Wisdom for the WayPosted: October 5, 2014
Wisdom for the Way
SLIDE 3: MANY LAW CODES
God blessed the people of Israel with commandments, rules, a way of life, that would bestow a blessing – wisdom for the way. Many of the Ten Commandments were included in other law codes of the ancient Middle East like the Code of Hammurabi. This morning I want to draw special attention to three of the commandments of Moses that place this set of laws apart from others and offer us wisdom for our way.
SLIDE 4: SOMETHING LARGER THAN OURSELVES
The first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me,” does not specifically deny the existence of other gods. There may be other gods, but the children of Israel were forbidden from worshipping those other deities. In our modern culture the most common form of idolatry is the worship of self – the me generation. I hope our incessant focus on self is changing. The First Commandment reminds us there is something larger than ourselves. Indeed we are but a small part of creation.
SLIDE 5: WHEN WE LOOK AT THE HEAVENS
When we gaze out beyond our solar system, our galaxy, we can observe billions of other galaxies, and we can know we are but a speck of dust on the scales of the Universe. (All the same it is our speck of dust.) And when we think about our lives the length of our years are not even a moment on the grand scale of the timeline of the Universe. And so in truth the Psalmist speaks: O Lord our God how majestic is your creation. When we look at your heavens, the works of your creation the moon and the stars who are we that you even notice us or care for us?”
SLIDE 6: AWE, WONDER, HUMILITY
The First Commandment reminds us that God is God and we are not, and our most authentic response to the miracle of creation is awe, wonder, and humility. On the vast scale of the Universe we are nothing. That reminds me since we are in the season of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the story about the Rabbi, the Cantor and the Janitor. The Rabbi just before Yom Kippur went into the sanctuary stood before the Ark of the Covenant, and he beat his breast saying, “O Lord, King of the Universe, I am nothing, I am nothing, I am nothing.”
The Cantor came into the sanctuary to arrange some music and when he saw the Rabbi, he too stepped up to the Ark praying, “O Lord, King of the Universe, I am nothing, I am nothing, I am nothing.”
Along came the janitor dusting the pews for Yom Kippur, and when he saw the Rabbi and the Cantor, he stopped what he was doing and began to pray, “O Lord, King of the Universe, I am nothing, I am nothing, I am nothing.”
When the Rabbi heard the janitor, he turned to the Cantor and said, “Look who thinks he is nothing.”
SLIDE 7: HEAR O ISRAEL THE LORD IS ONE
Even when we try to be humble, maybe perhaps when we are trying to be humble, we slip into our most egocentric selves. You shall have no other god but God – hear O Israel the Lord is one, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.
SLIDE 8: SABBATH
The second commandment I want to focus upon today is to keep the Sabbath. Sabbath keeping has gone out of style. The Blue Laws were an unenforceable nuisance. We cannot legislate Sabbath keeping, but in a world that is perpetually in motion 24/7, our humanity is compromised by not taking time for adequate rest. Jesus was right, the Sabbath was made for human beings not human beings for the Sabbath and we need rest and renewal on a regular basis. The Romans thought the Jews were crazy for taking a day off every week. How lazy they thought. But that one day in seven can be the difference between health and stress induced illness. We are working and running ourselves to death. The old hymn, “Take time to be holy speak often with the Lord,” should probably be rewritten, Take time to be human,” pause, pray, acknowledge our place in the Universe and we will have life and health in abundance.
SLIDE 9: NO FAMILY TIME
In our culture we talk about the lack of family time, but then we schedule up our weekends so there is no family time. Worship and Sunday school now compete with a whole host of activities, youth soccer, football, baseball, band trips, shopping, and work. One of my favorite prayers of confession summarizes well:
From slavery to schedules, lists, and deadlines, from the tyranny
of cell phones and the rule of wristwatches, from bondage to busyness, to all things that simply must be done before we stop to think or feel or care. Good Lord, deliver us and make us free to be human.
SLIDE 10: SABBATH IS ABOUT LIVING FULLY AND HEALTHILY
The Sabbath is about being human. God does not need us to be god, despite what we seem to think, God wants us to be human, fully human to enjoy the beauty and wonder of creation. Keeping Sabbath is about living fully and healthily.
SLIDE 11: ALL OF THE COMMANDMENTS ARE LINKED
In a sense all of the commandments are linked. Like a story I saw this week:
Henry, who was older and becoming quite forgetful, was unhappy because he had lost his favorite hat. Instead of buying a new one, however, he decided he would go to church and steal one out of the entrance porch when the worshippers were busy praying.
When Henry arrived at the church an usher intercepted him at the door and took him to a pew where he had to sit and listen to the entire sermon on “The Ten Commandments.”
After the service, Henry met the preacher in the vestibule doorway, shook his hand vigorously, and told him, “I want to thank you Reverend for saving my soul today. I came to church to steal a hat and after hearing your sermon on the 10 Commandments, I decided against it.”
The preacher answered, “You mean the commandment, ‘Thou shall not steal,’ changed your mind?”
“No,” retorted Henry, “the one about adultery did. As soon as you said that, I remembered where I had left my hat.”
SLIDE 12: COVETING
The final commandment I want to focus upon is about coveting. Coveting is a desire and yearning of the heart for something possessed by another. Now wanting what someone else has is not evil in itself. If I like someone else’s car so much I want one myself, and if I am willing to work and make the sacrifices necessary to purchase that car, no problem, no foul. But when my desire for something motivates me to resent my neighbor, then that resentment begins to wear away at the fabric of community. Especially when the thing my neighbor possesses is not a physical item but a talent, or a spiritual gift, or a relationship. If I cannot carry a tune in a bucket and I choose to resent my neighbor, because he has an excellent voice, then I have brought myself to a spiritual dead end. Coveting is about maintaining community. Coveting is sort of a silent sin against one’s neighbor.
SLIDE 13: BE CONTENT
Larry Kushner in his book Eyes Remade for Wonder also helps us to see that coveting is a sin against ourselves:
If you are content with your portion, you will want nothing and you will lack nothing. . . It does not mean that you will not . . . change and grow; it means only that at this moment, in this place you are all that you can be. . . Through fulfilling the prohibition against coveting, we have at the same time “heard” the first utterance (of the first commandment) in a new way. To utter the “I am” is to want nothing else, and strange though it sounds, to want nothing else is the necessary prerequisite for all genuine growth. . . . Growth begins with self-acceptance; change begins with not trying to change. . . .
SLIDE 14: FREE TO DISCOVER WHO WE MIGHT BECOME
. . . Thus the goal of all therapy is self-discovery, not the discovery of another self but one’s true self. Beneath all the layers of wanting to be different . . . . is a self. This self is a living dynamic force within everyone. And if you could remain still long enough here, now, in this very place, you would discover who you are. And by discovering who you are, you would at last be free to discover who you yet also might become.
SLIDE 15: GOD LOVES US JUST AS WE ARE
Who we might yet become? God loves us just as we are, and God loves us so much God wants to lure us toward the person we might yet become. God wants us to fly. But the pre-requisite for that change and growth is our acceptance of ourselves. Only then can we find that stillness within, that peace and silence that leads to connection with the divine. The wisdom for the way begins with God and comes round to us.