Moses and Jesus: Prophets of Law and Love
Exodus 20:1-17 and Mark 12:28-34
Rev. Dr. Donna Giver-Johnston
March 11, 2018
Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's …………. Superman!
What Superheroes did you grow up with? Superman, Batman, Spiderman. Who are your favorites? Ant Man, Wonder Woman, Black Panther...they go by different names but they all possess some superhuman power they use to fight evil to protect people and make the world a better place.
As I have been preaching on the prophets this Lent, I realized that many of the prophets were superheroes--ordinary people who performed extraordinary deeds for the good of God’s people.
Today we read about 2 prophets who had superhuman powers. First, Moses.
Moses had the power to part the waters of the Sea with a staff; to bring forth water from a rock; not to mention, to hear God speak from a burning bush. God gave Moses these powers--not to show off but for a specific purpose--to form the Israelites into a community of faith--to become the people of God. It was not easy: God had to bring out the heavyweights--2 stone tablets on which Moses inscribed the 10 Commandments: Thou shall not make idols, murder, cheat, steal, or covet, just to name a few.
Thou shall not sit in the side pews today….How does it feel to be told what you cannot do?
Even if it’s for the common good of forming community in the center, it’s uncomfortable, huh?
Our first instinct is to question or push against it or find a way around it. We like our free will to choose.
In her book Amazing Grace, Kathleen Norris writes about the Commandments: “Christians have been adept at interpreting God’s commandments to cover just about anything they don’t approve of. The effect is to make the large God of the scriptures into a petty Cosmic Patrolman.” Even with a Cosmic Patrolman, the Israelites did not keep the Commandments. They broke them, one after another. And Moses had no superpowers to bend their free will to make the people obey and choose God’s way.
And so God had to send in the Prophet of all Prophets….the Superhero Extraordinaire….
Faster than the speed of light! More powerful than a devious devil! Able to heal the sick, still storms, and walk on water! Even able to rise from the dead! It's a spirit! It's a savior! It's ………… Jesus!
As Superhero, Jesus bridged the gap between sin and salvation, hell and heaven, us and God. He fulfilled the law we couldn’t. So, are we good now? Because of Jesus, we’re free from the Law, right?
Over her life, Kathleen Norris stopped resisting and began appreciating the Commandments: “I found that they are sensible, outwardly, both to help sustain civic and social order...and inwardly...When I’m made aware that I’ve broken one of the commandments--and that coming to awareness in itself has come to seem a grace--I’ve been forced to pay attention to the trouble that follows, the loss of trust and the capacity to love that dogs broken relationships. I have begun to see the commandments in light of an underlying covenant, as essential to the relationship that God is establishing with us.” (p. 86)
Commandments as covenant...The Commandments are about obeying rules but, more importantly, about nurturing a relationship with God, becoming God’s beloved people, God’s beloved community. The covenant says: I will be your God if/and you will be my people.
I found this true story that illustrates the tension between commandment and covenant:
When Frank was nine or ten, he found himself in an argument with his younger sister. Before long, arguing turned to pushing and shoving, and pushing and shoving then turned to hitting. Just as Frank had his sister pinned on the ground, fist raised in the air, his mother came into the room. "Franklin," she bellowed, "stop that!" At that, Frank turned his head toward his mother and said as only a young boy can, "She's my sister, and I can do anything I want to her." At which point Frank's mother swooped across the room, towered over him, and said, "She's my daughter -- no you can't!" (David Lose)
That’s the point--the Law reminds us that no, we can’t do anything we want to do to others, because God’s purpose is for us all to flourish and be well. The Law is not about God as a Cosmic Patrolman as much as a Loving Parent: one who will scold and correct and punish when necessary, but out of love. God is a Parent whose love went all the way to the cross where Jesus died, and rose from the grave. Love: That’s the secret superpower Jesus used to forever change the world for good...and it is what he wants his followers to use. What’s love got to do with it? Everything.
That’s why when the scribe asked Jesus what is the first commandment, he said “Love God. and the second is this: Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” “To love God and to love neighbor as yourself,” the scribe responded, “this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” If the scribe is not far, what will bring him closer to the kingdom of God? The scribe knows the answer--he knows what is the most important commandment. Now he has to do it. Love. It’s that simple and it’s that hard. How do we do it?
Love God--Come to worship, read God’s Word, pray, don’t worship idols (the stuff we buy to fill our empty space inside), put God first.
Love our neighbors--give food to the Holy family children; give books or toiletries to the prisoners; serve a meal at the Center; send a card, give a call, put others first.
It’s that simple and it’s that hard. These two things are all connected. When we love God by coming to worship and praying, we love others. When we love neighbors by serving a meal to the hungry, we love God. To love God is to love others. God knew that we could not keep the 10 Commandments on our own, so God gave us Jesus, to show us how to keep the law through love. That’s the superpower that God has given to each one of us. By using our power of love, we can all be Superheroes--changing the world for good.
The final scene of Wonder Woman shows the Superhero Diana Prince speaking these words:
I used to want to save the world to end war and bring peace to mankind.
But then I glimpsed the darkness that lives within their light
and I learned that inside everyone of them, there will always be both.
A choice each must make for themselves. Something no hero will ever defeat.
And now I know that only love can truly save the world.
Our images of Superheroes are larger than life, those who come out on top. But, with love as the secret superpower, our superheroes of the faith are ordinary people like you and me.
*Jordan Bohannon, sophomore guard for the Iowa Hawkeyes basketball team, had a chance to make history--to break the record of the most number of consecutive free throws. The record was held by Chris Street, who was killed in a car accident in 1993. Having made 34 consecutive free throws to tie Street’s record, Bohannon stepped to the foul line. He left the shot short, off the front rim, and pointed to the sky. Chris’ parents were there to see it and embraced Jordan after the game.
*Liliana Figueroa of Phoenix, one day in December, before work, stopped at a deli and ordered an everything bagel with cream cheese. It was toasty warm, and she couldn’t wait to dig in. But as she left the store, she noticed an older homeless man sitting at the bus stop. Knowing it would probably be his only warm meal of the day, she gave him the bagel. But to her surprise, another customer from the deli offered her half of her bagel.
More powerful than hatred. Able to change the world for good, one heart at a time.
It’s you and it’s me and it’s all who follow God’s laws of love.