I continued our fall lectio continua series through Exodus by preaching on God giving the Law to Moses in Exodus 20.
Thou shall have no other gods but me.
Thou shall not make for yourself any idol.
Thou shall not invoke with malice the name of the Lord, your God.
Thou shall not commit murder.
Thou shall not commit adultery.
Thou shall not steal.
Thou shall not strip to thine mighty whities and kiss a 14 year old nor touch her through her…No wait, that’s not in there. It’s not in there!
Nor is it etched in the 5,280 pound granite statue of them that Roy Moore installed in the lobby of the Alabama Supreme Court in 2001. It’s not in the 10 Commandments so the 10 Commandments Judge (if he’s guilty) must be in the clear.
According to Sean Hannity, if the 10 Commandments are at all relevant to the allegations against Roy Moore then it’s because Leigh Corfman, Wendy Miller, Debbie Gibson, and Gloria Deason are all guilty of breaking the 9th Commandment.
They’re all lying, Hannity promises. They’re bearing false witness.
Here I was in the middle of the week wondering what I would preach this Sunday, knowing that Exodus 20, the giving of the Law to Moses, was our scheduled scripture text. I didn’t know what I would preach. I was wracking my brain. I even prayed, as I always do, sending up on SOS for God to give me something to say.
And then on Thursday afternoon my iPhone chimed with breaking news from the Washington Post about the allegations of sexual assault (or, according to Breitbart News: “Dating”). My iPhone dinged with the allegations against Roy Moore, the self-proclaimed 10 Commandments Judge and now Alabama Senate candidate.
With Exodus 20 on the preaching calendar, Roy Moore fell into my lap like icky manna from heaven.
I know, it’s not funny.
But, if there’s anything funny at all about the sad, sordid story it’s the irony that Roy Moore, the 10 Commandments Judge, doesn’t appear to have read what Jesus and the Apostle Paul say about the fundamental function of the Law of Moses.
Turns out, finger-wagging fundamentalists like Roy Moore would do well to spend less time defending the bible and more time reading the bible because, according to Jesus and St. Paul, the commandments are not meant to elicit positive, public morality.
That’s not their purpose.
I’m going to say that again so you hear me: according to Jesus and the Apostle Paul, the commandments are not rules to regulate our behavior. They’re not a code of conduct.
The primary function of the Law, as Jesus says in the Gospel of John chapter 5 and Paul says in the Book of Romans chapter 3, is to do to us what it did to Roy Moore this week.
To accuse us.
The mistake Judge Roy Moore makes, in wanting to post the 10 Commandments in public spaces, is that the primary function of the Law is not civil.
The primary function of the Law is theological.
It’s primary purpose is to reveal the complete and total righteousness we require to acquire the Kingdom of Heaven and meet a holy God, blameless and justified.
But because we’re self-deceiving sinners, we delude ourselves.
And we rationalize- that because we keep 6 out of the 10 without trying and because we’ve got a little bit of faith and because we sing in the choir or because we took a casserole to the sick lady down the street – we deceive ourselves. And we tell ourselves that we’re good, that we’re righteous, that we’re in the right with God, that we didn’t do what Louis CK did. We’re not like Roy Moore at all.
To keep us from deceiving ourselves, to keep us from measuring our virtue relative to Roy Moore’s alleged vice, in his sermon on the mount, Jesus recapitulates the 10 Commandments and he cranks them up a notch.
To the 6th Commandment, “Do not commit murder,” Jesus adds: “If you’ve even had an angry thought toward your brother, then you’re guilty. Of murder.”
To the 7th Commandment, “Do not commit adultery,” Jesus attaches: “If you’ve even thought dirty about that Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Supermodel, then you’ve cheated on your wife.”
He didn’t say it exactly like that. I have a friend who put it that way.
And Jesus takes the Greatest Commandment, the Golden Rule- our favorite: “Love your neighbor as much as you love yourself,” and Jesus makes it less great by trading out neighbor for enemy.
“You have heard it said: ‘You shall love your neighbor.’ But I say to you, you shall love your enemies.”
Whoever breaks even one of these commandments of the Law, Jesus warns, will be called least in my Kingdom. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees, you will never enter Heaven.
Jesus exposes the Law’s true function by moving the Law and its demands from our actions to our intentions. The righteousness required to acquire heaven, says Jesus, is more than being able to check off the boxes on the code of conduct.
Do not commit murder, check. Do not steal, check. Do not covet, check.
I didn’t sleep with her, I must be Kingdom material.
