Choose LifePosted: February 16, 2014
MOSES SAYS FAREWELL
We cannot emphasize enough the drama of our scripture. Moses an old man, who had led the people of Israel out of slavery and bondage in Egypt, parted the waters of the Red Sea, and led them to Mt. Sinai, where they received the Ten Commandments. Moses had served as their leader through forty years of wandering in the wilderness, and now Moses was saying goodbye. He was not allowed to cross the River Jordan into the Promised Land. Like many other leaders he was not allowed to enjoy the end goal, merely glimpse it from afar. So he gathered the people at the foot of Mt. Nebo and he gave them a final admonition — remain faithful to Yaweh and choose life!
PROBLEMS WITH IDOLATRY
From the top of Mt. Nebo Moses could look over into the Land of Canaan, and with that startling insight that comes, when people are near death, he could see the future of his people. Looking down the long road that would lead to the formation of the people of Israel, he could foresee the struggles of his people with idolatry – our human desire to worship ourselves.
Dr. Robert Moore claims that the primary mental health disorder of our modern age is narcissism. We are the me, myself and I culture – replacing God with self. Our idolatry also extends to adoring everything else in the world other than our creator, the One who transcends all of our material desires. Moses could see our struggle with our obsession with our sexuality, our stuff, our wealth, our power, our fragile but infinitely expansive egos. Our desire to replace God with self at the center of our lives leads to a culture of death. And Moses said to his people: “Keep the law and choose life! Choose life!”
LOVE GOD, LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF
Jesus came to fulfill the law of Moses and when asked what a person should do to inherit eternal life he turned to Deuteronomy 6:4-5 the Shema: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD; and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” And then for good measure Jesus added Leviticus 19:18: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Upon these two admonitions,” Jesus continued, “hang all of the law and the prophets.”
WE ARE ALL PRECIOUS MUCH BELOVED CHILDREN OF GOD
Make the love of God first in your life, and then love yourself and your neighbor. Understand that we are all precious much beloved children of God. We should take care of ourselves. And all of our neighbors no matter how problematic they may be are also precious much beloved children of God deserving of love and care.
ST. AUGUSTINE AND DISORDERED LOVE
St. Augustine taught that sin is the result of disordered love. Love of God is first, then love yourself, then love your neighbor and finally love the world God created. So it is O.K. to love my new car. It is a nice car, it gets me where I need to go, and I can give other people rides in my car. And so long as I treat my car as a tool given to me by God for a purpose, it’s O.K. to love my car. How many of you have cars you love?
RED CHEVROLET CORVETTE
Well let me share with you a story told by Bill Muehl who taught preaching at Yale Divinity School. It was the early 1950’s and Bill and his wife had started a family, and they went looking for a new car to accommodate their growing number of children. They had in mind a grey station wagon an economical solution to the transportation needs of a growing family and projected cross country camping trips.
They had just about settled on a car, when out of the corner of his eye Bill noticed there on the show room floor beneath lights that seemed to call his name, a fire engine red, sporty, Chevrolet Corvette, the fulfillment of every Detroit boy’s dream. Instantly, Bill felt drawn to that red low slung bomb of a car. He walked over and stroked its gleaming finish, and then he sighed knowing how utterly impractical and outrageously expensive was the Corvette. But then his wife, bless her soul, came, took him by the arm and said, “If you really want it, let’s get it.” She had recently come into a small inheritance that was enough to purchase the car.
Bill was ecstatic with joy. He loved the car. When he drove to conferences young men would gather round and admire the Corvette and remark how cool it was, and it belonged to a preacher!
GRACE OF A GREAT JOY
There was just one small fly in the ointment of Bill’s joy, whenever he reflected on how he had spent such a large sum of money on this two seater sports car, while he was cramming his family into an older unreliable sedan. And then he would wonder how many starving children could have been fed with the money he had spent on the Corvette!
