This is basically it - you probably weren't there for the children's sermon, for my ad-libs, or to hear me pray, so just imagine those things here and there ... Oh, and like a good Presbyterian, I did indeed quote John Calvin...
In the midst of the debacle of healthcare reform, I thought it appropriate to dabble into it during the children’s sermon … my mother is a dentist. So that piece about cavities hits home for me – I have quite a few of my own, and fear drillings as much as the rest of you. But growing up the daughter of a dentist and beginning work in ministry, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come up with sermon analogies having to do with teeth and comparisons to flossing. I’ll spare you for now from my most intricate ones, but I do want to linger in this idea of our God giving us commandments, the law, and Christ - as ways to help us understand what is good for us, preventative measures for a full and healthy life. I grew up in the church and have seen some of my peers fade out of the ‘church going lifestyle’ as they got older, some because they are too familiar with the ‘do’s and don’ts of the Christian lifestyle’, without really sitting in the ‘why’ – why did God give us these boundaries, these no’s, these ‘thou shalt not’s’. Before we dive in, let’s take a moment and pray.
Lord, your will not mine. Your words, not mine. May your Spirit dwell in our hearts and minds, and may your truth be heard today. Amen.
Today we are moving right along in our exploration through the commandments as taken from the book of exodus. We heard the first of the ‘shall nots’ last week from our Elder Lisa Meyers, with ‘You shall not murder’. And I don’t know if this is some sort of hazing for the new person on staff, but this week I bring to you the word of the Lord from Exodus 20:14, which reads: You shall not commit adultery. I wish I could just say ‘don’t do it!’ with a stern look, and a finger in your face, and then walk away, but I fear that that may be exactly the reason some have left the church. A good finger wagging doesn’t get the job done anymore. Also it seems that we like to shy away from sexual sins as proclaimed from the pulpit. Perhaps it is because our mass media today centers so heavily on sex that this place of worship becomes a respite from the bombardment. But God points out to us clearly, #7 in the 10 commandments (it made the top 10!!), ‘You shall not commit adultery’. I think this speaks not only to those who are married with a wandering eye, but also to the basic fact that we are sexual beings, and we’ve got to take greater care with our relationships.
Now, a Merriam Webster definition of Adultery does go like this: voluntary sexual intercourse between a married man and someone other than his wife or between a married woman and someone other than her husband. Marriage, commitment, vows – we are to take them seriously and fully invest in the relationships we have declared before God, friends and family, with our whole beings. But, if only taken literally, we can march this commandment straight to our married fellows and say that #7 only applies to them. I, therefore, until the time comes, only have to follow 9 commandments. But I think we can all agree that doesn’t sit well. Adultery, much like what Lisa told us about Murder last week, has many layers to it.
In its context of the Old Testament, adultery surfaces over 30 times, with great concentrations of those occurrences in some of the books of the Minor Prophets. These prophets can be found after the book of psalms and Isaiah, and speak a word of warning to the people of God that they have not been living well at all. They have mixed their devotion to God with the pleasures and temptations of the world, and are moving in a downward spiral.
These instances of adultery that rise up in the minor prophets refers to Israel’s infidelity to the covenant that God so graciously provided. The Old Testament covenants were a promise between God and his people, that God would bless them and they in turn would remain faithful, worshiping only Him. But, just as we find ourselves easily distracted and too often bad at commitment, Israel time and again finds itself enthralled with other gods and other kingdoms. Here the admonition to not commit adultery speaks to a disobedient nation. Their hearts are no longer faithful to God. Another translation of the Hebrew word used here for adultery can also be translated as ‘idolatrous worship’, which is akin to our first commandment. Number 7 is looking like a pretty big deal now, isn’t it? But really, having an adulterous heart when it comes to our relationship with God is a damaging thing.
Adultery isn’t called a sin because ‘we say so’, but because it alters and distorts us further away from the people we are called by God to be. Which is Faithful. And God doesn’t ask us to do the impossible, it isn’t as if He sets us up for failure in order to see us crumble, but God sets an example of faithfulness, that we may be assured in HIS faithfulness and try our hardest to be faithful as well. A glimpse of this covenant we have with God is seen in marriages today – for better or for worse God is choosing to stand by us. In our doubts, in our failings, in our sufferings, in our anger, in our joys and in our celebrations – God remains faithful.
This imagery of God married to His people does not end with the old testament, but is only reestablished in the new – as Jesus Christ, our savior and redeemer is also described as the bridegroom of the church. Through all our unfaithfulness, God initiates this sort of vow renewal in the form of Christ. The promises God makes to us through the law are renewed and refined through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God reestablishes His faithfulness. We have to now ask ourselves, what does it mean to be faithful to Christ? This person who laid down their very life for me – what is it that I can do, what can I put in my life, and what should I remove and abstain from in order to stay faithful to Christ?
There aren’t easy answers to this question (well there may be some obvious ‘no’s’ that you need to be implementing), but Christ himself gives us some guidelines to how we should approach this admonition against adultery. And what Jesus says works both in our relationship to God and our relationships one to another. We are not left off the hook to live in an allegorical and philosophical world. Adultery in our day and age is a very real thing, and perhaps more public of an event than we would like it to be. In the Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew 5:27-30, If you’d like to read along with the pew bible in front of you, you’ll find it on pages 4-5 in the N. Jesus says,
“You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” 28But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.* 30And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.”