The righteousness required to acquire the Kingdom is more than what you do or do not do. It’s more than posting the 10 Commandments in courtrooms; it’s more than obeying the 10 Commandments.
It’s who you are behind closed doors. It’s who you are backstage in the dressing room. It’s not who you are when you’re shaking hands and popping tic-tacs; it’s who you are on the Access Hollywood bus when you think the mic is turned off. It’s what’s in your head and in your heart, your intentions not just your actions.
That’s what counts to come in to the Kingdom. That’s the necessary measure of righteousness, Jesus says.
And then, Jesus closes his recapitulation of the Decalogue by telling his hearers exactly what God tells Moses at the end of the giving of the Law in Deuteronomy:
“You must be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect.”
When it comes to the Law, Christ’s point is that we should not measure ourselves according to those around us. I’m no Kevin Spacey.
No, when it comes to the Law and our righteousness, Christ’s point is that we must measure ourselves according to God. There’s no cutting corners. There’s no A for effort. “I tried my best” will not open the doors to the Kingdom of Heaven for you.
It doesn’t matter that you’re “better” than Harvey Weinstein. It doesn’t matter that you never did what Mark Halperin did.
“Nobody’s perfect” isn’t an excuse because perfection is actually the obligation.
Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees, you will NOT enter heaven.
You see, Jesus takes the Law given to Moses at Mt. Sinai and on a different mount Jesus exposes the theological function of the Law: You must be perfect. You must be as perfect as God. You must be perfect across the board, on all counts- perfect in your head and perfect in your heart and perfect in your life.
How’s that going for you?
Jesus takes the Law and he ratchets the degree of difficulty all the way up to perfection- it’s not just your public self; an A+ score for your secret self is a Kingdom prerequisite too.
Jesus takes the Law and he cranks its demands all the way up to absolute in order to suck all the self-righteousness out of you.
Jesus leaves no leniency in the Law; so that, you and I will understand that before a holy and righteous God, we stand in the dock shoulder-to-shoulder with creeps like Louis CK and, as much as them, we should tremble.
You see, that’s the mistake Judge Roy Moore makes in wanting to post the Law of Moses in courtrooms and public spaces.
The primary purpose of the Law isn’t so much what the Law says.
The primary purpose of the Law is what the Law does to us.
The Law are not principles by which you live an upright life.
The Law is the means by which God brings you down to your knees.
In his statement to the NY Times on Friday, comedian Louis CK said of his own aberrant and sinful behavior toward women:
“…I wielded my power irresponsibility. I have been remorseful of my actions. And I’ve tried to learn from them. And I’ve tried to run away from them. Now I’m aware of the extent of my actions.”
Louis CK’s apology leaves a lot to be desired.
As Stephen Colbert tweeted, it leaves him with the desire for a time machine to go back and tell Louis CK NOT TO DO THAT TO WOMEN.
His statement is wanting in a lot of ways; nonetheless, what he describes (deceiving himself, then running away from the truth about himself, then being made to see what he had done) is the Law.
The theological function of the Law is stop us in our scrambling tracks and to hold a mirror up to our self-deceiving eyes; so that, we’re forced to reckon with who we are and with what we’ve done and what we’ve left undone.
The theological function of the Law is to get you to see yourself with enough clarity that you will ask the question:
“How could God love someone like me?”
When the Law brings you to ask that question, you’re close to breaking through to the Gospel.
Martin Luther taught that God has spoken to us and God still speaks to us in two different words:
Law and Gospel.
And Luther said the necessary art for every Christian to learn is how to distinguish properly between the first word God speaks, Law, and the second word God speaks, Gospel.
Learning how to distinguish properly between the Law and the Gospel is what St. Paul describes to Timothy as “rightly dividing the word of truth.”
It’s a necessary art for every Christian to learn, Luther said, because if you don’t know how to rightly divide the word, if you don’t know how to distinguish properly between the Law and the Gospel, then you distort the purpose of these two words.
And distorting them- it muddles the Christian message.
Distinguishing properly between these two words God speaks is necessary because without learning this art you will end up emphasizing one of these words at the expense of the other.
You’ll focus only on the Law: Be perfect. Forgive 70 x 7. Love your enemy. Don’t commit adultery. Give away all your possessions. Feed the hungry.
But to focus only on the first word God speaks, Law, takes the flesh off of Christ and wraps him in judge’s robe.
Focus on Law alone yields a God of commands and oppressive expectations.
The Law always accuses- that’s it’s God-given purpose.
So Law alone religion produces religious people who are accusatory and angry, stern and self-righteous and judgmental.
