O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
Based on Ex. 20:1-20
Preached on Ash Wednesday - March 05, 2014
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Fellow baptized saints, as you are well aware, our house is in the height of the toddler years. Oh, it is good fun. We are in the midst of a system that is governed by what you might call the "Toddler Property Laws." They are as follows: "If I like it, it's mine. If it's in my hand, it's mine. If I can take it from you, it's mine. If I had it a little while ago, it's mine. It must never appear to be yours in any way, because it is always and forevermore ... MINE! My precious." (smile)
Deep down, within every son and daughter of Adam and Eve, there exists this insatiable desire to look at my neighbor's wife, manservant, maidservant, ox, donkey ... indeed, anything that belongs to my neighbor ... and long for them all to be ... MINE!
And in recent years this hell-bent desire for stuff has become fashionable. Sophisticated. Be-cause you know what you want. In a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon Calvin's dad reacts with disgust at the plethora of catalogues in his living room. He says, "Why do I get the feeling that society is trying to make us discontent with everything we have, and insecure about everything we own?" The mom re-plies, "I suppose that if people thought about real issues and needs instead of shopping, the economy would collapse and we'd have total anarchy." At this point, Calvin comes running into the room and blurts out, "Hey, Mom and Dad, I just saw a bunch of products on TV that I didn't know existed ... but now I desperately need them!"
In the midst of this society that appears to be founded on what you can buy, Yahweh, the LORD, says: "You shall not covet." You shall not covet. But what does that mean?
The Hebrew word "covet"--CHAMAD--covers the entire sequence from seeing to desiring, to finally ... possessing. For example, in the book of Joshua, when God's people have finally come into the Promised Land, Achan, the man who plundered when God told them not to confessed: "I saw among the spoils a beautiful mantle from Shinar, and two hundred shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing fifty shekels, then I coveted them, and then ... I took them." I saw, then I coveted, then I took. In five other Old Testament narratives, the word CHAMAD is used in this same sequence ... seeing that leads to desiring, that leads to ... possessing. And if you remember what happened to Achan—you'll realize this sequence leads to death. He was stoned. This is why the apostle James wrote, "After desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth ... to death."
The scary thing is that we don't sin when we take possession – we sin when we stop to look – when we aren't content - when we take a moment to ask ourselves "Do I like this?" "Do I want this?" "What is My desire?" Our attention turns from God and our neighbour, right into ourselves. Oh, we see what we want, we see the desires of our heart, but we don't see the death that comes with it. At least, not right away.
When we covet our neighbor's "trophy" wife, it brings the death of our marital joy. When we covet each other's skills, intellect, popularity, family connections, you name it; we experience the death of our own peace and inner well-being. And when we covet our neighbor's inheritance, car, house, watch, pick your poison: it brings the death of our contentedness, our true comfort.
When I was in first grade, my parents gave me a bike for my birthday. It was awesome. I mean, it was a little used and the paint was chipped a bit, but it was the best bike I had ever seen. I was free-er than ever. Flying around the neighbourhood on my new bike. Until I rode over to my friend Michael's house. His parents had just given him a brand new Schwinn ten speed! The moment I saw it, my excitement died! Dead. My covetous heart had killed my new bike.
Let's face it, our sin of coveting is bringing us high levels of debt, despair and depression. Left un-checked, our sin of coveting will drive a stake into every relationship we have. The only end is death. Relational, spiritual and eternal death.
So, what do you we do about our obsession with stuff? How can we say with St. Paul, "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances"? And how do we live in a society that screams at us every day to buy things we don't need, with money we don't have, to impress people ... we don't even like?
Meet the God who says at the close of His Ten Commandments --"I, Yahweh your God, am EL QANE – a zealous and passionate God." Meaning what? Meaning that God's desire to acquire is infinitely greater than yours. He looks at His Israel and longs to say ... "You are MINE! Always and Forevermore! I am more passionate about you, than you are about stuff.
Before they ever got to Mount Sinai where He gave them His Law, He said, "I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt ... So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians." I see that you are dying in your covetousness – that your ever searching eyes are never content – and it is killing you. But I have come down to rescue you.
His passion for His firstborn son Israel in Egypt was revealed further when He said: "The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are: and when I see the blood, I will pass over you." Then, in righteous zeal he took "Pharaoh's chariots and his army and hurled them into the sea. The best of Pharaoh's officers he drowned in the Red Sea. With the deep waters he covered them; and they sank to the depths like a stone!" And so Israel sang, "Yahweh is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation!"
And finally His passionate desire to acquire Israel reached its pinnacle even before He gave them His Law, for He promised: "Out of all nations you will be my treasured possession." My precious. Prized, Priceless. From the depths of His loving heart at Sinai Yahweh beams over his baptized Israel and says, "You are always and forevermore ... MINE."
But we all know God displayed His zeal and passion at Sinai that He might come down once again in an even greater way, but not with plagues of flies and frogs. Not in a pillar of cloud and fire, not in the thunder and lightning from the "mountain of God." "But for us men and for our salvation ... he came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary – He was made man."
Yahweh, your God was made man so that at age 33 he could accomplish an even greater Exodus. So that His desire for you would become a sequence that ended in death – His own death. As the Passover Lamb his blood wasn't splattered on the wood of a house, but on the wood of a Roman in-strument of death, mingled with spit and sweat. After this horrific execution, as the firstborn Son from among the dead, this new Israel triumphantly passed through the waters of death to life on the other side. And at the final Exodus, our King, Jesus Christ, will be crowned King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He will ride a white horse and out of his mouth will come a sharp, double-edged sword, and he will seize the beast and the false prophet and the dragon, that ancient serpent who is the devil and Satan, and he will hurl them all into the lake of fire--and they will sink to the depths like a stone! Then we will forever sing with all the redeemed, "Yahweh is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation!"
All this means that, in spite of seeing and desiring and longing to possess your neighbor's wife, manservant, maidservant, ox, donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor, Yahweh's washing, His leading His people Israel safely through the water on dry ground, still fully cleanses and forgives. He has placed His mark of ownership upon you with water and the Word saying --"Receive the sign of the holy cross, both upon your forehead and upon your heart, to mark you as my prized, priceless possession." And so he still says to you, his new Israel, even now, "I have redeemed you, I have called you by name ... you are always and forevermore ... lovingly, passionately, eternally ... MINE!" In His Holy Name, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr