Sunday, July 16, 2023

Love Is a Verb

 Exodus 20:1-17

Then God spoke all these words, saying, "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.  

"You shall have no other gods before Me.  You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth.  You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me,  but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.

"You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.  

"Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.   Six days you shall labor and do all your work,  but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you.   For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.

"Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you.

"You shall not murder.

"You shall not commit adultery.

"You shall not steal.

"You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.  

"You shall not covet your neighbor's house;

"you shall not covet your neighbor's wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor."

Sermon for Sixth Sunday after Trinity                                              7/16/23

Love Is a Verb

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

When I was a young pastor, one of the first really surprising and helpful things I remember learning from another pastor was that the Ten Commandments are not actually called "Commandments" in the original language.  The word for "commandment" in Hebrew is "mitzvah", like in "bar-mitzvah", the "son of the commandments" ceremony that we have heard of.  The word used in connection with what we call the "Ten Commandments" – used in every case throughout the Old Testament, is "dabar" which means "a word".  "The Ten Commandments" are really "The Ten Words".

Now, don't let that fool you.  If God says it, it is true.  If God says, "This is the way you are to behave," He doesn't have to call it a "commandment", it still is a command.  I just found it refreshing to think of the Ten Commandments as something other than mere orders which we were to follow.

Then I discovered that the Ten Commandments were not so much about legal obedience as they were about love.  Did you hear it in verse 6?   It is part of what we Lutherans call "The Close of the Commandments," even though it appears in the Bible just after the First Commandment.  Blame it on Luther and his Small Catechism.  In verse 6, God says, "but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments."  There we see it.  The commandments are not about rules, so much, as about love.  Our theme, as we examine this text in this light, is "Love is a Verb."

The Commandments are all about love.  They talk about what it means to love God and to love your neighbor.  The first three, or four or five or six – it depends on how you number them – speak about love for God specifically.  We are never sure of how to number these ‘commandments' because the Bible calls them the "Ten Commandments" and yet they are not numbered, and there are twelve or thirteen "Thou shalt's" in the Ten Commandments.  But the first three, as we Lutherans number them, tell us how to love God, or what the love of God looks like.

That's another thing.  Most people are not used to talking about what "love" looks like.  Americans have gotten used to talking about love as a feeling.  You don't see feelings, you feel them.  But in the Bible, love is not a feeling, it is an action, or at least it demonstrates itself in actions.  Love is a Verb.  You DO love.  Love that is not seen acting in love is not real.

The first three commandments describe how love toward God works – or how it looks.  You can read these commandments as de-scriptive rather than pre -scriptive.  Then they would read something like this;

Since you are My people, and I am your God

#1.  You will have no other Gods, and
#2.  You will not be taking my name in vain, or using it as if I did not exist, or hear you, and
#3.  You will always remember My Sabbath, My day of rest, and keep it holy, separate and treat it as precious and unique, for My sake.

The obvious implication is that where we see those actions, we are seeing the love of God, and, one might assume, those who love God.  Conversely, where those behaviors are missing we are not looking at those who have the true God as their God.  Love for God is something that you do, not merely something you think – or feel.  Love results in behaviors.  It does things, and makes you do things.  It is a verb.

The last seven commandments talk about love for God from a different perspective.  They talk about love for God as it demonstrates itself in our love for, or toward, our neighbors.  You can really only love God and serve Him by loving those God has given to you to love – that is, the people placed about you in the world – and serving them.  The Apostle John said as much in his first epistle, chapter 4,verses 20-21, If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.   And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.

So, the next commandments tell us about loving God by loving one another.  With the sense of the commandments slightly expanded by Luther's descriptions in the Catechism, the last seven "Words" would read something like this: Because you are my people, and love me:

#4.  You will honor your father and mother, for they are my gift to you and they stand in your life in my stead, and
#5.  You simply will not murder each other, or permit yourself to hate one another, and
#6.  You will not violate the marriage bed, or misuse the my gift to you of the delight and pleasure of sexuality, and,
#7.  You will not be taking from one another what I have give to each of you, but will be satisfied with the blessings with which I have blessed each of you, and
#8.  You will not lie about each other, or speak evil of one another, or gossip about one another, and
#9.  You will not long for or lust after the property I have given to another, and
#10.  You will not long for, or try to obtain the people and servants and animals I have given to your neighbor.

Doing any of the things described (or "forbidden") is not love - not love for the neighbor, and not love toward God.  Even when we speak of forgiveness, we acknowledge that these descriptions are true.  Those who behave as unbelievers and pagans are not loving God.  We are not loving God when we sin.  Once we have confessed our sins and received forgiveness, the Law is still true.  We cannot turn around and begin doing these proscribed things again, or keep doing any of them even while we ask God to forgive us, without demonstrating by our behaviors that we do not love God - or our neighbor, nor care one whit what God wants or thinks.  

But then it is not the doing of the deed that is so damaging when we sin against the commandments.  What is so powerful and destructive is what it means about our love for God and our relationship with Him as His people.  Remember, He says that this is what love looks like – that if we are His people, these are the sorts of things that love for God works in us.  The contrary is also true – if we live in contradiction to these "Words" then the love of God does not abide in us.  If we do not live the sort of lives that show love for God, then we necessarily show contempt for Him and hatred, because in God's eyes, you either love Him or you despise Him.  There is no middle position.

Frankly, these descriptions are terrifying!  I don't know about you, but I do not live up to the love of God.  My life reflects way too much sin, and self-love.  I take comfort in the word in verse 6, "showing lovingkindness to those who love me."  Those words remind me of what God has done for me in Jesus Christ.  His steadfast lovingkindness has caused Him to send His Son into the world to rescue me – and you!  Jesus took all of my failures, all of my self-love, and all of my outright wickedness - to the cross.  He nailed them there forever in His flesh, and died, paying the full penalty of my sins – and yours.  When God the Father raised Jesus from the grave, He was declaring by action that our sins have been paid for and fully forgiven – just as Jesus declared it in words, when He said, "It is finished!"

This lovingkindness is for those who love Him — those who take Him at His Word and trust in His grace and forgiveness for Christ's sake.  That is also something that you do when you love God,  . . . faith.  "It is by grace you have been saved, through faith."  But this salvation, this redemption, this forgiveness does not invalidate the Ten Words of God.  They are still true.  They still describe the people of God.  For those who know the secret of God's lovingkindness, the "Ten Words" no longer have the power to condemn us, but they are still true.  God's people still love Him in action – and, indeed, all the more.  They love Him in how they deal with Him, and His name, and His Word and worship.   In other words, Love is a Verb.

Those who love God also love Him by how they love their neighbor.  You cannot really love God while you are dealing with your neighbor in ways that deny love. 

You see, the Commandments are not so much about rules, especially for us, the people of God who stand in His grace and love.  Jesus has taken sin and the Law out of the equation of salvation by fulfilling all things for us.  But the Law is still true.  And love is not just a feeling.  It is not all locked up in your heart.  If there is love, it shows.  It acts.  You see, love is a verb!.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

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