jesus says, "Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." By "earth" Jesus is describing this mortal experience, and by "heaven" he is naming the innate spiritual Power that is our true identity. And if we take it to the next stage—"where two or three are gathered"—we are clearly and firmly linked to our shared creative power. "I AM" is the name of God given to Moses through the burning bush. "I AM" is the statement with which we claim and express our own Christ Power. When we gather for that purpose, and when we commit our shared Christ energy toward a creative intention, then the infinite energy and love of Jesus Christ is present to augment our own intentions. This is the very essence of prayer. There is infinite Power even in our most personal, intimate prayer intentions. But that Power increases exponentially when we come together—not to beseech a distant God, but to share a creative intention—to combine our personal I AM intentions to bring a healing, empowering expression of divine love into expression in this life experience.
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