On faith: Ten Commandments lesson
Pastor John Dietz
Bethlehem Lutheran Church
Different traditions number the Ten Commandments differently. The Lutheran Church, of which I am a member and a pastor, uses the same numbering as the Roman Catholic and orthodox churches, but not the same as most other protestant churches. It can be confusing.
Since my ordination, I have heard many people say something like this: “If only people would follow the Ten Commandments, we wouldn’t be in the trouble we’re in right now.” And I can say to them that this is most certainly true.
The problem is that it’s never that easy. Just knowing the Ten Commandments (which, apparently, most people don’t) doesn’t guarantee a person is going to follow them. Knowledge of the law and adherence to the law are two different things. I prove it every time I drive to Duluth. I know what “speed limit” means, but like most Ontarians, I act as if it were a suggestion - until, of course, I see one of those maroon Minnesota State Patrol cruisers hiding in the snow bank. You know how it goes!
In my tradition, this is the Eighth Commandment: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” In yours it might be the Ninth Commandment. I told you it can be confusing! In my opinion - and regardless of its number - it’s probably one of the hardest commandments to keep. It includes the prohibitions against perjury, lying, and gossip.
Martin Luther, the 16th century German priest for whom the Lutheran Church is named, wrote this little book called “The Small Catechism” in which he explained, among other things, these Ten Commandments. And instead of just saying: “Don’t perjure yourself in court, don’t lie, and don’t gossip,” he added some things we could do to fulfill this commandment. That’s one of the things I like about the Lutheran tradition, it’s not all negatives. It’s not just “don’t do this,” or “Thou shalt not do that” ... but we ask the question, “What should I do instead?” How can this commandment be fulfilled in the positive, as a blessing to my neighbor?
For those of us who memorized these explanations as youth, here’s a refresher: “We are to fear and love God so that we do not betray, slander, or lie about our neighbors, but defend them, speak well of them, and explain their actions in the kindest way.”
These are the positive requirements of the commandment that many of us grew up knowing: Defend your neighbor’s honor, speak well of her when no one else will, and explain his actions in the kindest way; or, as we used say, “in the best possible light.” And you do all of these things because you would want your neighbor to do the same for you if the tables were turned.
I have lived in Chicago and Phoenix - huge cities – where no one really cares who you are or what you’re doing. I’ve lived in big cities like Tucson and Saint Paul where you and your activities go unnoticed. But I’ve also lived in small towns across this country – in California and Colorado and Minnesota – in towns like Two Harbors where people do know who you are and they do notice what you’ve been up to and they care. And I have heard people say things I have been both surprised and ashamed by. I’ve been part of conversations I have been embarrassed by. I have seen things reported in this local paper which were not worthy of reporting. It’s so tempting to be the editor that runs the story that sells papers, or to be the person to repeat the gossip that tickles the ears, or to be the first one to share that little bit of news that keeps the attention on you for a while. But just remember, as my grandmother used to say, “The one who gossips with you will gossip about you.”