At a meeting of chaplains he shared his misgivings about the car. One perceptive chaplain asked: “Bill have you never heard of the grace of a great joy?” Bill confessed that he had not. Then this chaplain explained: “Allowing oneself a harmless but cherished fulfillment and pleasure can be a form of God’s grace. It can lift one’s spirit and make one able and willing to accept the inevitable sacrifices that God may ask of one later on. This chaplain concluded: “Stop tormenting yourself and accept the grace of this great joy!”
Well, that is just what Bill was ready to hear. Thereafter he was able to enjoy his Corvette with enthusiasm! Right up until the moment when he drove the Corvette into the dealership and traded it in on that grey station wagon. Only when he had been able to enjoy his gift with abandon was he able to give it up. Only when he had fully exercised his love for the car was he able to hear the voice of prudence and set his priorities straight.
BY GRACE WE ARE SAVED
Have you ever experienced the grace of a great joy? Now surely this concept can be abused to justify all kinds of self-indulgent behavior. We can probably even grace our way into addiction. But sometimes only when we allow ourselves to be free to enjoy something with abandon, can we be liberated to give it up. And we have to remember we are not saved by trying as hard as we can, not by denying ourselves, or punishing ourselves, or guilting ourselves, no we are saved by grace. As Paul said: “For by grace we have been saved through faith; and this is not our own doing, it is the gift of God.”
GRACE IS LIKE GRITS
Scott Peck the author of the Road Less Traveled once wrote that grace is like grits. Then he told this story. A businessman from the North was making his first trip into the South, and he went to a restaurant and ordered breakfast. When the waitress brought his plate, he looked down and saw this funny looking white blob next to the eggs. And so he asked the waitress with obvious irritability, “what this?”
The waitress smiled and replied, “why thems grits.”
“Well, I don’t remember ordering any grits,” the businessman replied querulously.
THEY JUST COMES
“Sugar, you don’t order grits,” replied the waitress, “they just comes.”
GRACE JUST COMES
We don’t order grace it just comes unbidden like God. Bidden or unbidden God is in this place. Now like the businessman who was free to eat his grits or not, you and I are free to receive the gifts of grace God offers or not. We can say, “yes,” to life. We can say, “yes,” to love, and awe, and wonder, and mystery, and miracle. Like waking up to four inches of snow in Huntsville. For all of these things mediate grace to us. We just have to be open and receptive.
There are a few things we can do to cultivate openness and receptivity to the divine. The first is the practice of silence. When Henri Nowen, the great writer and professor of practical theology met with Mother Theresa, she told him never do anything you consciously know is wrong and spend a hour a day in silence. We live in a terribly hectic world full of business and noise. We can become so distracted we cannot listen, we cannot sit quietly, so God might become known to us. Be still and know that I am God. Silence is a pathway to God.
Prayer is the intention to become open to something larger than ourselves. Prayer is part of focusing on something other than ourselves, setting aside our narcissism long enough to be aware of and open to the universe beyond self. A multitude of prayer practices abound. We need to seek the forms of prayer that help us most to move beyond our self-centered egos to connect with that larger reality that is beyond ourselves.
Practice gratitude. Wake up with a thank you on your lips. Count your blessings while you get ready for school, or work or play. When you lie down to go to sleep, review your day, looking for all of the little God moments, thanking God for each hint, each whisper of divine grace.
Finally cultivate a generous spirit. Generosity of spirit includes charitable giving, don’t forget that, but it goes far beyond material philanthropy to extending love and forgiveness to others whether they deserve it or not. A generous spirit is less concerned about the rules, and whether or not other people measure up to our expectations and instead cuts other people some slack. A generous spirit is one of the principle virtues of what in Hebrew is called a tsaddik a righteous one. The righteous engage in deeds of giving, deeds of making themselves less in order to make others more. People who have a generous spirit make themselves smaller, so others might grow. This is sometimes called spiritual hospitality.
Grace, become open. Spend time in silence. Pray. Practice Gratitude. Cultivate generosity of spirit. Let the grace of God work miracles within you and choose life.