Faith United Methodist Church

March 8, 2015

Third Sunday of Lent

Rev. Krista Beth Atwood

Scripture: Psalm 19, Exodus 20:1-17

Prayer of Illumination:

The word of the Lord revives our souls. The Lord’s instruction makes our hearts rejoice! God’s word gives light to our eyes and makes our path clear. The Lord’s word is pure and righteous, eternal and true. The word of God never fails!

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our thoughts be acceptable in your sign, O God, our rock and redeemer. Amen.

Sermon:  Heaven and Earth  

It has been said that, as people of faith, we have a foot in two worlds. We live and move in this earthly world, yet we are connected to another world. We straddle the material and the spiritual. Some call this other world the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven. In the Gospel of John Jesus affirmed of his followers, “They don’t belong to this world, just as I don’t belong to this world.” As some have put it, we are in this world, but not of this world.

So how do we manage this dual citizenship? It’s not like we get a passport for earth and a passport for heaven. How do we live in this world, following all the necessary rules and customs, while also staying connected to the other world, the heavenly world? It’s not easy, even for the most committed believer. The rules of this world are the ones we have to follow ~ so we don’t get ticketed, fined, jailed. The precepts of the heavenly world are a little easier to let slide. The consequences aren’t quite so immediate.

During this season of Lent we are encouraged to think seriously about our life of faith. At this point ~ the Third Sunday in Lent ~ we’re about half way through our journey. Lent is the time of year when we examine ourselves ~ our thoughts and our actions ~ and consider where we might need to change things up. We have an opportunity to re-evaluate our dual citizenship to see where we are faithful and where we may need to re-prioritize. Our United Methodist Book of Discipline puts our task before us very clearly:

I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church,
to observe a holy Lent:
by self–examination and repentance;
by prayer, fasting, and self–denial;
and by reading and meditating on God’s Holy Word.

So, on this Third Sunday in Lent, what better way to help us refocus than a refresher on the Ten Commandments, right? Some have described the Ten Commandments as God’s gift of law. The Ten Commandments present the kind of life God wants for us, a life of honoring God and honoring each other. The Ten Commandments lay out the boundaries for healthy relationships. And the Ten Commandments are very ~ how do we say it ~ earthy. They speak of jealousy, revenge and adultery, lying, swearing and obsession. You’d almost think they were referring to a soap opera. But, no. It’s just our lives ~ the stuff of life ~ that the Ten Commandments warn us against. Some might even say they are pedantic in their form and in their content ~ rules, rules, rules.

And then we have, in all its glorious splendor, Psalm 19. “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.”   No one could accuse Psalm 19 of being doctrinaire. The great Christian writer C.S. Lewis said of this Psalm, “I take this to be the greatest poem in the Psalter and one of the greatest lyrics in the world.” The Psalm begins with a celebration of God’s work in creation and goes on to extol the virtues of God’s law ~ the very law contained in the Ten Commandments. It turns what could be seen as dry and impersonal directives into something alive and intimate:

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the decrees of the Lord are sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right; rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever; the ordinances of the Lord are true and righteous all together.

In the light of the law the Psalmist recognizes his faults and repents, asking God to make him pure so he can fully enjoy the presence of the Lord. In the eyes of the Psalmist, the purpose of the law is not point out our faults, but to restore us to life.

As Christians we don’t consider ourselves to be ‘under the law’ any longer. Christ came to establish a new covenant by grace, to free us from the burden of the law. This is good news! But it doesn’t mean that the law has nothing to offer us.   Jesus himself said that he didn’t come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. We are, after all, dual citizens. The law and the heavens must meet, so long as we live on earth. Our Seasons of the Spirit tells us, “The harmony of creation is meant to guide the harmony of human society.” While Dianne Bergant affirms, “Reverence for the law seems to promise the best that life has to offer.” As Frank Sinatra sang, “You can’t have one without the other.”

The Ten Commandments are certainly thought provoking if we allow ourselves to truly consider them. The Sabbath commandment is just one example of the discipline required by the law. The great preacher Barbara Brown Taylor tells a story of seeing the Ten Commandments posted as lawn signs ~ blue ink on plastic board shaped like tablets, pointing out, “The curious thing is that the people who care enough to display them can often be seen mowing around the signs on the Sabbath.

What we fail to see is that the Ten Commandments aren’t archaic rules, they are a way of life that leads to peace, reconciliation and wholeness for those who follow them. An intimate mystery. A touching of heaven and earth. As Alan Brehm describes in ‘The Waking Dreamer’, “The Psalmists see that not as something burdensome, but as a gift – keeping God’s Torah (God’s Law) effects restoration, grants wisdom, rejoices the heart, enlightens the eyes.

We are midway through Lent. Good Friday and Easter are less than a month away. What Lenten disciplines will guide you for the rest of the journey? What Commandments will you meditate on in your prayer life? God’s mystery is vast, from God’s self-disclosure in the heavens to God’s gift of the law. Yet God’s mystery is close at hand, as we go about every day living our dual citizenship between heaven and earth. We don’t have to be perfect to participate in the heavenly promise that God offers. We don’t have to be blameless or faultless. As Kate Huey describes it in her Sermon Seeds, “There is order in all this, and glory and goodness, especially when we find our place and rhythm within the order God provides.” We do have to be open to the guidance that God gives and honest with ourselves. A touching of heaven and earth. Thanks be to God. Amen.