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Pastor Glenn Zimbelman
|Evangelical Lutheran Church in America|
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Thou Shall Not Steal - July 23, 2017
Picture of Elephants.
We Americans like our stuff. There is a saying in Africa abut Missionaries from America. They have been called Elephant Missionaries. It is because it takes an Elephant to transport all of their stuff. Raise your hand if you have ever had anything stolen?
Picture of Nativity
This event is still seared into the memory of the Zimbelman family. Jan and I had made some plywood cutouts of a Nativity scene. It included obviously Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus. We had a cow, a couple of sheep and a donkey. We were planning on adding to the set with Wise Men and more animals. By the way the Wise men would be place apart from the Nativity Scene. If you don’t know why read the book of Matthew. Anyway, that year, during Christmas someone stole our donkey. Who would want a donkey? Jan even sent a letter to the town paper asking for any leads, no questions asked. To this day we wonder where it went. Well that put a real damper on our Christmas spirit. Why add to the set, if someone is going to take it. I even talked about drilling holes and cabling the set to a tree. Somehow drilling a hole in Baby Jesus just didn’t seem right.
This is what happens when something is stolen from us. We feel betrayed. We get angry. We also lose a sense of security and safety. It gets worse if someone breaks into your house. A member of my church had their house broken into. They felt violated. You also lose a little trust in the basic character of humanity. Do you know what you do when you lose trust? You build walls. Some of these walls are actually real. You add to your security system. You put in bigger locks, add cameras and if you can afford it, there is always security systems. It really is less about our stuff and more about our sense of safety and fear that causes us to do this.
Picture of African Community
So imagine you are a community in Africa. If it is a tribe out in the country, guess what? They do not have locked doors. There is nothing worth taking. In a village, everything is shared. It is not what’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is mine. It is all about ours. So we who have had stuff stolen know what it is like to lose something. But there is another side of the situation. Luther always liked to make the commandments positive. So this is what he says, under 7th commandment, Thou Shall Not Steal, What does this Mean?
“We are to fear and love God, so that we neither take our neighbor’s money or property nor acquire them by using shoddy merchandise or crooked deals, but instead help them to improve and protect their property and income”
Wow. Do not use shoddy merchandise or crooked deals. Do you see you have now a new tool at your disposal the next time you buy something that is badly made? I bought a squirt gun to go after mourning doves and it leaks. It was cheap to buy and cheaply made. I want to go back to the store and say to customer service do you realize you are breaking the seventh commandment. They won’t even know what the seventh commandment is. But I can say, right here, shoddy merchandise.
It is very helpful to consider two aspects of this commandment. The first aspect is our own personal character. What do we want to be known for? One of the biggest test of character happens when you find something, and you can get away with it? I have lost my wallet many times over my lifetime. Sometimes it has been returned with everything intact. Most of the time it has been returned with the money missing. Sometimes, it has never returned. Our Gospel Lesson says this,
“we are to build up treasures in heaven and where our treasure is, there our hearts is also.”
So imagine if we worry less about our stuff and our needs and more about the lives of other people. Last week I talked about Agape Love. Part of Agape Love is by sharing and caring for others we find out what is most important in life. Simply put, life is about people.
Picture of Apartment
One of the hardest thing I ever witnessed was a widow who had to move to a nursing home because of health issues. That is hard enough to do. This widow decided to have an auction and everything in her house must go. She knew what she paid for things and watched too much of it go, pennies to the dollar. So if you ever have an auction of your stuff, don’t go to it. Much of her agony was less about stuff and more about the memories. Some of the items were gifts from family and her husband. Those gifts were special because it reminded her of how much she had been loved. One of the lessons here, is that when we are young we start out with an apartment if we are lucky. When we get old, we are back into an apartment. Somewhere along the way we recognize where our treasure really is. We treasure our health. We treasure our family. We value our friends. We treasure our faith. Anything beyond that really is fluff. So what should we do? Let a lot of our stuff go. Seek treasure that can never be taken from us.
Picture of Katrina
I have told you before about taking several mission trips to New Orleans. I would never say that having a city destroyed by flood or fire is ever a good thing. But there is a silver lining that happens among the devastation. People gather together with a shared grief. They celebrate with each other the fact that they are simply alive. Yes there is pain. Yes there is loss. But there also amazingly enough, is a hope, a resolve if you will from each other. When we went into these neighborhoods as part of Lutheran Disaster Response, the church of Christ entered into the pain of people. I witnessed many tears. But in the middle of the tears were great love, and hugs and words of appreciation. People would say, you came all the way from Wisconsin to help us? In many ways disaster offers an opportunity for the human family to come together and support one another. It is part of keeping the 7th commandment.
These disasters also have a way of redefining what really is important. It can even help us to reexamine what our treasure is. One of the first responses that happens is that while they may have lost everything, people are thankful and grateful if they still have each other. They may look across the street and see someone who has lost a brother, a cousin, a son or a father and they realize how important relationships are.
Because you see, while we like our stuff and we all know we have too much of it, ultimately what matters is the love we have for each other. For it is in love of God and love of others that we discover that we don’t need any more stuff, for we have all the treasure we need. Amen.
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