Be Careful Little Hands What You Do
Exodus 20:13, Matthew 5:21-22
October 18, 2015
Many of you may recall an incident that took place back in 1986 in what was then known as the Soviet Union. On August 31st of that year, two ships, one a passenger ship with over 1,000 people on board and the other a grain ship also with a significant crew, collided with each other. Ultimately more than 400 people died in the horrific crash that took place in the cold waters of the Black Sea.
What was the most shocking part of the collision was what was discovered in the investigation that took place afterward. Ultimately, what investigators determined was that both Captains and their crews were waiting for the other ship to yield the right of way while they maintained their course. Again, the death of 400 people would likely have been avoided had someone been willing to make a change in course. The courts eventually found both captains of the two ships guilty. Both were sent to prison where they would stay for roughly five years. Why? Because both were too prideful to order a change of course.
I bring this story up in connection with our study of the Ten Commandments and particularly in light of our study of the sixth commandment today because I think we all are prone to do something very similar. It is easy for us to study, read and ponder the Ten Commandments all while thinking about the changes and course correction that others need to make. It is easy for us to convince ourselves that we are clearly on the right path in our own lives and that it is others who need to change. It turn, because of our own lack of humility, we miss what the commandments offer to us.
This is particularly true, I think, as it relates to “the second tablet” commandments if you will. That is to say, the later five commandments among the ten that relate more to our relationship with one another than to our relationship with God. Certainly, our relationships with each other should be an outgrowth of our relationship with God and thus that is the context of these later five within the life of faith and the reason I think that they follow the first five regarding how we relate to God. But, ultimately they are about how we treat one another – do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not lie, do not steal, do not covet!
Yet, again, there is a profound arrogance and danger here related to our hubris and lack of humility. Very few of us see ourselves as murderers, thieves, habitual liars, adulterers or people caught up in overwhelming jealousy. We certainly know people who have issues with those things. We know other people who need to take the ship which is their lives and turn it in a different direction, but, not us, we can stay on the same course that we are currently traveling.
The sixth command made be the most dangerous in this regard. Unstable people who respond with anger, rage and physical violence need to hear this command. Those who are tempted to kill the unborn need to hear this command. A society that is prone to respond to feelings of isolation, depression or hatred by shooting innocent people in schools, movie theaters or even while someone is trying tor report the news need to hear this command. But us? No, the call not to murder is for someone else, it is not for us.
Unfortunately, Jesus in the gospels suggests otherwise when he says this in Matthew 5, “You have heard it said… ‘you shall not murder’…but I say to you, if you are angry with a brother or sister…if you insult a brother or sister…if you say you fool…you will be liable to the hell of fire.” In essence Jesus suggests that we destroy the lives of others as we take their lives with our hands, but, we just as easily destroy the lives of others with our words, anger and our insults which means that all of us need to listen to sixth command for it is for all of us.
When I think of this, I am quickly reminded of a fella that I knew during my days at Duke. He was also a student at the time who appeared to have a bright future in front of him. One day, however, someone in the community began to spread a rumor about him that was damaging to his integrity and to his standing with those who knew him well. The rumor, which centered on some apparent lapses in moral decision-making, appeared to be based off of solid evidence. In the end, the rumor was false. But, as many of you know, the damage was already done. He reputation was ruined, several friends and supporters had already abandoned him and his life was altered for ever. In fact, based off of that one moment in time and the words of others, his career, which was all out in front of him, was destroyed.
Now, think about that for a moment. No one harmed him physically. He didn’t stop breathing. And, his life was not put in danger because of violence.
No, none of those things happened. But, to say that a part of him died that day as the result of others and in keeping with Jesus’ words in Matthew is absolutely true.
Just this past week, I read the story of world famous German chemist during World War II. This particular gentleman had made significant contributions in the world of science. He was highly regarded, had devoted himself to his work and led a prestigious scientific institute. He was also, however, Jewish. In turn, when the Nazi’s seized control most all of the Jewish scientists who worked for him quickly lost their jobs and he began to see the handwriting on the wall. He went to the American and British Embassy and asked for asylum, which was eventually granted along with a teaching post at Oxford. But, life was now different. A man with no homeland, hated because of his faith and race and witness to the horrible treatment of friends and family, he died six months after arriving in England of a heart attack. (Erik Larson, In the Garden of the Beast)
He would not be listed as someone “killed” by the Germans but would anyone here argue that they were not responsible for his fate?
Let me simply ask all of us here – is there anyone in our lives that has angered us to the point that we are working hard to give them their just desserts? Not with physical violence or by threatening their lives but by smearing their name, saying evil things to them and about them, ridiculing them and their beliefs or out of spite trying to destroy them? Death comes in a thousand ways and quite honestly sometimes-physical death is a lot less painful than the assassination of our character, the death of our reputation or the slow painful destruction of our dreams and our very soul.
The Methodist writer J. Edward Kalas in his writing on the Ten Commandments has pointed out that saying that we are against things is also a way of saying that we are for other things. In turn, to say that we are against murder is a way for believers to also affirm that we are for life and for the abundant good life of everyone. This means that our job is not only to avoid tearing down and destroying one another but it also means that we realize that we have a responsibility for everyone’s well being.
Today’s sermon had a subtle title. “Be Careful Little Hands What You Do” is on the one had a way of saying that we must be vigilant in not using our hands to bring violence or evil to fruition through hateful acts. At the same time, it is a way of affirming that we must be careful not to use our hands to point at others and chide them for their need to obey the sixth command while not recognizing our great need to take these words to heart ourselves. Of course, we all know the other similar truism that we learn as children that reminds us that when we have one finger pointing at others we have four pointing back at us. So today, be careful. Be careful. Be careful little hand where you point. Amen.