GOD’S RULES, GOD’S TOOLS
Given Sunday, September 7, 2008 to Parkside Community Church, Sacramento CA
GOOD MORNING! I’d like to spend some time today discussing the rules that God has given us. It makes sense to go to the beginning. In doing so, we can turn to our Jewish brothers. A devout Jew will wear a shawl with 613 knots, the exact number of Laws contained in the first five books of the Old Testament. I’d now like to read each one of those laws.
No, just kidding. But we do need to understand our foundational laws and what they mean to us before we can follow them. A dynamic preacher with strong resources and compelling style could deliver a sermon on this topic that could last for hours and only seem like minutes. Unfortunately, you have me. I shall speak for a few minutes and it may seem like hours, but I promise that we’ll get out of here in time for the picnic. And, yes, that includes Communion.
As Christians at Parkside, we talk about God as a Trinity – Creator, Christ and Holy Spirit. One God, Three Forms. In our conversation today, we will focus on the Creator God, who handed down the laws to Adam and Eve, to Moses, and to those who followed them. As Christians, we may ask why this is important. We are not Jewish and we are not required to follow Jewish law. Except that all Christians have a foundation in Judaism. The Apostle Paul wrote in his second letter to Timothy that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of god may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” We want to remember that although this letter is part of our New Testament, Paul’s reference to Scripture was actually to the Hebrew Bible – what we call the Old Testament. Our Testament had not been collected yet from the writings of the Gospels and the letters from Paul and the others. So our New Testament Paul is telling us to follow the Old Testament writings.
But should we follow all 613 laws? This is where it gets tricky. Because the mission of Christ on earth was to give us God’s word and teach us to follow it. However, Christ’s teachings were not to follow the law precisely but to follow the law as God’s will. And what is God’s will? Well, quite frankly, that is why I come to church and study my Bible and am blessed to have fellowship with all of you – so that I can better learn God’s will. But getting back to the foundation. When we think of God’s laws, our first thoughts most likely go to what we call The Ten Commandments. But God has been telling us what to do from the very beginning, by both word and example.
In the Beginning, God created our world and populated it with plants. God put the stars in the skies and the animals on the earth and on the sixth day, God created humanity. But it’s the seventh day that interests us here. Reading from Genesis 2, we know that “By the seventh day God had finished the work God had been doing; so on the seventh day” – say it with me – “God rested.”
On the eighth day, some may feel God made chocolate, but let’s focus on the Sabbath.
God is clear on the need for Sabbath or, a day of rest. It is one of the few things in the Bible where God tells us to “Do as I do, as well as what I say.” In Deuteronomy 5, we read God’s direction to “Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor the foreigner within your gates, so that your manservant and maidservant may rest, as you do.”
There are two points in this declaration that I have wrestled with. First of all, God is not saying, “Go nuts one day a week – it doesn’t count!” As I understand this, God is telling us that we work hard six days a week and we need a day for rest. As the season approaches, I don’t believe God meant rest as ten hours watching football, though I must confess this is not specifically prohibited in the Bible.
When God tells us to rest, it is for our benefit, so that we may better ourselves. It is to give rest to our family and our servants – human and animal – and to our land. It is a time to spend in quiet contemplation. Which brings up the second point that had troubled me – what are we all doing here? And why are the Pastor, Organist, Choir Director, Sound Technician, and I don’t know how many others working today?
Actually, that part of the question is easy. God tells us to take a Sabbath – a day off after six days work. God did not tell us which day to take; that choice is entirely up to us. Historically, Christians have chosen Sunday as our “church” day. We do this to celebrate the Risen Lord, Jesus the Christ, whose empty tomb was discovered and who came back to us from death on a Sunday. The specific Jewish day of Sabbath has historically been what we call in English “Saturday.” Linguistically, we can find some form of “Sabbath” in the Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Romanian, Polish, Czech and Bulgarian languages and thank you Google.com translations.
