Exodus 20: 1-4, 7-9, 12-20
New Ark United Church of Christ, Newark, DE
October 5, 2014
Earlier this week I received two letters from Andover Newton Theological School, the likes of which I have never seen before, nor am I likely to see again. Martin Copenhaver is the newly-elected president of Andover Newton, and today is his inauguration service. He has written several books on living the life of faith and has been widely published in national periodicals. Formerly he was senior minister at Wellesley Village Congregational Church, the largest congregation in the Massachusetts Conference. To me, it looked like they had hired a rock star.
In his letter to alumni, Rev. Copenhaver confessed to having had an extramarital relationship prior to his candidacy for the office of seminary president. He has asked forgiveness from his family and from the trustees, faculty, staff and students of Andover Newton. The purpose of his letter is to ask forgiveness from the wider seminary community. He writes that he has entered a season of self-examination and repentance that he trusts will make him a better person and a stronger leader. Our God is a God of redemption, and Martin holds to that belief, now even closer.
Accompanying his letter was a letter from the Board of Trustees, who met recently to decide not only the future of Martin Copenhaver’s presidency but of Andover Newton itself. Martin offered to resign, but after a thorough investigation, the trustees voted to pursue a way forward with Martin as president. They felt they owed it to students to provide a model of repentance and reconciliation for their own ministries that includes both accountability and the good news of the gospel. The trustees did not want to even delay the inauguration but rather to give the sign that indeed the seminary and its new, very human, humbled, not-a-rock-star president were moving forward together.
This is what it means to live in covenant, in a mutual relationship, even when trust has been broken. This is what it means to live by the Word, to live by God’s law even when God’s law is disobeyed. The Ten Commandments were intended to be more than a list of shalt not’s or suggestions. The Law of Moses, which shaped the faith and life of Jesus, was not merely an external code but an internal way of being, a sign of God’s love for God’s people.
In Deuteronomy God tells the Israelites that they shall put these words of God, these words of life, in their heart and in their soul. In Jeremiah when God gives a new covenant we read that God will put the law within the people, write it on their hearts, and remember their sin no more. In Jesus that law, that Word, was made flesh, and in him we see that God’s law is love. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. Or for one’s community. And so when we break the bread and drink from the cup, we not only remember Jesus’ life and death, but we also eat and drink that Word that gives life, that Word which is love.
What we eat becomes part of our DNA, makes for healthy cells, strong bones and muscles, flexible minds, and soft hearts. Our spiritual food, what we ingest from God’s table, from God’s Word, does much the same for our souls. We are what we eat. What is the word that you need from this table today?
And sometimes we have to eat our words, like Martin, like the Board of Trustees at Andover Newton. But if those words are founded on loving God first and above all, if they are grounded in accountability but also in the good news of the gospel, those words have the power to transform not only a human life but a whole community.