Skip to comments.The Rev. Samuel Edwards: "On Stealing"
Posted on 02/28/2006 1:42:33 PM PST by sionnsar
This is the next in the sermon series on the Ten Commandments by the Rev. Samuel Edwards of the Anglican Church of the Holy Comforter, and it is on "Thou shalt not steal":
Sermon on Quinquagesima Sunday (2006)One thing is for certain: to "love the Lord with all your heart, and all your mind, and all your soul" does not come naturally to any of us. We must ask Him for His grace that we might indeed love Him with all our being. Anything else is, in a sense, stealing from Him.
Countdown to Godliness
Sermon III. On Stealing
God spake this word, and said: Thou shalt not steal.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
Towards the end of Shakespeares great play, Henry the Fifth, Pistol (one of the minor characters whose role is largely one of comic relief) is exposed as the lying, thieving, cowardly braggart that he is. Drawing the shreds of his self-manufactured dignity about him, he resolves to leave the Kings army, saying, Back to England Ill steal, and there Ill steal.
This example illuminates the nature of thievery: It is taking what belongs to another under cover or with deceit or imposture or as if by right. All stealing involves both the taking and the deceit; they cannot be separated.
We come now to the eighth Commandment, which prohibits stealing. Lest we think this is really pretty easy for most of us, let us remember the nature of the arrangement of the six Commandments that have to do with our life together as human beings that was pointed out in last weeks sermon: They seem to be arranged according to an increasing level of difficulty, so that honoring our parents is the least naturally difficult for us, while not coveting is the most naturally difficult.
Our tendency to think that it is pretty easy for most people not to steal comes from the way we are apt to limit the definition of theft to the simple taking of material things, and to ignore the pretenses under which we do so. If we can frame the definition the crime, so we imagine, we can write ourselves out of it. If I understand theft to be the unauthorized taking of stuff that doesnt belong to me, and I dont do that, then I can say that under that definition I am not a thief. But that doesnt wash for someone who professes live to not according to his own definition of reality, but Gods.
To begin with, reality is not limited to material things. There are things that are intangible, but no less real for that. Some, in fact, such as love and personal honor and reputation and integrity are arguably more real than any material thing: Men will spend the last penny of their material wealth and shed the last drop of their blood in the defense of these intangible things, and we hold them to be less than men if they refuse to do so. All of these things may be stolen. It could well be true that at least as much stealing is committed by the use of our tongues as by the use of our fingers. To go again to Shakespeare for example,
Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls:
Who steals my purse steals trash; tis something, nothing;
Twas mine, tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed.
[Othello, Act III. Scene 3, lines 180-186.]
(The truth of this observation is not put in doubt in fact, it is intensified by the irony that these lines are uttered by the treacherous Iago, who seeks to falsely persuade Othello that his Desdemona is unfaithful to him. The author surely had in mind here, A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches [Prov. 22:1a] and A good name is better than precious ointment [Eccles. 7:1])
Theft, whatever its form, whether of material or intangible things, is an offense against justice. When we withhold or take from another that which is his due, whether that be time or money or honor or labor or the truth or whatever, then we are guilty of theft. We are treating that which God has committed into our neighbors hands for stewardship not only as if it had been committed to us for stewardship, but as if it belongs to us in an absolute sense. To the Christian whose mind and heart are awake, this is to pretend to an impossibility, since there is nothing at all in Gods great universe that any of us can own absolutely, except our own will and we will lose that if we do not give it over to God.
The impulse and tendency to steal is rooted in our inborn selfishness. If it is to be effectively resisted, it will not be enough simply to refrain from taking what has not been given to us. Like all vices, it succumbs in the end only to Gods grace and the growth of Godly virtue within us. If we would be cured of stealing in any and all of its forms, we must cultivate generosity in all those opportunities God sets before us to exercise it and so strengthen our spiritual muscle. The generosity to which he calls us does not simply involve open-handedness with regard to the material wealth he has given us, for as we have seen, stealing is not only about stuff. We are further called to open-heartedness to a kind of transparency and charitable forthrightness that is the antithesis of the skulking stealthiness and pretense and dishonesty that characterizes us when we are stealing things.
We are called to allow ourselves to be penetrated and illuminated by that divine charity of which Saint Paul so eloquently writes in todays Epistle, which is the very bond of peace and of all virtues, without which whosoever liveth is counted dead before [God]. We are to be patient, kind, lacking envy, self-effacing, humble, modest, gentle, joyful in truth, steadfast in faith and hope.
Of course, none of this is natural to us, but the help we need is available from the Lords own hand at his own altar. And he is himself the best example, as ever, for possessing all things, he laid all down for us men and for our salvation. In the ceaseless miracle of the everlasting humility of the all-highest, he comes to us yet again as our bread and our life that we may become by his grace what he forever is beloved sons in whom the Father is well pleased.
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