In Luther’s Small Catechism he gives a brief, easily memorizable or even, in this day and age, tweetable (for the social media crowd), explanation of the basics of Christian faith, the 10 Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, Baptism, Holy Communion, and Confession.
In his brief explanation of the 10 commandments, he hammers home that these commandments are about keeping us from idolatry—from making those things we fear, love, and trust, into false gods. In doing so, he reminds us of the one true God who is our Gracious Lord.
Additionally, he expands the don’ts of the 10 commandments—just as Jesus does in Matthew’s Gospel “You’ve heard it said thou shall not kill, I say don’t even get angry.”
Finally, in Luther’s Small Catechism he adds a positive command to each negative one—in other words, “Don’t just refrain from the evil, but also do the good.”
Luther also wrote a Large Catechism. In addition to exploring more deeply what it means to fear, love, and trust—in addition to widening the negative and pointing to the positive—he also highlights Jewish practices at the time of Moses—using the best learning of Luther’s age,
And pointing, sometimes very sharply, to how these command are to be lived out in the society of Luther’s day.
So, today, I would like to present a hybrid between Luther’s Small and Large Catechism—not too large nor too small—sort of a goldilocks and the three bears kind of thing—a “Just right” Catechism—a Medium Catechism.
Today I would like to present, “Christopher’s Medium Catechism.”
Let us pray
You shall have no other gods before me.
It all stands and falls here. The other 9 commandments are moot, if we’ve not grappled with this first one. The measure of our actions is simply this, “How are they a response to God’s freely given gift of life to us?”
You see, we easily declare idolatry to be an ancient thing—or something practiced in far off temples—a relic of an idea with no practical application these days… but that is not so.
Ask yourself this:
What do you fear—what goes bump in your night?
What do you respect, above all other things?
When stuff hits fan, and you are hard pressed between a rock and a hard place, Where do you turn?
Those answers, dear sisters and brothers, are your idol.
Because, there is One who has told us “be not afraid.” One who earned our respect through His humility and His grace. One to whom we can always turn. The one true God found in Christ Jesus our Lord.
And so, be on guard against idolatry yes, but even that prohibition is grounded in the positive, that God has freed you to live life unafraid, trusting in him, who loves you deeply.
You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
We humans are creatures of clay, and have unclean lips—thus it is dangerous when we speak about God—God, who alone is not an idol, God who alone is Holy
—we might speak in such a way that we create a false god out of the one true God.
We might cloak a lie in God’s name.
We might hide those things, which are sinful under a cloud of piety.
Our greed, our lusts, our envy, our violence and our strife, done in God’s name—and thus done in the name of a false god.
Think, of course, of those fanatics who murder and maim in the name of God—it is wickedness and idolatry.
Think too of those preachers of false gospels—gospels of escape and gospels of prosperity, which dishonor Christ, who did not escape, but entered into human hurt
—Christ of whom it is said, “to gain Christ is to lose the whole world.”
To honor God’s name, we ought to call upon God in all times of need, and pray to God, and praise God with our lips and in our lives.
Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy.
I’ve preached to you all about the Sabbath before. Sabbath is about rest, liberation, and holiness.
Sabbath is a time that ought to be “good… for nothing.” Good in and of itself—not clogged up with cares and the frantic pace of the rest of the week. Truly a time to rest.
Sabbath is also about liberation, acts of kindness and justice are part of living in the holiness of God’s time—such acts honor God’s love of everything God has created.
Sabbath, finally, is holy in and of itself, dragging us into the reality of God though our worship together, where we receive the cherished promises of God.
What does this have to do with fearing, loving, and trusting, you might ask—well, what keeps you up at night?
What keeps you from rest, from service of neighbor, and from worshipping and receiving the promises of God?
Sabbath exposes all of those—points out our idolatries.
Honor your father and your mother.
As you may know, I insist parents attend confirmation class with their children… and for some reason, when we get to this command, the parents are overjoyed.
