For the past five weeks, we have used the visual reminder of small rocks like this one to help us live into our scriptures.
We have seen them lined up as a dividing line between us and them, and as a recreation of the body of Christ.
We felt their weight as they added up one by one in the way we keep track of wrongs.
We wrestled with what is fair and unfair.
We have talked about family and forgiveness.
Today, our rocks are piled up here on the communion railing. All together, they have created a sort of barrier or fence in the space.
If they were larger, the rocks piled up in this way would remind me of the ocean walls that break up the waves in front of the beach, or the stone fences that keep sheep and cattle from wondering off the property in some idyllic pasture.
As I began thinking about the ten commandments this week, I remembered that one of my favorite authors, Wayne Mueller, once described them as a fence, just like this.
He had learned the hard way the benefits of a fence when he was gardening. He could plant lots of good things, but the rabbits kept getting in and eating all that would grow. It was only when the fence was erected that the tulips and daffodils he had planted finally bloomed.
Mueller writes, “The fence was a simple prohibition against harmful activity.” Instead of thinking about all the shall nots contained in the 10 commandments from exodus, what if we saw them as a garden fence? What if we came to see them as “a useful boundary that keeps out those things that would bring us harm?” What if the 10 commandments actually create a safe space in our lives, a holy space, that allows us to live together with one another in love?
In our final week of this series on difficult relationships and our need for forgiveness, we back up just a step and remember who we are.
As Genesis 1:27 reminds us, “God created humanity in God’s own image, in the divine image God created them, male and female God created them.”
And as the first people of God built relationships and multiplied and moved, they found themselves living in new places and among people who no longer looked or thought like them.
And so as God worked to cultivate God’s people, to create space for them to grow and flourish and mature, God put a kind of fence around their lives.
God gave them, and us, these commandments to help us live the best and most fruitful lives possible.
When God commands us not to steal, God is setting us free to live generous lives.
When God commands us to honor our parents, God is caring for the aging.
When God commands us not to lie, God is helping us live lives of honesty.
Each command helps us turn our energy and our love toward one another and toward God. Each command creates the conditions for our best possible life, not as individuals, but as a community and as a world.
I believe that if each of us truly lived within the protective fence of these commands, there might be no need for forgiveness at all.
Can you imagine a world without slander and murder? A world where people worshipped only God and not their borders or their pocketbooks?
Can you picture how our planet might be different if we were not constantly striving for what someone else possesses, or hoarding our own belongings, but made sure that each of our brothers and sisters had enough?
Today, we celebrate World Communion Sunday. On this day, Christians across the world break bread in remembrance of Jesus Christ. We celebrate the entire body of Christ on this day, gathered in countries near and far. The gifts that we offer in the special envelopes in your bulletin help to train students from many backgrounds and cultures so that we can discover unity even in the midst of our diversity.
And I think the primary thing that unites us is the love of Jesus Christ.
The love of Christ reminds us we are all sinners in need of God’s grace.
The love of Christ shows us what grace and mercy are all about.
The love of Christ is sacrificial and bends down in service to others.
The love of Christ gives life to others.
Love seeks the good of others, no matter who they are, even if it is at our own expense.
We are not all the same. Across this great wide world we worship in different languages and eat different types of bread. We sing different types of music. We live in various political and social and economic realities. But as the people of God and followers of Jesus Christ, we are all have the same calling: to love.
When Jesus summarized all of the law and the prophets, he basically took the ten commandments and boiled them down to five words:
Love God. Love your neighbor.
These laws are all about the relationships we have been talking about these past few weeks.
Love is the fence that guards us from harmful activity. Love is the standard for how we are to behave. Love defines who we are.
Does that mean that we will always perfectly follow these commands? Does it mean that we will always be safe from others who would seek to harm us?
No, of course not.
This world is full of broken promises and imperfect people. We will make mistakes. We will sometimes forget the imperative to love. And we are surrounded by people who simply don’t care about our laws and our faith.
But our response to those who have harmed us or who challenge us should always and everywhere come from the same love that defines us as people of faith. Our response should always be love.
And loving our enemies and strangers means forgiving them and seeking peace and reconciliation.
During these past few weeks, one of the songs we have heard in both services is called “Forgiveness” by Matthew West. West wrote this song based on the story of a woman whose daughter was killed by a drunk driver. The young man who killed her was sentenced to 22 years in prison for his crime, but the mother wrote that she felt like the one who was a prisoner because of the anger and hatred she had towards the young man.
So she decided to forgive him. She built a relationship with this young man and asked God to help her show him love and grace and mercy. And today, they are both free because she chose to love.
This fence of God’s love frees us to be in relationships with other people, no matter how different we are, how broken we might seem, how challenging that might be.
Today, as we celebrate our unity, may we also celebrate the love that guides us every step of the way, the love that surrounds us and frees us to love others in return.