Scripture: Exodus 20:13 and Mark 10:17-31(N.B. Job 23:1-9,16-17; Psalm 22:1-15; Amos 5:6-7, 10-15; Psalm 90:12-17; and Hebrews 4:12-16- also on Year B Proper 23)
Hello everyone, I’m Simon and I’m one of the elders at City like North Adelaide. it’s my privilege to be preaching to you this morning and bring you a message about one of the ten words.
Today we’re talking about murder, which should need no further explanation. Murder is wrong, and that’s all there is to it. This command is only 4 words: “you shall not murder” (NIV); some of the other commands – on idols or the Sabbath – merit several verses of explanation, but not this one: “you shall not murder”.
When I was wondering what to say about “you shall not murder”, I remembered an article in an online magazine, called The Gospel Coalition, by an African-American theologian called Carl Ellis.
In the article he said that biblical righteousness is like a window with our panes of glass. “Righteousness has four dimensions:
1. Piety. Doing what is right according to God in a narrow sense that involves devotion and ceremony: “Live . . . in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God” (1 Pet. 4:2).
2. Justice. Doing what is right toward your fellow[s] … ultimately to do right to people is to do right before God. For example, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27).
3. Personal. Living rightly before God as an individual: “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, dedicated to God and pleasing to him” (Rom. 12:1).
4. Social. Living rightly before God as a corporate community, namely, as the body of Christ: “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2).
… This can be illustrated by the Window of Righteousness. Think of this four-paned window as a picture of how the gospel plays out in individual lives and society.” [Illustration.]
Ellis asks why some American evangelical churches seem to focus on personal impiety only, “When a person sins and suffers his or her own consequences”. Why don’t they address:
- “Oppression. When a person sins and forces others to suffer the consequences, or when he or she imposes their sin on someone else”; and
- “Institutional [unrighteousness]. Sin that is woven into the structure and social fabric of society. It’s sin that doesn’t need the intention or the consciousness of the sinner to have effects on its victims”.
There is an example of this that I have to address, even though it is painful and controversial.
Recently, the ‘black lives matter’ campaign was sadly reinvigorated by the horrific slaughter of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis. Protests happened also in Australia, and many protesters focused on the deaths of Aboriginal people in custody: 432 since the 1990’s. However, if we look at the bigger picture, we find that many more non-indigenous people died in custody. We also find that the median average age at death for aboriginal people is the same, whether they die in custody or not.
However, we also know that indigenous people are much poorer than other Aussies. We know “… almost half of Aboriginal men and over a third of women die before they turn 45. At all ages, Aboriginal life expectancy is lower than for non-Aboriginal Australians”. Aboriginal people die about eight years younger than other Australians.
Friends, it does not have to be this way. In New Zealand, indigenous people live about the same length of time as other Kiwis. In the USA, people of the First Nations live slightly longer than other Americans. We are all very rich countries, so what is Australia doing so wrong?
So, why am I going on about the statistics about the deaths of Aboriginal versus other Australians in a Christian message?
- First, Jesus tells that he is “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6). Again and again in all four gospels Jesus says “I tell you the truth…”; even though he is the Son of God he appeals to his listeners to believe him because he is truthful.
- Second, James the brother of Jesus, reminds us that “human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (Jas 1:20).
When a pressure group uses a fact in isolation on social media, they are deliberately trying to create outrage, they’re trying to arouse our emotions so that they can manipulate is into supporting them. However, looking for someone to blame is not going to fix anything. We might feel good wallowing in our outrage, but it’s self-indulgence. It costs us nothing; we don’t have to make any sacrifice if we just blame others.
Exegesis: Mark 10:17-31
Let’s see how Jesus dealt with this subject. I’m using Mark 10: 17-31, which was used by Jacko to introduce this whole series.
In the beginning of a story Jesus is approached by a rich young man and asks what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus starts to answer by quoting the commandments, first of all ‘do not murder’. The young man says he’s kept all of these. In V21 we’re told that Jesus looked at him and loved him, but then he does something extraordinary “one thing you lack”, Jesus says, “go sell everything you have and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven, then come follow me.”
Why does Jesus say this confronting thing? Elsewhere Jesus does this to shock the religious out of their comfortable complacency. In this case I think that Jesus is saying ‘you have so much that your personal piety is not enough, God requires more from you’. Jesus concludes in V23 “how hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God”.
The disciples were shocked. If you think that wealth and successful are a sign of God’s blessing, then how can anybody be saved? But Jesus says no, with man this is impossible but all things are possible with God. Again, Jesus says that we need God’s Grace, and we cannot be saved by our personal success or piety.
Peter complains that he and the others left everything to follow Jesus, so how can it be the even they won’t be saved?! Jesus reassures his disciples that those who have made sacrifices to follow him will receive a reward much greater than anything they could have enjoyed on Earth.
Then Jesus goes on to say many who are first will be last and the last, first. What does this mean? Jesus is referring to hierarchies. We observe this pecking order in chickens, and other animals, but humans do it too. In the animal kingdom it stops endless competition and fighting between the chickens, which wastes energy and reduces their chances of survival. Once every chicken knows where it belongs in the hierarchy, it no longer has to fight for a position – life goes on for each chicken and for the whole flock.
Jesus does not say that he’s going to do away with this hierarchy, but he does say that he will turn it upside down and those who are on top will find themselves coming last, and those who are poor and powerless and downtrodden will come first.
Now brethren, the real reason that too many Aboriginal people are dying in custody is that too many are in custody in the first place. I don’t mean that domestic violence and threats to kill should go unpunished, but I suspect that being poor and downtrodden makes such acts more likely.
I don’t see many rich criminals in prison. Several large corporations in Australia have made hundreds of billions of dollars of revenue for years, but have paid no tax whatsoever. Are the company directors, lawyers and accountants who do this in prison, alongside are Aboriginal brothers and sisters? No, they are not. Rich, successful thieves don’t go to prison.
Our society may think itself righteous because we are rich and successful, because we a respectable and appear to obey the law. We have great power and fabulous technology; we live a long time. We are outwardly religious and we inherited a western system that has conquered the world.
But I have no confidence in the flesh, in this outward show (Phil 3:1-14). I have no confidence in strength to deliver piety or justice, whether personal or social.
I have no confidence in our human pecking order to deliver justice for the poor, but I do believe that Jesus will deliver justice for everyone. I also believe that copying Jesus will advance the kingdom. We might have to speak truths that others don’t want to hear. We might have to sacrifice our riches to love others with charity. We might have to lower ourselves in the pecking order to raise others up.
Friends, the good news is that we are not going to get what we deserve, because Jesus will save us from our false outward piety, our riches and our failed justice. Everyone who accepts Jesus as Lord will be included, even though our righteousness is patchy, at best. Come, Lord Jesus and use us to bring righteousness to our world. Amen.
 Source: Aboriginal life expectancy – Creative Spirits, retrieved from https://www.creativespirits.info/aboriginalculture/health/aboriginal-life-expectancy