Monday, February 14, 2011

Choose Life!

Today’s Gospel reading is challenging to say the least.
Jesus makes demands on us that seem impossible.
It is not good enough to merely follow the law, what is needed is what comes from the inside of us.
“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’…but I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment.”
These are pretty hard words because all of us have been angry with someone else at some point in our lives.
In fact, I would be willing to say that all of us at some point have been angry with someone in the church at some point.
Someone did not do what we thought they should or in a way we thought we should and it made us upset at them.

What are we to do with Jesus teachings this morning?
They leave no room for us to wiggle out of the demands of the law.
They leave no room for us to feel that somehow we have been able to do the right thing with God.
And maybe that is part of the point.
For if you want to justify yourself using the law you better be careful because it is likely you yourself have broken the law.
There is no boasting before God.

There is something more going on than this for us something that I discovered not in confirmation or even seminary.
It was something I discovered on a youth retreat after I had been in ministry for a couple of years.
There was another pastor giving a presentation to the kids about the Ten Commandments.
Listening to her talk on the Ten Commandments I had a revelation the law is good.
That if we lived our lives according the Ten Commandments everything would be great.
If we treated everyone with respect, if we loved God with our whole hearts then this world would be a great place.

That day what struck me about the Ten Commandments was that they were so practical.
In these ten laws we had all we needed to know about living a good life with each other.
Don’t murder, don’t lie, don’t steal, don’t cheat on your spouse, don’t covet other people’s things, remember God is the most important thing.
These are good things to live our life by, and I guarantee that if we lived this way our lives would be great.
It is exactly like what God tells us today in our reading from Deuteronomy, “ See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live….Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.”
To follow the law is to live a good life.
God gives us the commandments out of love, because God knows humans so well that he gave us a way to live.
Jesus knows this too and Jesus interprets these commandments to mean even more then outward behavior.
Jesus is telling us that the commandments go beyond outward behavior to the heart of who and what we are as God’s people.

Here is the key the commandments are not about a tyrannical ruler making us do things that prohibit freedom and free thought.
God is not some ruthless dictator demanding that we follow rules blindly and then punishing us for not following them.
We have seen in extraordinary fashion recently that people yearn to be free.
First in Tunisia then in Egypt we saw that people will not live under tyrannical rules forever.
That eventually people rebel and resent those in power.
In fact, what happened in Egypt has been brewing for a long time.
Yes, people might have outwardly been doing what was being asked but deep down they yearned for more.
And so the commandments and the demands of a Christian life are not about bowing down to a dictator type of god.

I think the history of the church has proven that people will not simply go along with the program.
When the Church has been about controlling people then it has lost its most powerful and central message.
That God is a God of love, forgiveness, and desires a deep relationship with us.
I am glad that the church is not about doing what the pastor tells us, it is about us together collectively journeying to know God better.

That is what Jesus teachings are about this morning.
It is about a God who wants more for us.
God does not merely want us outwardly to do the right thing, but wants us to feel it in our souls.
God does not merely want us to walk through the motions; God wants us to change in our inner selves our orientation to every part of life.

God does not merely want us to not commit adultery, but wants us to have our spouses be the only target of our affection.
God does not merely wan1t us to come to church and get through it, but wants us to be active in a community of love.
God does not merely want us to swear that we will do what we say, God wants us to do what we will say.
How much better our lives will be when God is in our hearts and minds.
How much better our lives will be when our thoughts are the thoughts of God.
That is how intimately God wants to know us.
That is how intimately God wants us to know God.
God wants to know our inner selves.
In this world we often don’t get beyond what is on the outside with people.
We get to know what they do for work, how many kids they have, what their hobbies are, and where they like to eat dinner.
But we don’t get to know there inner thoughts.
God wants to know us so well that he knows our inner thoughts.
Even more God wants our thoughts to be God’s thoughts because our inner thoughts often lead to our outer action.

For example, I know this congregation that was having a progressive dinner.
One of the parishioners on the way out of someone’s house slipped and fell.
They took this person from their own church to court and sued them for damages.
This is a true story.
You can imagine the damage this did to the fellowship of the people in that congregation.
It made it hard for some people to go to worship.
It made others take up sides.
And it put the pastor in a really awkward position.
What is going on inside of someone when they sue another member of their own congregation?
How can that be the will of God?
The inner life leads us to the outer life.

When I was working in an inner city congregation in Allentown PA, I would go with the pastor to visit to the youth of the congregation.
Most of the kids lived in the projects.
She would tell them you have two choices you can come to church and live or go out on the streets and die.
It was a life and death decision.
God led to life and the streets led to death.
This morning we are confronted with the same choice.
To know God, to love God is to truly live.
To ignore God is to die if not literally then spiritually.
To ignore God is to ignore the inner part of ourselves that yearns for something more.
More than merely filling a role, or following rules, it is about really living.

Yes, God’s law is good.
Knowing God is good, and leads to life.
So today let us choose to know God better and deeper and in doing choose life!

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