Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18 • 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23 • Matthew 5:38-48
I was reminded this week of a 2006 interview the satirist Stephen Colbert did with then first term Georgia congressman Lynn Westmoreland. At the time, the congressman was a co-sponsor of a Republican bill that would have required the display of the Ten Commandments in the House of Representatives and the Senate.
You may remember, this was at a time when people were all atwitter over the bizarre debate of whether the Ten Commandments should be displayed in courthouses. This was also at a time when The Colbert Report was relatively new, and not yet well known for its practice of taking interviews and cutting and pasting them in such a way that the duplicity of powerful people was exposed in biting, and hilarious ways.
So in the space of a minute, the segment introduces Westmoreland as a co-sponsor of the bill, and in justifying the proposed religious display, we see the congressman ask, “Where better place could you have something like that than in a judicial building or a courthouse?” Colbert responds, “That is a good question, can you think of any better building to put the Ten Commandments in than a public building?”
Deuteronomy 30:15-20 • 1 Corinthians 3:1-9 • Matthew 5:21-37
I suspect that any religion that is deeply true is lived in tension. Anytime we settle too comfortably into something that has the sound of finality to it, anytime we speak an absolute, we may be in danger of turning something true into a shadow.
This Deutoronomy passage that John read is a case in point. It is filled with all kinds of “if-then” language: if you obey God’s commandments, if you walk in God’s ways, then everything will be great for you. But if you don’t, well, look out!
The psalm echoes the same simple sentiment: Happy are those who do no wrong, but keep God’s commandments. Everything will go swimmingly for you. If you do what’s right, you’ll have your cake and eat it too. God will take care of you. It is a great promise, and true… until it's not. It is true, but a truth, I suspect, that must be held in tension with other truths.
I heard that kind of absolute talk a lot when, as a teenager, I lost my dad to cancer. “God has a plan,” they’d say. “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” “God took him for a reason,” they’d tell me.
St. Andrew Sermons