Current Live Weather

Sunday, August 28, 2016

WE NEED GOD to Keep Our Sanity

A Sermon based upon Exodus 20:8-11; Deuteronomy 5:12- 15; Mark 2: 23- 3: 6

By Rev. Charles J. Tomlin, D.Min.
Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership
Year C: Proper 17, 15th Sunday After Pentecost, August 28th, 2016

During my college years, one summer I worked at a Furniture Factory to make some extra money.  There was one fellow I worked with who never seemed to be putting much effort into his job.  So, one day I got on to him.
"Let's get moving, so that we can get caught up for the day," I suggested.
"I'm sorry, but today's Friday and on Friday I'm Muslim and it's a day of rest,"
        he said.
"Well, what were you last Saturday when we were all required to work over time?  You didn=t work very hard then either?"
"Last week I was a Jewish.  It was the Sabbath Day?"
"What will you be Sunday?"  I asked.
"On Sunday I'll be Methodist."
"And on Monday?"
"Then I'll be called to the Baptist ministry, Baptist preachers take that day off."
"O.K., I think I'm beginning to understand," I told him.  "But what about Monday through Thursday?  What are you then? 
He answered, "On those day's I'm so tired of being everybody else, I'm not worth much!"

That man's comical flexibility with Sabbath reminds us that the meaning of this fourth commandment can get tricky.  When I was a missionary in Germany, living in a predominately atheistic city, we only had seven active Christian groups in a city of fifty-one thousand.  We had two Lutheran churches, one Catholic, one Apostolic, one Mormon, one Baptist, and one Seventh-day Adventist.  Interestingly, the church that was geographically and practically closest to our Baptist church in worship style was the Seven-day Adventist church.  Since Adventists are historically linked to Baptists in America, their worship is more like us even the German Baptist church, whose style felt more Lutheran.  

Since we had so much in common, the Seveneth-Day Adventist’s Church often had prayer meetings together with us, and we sometimes used their baptistery, as we didn’t have one.  But in spite of our similarities, the one major visible difference between our two Christian fellowships was the day we worshiped---they worshiped on Saturday, the seventh day of the week, while we worshiped on Sunday, the first day of the week.  Although they would never have told us to our faces, their doctrine considered all who were not seventh day Baptists, being unfaithful to God's law, which says, "Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy." 

Which day are we supposed to keep holy?  Saturday, which is the Sabbath, or Sunday, which is the Lord's day?  For people who take the Bible literally, this becomes a problem.  In the secular world today,  most don't honor Sabbath at all, or at least not as we used to.  What should we do, if anything, to 'remember the Sabbath' today?

The gospel text from Mark reminds us of a very ‘strange thing’ that happened on the way from Moses to Jesus.  On a particular Sabbath, Jesus was walking through some grainfields with his disciples.  As was customary in those days, since there was no McDonald's, no Motel Six, nor 7-11 convenience stores, traveling people were allowed to glean grain and fruits from the edges of farmer's fields.  But when the Pharisees saw Jesus and his disciples plucking grain on the Sabbath, they found them guilty of breaking God's Sabbath law, which said: " Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work-- you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns (Exod. 20:9-10 NRS).

So, was Jesus a Sabbath breaker?  Clearly he didn’t keep the Sabbath the same way the law was interpreted in his day.  Though we don’t have Sabbath laws today,  there was a time when Sunday was considered our Christian ‘sabbath’.  As a child I was taught that Sundays was our “Sabbath” day for worship, rest, relaxation and visiting relatives.  Everything about Sunday was different.  We went to church.  We drove to see relatives.  Cousins got together to play while the adults visited.  Since no department stores were opened on Sunday, we never thought about shopping, or going to the store.  But there were exceptions, if, while on the road, we could stop and eat at one of those "Jiff Burger" spots, or if we went out for ice cream at the dairy bar after Sunday night worship, no one ever considered anyone breaking the Sabbath.  Also, we junior Sunday School boys already had our own list of jobs that were allowed on Sunday: Firemen, Policemen, Hospital and Emergency workers, