Sermon Notes for August 12, 2007
Bishop Desmond Tutu’s one rule for humankind (offered this past Tuesday night at Miller Auditorium here in Kalamazoo): We are family; let us act like it.
What would be a familiar Christian rule? Something like the following? ‘Our true home is in heaven — which is where those who believe in Jesus will go after they die. In the meantime, the Bible gives us a moral code to live by.’
This sermon argues that Tutu’s rule is closer to God’s will than our familiar Christian message. It extemporizes around key biblical passages to articulate the Gospel as Tutu’s beautiful rule. [It does not, however, feature any of the lections assigned for the day. To see how it does relate to the First and Second Readings for the day, Gen 15 and Heb 11, see the sermon for 2022.]
The Gospel begins with the promise to Abraham and Sarah, articulated as a blessing to all the families of the world — in Genesis 12:1-2, 3b: “Now the LORD said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. . . ; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’” [see Gal 3:8 later in the sermon]
Comment: God’s original intention in creating a chosen people is to bless all people. The blessing of being a chosen people is not for its own sake but for the sake of blessing the whole earth. In short, we are to live as family in love. This is not easy, even in our own ‘blood’ families! The constant temptation of sin is to receive the blessing for its own sake and to live with divisions between all our human families. This is the dynamic we see throughout the Old Testament: taking their chosenness as another division against the prophetic word to have it keep reaching out to others. In Jesus Christ, we have the fulfillment of the covenant to Abraham. But have we Christians in two thousand years been anymore successful in living out this blessing?
Where do we see Bishop Tutu’s rule about one human family in the New Testament?
Mark 10:15 (parallels in Matt. 18:4 and Luke 18:17) — [Jesus said,] “Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”
John 3:3 — Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” [how the kingdom of God is being born into God’s united family]
Bishop Tutu referred to the following verse in talking about this rule: John 12:32 — [Jesus said,] “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
St. Paul refers back to the promise to Abraham and Sarah at the heart of his argument in both Romans and Galatians [even more important than the law of Moses]:
Romans 4:16-17 — “For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”) — in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.”
Galatians 3:8 — “And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, declared the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘All the Gentiles shall be blessed in you.’” [Gen 12:3]
And even though Paul doesn’t mention the promise to Abraham in Ephesians, the heart of our faith is perhaps most clearly articulated here — God creating one new humanity:
Ephesians 2:8-16 — “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God — 9not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. 11So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by those who are called ‘the circumcision’ — a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands — 12remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.”
Comment: St. Paul’s struggle with the Law is that it became just another way to divide ourselves from one another. It became a badge of identity over against the identity of others. So what is our one rule or law? It is reduced down to the one rule we need to live as family: love. Again, look to both Romans and Galatians:
Romans 13:8-10 — “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet’; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.”
Galatians 5:6, 14 — “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love. . . . For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Verified by Jesus in the Gospels:
Mark 12:29-31 — Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” [parallels in Matt 22:37-40 and Luke 10:25-27]
John 13:34 — “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
In short, Tutu’s rule articulates the Gospel itself: We are family; let us act like it.