Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Clergy Gateway Commandment

In the regionalism that is U.S. United Methodism, my cluelessness betrayed my rust belt roots when I first heard the phrase, "I covet your prayers." What?!? As a student pastor of a North Carolina textile mill town parish, I was a second language learner. Whenever I hear that phrase now, I realize that it's mostly southern pastor-speak for "I need and appreciate your prayers."

Still, it seems that, generally, the biblical prohibition on coveting is dangerously underrated. "You shall not covet," commandment #10, is deceptively listed last. Like so-called gateway drugs leading to deeper addictions, in our American "I want therefore I am" culture, #10 is THE gateway commandment. Or sin. As pastoral leaders, could it be that "you shall not covet" is the hinge upon which the commandments turn-- for our behavior as well as our spirituality?

Remember when Jesus talked about the Decalogue, he noted that adultery was first a spiritual state of wanting and lusting for what's not yours (coveting) before it was really a physical act. And Jesus called this heart- state adultery in fact. (Matthew 5:27-28)

King David's story? His pattern in I Samuel 21 and 25 of wanting what's not his, and devising plans to take it, is illustrated best in the Bathsheba narrative, beginning in II Samuel 11. Here, the sin of coveting leads to adultery, stealing, and murder.

Wanting what's not theirs becomes the downfall of both the Ahab and the Queen in I Kings 21. Here, coveting is a gateway leading to false witness, murder, and finally, the stealing or seizure of the vacated property. We like David's story because of the soap-opera dimension, however, coveting is the beginning of the end for both David and Ahab/Jezebel.

It could also be that this spiritual state of coveting makes it impossible to be grateful for our blessings or to discover our true gifts. Especially for those who work professionally on church staffs, it's too easy to want what others have. Or for pastors to crave an appointment to Trinity Cathedral instead of Chitlin' Switch.

So--- admire others' spirituality, gifts, and ministry. Above all, appreciate your God- given gifts and the life God has given you! In love and holy purpose, own the one and only ministry to which the Spirit is inviting you- YOURS!

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