It’s a very practical commandment, and one that follows Luther’s attack on all the idols that we put our fear, love, and trust in.
It is from our parents, and all those who raise us, that we learn what is dangerous and what is safe. It is from them that we establish, or don’t establish, a sense of love and trust.
We’re like little sponges and what we sop up will enter into our lifeblood for the rest of our lives—our basis for fear, love, and trust, are established in childhood.
For good and ill, all authority figures shape our views of God—thus we ought to not only honor them, but also pray that they, while filled with foibles and folly, might reflect, on occasion at least, the one true authority, the one true parent of us all—that they might reflect at least a little of God’s authority, which is found in humility and weakness.
You shall not kill
Christ takes this command, and raise it to great heights, saying, “All who are angry at a sibling, or curse them, are guilty.”
We should instead spend our days giving life to our neighbor—Luther says following this one commandment would be a full time job. Being life giving is a lifelong task.
You shall not commit adultery
There are many relationships we will have in life; our relationship with our spouse will likely be the deepest.
Yes, there will be ups and downs—perhaps you will cycle from lust, love, loathing, and back to lust. Perhaps it won’t live up to a romance novel or all those romantic comedies—but, I would remind you, holding real people up to such standards is idolatry too.
Marriage is a place where trust is formed, or broken. If we cannot trust our spouse—can we trust anyone?
—such a break can deform so many of our relationships, even our relationship with God, after all, marriage can be a metaphor for that relationship, the relationship between God and God’s people.
This is why we ought to honor those who struggle to love one another and trust one another with their whole lives
—why we ought to support trust and trustworthiness in relationships
—why we ought to build up our neighbor’s marriages.
You shall not steal.
Luther is a little scary on this point… he states that if every thief were hung there would be no one left on the earth.
Theft, is not just pocketing soap and not paying, or even knocking over a bank.
It’s gaining other people’s things by a multitude of means.
Tipping the scale when weighing things,
selling an inferior product, or price gouging.
Not giving 100% at work, not paying people enough to live on.
Buying things that cause the suffering of others.
Pretty soon we’re all on the gallows, and forced to swallow a hard truth—none of these things—not one of them—can we take with us… As that country song says, “I’ve never seen a hearse with a trailer hitch.” Theft is ultimately trusting, fearing, or loving things, instead of loving people and loving God.
We ought to protect the integrity of all our neighbor has, and work to better their livelihood.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
Any time we wield our tongue against another human being as if it was a weapon, we’ve broken this commandment.
This is doubly so when we do it from the shadows of anonymity. When we gossip about others from the darkness, we defame and dishonor them. Any claim we make about someone else, we should be willing to defend in the court of law, with the danger of libel and perjury pointed against us.
And it is so much more complex now—what of social media? Is “re-tweeting” something that proves false, a crime? Is “Liking” a lie on facebook, an offense?
Our tongue wagging and our typing, both tempt us toward sin. I pray we train them to only talk well of our neighbor, and defend them from all defamation, that we might interpret all they do in the best possible light.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house, or household.
These last two commandments knock any self-righteousness out from under us. We might look to the first eight, and pretend that we’ve never broken a single one, but this pushes the breaking of the commandments into our hearts and imaginations.
Have you coveted any of those things you did not steal,
or wished someone dead who you did not kill,
or lusted after someone’s wife but never acted on that impulse,
or thought of dishonoring your parent, but kept quiet about it?
Did any of those breaches of the Law cross your mind or fill your heart with hope?
Additionally, I would venture to guess, if you own a TV, you are unable to not covet. The average American watches 8 hours of commercials a week—and what are commercials, but a continuous call to covet?
Ask yourself these questions:
What idols does an honest reflection upon these commandments reveal?
How can you live your life as a joyful response to God’s grace?
Who is your neighbor and how can you serve them?
And know this:
God has freed you to live life unafraid, trusting in him who loves you deeply, Jesus Christ our Lord.