A New Way to Live Deuteronomy 5:1-21, 6:4-9
Given by Rev. April S. Blaine on Sunday, October 4, 2015
On a rural stretch of road in Vermont, an area frequented by tourists in the fall for its beautiful colors and natural setting, there was a bridge that crossed over the river. It was one of those picturesque, charming bridges, partly because of its older design and partly because of its precise location at a spot in the riverbend complete with flowing rapids, rocky bluffs, surrounded by stunning foliage. Many people would stop for a walk around the area to take in the scenery and snap some pictures. And on one of those beautiful fall days, One of the residents in the area who was out for a walk one day approached the bridge and discovered something alarming. The underside of the bridge - the foundation of the bridge had been badly damaged. Having spent part of his life building bridges, the man knew a thing or two and immediately alerted the authorities of what he had found. But weeks, and months passed. No repair crews were sent. The Bridge still sat there - with a flimsy foundation. The man grew a bit more desperate. He visited the corps of engineers and wrote the state. He shared his story with the newspapers. No response. And as he watched more and more people crossing the bridge as the fall season approached, the man felt he had no choice. He had to alert people of the danger - and so that fall for several weeks - he dressed up as an Angel and climbed atop the bridge with a sign - Bridge UNSAFE. Praying for your Safe passage.
Foundations are important. They lay the groundwork that makes everything above it possible. Smart builders know that if we want to build something that lasts, then we have to start with a foundation that is strong – one that can weather the storms that will inevitably come. And smart builders also know that repairs might be needed as time passes to ensure that the foundation remains secure.
So, we’ve been continuing in this series of re-reading the story of God’s love for all people. We’ve revisited the story of how we were first created in the image of God and made for community. We’ve talked about the early stories in Genesis that reminded us of God’s promise to be with us, even in our suffering and waiting. And last week, we talked about God’s compassion and transformative love for even a person such as Jacob – despite his imperfections, his manipulations – with all of his scars and all – God gave him a new name and included him as a recipient of God’s covenant and promise.
Jacob’s new name was Israel. A name that means Striving with God. And through him, God built the nation that became the foundation for the rest of our story of Scripture, eventually leading us to Jesus Christ.
Striving with God was indeed an appropriate name for it seemed that their story is filled with struggle after struggle. Just a few generations after Jacob’s 12 sons begin to establish the Israelite nation, they become a subjugated people, living in slavery in Egypt for centuries. Through Moses, God finally delivers them and moves them toward the promised land. But the people struggled in the desert, wandering for nearly 40 years. Until, after lots of lots of humbling learning, they finally reach the edge of the Promised Land.
I imagine these 40 years were pretty frustrating for Moses because along the way they really receive all the building blocks for how they are to live. They are given the 10 commandments. They’ve been given strict explanations for how they are to offer sacrifices and how they are to structure worship. They’ve been given all the rules for life that they need – and yet the wandering continued. The learning was very very slow. But here they are – almost there – on the edge of the Promised Land.
Moses has already learned that he won’t be going with them. And so what he wants to pass on to them.
And Moses recognizes how crucial this next stage will be. What and how they build this new nation will have repercussions for generations to come. And so he wants to ensure that the foundation they lay is solid. Is rooted in the very heart of God – the one who has brought them to this place.
And so Moses decides to have a pep talk, a rally of sorts – and he gives this speech – a retelling of their own story
And even though they already know them, Moses tells it to them again – these are the commandments. But then he says what I think his heart really wanted them to know more than anything. The part that I think he had realized that they hadn’t fully understood –
Israel, listen! Our God is the Lord! Only the Lord![a] 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your being, and all your strength. 6 These words that I am commanding you today must always be on your minds. 7 Recite them to your children. Talk about them when you are sitting around your house and when you are out and about, when you are lying down and when you are getting up. 8 Tie them on your hand as a sign. They should be on your forehead as a symbol.[b] 9 Write them on your house’s doorframes and on your city’s gates.
Love the Lord
The ten commandments are central,
But the end goal wasn’t that they would become a rule following people. A rule following nation.
The end goal is that they would be a people whose very lives
are grounded in a foundation of love.
To Love the Lord your God with all your heart and your being and your strength.
The foundation of the commandments is love.
And this call for us to love God, as we’ve seen in all the stories leading up to this is the assurance that
God first loved us. With a kind of extravagant love that brings life out of chaos and darkness. With a love that gives purpose and shares power. With a love that smooths over the wrongs and lifts us out of the muck before we’ve fully realized how very lost we are. The kind of extravagant love that changes us and makes us capable of sharing that love with others. With even loving God in return.
Moses wants them to know – the commandments – they aren’t rigid commands designed to keep us in line.– they are intended to be a response to this Love.
Because then, and only then, could we truly find another way to live.
