“COMMANDMENT EIGHT”

EXODUS 20:15; MALACHI 3:8-12

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            Just about everyone has been touched by theft, and our nation loses billions of dollars every year due to the theft of goods and services.  Let’s just focus on one aspect of theft: shoplifting.  According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, four million people are caught shoplifting every year, but for every one caught, thirty-five others get away with it.  This means that there are over 140 million incidents of shoplifting every year in the United States!  What’s really tragic is that only ten-percent of all shoplifters come from low incomes.  Seventy-percent are middle class and twenty-percent are classified as wealthy.

            In this regard maybe you heard about the wealthy man who was also a kleptomaniac.  He was traveling, in a first-class hotel, and called his psychiatrist in the middle of the the night.  He told his psychiatrist that he was fighting the urge to take something from his hotel room.

             The psychiatrist said to him, “Well, take two ash trays and call me in the morning!”

            This morning we turn our attention to the eighth commandment:  You shall not steal.  The bible makes it clear that there are two God-approved ways of acquiring possessions: first, work and second, through gifts.  Some folk, unfortunately, have adopted a third way of acquiring possessions: taking what belongs to someone else.

            Have you ever had that happen to you?  I did.  When I was in college, I was at Huntington Beach, California, and when I returned to my car after a day of sun and surf, the car stereo, a state-of-the-art eight track tape player, purchased at Sears was stolen. 

            If you have ever had anything stolen from you, you know the sick feeling you get in your stomach when you discover the theft.  You feel violated, hurt, confused.  You think, “Who would do such a thing?  Those feelings may explain a sign a saw a number of years ago.  I bet this family had something stolen from them, or they had a friend who had something stolen from them, because the sign on the gate leading into their yard read, “This property is protected by a pit bull with AIDS.”   Now, I don’t even know if dogs can get AIDS, but I do know the sick feeling in the pit of one’s stomach when you have something stolen from you.  You feel angry, hurt, violated, and you become very cautious and extremely protective.

            Now, why do we get this sick feeling?  A couple of reasons come to mind.  First, things are probably more important to us than we would like to believe and when someone steals something from us, we have to face up to that.  It goes deeper than that, however.  It’s not just that we like things too much.  It’s not that we are overly materialistic, it’s that we sense a profoundly ominous invasion of our right to exist.  We get this sick feeling in our stomach because if they take what is in our hand today, will they take what is in our hand tomorrow?

            My mind goes back to the movie Dr. Zhivago.  I first saw it in high school during my BT years, my “Before Trudy” years.  I saw it with Carol Reed.  Carol was a cheerleader and I wanted to make a good impression on our date, so I took her to see Dr. Zhivago at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood, California.  That was our only date.  We didn’t click.  Actually, I clicked.  I thought she was great, but the feeling was not mutual, but it was not a total loss because I got to see a great movie.

            And if you saw Dr. Zhivago you may remember that it was about the effect the Communist Revolution had on the lives of certain Russian people, particularly Yuri Andriavich, A.K.A, Dr. Zhivago.  He’s on the Russian front during the First World War.  He’s a doctor.  He’s a wealthy young man from an affluent family, and he comes back to Moscow from the front, and he has a beautiful home on a street overlooking Red Square, and when he returns home he enters his home only to be met by a Communist Committee.  Committees are bad enough, but this is a Communist committee, and the committee is made up of young revolutionaries who have taken over his house.  They have liberated the house for the Communist Party, and when Yuri enters his home, the young revolutionaries ask him, “This house belongs to the people.  Rich people should not have a big house like this.  Don’t you agree?”

            And Yuri Andriavich is a very moral man, and he’s trying his best to get with the revolution, and he scratches his head - by the way, Omar Shariff played Yuri Andriavich, Dr. Zhivago - and Yuri scratches his head and says, “Yes, I suppose that’s right.  A rich person should not have such a big house,” and he nods, and the committee says, “We have taken over the house and you will see your rooms are upstairs.”  So he goes up the stairs and finds three rooms left for his family.  Then, over time, the committee comes and takes one of those three rooms away, and Yuri and his family are left with two rooms.  Then they come again and take another room away, and he’s left with one room, and then finally, at the end they evict Yuri and his family from the house entirely.

            You see, Boris Pasternak, the author of the book upon which the movie was based, saw through the facade, the grand myth, of the Russian Revolution.  He saw through all the rhetoric about the love of the people.  He saw that something was not right, that there was something that went against the intuitive feeling of the soul.  He saw that this love for humanity also needed to include respect for individual persons and their possessions, and that what was missing in the Russian Revolution.  And that is one of the reasons why Eastern Europe abandoned the ideology of Lenin and Stalin.  It was founded on a fallacy.  All the rhetoric about the love of the people, and the people found it hollow because it was lacking respect for individual people like Yuri Andriavich.

            So, God gives us the eighth commandment in order to make us feel safe at a very deep level, because there are certain things that are ours, and if someone tampers with them, we feel violated and threatened because if they take something from us today, what will they take from us tomorrow?