And because the Law demands perfection, the Law when it’s not properly distinguished, the Law alone without the Gospel, it cannot produce Christians.
It can only produce hypocrites.
That’s why none of us should be surprised to discover that the 10 Commandments Judge may in fact be a white-washed tomb. A hypocrite.
On the other hand, a lot of Christians and churches avoid the first word, Law, altogether and preach only the second word, Gospel, which vacates it of its depth and meaning.
Without the first word, Law, God’s second word evaporates into sentimentality.
“God loves you” becomes a shallow cliche apart from the Law and its accusation that the world is a dark, dark place and the human heart is dimmer still.
Of course, most of the time, in most churches, from most preachers (and I’m as guilty as the next), you don’t hear one of these words preached to the exclusion of the other.
Nor do you hear them rightly divided.
Most of the time, you instead hear them mashed together into a kind of Glawspel where, yes, Jesus died for you unconditionally but now he’s got so many expectations for you- if you’re honest- it feels like its killing you.
Glawspel takes amazing grace and makes it exhausting.
Jesus loves you but here’s what you must do now to show him how much you appreciate his “free” gift.
Compared to the Law-alone and Gospel-alone distortions of these two words, Glawspel is the worst because it inoculates you against the message.
Glawspel is like Joe Cocker, fooling you into thinking that you can get by under the Law with a little bit of help from your friend Jesus.
Glawspel is like an infomercial product- that with a dash of grace and a splash of spiritual transformation added to awesome you, Shazaam, you too can forgive 70 x 7.
The point of a Law like “Forgive 70 x 7” is to convince you that you achieve that much forgiveness; so that, you will no other place to turn but the wounded feet of Jesus Christ and the forgiveness God offers in him.
The point of overwhelming Law like “Love your enemies” is to push you to the grace of him who died for them, his enemies.
The reason it’s necessary to learn how to distinguish properly between these two words God speaks, Law and Gospel, is because the point of the first word is to push you to the second word.
The first word, Law, says “Turn the other cheek” so that you will see just how much you fail to do so and, seeing, hear the promise provided by the second word, Gospel.
The promise of the one who turned the other cheek all the way to a cross.
The reason it’s so necessary to learn how to divide rightly these words that God speaks is because the point of the Law is to produce not frustration or exhaustion but recognition.
The Law is what God uses to provoke repentance in you. The Law is how God drives self-deceiving you to the Gospel.
And the Gospel is not Glawspel.
The Gospel is not an invitation with strings attached.
The Gospel is not a gift with a To Do list written underneath the wrapping paper.
If it’s exhausting instead of amazing, it’s not the Gospel of grace.
If it asks WWJD?, it’s not the Gospel.
The Gospel simply repeats the question:
What DID Jesus do?
He did what you cannot do for yourself.
Because the whole point of the Law is that, on our own, we can’t fulfill even a fraction of it.
Because behind closed doors
When we think the mic is off
In the backstage dressing room of our minds
And in the secret thoughts of our hearts-
Each and every one of us is different in degree but not in kind from Roy Moore and Louis CK and the avalanche of all the others.
Each and every one of us is more like them than we are like him, like Jesus Christ.
The point of the Law is to drive you to Jesus Christ not as your teacher and not as your example.
If Christ is just your teacher or example, it would’ve been better had he stayed in heaven.
Because the whole point of what Jesus did is that he did what you cannot ever hope to do for yourself.
Be perfect. He took that burden off of you.
Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven. He took that fear from you.
He did what you cannot do for yourself. He alone was obedient to the Law. He alone fulfilled its absolute demands. He alone was perfect as his Father in Heaven is perfect.
His righteousness not only exceeds that of the Pharisees, it overflows to you; so that, now you and I can stand before God justified not by our charity or our character or our contributions to the Kingdom but by the perfect obedience of Jesus Christ.
His perfection, despite your imperfections, is reckoned to you as your own- no matter what you’ve done or left undone, no matter the bombs that voice inside your head throws down, no matter the dark secrets in your heart- that’s what’s more true about you now.
Don’t you see- Roy Moore is right about one thing.
Christianity is an exclusive religion.
It excludes all your sin because all your sin is in him and it stayed stuck in the cross when he was nailed to a tree.
Christianity is an exclusive religion.
It excludes all your goodness because in the Gospel you’re free to admit what the Law accuses: you’re not that good.
Christianity is an exclusive religion.
It excludes all your works of righteousness because they’ll never be enough and they’re not necessary.
Christianity is an exclusive religion.
It is inclusive of nothing else but his perfect work.
And you in it.