Okay. This sounds a little extreme. Tear out my eye and cut off my hand? You’ve got to be kidding me. I think some would move to say, I cannot control my thoughts over what I see from day to day – I may choose to not see certain movies or go to certain locations, but I can’t control the way people dress in public, or the way they behave around me, and therefore cause my mind to wander.
But here Jesus is holding us accountable. He is taking very seriously this matter of adultery, and that we do have a responsibility regarding what we put into our bodies. My eyes do not have a will of their own, nor do my hands. My mind controls, those, and as the theologian John Calvin says, ‘If the mind were pure, it would find eyes and hands consistent; certainly they have no motivation of their own”.  Let’s not get to a point of justifying ourselves for things we know are wrong.
Now, I don’t mean splitting hairs about everything we do, but I mean being aware of what stimulates us. That what we are putting into our bodies has an affect on us – sure cheesecake tastes great now but lets see what my arteries or blood sugar levels look like 50 years down the road if I have ‘just a slice’ every day. I read an online journal entry a few years back and some of the words from that really stuck with me.
The author, Sarah Markley, is a woman who not long into her marriage, found herself in an affair. The way she writes about it is haunting and heartbreaking. She discusses how she had everything she wanted, and in the midst of that became rather narcissistic, really centered on serving her own needs - and was displeased with her marriage. And instead of getting outside of herself, and try to reconnect with who she was and who her husband was, she first began an emotional affair with one of their mutual friends.
It seemed harmless, and so freeing, and somewhat electric. Her act of emotionally bonding with this other man over harmless cups of coffee and lunches in time turned into a full-blown physical affair. What I particularly want to share with you today are these words that she wrote:
“No one wakes up one day and decides to commit adultery. I don’t know what other people have told you, but something like this takes a hundred million tiny poorly-made decisions layered on top of one another.”
It is my belief that essentially, Adultery and fidelity both begin internally. We make a hundred-million tiny choices every day that affect our emotional, spiritual, and physical selves. I titled my sermon God’s Healthcare Reform: Preventative Care because I think that’s what God is about – keeping us mindful of the choices we make that will prevent disease, the disease being a deepening of sin, which in turn pushes us further and further away from God.
So where does adultery begin? Perhaps it is a simple need to escape – not having to deal with the current situation if I bring in something totally new. Am I placing blame on my stressful life and current situation for small outlets of escape? In the case of Bill Clinton, does it matter that he redefines what ‘sexual relations’ are if the heart behind it is diseased? When we begin justifying and redefining the particulars we’ve lost track of the danger. We’ve come close to stepping over the line, and when we get that close, the line looks irresistible.
So where does it begin for you? I recently watched the movie Eat Pray Love, based on the book by Elizabeth Gilbert, about her search for deeper meaning in life – a great idea to contemplate. But while the cinematography was brilliant, I found the storyline rather distasteful if not just for one reason – in the beginning we meet the main character in her marriage, and soon find her seeking a divorce. Why? – she was bored. Her boredom in her marriage sparked this existential crisis, as if boredom isn’t a part of life. As if life should always be an exciting adventure, as if there aren’t stale moments you have to wait out, or that monotony doesn’t happen to people. Sometimes you have to wade through monotony in order to see the fruit of your labor.
This message is everywhere – dissatisfied? Drop what you’re doing and come see what life is really about. You haven’t really lived until insert marketing campaign here. It dissuades us from ever seeing the beauty of commitment and investment, probably because the forerunners of our culture greatly fear commitment.
This mindset also dissolves integrity – we can learn so much about ourselves and the people around us if instead of instantly picking up and leaving, we stop and say –what is going on here, why am I dissatisfied? In the case of adultery, we can ask – why is that other person suddenly so attractive to me? What is it that I have stopped putting into my marriage or relationship that I started adding into this new friendship?
Adultery is a sin. And before we get wrapped up in how condemning that sounds, let’s be reminded of what sin is – it is literally ‘missing the mark’, wandering away from who God has called us and is calling us to be. To think that I have great potential to grow up in the love and grace of God is such a beautiful thing. But we must remember that it takes a constant turning to God that gets us there, we are not capable on our own, or Christ wouldn’t have come. We are indeed given choices every day to choose Christ’s way or our own, and in the case of adultery – serving our own pleasures over the goodness of creation – sin abounds and impedes us.
I want to return to the minor prophets, to remind you of the kind of God we worship. Hear these words from the book of Jeremiah, a prophet to the people of God:
‘Return, faithless Israel,’ declares the LORD. ‘I will frown on you no longer, for I am faithful,’ declares the LORD, ‘I will not be angry forever. Only acknowledge your guilt – you have rebelled against the LORD your God, you have scattered your favors to foreign gods under every spreading tree, and have not obeyed me,’ declares the LORD. ‘Return faithless people,’ declares the LORD, ‘for I am your husband.’
WHAT A RELIEF – God is the faithful one. Through our mistakes, our faithlessness (you hear he calls to a faithless Israel), our adulterous hearts, possibly actions, He stands ready to forgive. It is always a message to return (we hear the word ‘repent’ all over the NT, but it is really a call to change direction, and this call is to turn back to God). And God is transformative, in Christ and through the Holy Spirit, such that we are not left in our adultery, but we are a new creation. This is what we are reminded of after we are called to confession every week: that God, the faithful one, has renewed our hearts and desires to stand with us to help our eyes and hands from encouraging our sinful hearts. So be mindful of the hundred thousand tiny decisions you make every day, and pray that God will guide you and restore you.
Let us pray.
 Jean Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries: A Harmony of the Gospels Matthew, Mark & Luke (v.1) p.189