Love For God Daily

Deuteronomy 5:1-21;  6:4-6 World Communion Sunday

I want to start today with you speaking to a neighbour. I want you to talk about one specific thing. I imagine most of us here are car or truck drivers. That’s just statistically likely. So, if you’re willing, I’d like you to speak to someone nearby about this question. If you don’t want to that’s ok you can commune with your own thoughts and we’ll get back to you in a moment. I want you to tell one another, what is the main reason you obey the rules of the road when you drive. You notice the assumption there don’t you?  Ok, so you have a couple of minutes and please make sure each person gets a turn: what is the main reason you obey the rules of the road?

Rules are funny things. You may have said that you obey the rules because you don’t want to see those flashing blue lights in your rear view mirror. That’s a motivation, not a reason.  And seriously, deep down, we realize that there is a deeper reason.  The rules of the road are not there just for their own sake.  They aren’t there just because someone said so.  We know that, without the rules, there would be widespread mayhem and death on the roads.  So we follow the laws for the sake of a higher reason than simply fear of punishments

The Ten Commandments properly understood are like that. But we abuse them. We put them on the wall or in various stand-alone situations and say, “obey them.” We read about battles south of the border to erect them in courthouses and other civic buildings.  Just because they should be there.  But that makes them into an idol. Because the unspoken dialogue goes like this. These are rules you have to obey. But why?  Don’t ask questions, just obey. But why?  Well cause God’s gonna getcha if you don’t!  What a mess. Do you remember memorizing these?  I do.  It was before I understood a lot of the words much less the actions they were forbidding!   But we do that painfully often in Christianity. We say you have to do this or you have to not do that or you have to believe the other. When someone asks why the best we manage to answer is  “because we tell you to.”

In a different time and a different setting that approach might have worked. But it doesn’t have much clout today when folk  can just walk away.   So let’s back up for a moment and ask the original why question — and see where it takes us. 

Imagine that you are part of a group of Hebrew people wandering in the desert and you have experienced the wonders that God has done – freeing you from slavery, parting the sea, providing manna and water.  You really want to believe in this God and you wonder how to do it.  So Moses says to you: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:5).  You reply, “well that’s nice.  It sounds good.  But how the heck am I supposed to do it?”  I mean, I really want to, I think it’s a great idea, but how do I go about it in meaningful terms in my daily life?

So Moses tells you the Ten Commandments and you say: “Well, thanks very much.  It’s a great deal clearer.  Maybe a lot tougher than when it was just vague nice feelings.  But it’s clearer for sure.”  Because it is: you now have a way to take that big thing: “Love the Lord your God” and make it into parts that are manageable and doable daily.  But, as we observed a few moments ago, we often start with the rules not the why.  We start with the rules, do this, don’t do that and if anyone asks why we drop the hammer of punishment on them rather than the invitation of love.

We sometimes do that with the Christian life too.  So much emphasis seems to get placed on grim duty and foregoing enjoyment.  How attractive is that?  Or the emphasis gets placed on being afraid of God.  Or the emphasis gets put on ticking off the boxes on the list so that you know you’re in.  Did that,tick.  Did that, tick.  Didn’t do that, whew.  And then we look down our noses at people around us who have a shorter list.  Seriously, what kind of an attractive life is that?

The core of the religious law of Israel is: “You shall love the Lord God with all your being.”  When Jesus was asked about this he added to it: “and your neighbour as yourself.”  The commandments give us the “how to” of that core.

Most of us enjoy going out for a meal now and then.  But how many of us go to our favourite restaurant because we enjoy the quality of the printing on the menu?  No, we go to be nourished by the quality of the food and the company of those we are with.  If that didn’t happen, we wouldn’t keep going back to that restaurant out of grim duty would we?  Think of the church as a restaurant.  If this is not a place where you are being nourished; if this is not a place where you’d bring your friends – then we have a problem.  Notice, please, I said we have a problem.  Of course the image doesn’t hold forever.  This isn’t a restaurant and our relationship is not a commercial transaction where the church sells and you buy.  This is a family.  This is a body.  Together we celebrate the good and we take responsibility for the not so.  So that if something is not feeding you then you not only need to tell the chef but you need to give some thought to what  would work better.  

Listen again: Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. 5You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. 6Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart.  That’s not something to pray lightly.  To be genuine it requires the commitment of the whole person.  The late Trappist monk Thomas Merton once wrote: “In order to love you have to climb out of the cradle, where everything is ‘getting’ and grow up to the maturity of giving, without concern for getting anything special in return.” (Merton, Love and Living). Love is not about making a deal, it is a sacrifice. Love is not something that is packaged to be marketed. It is a form of worship. The people in the book of Deuteronomy, amidst their hardships and every day struggles, understood this, yet putting it into practice was a whole lot more complex.  It requires some specific actions: honour the sabbath, honour your father and mother, don’t do a bunch of things which wound your neighbour and break down the community.  Remember this commitment in your daily life: when you are driving or when you are at work and with family; when you exercise your right to vote.  Remember this commitment in specific actions: when you baptize a child, when you break bread and pour the cup.  These are not just quaint rituals we go through.  When we gather at this table we remember that, for all our faults and failings (and mine are legion), we are part of a particular community.  When we do these things and avoid doing those things, it’s not because we’re afraid of being punished.  It’s because we are part of a particular group, defined not by race or language or culture or wealth or education or orientation or gender or politics – but by love.  Hear.  Hear and understand who you are.  You are the people who love the Lord your God with all you heart, soul and strength and your neighbour as yourself.  That’s who you are.  Let those with ears hear the Spirit’s Word to the Church.  Amen