            So this commandment protects us from people who would want to take our possessions.  They are told, “This is not right,” but what about us?  I don’t want anyone to raise a hand, but be honest.  How many of us would admit that at sometime in our lives, probably in the distant past when we were mere youth, mere children, we took something?  Maybe it was a piece of candy or an apple from a neighbor’s orchard, or a grape from the produce section?  Well, this morning, just to make sure we do not inadvertently break this commandment, I want to look at three main categories of it.

            The first category is seizure or out and out theft.  But you probably are thinking, I know I would be thinking this, “I’m not like this.  Maybe I took something as a kid, but I’m no thief.  I would never seize another’s possessions.  Let’s move on to the next commandment.”

            But folks, there are subtler shades of seizure that can seem almost innocent on the surface, but in reality they fit neatly within this category of theft.  For example, what about employees who help themselves to company supplies without permission?  Have we ever helped ourselves to staplers, paper, pencils, pens, notebooks, gasoline, food, postage?  Employee theft costs companies billions of dollars every year, somewhere in the neighborhood of $120 billion.   According to USA Today, forty-eight percent of all American workers took something from an employer last year.   In a similar vein, several retailers say they lose more merchandise through employee theft than public theft.  What does all that tell us?  It tells us many people today have gotten comfortable with helping themselves to what is not rightfully theirs. Maybe they rationalize it by saying to themselves, “It’s just a little here and there.  It’s no big deal.  No one will miss it!”  But it is a big deal.

            Then there is a second category of stealing which is deception, and some people do it and don’t even think it’s wrong.  For example, a salesperson saying “You need this insurance policy” when we really don’t or a doctor saying you need this procedure or test, when we really don’t.  Or an air conditioning repair person saying, “I hate to say this, but your compressor is shot.  You need another unit.  How many kids do you have?  Two?  Three?  Oh, and your wife’s pregnant!  Well, it looks like you are in for an uncomfortable summer.  I imagine the kids and the wife will be pretty testy by the end of the summer without air conditioning.”

            Have we ever done that?  Have we ever stolen anything through deception?  I have, and I still feel bad about it.  The first car I owned was a navy blue Volkswagen Beetle, and after I had it for years the electrical system was giving me fits.  It wouldn’t always start.  Something was wrong with the ignition and I put it up for sale and every time someone came over to test drive it I would hope it started.  I finally sold the car, spotty electrical system and all to a young, female college student.  She came over, it started, she test drove it, and bought it, and I held my breath hoping it would start again when she drove away with it, and it did, and at the time I was so glad to be rid of that car because I no longer had to deal with the electrical system.  Now it was her problem, not mine. 

            You know, I might as well have broken into her home and stolen $200 from her purse, because that’s how much I knew it would cost to fix the problem.  I deceived her. I stole from her.  I’m not proud of that, but I did it.

            Then there is a third category of stealing.  Let’s call it “unrighteous withholdings.  I have a friend.  He’s a civil engineer, and it’s a constant business battle for him.  He sometimes has cash flow problems because his clients don’t pay when they said they would.  They withhold payments and Randy has to scramble to cover the money owed to him. 

            What they are doing is stealing, plain and simple.  These clients of his are stealing the use of his money, his working capital.  Or maybe we purchased something online, and did not pay tax on that purchase.  According to Nebraska law we are supposed to keep track of those online purchases and file a return on them each year and pay sales tax to the state and city, but few of us do, thus breaking the eighth commandment.

            Of course, where most of us get into trouble with this commandment is with God.  To refresh your memory turn with me to the third chapter of Malachi.  Do you have that in front of you?  Look with me at verse 8.  God is speaking and God says,

 

            Will anyone rob God?  Yet you are robbing me!  But you say, “How are we robbing you?”  In your tithes and offerings!  You are cursed with a curse for you are robbing me - the whole nation of you!  Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the Lord; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing.

 

            We are not the first ones to do this.  Over the centuries countless numbers of Christians have taken the first tenth of our income that belongs to God and we have spent it on ourselves.  We have taken a portion of the ten percent that God calls us to give to his purposes and bought toys and trinkets and houses and cars and clothes and vacations.  You know, we feel bad when a stranger steals from us, but can you imagine how God feels when God’s own children steal from him?

            As we close today, let me suggest we do something very important this week.  First, let’s figure out what percentage of our income goes to the cause of Christ.  Second, if it is less than the tithe, if it is less than ten percent, let’s ask ourselves, “Why aren’t we doing what God is asking us to do?”  Third, let’s promise to become tithers, and take a step toward that in the months ahead.  Of course, because of bad choices or failed businesses or lost jobs, some of us may have to go slowly with this.  We may have to increase a percentage or two each year until we become tithers, but let’s all work toward no longer stealing from God.

            Let’s close with this.   A pastor said he had to visit a church member at the hospital.  The church member asked him what the person was having done.  The pastor replied, "Oh, she’s just having her tithe removed."