At the Blaine household this year, we’ve been doing some foundation building in these last year. This Wednesday will be the one year anniversary of the day that Eugene came to live with us forever – and there has been a lot of learning by everyone in this last year.
And you might say that we have a few commandments in our home.
Thou shalt not throw balls in the house.
Thou shalt not scream and yell when trying to converse.
Thou shall eat at least one bite of everything on your plate.
And my personal favorite – thou shalt not use words associated with the bathroom when you are not actually IN the bathroom.
Eugene had to learn a lot about the rules of our home this year and it was important to Martin and I that he understood what was and was not acceptable.
But as is the case with children, just teaching him the rules didn’t necessarily mean that he would follow them. Being consistent with our expectations and doling out the consequences didn’t necessarily help him follow the rules the next time or help him learn how to cope with the issues he faced when he first came to join us.
I have been deeply thankful for our counselor who reminded us on the days when it was really hard – that if we really wanted to see change - that the one thing we had to keep focusing on was showing Eugene that we loved him.
She was, of course, absolutely right. It’s not that surprising that his best days and weeks often follow times where he has been showered and embraced and reminded of how he is loved. Working to build a foundation love – as hard as it is some days. It’s the only thing that is really teaching him how to live differently.
Because getting Eugene to follow the rules isn’t the goal – the goal is to help him find a life of love and meaning and purpose, where he can not only receive love but share it back in all that he does.
And - The rules will help him get there – so long as they are grounded in love.
I think this invitation to ground ourselves in this love for God was actually already built into the commandments themselves. Right in the middle - the longest of the 10 – the fourth commandment. Keep the Sabbath.
Now, we can take this commandment in a very rigid and legalistic sense – and start getting defensive about how we have to work on Sundays and that we have too many responsibilities. And I get it. Particularly the working on Sunday piece. I get it.
But the heart and the invitation behind the command – is just that we set aside some moments where we stop working. Where we let others stop working also. Where we pause long enough to remember that God has brought us this far. Where we rest. And set down our striving.
To be honest, I really think the Sabbath was intended to be this weekly check-in. This weekly reminder, as we like to say at Summit, that we are loved beyond our wildest imaginations. The Sabbath was the day for us to remember that – to remember that our worth and our purpose and our meaning come from the foundation of God’s love for us.
For when the love of God and the love of others is at the foundation of who we are and how we are living, then the rest of the commandments will probably follow in much easier order.
So, on this Sabbath day – I wonder how your foundation is looking – where there might be cracks in the mortar in need of repair?
Have you claimed God’s love for you? Really claimed it? Let it be the foundation of who you are? Let it seep into your very bones – down to your core? Let it guide the framework for how you are living your life?
If you’re like me – the answer is probably yes and no. Parts of my life are guided by love. But parts of my life are guided by the fact that I just want to be in control. I just want people to do what I want them to do. Parts of my life are guided not by love but by fear and a desire to protect myself from others seeing in.
The truth is, I’m a lot like that bridge, it looks good – and it hasn’t collapsed yet, but the foundation could really use some repairs.
When the authorities began to realize that this man had climbed to the top of the bridge, it became a local news sensation. But instead of heeding the warning and finally fixing the bridge, they fined the man for trespassing and ordered his immediate removal.
Building a foundation that is strong isn’t easy to begin with, but maintaining it – keeping up with the repairs – and being willing to do a total overhaul when necessary requires a great deal from us. It’s hard as individuals and its particularly hard as a community, a nation, and a world. To do the kind of systemic repairs – feels just too daunting.
And so we put it off in our personal lives. And we put it off in our country.
And when we hear of another mass shooting in Roseburg, Oregon, our hearts break but we think – what can we do?
And when we hear of the immigrants from Syria drowning in boats just trying to get their families to safety, our hearts break – but we think – what can we do?
And when we think of the mass systems that criminalize our children, disproportionately our black and brown children, creating a pipeline to prison, our hearts break – but we think – what can we do?
The systems are broken at the foundation. How could we possibly repair something that big?
On Thursday night, I watched an exhausted, deflated President Obama speak to the nation about the shootings that happened in Roseburg, Oregon. He appealed to the nation to change the laws that allowed such an event to happen. But underneath what he said was an appeal to love. Love of one another. Love that could supercede self-interest.
Today is World Communion Sunday – a day, above all others, where we are invited to remember what it is that holds us all together. What it is that across the richly diverse world brings us together as Christians. AS the church. And it’s really only one thing.
The foundation is the love of God. The love of God as fully revealed to us in the person of Jesus Christ. The love of God. It is the thing that is the foundation of the big C Church.
And if we were so courageous to start taking a look at the foundation itself – perhaps we’d be able to hear the still small voice of God – the one who has carried us this far – the one who is calling us to repair the broken foundations on which we stand – and stand instead on the rich promise of God’s love for us.