Skip to comments.The Rev. Samuel Edwards: "On Covetousness"
Posted on 02/14/2006 12:02:35 PM PST by sionnsar
The Rev. Samuel Edwards of the Anglican Church of the Holy Comforter has now begun a sermon series on the Ten Commandments--with a difference: he is starting with the tenth commandment and counting down to the first. Thus the first in his series is on covetousness, and here it is:
Sermon on Septuagesima Sunday (2006)I think that for me the most powerful point of this sermon is what Fr. Edwards says about there being no private sin: There is, after all, no such thing as a private sin one that only affects the individual sinners relationship to God. Of course there are secret sins sins that no one knows about except the sinner and God but there are no private sins. I believe Scripture makes this abundantly clear, and we do ourselves, our families, our churches, and our societies grave harm when we forget this. If we were to remember our responsibility to each other as well as to ourselves when we fall under temptation of sin, I would hope that would at least give us pause. May God help us to indeed live in obedience to Him through the grace which He has given us.
Countdown to Godliness
Sermon I: On Covetousness
God spake this word, and said: Thou shalt not covet thy neighbors house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbors wife, nor his servant, nor his maid, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is his.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
At first, it may seem a bit gimmicky to preach a series of sermons on the Ten Commandments that begins with the tenth and ends with the first, but there actually is a method to my latest form of madness. It is a method founded in the way that Jesus himself taught us to look at the Law of Moses, and of which he gave several examples in his teaching. His method has to be definitive because he after all is the embodied Word of the One who gave the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai and who brings it to fulfillment on Calvary. Hence it is not surprising that the last of the great ten words of the Old Covenant Law points forward to his exposition of the grace and truth of the New.
To all outward appearances eight of the ten commandments the second through the ninth have to do with outward activities. The tenth, however, has to do with an interior disposition. (So, in a distinct way, does the first, which with the tenth forms a set of bookends for the other eight.)
The point here is that even from the beginning, there was a recognition that all sin begins in the imagination. Disobedience to Gods will is not simply and solely a matter of doing wrong things outwardly and visibly. Our actions include our thoughts; thinking is doing. Our thoughts are made public in our actions. As Saint Paul discovered in his own life, his being blameless according the Law did not mean he was a good man. It simply meant that he was someone who was outstandingly good at controlling his own behavior and keeping to the rules. Though in most cases the rottenness within us will eventually be revealed outwardly, it is possible for someone to manifest virtuous behaviors while being at the same time consumed with the fundamental interior rot of self-centeredness. (This is the point of Jesus parable of the Pharisee and the publican who went to the Temple to pray.)
The tenth commandment thou shalt not covet anything that is thy neighbors can be violated without ever actually stealing his stuff, committing adultery with his wife, telling lies about him, or killing him. If it is violated, though, it becomes the foundation upon which these outward violations will be committed, if in fact they are. Violating it makes it much more likely that one will justify doing the deeds, because he has already consented to them in his heart and imagined them happening and enjoyed the imagination of them. If we will the deed, we also will the means to make it happen.
What coveting does is to sow seeds of vice in the field of our heart. Obviously, this should be of concern to each of us personally, but it is also a concern of the whole communion of faith. There is, after all, no such thing as a private sin one that only affects the individual sinners relationship to God. Of course there are secret sins sins that no one knows about except the sinner and God but there are no private sins. There is no genuinely solitary vice. We, being made in the image of a tripersonal God, are made for one anothers society, and we cannot escape that. One of the consequences of this is that everything we do has some effect, however subtle, on the character of our community. Our choices form our habits of choice. Our habits form our character. Our characters contribute to forming the character of the communities to which we belong. Our communitys character influences for good or ill the formation of the character of its members, and a society that lacks genuine virtue virtue that is both interior and exterior inevitably will be a school for vice and corruption and not one of virtue and charity.
So much for general principles at least for now. Lets get down to specifics about covetousness. The Hebrew word for covet in the commandment can also mean beauty or delectable or desire. In the Greek Old Testament, the word epithumia is used, which is a combination of the word for desire or passion or anger (thumos) with a prefix (epi) meaning on the basis of, or even against. What this indicates is that to covet something is not simply to desire it, to admire it and wish to have something like it. To covet something is to pervert a legitimate appreciation and admiration (which focuses on the admired object or person) into an illegitimate desire for the exclusive possession, not simply of something like what one admires, but of the admired object itself. Covetousness is not simply the desire to have what my neighbor has; it is the desire to have it at his expense. It is wanting both the pleasure of having it and the perverse delight of seeing him without it.
And if we cannot get what we covet, then watch out! When we are unable to possess what we covet, the invariable response is rage. We might strike out to destroy our neighbor who has what we want. (Thats what David did against Uriah for the possession of Bathsheba). Or we might employ the services of someone else say a political party or a court both to tell us that what we want is our right and to make sure that we get it. (Thats what Ahab did when he wanted Naboths vineyard and couldnt get it: Jezebel told him that kings take what is their right and then had Naboth framed for treason so the vineyard could belong to Ahab.) But usually what ordinary nice people do nowadays when their covetous desires are frustrated is to sulk to turn their rage inward and use it to water with acid the interior garden of resentment, which at length will yield the death-dealing fruit that Paul refers to as the works of the flesh, among which are enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, and envy, to name but a few. [For the whole list, see Galatians 5:19-21]
The war within, unless it destroys its human container, will eventually be manifested in war without. And, tragically and ironically, one of the casualties of that war is likely to be the very thing that the person coveted, for if he reaches the conclusion he can never have it, he may well decide that nobody should.
Covetousness, we see, is not the subject of the last commandment because it is the least important defect of human character. On the contrary, it is placed there because it is in the end the most deep-rooted, the most deadly and the most dehumanizing such defect. It is arguably the sin that sets us most against God, for in order to desire the exclusive possession of anything we must have already set ourselves in competition with God himself, who alone can entirely own anything, who only is holy, who alone is the Lord, and whose arms are too long for us to box with.
Seen in this light, covetousness is terrifying: Not only are we all guilty of it, but in a very real sense we are born doing it. We cannot be healed of it by merely deciding we are not going to do it any more. The antidote to covetousness is twofold generosity and gratitude and neither one of these is natural to us. In order to practice them, we must have a new heart created within us a heart of flesh, not of stone. Not to put too fine a point on it, we must be born again.
The same Lord who gave the commandment has given himself for us to be the means of its obedience in us. He plants his own heart within us that he, who is from all eternity both generous and thankful, may make us able to live a life in which (to use Pauls words) we can possess nothing but have everything. In place of the acid of frustrated rage, he offers the living water which nourishes the leaves of the trees of healing and everlastingly slakes our thirst.
Now this is the sort of thing I want to hear on Sundays!
Not a 45-minute lecture on Moses' poor management style, like we were subjected to at the last church we visited. (Don't ask. The music was hideous too.)
Someone told me long ago that if you could just really nail the first and last commandments, the other eight would practically obey themselves.
This is one of the many things in the Bible that a liberal theologian will never speak of. Thy shall not covet. Their theology is based on the opposite of this. Not only do they covet they want the power of the STATE to do the deed for them.
This is why I post these sermons! There is good teaching still in the Anglican world in America; it lives on in the Continuing churches. (TIA: I must note that the Rev. Edwards and I are members of the same province, the APCK, but I also post here sermons from members of other Continuing provinces.)
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