4/8/04Times New RomanArial
Here we are at the fountainhead of a godly life: our desires. From our desires spring what we think, what we say, what we do. So let me ask you? Are your desires godly? What do you want? If you ask kids this question, from out of their mouths will pour forth this, that, and O yeah, this, that and the other thing too. Adults try to hide their real desires. "O I want peace on earth." "I just want people to be happy." "All I want is good health." These are the kinds of things adults say, but it's not what they think. It's not really what they or we really desire, is it?
The 9th and 10th Commandments expose what we really desire. They don't expose the sexual lust or the greed that's most certainly there. What the 9th and 10th Commandments lay bare is that simple desire for more than you have, at least as much as that neighbor of yours has. They don't expose the desire to have your neighbor's spouse in your bed, but just to have him or her. It'd not that you desire to have a crack house just another's house. You don't desire to be a thief just so and so's job. You desire nothing illegal or immoral; you just want what that person who has it all has.
This doesn't seem, feel or look sinful, does it? Indeed the whole world will assure you it's not. It may be aggressive and assertive but not evil. The 9th and 10th Commandments, however, judge differently. They say such desires are evil, are nothing but sin, and these Commandments warn you that the sins involved here are much more serious than you think they are. If you read Greek tragedy, you'll find it's the simple desire for something more, better, or different that leads to brother killing brother, parent killing child, wife killing husband.
"O come on. My little desire for this or that will lead to such tragedy?" Yes. That's what these Commandments are trying to show you. The 9th says, "You should not covet your neighbor's house." Luther translated it, "You shall not "hanker after." You Southern folks know what "a hankerin'" is. It's just a small, tiny desire. The 9th Commandment attempts to cut us off in our tracks by saying, "STOP! Don't even start down that road of desiring." Even the slightest little hankering for more, better, different like your neighbor has is forbidden.
What was one little, tiny "hankering" in the 9th Commandment explodes in the 10th to wanting this, that, and the other thing too. Surely, you've experienced this. You've thought, "All I really need to be happy is this." Then this became that and that led to half dozen other things you just have to have. Then all of a sudden not one single thing you have not your spouse, not your house, not your kids, not your job, not your Church is really what you desire. You become unhappy with the whole kit and caboodle. "Woe is me, woe is me," you thought because no self-respecting person would ever pity themselves so poignantly in public, but in private, "Woe is me," is what you wailed. All around you saw people happier, healthier, richer than you. You had nothing. Nothing worth having.
How you loathed what you had, and how you wanted to be free from such loathing which sprang from this endless fountain of desire that bubbled up from you! But how hopeless the task of being free, of getting back to that place where you just knew God was smiling upon you giving you all that was good, right, and holy, where you only desired what God gave rather than literally everything else under the sun that you don't have.
Where do you go for such godly desires? To your heart? The Bible says your heart is desperately wicked and that out of your heart flows the very sin we're now lamenting: covetousness. How about turning to your mind? Be like a Buddhist, a Stoic, a monk and renounce the things of this world. O if only that could be done. If only we had an off button in our head. Gone would be that never ending flow of desires, of wants, of more, better, different.
I know what I'll do. If there's no help in my heart or head, I'll look outside of myself. I'll look to the Law. Sorry, St. Paul says that the more the Law told him not to covet, the more he coveted. And the same will happen to you. The farther you go down the path of trying to control your sinful desires by telling yourself, "No, no, no," the more things your heart will long, beg, die for. Everyone of you who've ever been on a serious diet know the truth of what I speak. The more the flesh is told, "No, it can't have," the more firmly it believes it must have.
Where then do godly desires come from? Why from God. Only God can give godly desires. But the gift of godly desires can't be given to an old, fleshy heart, can it? That would be putting new wine into old wine skins; that would be trying to patch old clothes with new cloth. You know what happens if you try? The godly desires from God are perverted in a most grotesque way. Love is perverted to lust but you still think it's love. Helping one's neighbor is perverted into your neighbor needing you but you think you're O so humble for helping. Humility become pride; contentment, laziness; rage, righteous indignation. If you go out from here trying on your own, even with the help of God's laws or Biblical principles, to have more godly desires, you will become 7 times the monster you now are.
