Soccer season permeates our house once again, with two children practicing two to three nights a week (not on the same nights, naturally) then playing games on Saturdays, near home and then also hours away at other soccer clubs. These sports seasons have been practice for me too, in learning patience and humility, in not living and dying with every little thing that happens on the soccer pitch, a place in which I have absolutely no control over. That’s hard for me!
I was wrestling with this when writing the following homily (a “homily” is an abbreviated sermon, a short reflection on God’s Word) that I delivered Thursday May 08, 2014 on the Old Testament reading Exodus 20: 1-21 (find the ESV translation here) at the 7am Morning Prayer service at Holy Trinity- Chatham. Whether you recognize that passage in Exodus or not you know it. The passage is on the Ten Commandments.
I hope you enjoy the reflection. For myself I pray that God might teach me that though it may look the contrary, a soccer field full of 9 year old children is a place for boys and girls to test themselves, learn life lessons, and overcome adversity, without the help of their overbearing parents.
“Open our ears, O Lord, to hear your Word and know your voice. Speak to our hearts. Strengthen our will. That we may serve and glorify you now, and always.” Amen.
Instead of a lecture on the Ten Commandments early this morning I want to confess my sin to you, my brothers and sisters in the body of Christ. Ten days ago, a late Saturday afternoon, I was standing on a soccer field in Johnston County North Carolina. I was about to watch my third soccer game of the day, what I have done most every Saturday since February. As my son and his teammates took the field to play it soon became apparent that the opposing team had never been told “No” when it came to rough play. One particular boy was amazing in his extravagance in hurting others. Within just a few minutes of play he had knocked a boy down with a full body check, elbowed another in the eye, tripped my son, and stepped hard on the toes of another boy he could not knock down. Between these offenses the referee never seemed to see this 9 year old boy would taunt my son and his teammates, getting in their face, calling them names.
I have always had this personality quirk that seems noble at first, but gets me in trouble with clockwork regularity. I don’t mind so much someone hurting me, but when someone mistreats others, I find it maddening and worthy of action. Enraged by the actions of this player I was fussing. Cussing. Asking loudly to anyone whom might listen if they “knew what was going on here?” “And where were his parents?” As the actions of the boy worsened so did my behavior, and at a moment where the player knocked down a friend’s son, I boiled over. And I called the name of my Lord, Jesus Christ, but not with reverence or even joy. I said his name as if it were trash, to be swept out of my mouth.
We hear today in the Gospel (Matthew 4: 1-11) that Christ Jesus felt led by the Spirit to fast 40 days and nights in the desert. At a nadir in his strength, and tempted by some physical manifestation of the devil he was not led into temptation, and was without sin. His reaction to temptation was obedience to the Father, and being faithful to his love for each of us, even in this desolate situation.
I instead charged into temptation, and broke a laundry list of God’s commandments in a 5 minute span. And at the time wanted to blame the immature actions of a 9 year old boy whom I will never encounter again. I showed no respect, nor love, to this child, though that is my duty to God. And I also ended up disrespecting God himself, the one I feel I know and love.
The minute I uttered those words I felt this buzzing, burning pain, shooting through my head and down through my shoulders, and I momentarily could not see every well. These were not physical pains or true blindness. They were my feelings, of shame and embarrassment at what I had done. But getting deeper into the source of my discomfort was that I had just pulled myself out of communion with God. Not slightly, but ripping apart.
The Ten Commandments seem rejected by many people in our society, though to try and defend their rejection for a moment it may be that their understanding of what “sin” is has been so co-opted and re-branded by our American culture. Movies and books and even some television evangelists have re-defined sin as something always violent or pornographic, ugly and offensive. But the definition of sin is not always that! Our Book of Common Prayer defines sin this way, “Sin is the seeking of our own will instead of the will of God, thus distorting our relationship with God, with other people, and with all creation.” Being tempted, seeking our way. In adversity we lose our faith. We resist, and ignore God’s will. These are our sins.
We are given so many gifts by God daily. Get out a piece of paper and begin to write down all of your blessings, and be ready when you need another sheet! And the underlying theme of all of these blessings is God’s overwhelming love for us. But just as there are many gifts in Love, there are also rules. So God brought these Ten Commandments to us, through Moses, to prepare us to do what he asks of us, summed up perfectly in the words of Jesus Christ, “ You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” God simply asks us to stay within that loving relationship he has created for us. With that understanding the Ten Commandments seem less moralistic, controlling commands, and much more the gentle reminders of a loving father.
To close I want to share two things with you, the good news. First, when my son and his teammates came off of that soccer field 10 days ago, they were not fazed at all by the other team. They had shrugged off that rough play, and were now just laughing and joyous as they talked about their play in the game. Our 9 year old children, our teachers in humility.
And here’s the best news. These Ten Commandments, these simple commands we as Christians are asked to follow to better love God and our neighbor…we will fail and we will break them, again and again. God knows this! And what I would suspect is more important to him is that these commandments continue to be strengthened in each of us, through Jesus’s teaching. And that we continue to deepen our understanding that these commandments, rules Christ embodied in his own life, are fulfilled only in our Lord’s perfect righteousness. Amen.