Romans 7 Ellport Pres. Church
Exodus 20:1-20 Oct. 21, 1984
The Law and The Cap Gun
(Sermon preached as a candidate for Ebenezer Pres. Church)
I have a dog that is not afraid of cars or tractors. She will walk right out onto the road when a car is coming and just stand there in front of it. And when I'm driving on the tractor, she will run ahead of me, dodging in an out of the wheels, racing back and forth across my path. But the most frightening thing of all is that she will stop all of a sudden to sniff around at some interesting scent that has crossed her path. It scares me to death. She has no fear, and I'm afraid that I'm going to run over her, or that someone who does not know her might think she has more brains than she has and will hit her.
So last week, I bought a cap gun. Now my dog is extremely gun-shy. And if she sees me with a shotgun or a rifle, she runs up onto the back porch and hides. So, I thought, if she starts chasing me on the tractor or in the car, I could scare her with the cap pistol and it will teach her to stay away from moving vehicles.
Well, I scared her all right. She was so scared when I fired that gun that she raced back to the house. But not only is she afraid of cars and the like, now she has become afraid of me. Either she runs from me as soon as she sees me with anything suspicious, or she comes up to me, tail between her legs, cowering, and crawling on the ground.
Now, that's not exactly what I had in mind . . .I don't want her to be afraid of me; all I really want is her friendship and trust. But I did want to make her afraid of cars, because I knew what harm they could do to her. So, whether she knows that I love her or not, I gave her a law because I don't want her to die. Because she is too dumb to realize when she's in danger, I gave her a simple law that she could understand, that whenever she sees a moving vehicle, she knows enough to be afraid and to stay away.
But now my problem is, she's afraid of me. So how do I show her it’s not that I’m mad if she disobeys me and runs out into the street, but that I'm afraid for her life?
You know, this is the same problem that God faces? We are simple creatures. And God knows that we don't always know when danger is approaching. He knows that we'll get into all kinds of trouble if we are left without any guidance. We'll hurt others and ourselves not just because we're mean, but because we're not too smart and we can't always see what's wrong with the things we do. So along time ago, God gave us his law to keep us out of trouble. He gave us rules we could follow, whether we understood them or not; rules that would help save our lives. He gave us laws like "Thou shall not kill; thou shall not steal; thou shall not commit adultery." Not too tough; basic things that would help us survive and get through the difficulties of life.
He did not give us these laws because he hated us, any more than I want to make my dog afraid of cars because I hate her; on the contrary, he gave us laws because he loved us and because he wanted to preserve our lives. But we misunderstood. Instead of seeing that the law is good and that God gave it to us to protect us, the law scared us, and it made us afraid of God. Instead of seeing that God gave the law to preserve our lives, we came to feel that like a great and wrathful judge, God is going to use the law to punish us if we don't do what's right.
So rather than doing what it was supposed to, the law put fear into our lives and took away our trust in God. Rather than preserving our lives and keeping us in close fellowship with God as he intended, the law made us tremble in the presence of God. Either we grovel up to him on our bellies; or we run away from him as fast as we can. In either case, our fear has separated us from the presence of God. So in the end, the law helped divide us from the very source of life by creating fear in our lives. And rather than bringing us closer to God, which is the purpose of the law, the law has driven us away.
So God has a serious problem: On the one hand, if we obey the law but cower in fear of him as we do, we know nothing of God's love; we know only the threat of death and displeasure. And this kind of fear Paul describes as spiritual death. And on the other hand, if we keep running from God we only get lost and are driven further and further from his love. Like dogs that have lost their way, we grow hungry, become ill, and eventually, if we are away from our master long enough, we will die.
So God still has a problem: now that we have heard the sound of the cap gun and are afraid of him, how does he rescue us from this fear? How does he teach us to reverence the law but not to be afraid of him?
Well, my dog has my wife. When my dog started running from me, I sent out my wife to get her. And eventually, through her love, I hope to teach my dog that while she should be afraid of cars she need not be afraid of me. I want her to know that I love her and that I desperately want her friendship and her love.
Well for us scaredy-cats, God the Father sent us his Son Jesus, so that we could learn from him that while we have reason to fear the danger and harm of sin, we do not need to fear God. Instead, God has saved us from our fears by pouring his love into our hearts. Through Jesus, whose death allowed us to be born anew, God delivers us from the fearful and cowering obedience that is not based upon love and trust. And through the Holy Spirit in us, God is able to reach out and draw back to himself all who have stumbled and run away. In Jesus, he is teaching us what it means to be in relationship with a God who is not mean or hateful; a God who doesn't want to be feared but to be loved. And in Jesus, he is enabling us to be partakers of this holy love which drives away all fear. What is more, instead of being seen as something created for our destruction, the law can now be seen as something which God has given us for our good. Just as my dog will no longer run in front of cars, so we can now see and obey the good purpose of the law–not to kill, not to steal, not to bear false witness–out of a healthy respect for things that bring harm and danger. We no longer need obey simply out of fear of punishment, but now we are enabled to obey out of love for God, love for others, and love for ourselves. We obey the good teaching of the law not because we are afraid of God, but we obey because we find joy in doing right. With God's heart formed in us, we no longer want to bring harm to others or to ourselves.
You have been reformed in the image of Christ; you who have received his Spirit and been born anew. Now your calling is to fulfill the commandments of love for you neighbor, not out of fear of God, but out of a love for God–as he gives you the power to love by his dwelling in you. If you find that your life is not characterized by freedom from fear and by joyous obedience, think about my foolish dog who is afraid when she shouldn't be and of how much I love her even though she doesn't know it: we are often afraid when we shouldn't be, and God loves us more than we know. The law was not given to us to make us cower in fear; it was given to drive us back into the arms of a loving God, who is very much concerned for our welfare. He is longing to hold you once again in his arms. And God will not rest until you are born anew to his love by the Holy Spirit. If you feel that you need to know more of his peace and his love, search the scriptures, seek him out, and ask him to make his love known to you. Jesus promised that whoever comes to him, he will never cast out. And because he loves you, he will be glad to bring you closer to him. Just as some day, I will hope and pray my dog will not be afraid to return to my arms.
Let us pray:
O Lord, reach into our hearts and make known to us your love. Do not let our fears rule over us, but let your love be our guide. And when we sin and break your law, teach us that we may turn to you to be received into a fellowship of forgiveness and love. These things we pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.