How fortuitist that tonight is Maundy Thursday for tonight Jesus speaks to His disciples as He never had before. Jesus speaks differently to them tonight. He speaks to them as those able to love saying, "I give you a new commandment that you love one another." He speaks to them as able to believe, "You believe in God; believe also in Me." He says that He speaks to them no longer as servants but as "friends."
What could be happening tonight to bring about such a momentous change? On this night He will be betrayed into the hands of sinners. Tonight the devil will begin His last assault on His righteousness. Tonight the devil will try to snatch the soul's of sinners from the hands of Jesus. But Jesus will not let us go. Though we and our sins will nail Him to the cross, send Him to hell itself, and bury Him in the grave, Jesus will not let us go. Jesus takes our corrupt, fallen hearts filled with 10,000 wrong desires all the way to the grave and will rise without them. He will rise speaking forgiveness, life, and salvation to sinners which in turn creates new hearts, new people who are able to hear, desire, and do new, wonderful things.
But that's not all that went on tonight. On the same night Jesus was betrayed He took bread and wine and instituted a new meal, a new supper, a new feast. On the night Jesus is stripped of all things, we get all things. How fitting. Jesus said He would not eat this feast again "until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God." He said He would not drink this cup again "until the kingdom of God comes." Behold, open you eyes, Jesus eats and drinks with you tonight. Does not He say this Bread is His Body and this Cup is His Blood? Jesus eats and drink tonight what He said He would neither eat nor drink again until the kingdom of God is fulfilled and comes. Therefore, the kingdom comes and is fulfilled in this meal, at this time. The coming and fulfilling of the kingdom is a new thing for new people..
But what do people who have been made new creatures by Christ lack? Didn't Paul write to the Corinthians: "All things belong to you whether...the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you?" Do you think this was only true for the Corinthians but not for Austinites? Lest you think perhaps so, Paul asks you in Romans 8, "He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us ALL things?" So what do you lack? What can you lack if you have all things? Life, health, earth, heaven, are all yours. So what if your spouse, house, job, or life is less than it could or should be? Did Paul's thorn in the flesh stop God's grace from being enough for him? Not hardly. So what if you are sick and dying or old and aging? Did the executioner's ax lopping off Paul's head make him lose all things? Certainly not.
So cast your eyes about you? What in heaven or on earth do you lack? Nothing. But there is one thing that new creatures do desire and it consumes them; it overwhelms them. Do you know what it is? We are told in Psalm 73. The Psalmist starts out sinfully desiring the prosperity of the wicked. In the course of the Psalm that wrong desire is repented of and toward the end the Psalmist says, "Whom have I in heaven but Thee? And with Thee I desire nothing on earth."
This is the truth St. Augustine expressed in his Confessions. He said in a prayer to God, "The soul is restless till it finds it rest in Thee." Yes, your soul is not going to be at ease, content, though it have a 1,000 spouses, houses, or 1000 more of anything that belongs to anyone else. The devil's great big lie is that contentment can be found in these things. The truth is this: That hankering for one thing or that all consuming desire for everything cannot be satisfied by anything or anyone on this earth except by the God-Man who walked this earth.
So take eat, take drink, and find your rest in Him. He is what you really desire. He is what your new body and soul constantly desires. And how fitting it is that Jesus says in tonight's Gospel reading, "I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer." Literally, Jesus says, "With desire I desire to eat with you." Jesus fervently desires to eat and drink with you. It is fitting for you to desire to eat and drink with Him and so find rest for your soul and body. Here is New Food for your new body. Here is New Blood to fill and pump your new heart. And in these, at long last, your soul can find rest. Not just for today but for eternity. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Maundy Thursday (4-8-04); 9th and 10th Commandments