For those who choose to work on a Sunday, the “Blue Laws” of the community no longer exist. But our direction is clear – take a sabbatical. Take an intentional day that doesn’t require you to be busier than an average work day. Don’t be so active on your day off that you need a day off to recuperate from your day off. And respect those who choose a sabbatical inconsistent with your own. I say this specifically on behalf of Pastors, of whom some folks believe only work one day a week and even then only for an hour or so. Allow Pastors and others who work a schedule different from you to take their day and, more importantly, allow yourself to take that day. Work hard six days out of the week and develop the habit of taking the Sabbath. Then rejuvenate yourself by spending that time in God’s glory.
I mentioned before the Ten Commandments, as given to us from God through Moses in Exodus and again in Deuteronomy. I would like to tell you that these are God’s Commandments and are not Suggestions, but it goes much deeper than that. In the original Hebrew, language of the Old Testament, the Commandments are known as the “Decalogue.” However, they are not listed as Commandments, but as “the ten statements.” The Ten Statements. Not the fire and brimstone that the word “Commandments” conjures up, is it? We all probably have the vision of Charlton Heston with his two tablets; while lightening and thunder explode around him, emblematic of a fearsome God laying down the law. But let me suggest another picture. Have you ever told someone – maybe a young child who is misbehaving – “don’t do that.” Quietly. Lovingly. Imagine God, in talking with Moses, not with drama, but with quiet love. “Don’t kill. Don’t steal. Don’t lie.”
As you know, I am a learned seminary student. So that you can get the full impact of what I am saying, let me quote the Ten Statements to you from memory. They are (stealthily consult Bible): * Do not have any other gods before me. * Do not make idols to worship * Do not use God’s name improperly * Remember the Sabbath * Honor your Father and Your Mother * Do not murder * Do not commit adultery * Do not steal * Do not lie * Do not covet that which is not yours.
I offer these today not to preach on them specifically but to remind all of us that as obvious as some of these rules seem, we find so many ways to misinterpret them. God tells us not to covet, but in the movie “Wall Street,” Gordon Gecko tells us that “Greed is Good” and Michael Douglas does such a good job with the message that maybe he’s right.
We aren’t suppose to lie, but what if that dress really DOES make her look fat?
We don’t steal, but if I can sneak out of work early, am I going to reimburse the company that part of my wage?
We don’t commit adultery, but how many of us have looked twice at Halle Berry or Antonio Banderas? Even President Jimmy Carter, a man who lives his Christian faith every day, admitted to “committing adultery in my heart many times.”
I offer these merely as examples of how we know the rules and still find ways around them. We have to work harder… I have to work harder at following them more closely. Just as God told the Israelites, so it is true today that we must “Do what is right and good in God’s sight.” God’s rules did not end with the Decalogue. Anyone who has trudged through the books of Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy know this. In our 21st century superiority, we may sniff at Biblical laws that prohibit the mixing of cotton and wool and don’t give a second thought to which animal cloven-footed or chews the cud. And we have advanced beyond Deuteronomy 22, which call out for death to adulterers, yet in some cases not beyond Leviticus 18, which tells men to “not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.” Adultery is punishable by death; homosexuality is “detestable.”
We must understand the times that these laws were handed down, knowing that they were done so for very specific reasons. I am not advocating that each one of us follow all 613 laws, but how do they apply to us as Christians? We find our answer in the teachings of our savior, Jesus the Christ, who told us to ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.” What is interesting to me is that this isn’t original with Jesus. He got it from his Dad, who, way back in Deuteronomy tells us to “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” But that “love your neighbor” part – that’s all ours, right? I’m afraid not. In the Old Testament book of Leviticus we are told to “love your neighbor as yourself.” If you don’t believe me, drive by the B’nai Israel synagogue on Riverside Drive – it’s permanently affixed 20 feet high on the outside of their temple!
So what are we to do? As Christians, we know that the foundation of our belief is in the Old Testament. We’re all in favor of a Sabbath, although maybe the part about working hard the other six days isn’t so swell. We try to follow the Commandments, as best as we can. At least the ones we remember. Loving God is easy because there is no accountability – until it is too late. And we can love our neighbor as long as he keeps his dogs quiet at night or she doesn’t cut me off on the highway. But is there a simpler way to follow God’s law? I offer Micah 6:8b – “And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” This is my path in following Christ. It is my prayer that the lessons God has given us will guide you in finding and following your path.