So I was driving in my car with a family friend who comes here to church. She told me (sort of in a half joking way) that since we’ve been doing the 10 Commandments she realizes that so far she broken the first 5 we’ve talked about. But the consolation for her she said, “was that we’re getting to Thou Shalt Not Kill soon right? “At that’s good – because I know I don’t do that one.”
Some of you may be feeling the same way. How many of you have been arrested for murder lately? No one. Whew! Ok then, finish your coffee and we can all go home!
Oh how I wish I could tell you that. I wish I could say this is the easy commandment. The one you can emotionally skip over and tell yourself you don’t have to worry about because there “ain’t no way I’m killing somebody”. Well, don’t relax so fast. The problem for us is that this commandment is about much more than we think it is. Even if we stick with the literal meaning of this commandment you’ll find endless debates over what constitutes murder and what is justifiable killing. For many of us even those things seem far away and removed to many of us. So I’m not even going to go there today.
I want to talk about the part of this commandment that effects everyone of us, the part of this commandment that’s going to leave everyone of us saying, “Uh oh, I do that one too” because we all do.
Behind every murder is a thought. A thought that can sometimes lead to the literal murder of someone but more often lead to just plain hurting each other. You know it’s possible to kill a person in little tiny ways by chipping away at their self-esteem, trust, joy, sense of worth, security and sense of self.
So maybe you’re saying “When have I ever done that?” We all have times in our lives when we let our anger rule us or when we let those things that emerge from our anger like resentment, jealousy, competition or even our self-centered drive to survive entice us to treat each other without dignity. When we do that, we compromise the chance that the person we hurt can have the abundant life that God wants for them. In other words, we take a life and we commit murder.
Yes, I am saying that a hand gesture at a car that is annoying you is just as bad as murder, because it comes from the same place, anger. That does not diminish the act of murder in any way, but it does increase our understanding that everything we do has the potential to chip a way at someone’s soul. I believe there is a real death that occurs in people whenever we speak unkindly about them, throw thoughtless insults at them. Or make little digs in our conversations with them, often disguised as humor.
In case you’re wondering, I’m not the first person to bring this up. I’m in very good company. In the book of Matthew Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire”.
Jesus tells us that he came to embody the law, to fulfill it. The way he is going to fulfill the law is to practice it, not just at its face value, but to dig in and uncover the spirit of the law. When we kill whether literally or figuratively we do so because we allow feelings of rage, jealousy and inadequacy to over throw our desire to embody the will of God.
Jesus knew that we humans are capable of chipping away at one other, bruising souls, crushing dreams, taking away life. Although he would see it first hand but Jesus was unshakable. Even amidst harsh criticism and threats Jesus continued to love, comfort, teach, liberate and reconcile people back into the community from which they were shunned or at odds. He lived not only the letter of the law, he lived the spirit of the law.
So today I’m asking all of us at our church to become more mindful of embodying the spirit of this law. That may sound easy but I assure you it’s not. Unfortunately we find ourselves in a social climate where it is acceptable to put down, undercut and put people in their place (where ever we think that might be). We disguise our snarky comments as wit and we our blatant leveling of others as ambition.
In a book about his success, a popular rap artist said, “It’s not enough to bat someone down. You must annihilate them so they don’t come back stronger”. The creators of Survivor say, “If you want to succeed, you need to vote off everyone that doesn’t agree with you or they will get in your way to achieving your goal.” Kanye West thought it was OK to pull the mic out of someone’s hand during their acceptance speech at the Video Music Awards because he thought she shouldn’t have won. Spurring of course a debate over who’s video was better Taylor Swift or Beyonce. That is not the point!
Lord help us we’ve even found a way to disguise tolerating intolerable behavior as advanced parenting. In the parent tips section of a parenting magazine, I was shocked to find a article that proposed, “Don’t interfere when your older child pushes your younger child off the slide in the back yard so that the younger child learns how to fight back.” Now, I’ve been to a enough parenting groups and on enough play dates to know that in some circles such techniques might make me appear to be a better mother, but I fail to see how that makes me a better follower of Jesus.
Unlike celebrities we cannot bounce back by appearing on the Jay Leno show the next night to apologize for the demeaning stunts we pull. Unlike scenarios in modern magazines, we are not raising fictional toddlers. We are dealing with human beings and we are in the position to steer them in the direction of either pushing each other around or being peacemakers.
It’s time we take this argument out of the hands of reality TV writers and out of the pages of magazines and place it right in the context of our lives as disciples of Christ. The God I know and follow calls us, both pushers and pushees, to be peacemakers, merciful and meek. The playground slide of this world we find ourselves on stands on Holy Ground. It’s all Holy Ground. There is no special place to be kind. In this world, we are called to lead people to a Christ-centered community. A Christ-centered community upholds the dignity of every human being because we are all made in the image of God. Those are more than just words. Unless we’re intentional about changing this behavior, that community will never flourish. When we don’t lead by example, we alienate people, hurt relationships, forget to teach each other the way of Jesus and we kill one another bit by bit.
In a Christ-centered community, an insulting remark is something to be corrected not laughed at. In a Christ-centered community, putting someone down doesn’t really ever make you look bigger and takes its toll. In a Christ-centered community, pointing out someone’s shortcomings is never appropriate. In a Christ-centered community, people are less envious. They know that someone else’s success does not mean that you cannot be successful yourself and someone else’s good fortune does not mean that you cannot be fortunate. Someone else’s public attention does not mean that people don’t pay attention to you.
In a Christ-centered community, we take the time to get to know one another and don’t assume everyone wants the same things we do in life, or be like us. When we make assumptions about people, we don’t see who they really are. All of us need people to know us as we truly are.
Jesus said that the meek shall inherit the earth and we should rejoice because we’re getting meeker, more humble and gentle. They cheer each other on, not slap one other down. In a Christ-centered community, the people accept that there can be more than one strong women, or one strong man, or one strong teen in the group. In a Christ-centered community people are not evaluated by what they do but loved for who they are.
God did not call us merely to be friends. God called us to truly love one another. There is a difference. If you’ve been through middle school you know what that difference is. Friendship can be based on purely self-gratifying needs. Sometimes friends use each other and even kill each other. On the other hand, love is willing to be used and die for the other.
This community, Vision, is on a journey of becoming a Christ-centered community. We’re not there. We’ll never be there but we can try. Throughout our attempt we will encounter a lot things. Sometime everything will go just the way we want and all the people we know are easy to love and sometimes not so much. However, it’s in the decisions we make in those difficult times that define us as a Christ-centered community and show the world that we are not takers of life but life-giving.