11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643
Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Interim Pastor
Rev. Millie Myren, Support Minister
Sermon September 20, 2015
17You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
“KEEP YOUR EYES TO YOURSELF!”
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
So we come to the end of our 10-part preaching series on the Ten Commandments. I pray we’ve come to a fuller appreciation and understanding of what’s contained therein. It can rightly be argued the world has never come up with a better set of moral principles since the 10 Commandments were given to Moses on Mount Sinai around the year 1300 B.C.
For over 3,300 years, many, including each of us here have lived under the ethical umbrella of the Ten Commandments. Of course there’s an important reason why the Ten Commandments have stood the test of time. Any idea why this might be the case?
The Ten Commandments have stood the test of time because, according to the Bible, they were spoken to us by God! The authority of the Ten Commandments rests on the highest, most supreme authority there is, God Almighty.
If these Commandments were given to us by some guy named Moses – we could rightly protest. Moses may have been a righteous man but why should we obey anything given by Moses so long ago?
So what authority does Moses bring to the table? Frankly, not much! We have absolutely no record of him apart from the Biblical accounts. He doesn’t exist in any other historical records. But that’s all right! Not many records existed in those days. By the way, Moses is an English translation of his true Hebrew name which is Moshe.
The point I’m suggesting is that not many of us would be inclined to obey the ethical teachings of some Middle Eastern fellow, named Moshe, from 33 centuries ago. Sisters and brothers, the authority of the Ten Commandments rests or falls on two important premises: 1) God, the Supreme Being, is a reality and 2) The Ten Commandments were given to Moses by this same God on the top of Mount Sinai.
If either of these premises is wrong then no one can be obliged to obey the Ten Commandments. If either of these premises is wrong, then we should devise another ethical system. Of course, one can rightly argue that the Gospels present another important ethical system in the teachings of Jesus Christ, especially the Beatitudes.
Since many in our world do not believe there is a God, the Ten Commandments lose any power over such people. Since many in our world believe Moses was not a real person but the result of mythical story-telling, the Ten Commandments lose any power over such people.
But, brothers and sisters, here is where faith enters. If we have faith in God, if we have faith in the Bible, then we accept the Ten Commandments as a God-given way of life. If these Ten Commandments are given directly by God – then we best pay attention to them. Is this not so?
Now this has been a long introduction to our final commandment: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
First thing I want to say is that coveting is not the same thing as envy. Coveting almost always starts with envy – but then it moves on to something more active. One may envy the owners of a beautiful home on the next block but that does not constitute coveting. One may envy the owner of a new sports car parked down the street but that does not constitute coveting. One may envy someone’s success in this that or the other but that does not constitute coveting.
Coveting is more active than simple envy. To covet something means not only that I envy it but also that I begin making plans to take whatever it is I envy away from the person possessing it. Coveting means I want to take what is yours and make it mine.
In this sense, coveting can well lead to the breaking of the sixth, seventh, eighth or ninth commandment. Say someone is infatuated with the very pretty young spouse of a rich old man living nearby. The infatuated person begins an affair with this pretty young spouse – thereby breaking the Seventh Commandment.
But that’s not enough! The man not only wants to continue this adulterous affair, he wants to have this woman for his own. He covets her. So he makes plans to murder the old man – thereby assuring the young wife not only is free to marry him but that she will also inherit the old man’s considerable estate – breaking the sixth commandment.
Or – maybe instead of murdering the rich old man – this covetous fellow decides to entrap the old man by planting false evidence leading to the old man’s conviction on charges of drug possession or maybe drug selling – thereby breaking the ninth commandment. See how this all fits together?
Brothers and sisters, the Tenth Commandment is the only commandment that has thought itself as its focus. Coveting – unlike the other commandments – is not about what one does in the public sphere. Coveting is about what happens within the hidden mind of people.
Coveting occurs when we see something imminently desirable and begin to plot how we might take the object of our coveting from the person in possession of it. Coveting undermines community. Coveting undermines any possibility of living in a safe and sane society. Thieves covet their victims’ possessions. Those who covet can rightly be called predators. Every human predator is infected by the evil of coveting.
I believe coveting underlies many, if not most, of the wars fought over the vast extent of human history. Look at Helene of Sparta – who becomes Helen of Troy – whose face was said by Christopher Marlowe to have launched a thousand ships. Think about how wide-spread coveting is a sure-fire path to war!
Look also at how gangs are held together by coveting, especially coveting a rival gang’s turf. Turf wars fuel much, if not most, gang violence. There are an estimated 30,000 gangs operating in our country with an estimated 900,000 members. Our country’s jails house 147,000 gang members.
Let’s look at our own city. According to a 2012 report by the Chicago Crime Commission, our city has more gang members than any other city. We have some 150,000 gang members in 70 major gangs and many minor ones. Gangs, as we know, control and strike fear deep within many neighborhoods, including our own.
We’re in deep trouble, brothers and sisters, until we find a solution – until we find an antidote – to the gangster culture polluting and poisoning our city streets. Gangs are fueled by coveting. Gangs are fueled by a common failure of society to teach, to preach, and, most importantly, to live out the Ten Commandments.
You and I know that hardly anyone anymore takes the Ten Commandments seriously. Is this not so? When Charleton “Moses” Heston famously was given the Ten Commandments in that 1956 blockbuster, we took the Commandments to heart. Not so much anymore!
Let me share a famous story of coveting found in the 21st chapter of 1st Kings. King Ahab, the most notorious ruler of the northern kingdom of Israel wanted to take over the vineyard of a man named Naboth. Ahab approaches Naboth, from the town of Jezreel, and tries to buy the vineyard. But Naboth will not part with his ancestral land. So Ahab comes home dejected. The account states: “He (King Ahab) lay down on his bed, turned away his face, and would not eat.” (1stKings 21:4b)
His notorious wife, Jezebel, comes in and wonders what is wrong with Ahab. He explains what has happened regarding the vineyard. Jezebel tells him not to worry that she would take care of things. She writes letters to elders in Naboth’s hometown and asks them to invite him to dinner. At that dinner will be two scoundrels who will accuse Naboth of cursing God and king. Thus accused he is taken outside the city and stoned to death.
Ahab immediately takes over the vineyard that had belonged to Naboth. The great prophet Elijah is then sent by God to deliver a divine message to King Ahab. Here is that message: ‘“Thus says the Lord: in the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth, dogs will also lick up your blood.’ … Also concerning Jezebel the Lord said, ‘The dogs shall eat Jezebel within the boundary of Jezreel.’” And so it came to pass!
Now, brothers and sisters, I’m not trying to frighten anyone with divine judgment. What I’m underscoring is that those who covet – those whose covetousness turns to predatory behavior – such people will be judged by God. No one can prey on others without God paying close attention.
Every predator will have to answer to God Almighty for their predatory behavior, from predatory priests to predatory bankers, from predatory politicians to predatory gangbangers, from predatory pastors to predatory bosses. And, frankly, I’d hate to stand before God’s judgment, merciful as it may be, as a predator.
Let me end with some words from our Brother Paul from Romans: “The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet, are summed up in these words, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Romans 13:9-10)
Or as Jesus taught: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40) Or put another way: on these two commandments we will be judged both here and in the hereafter. Amen!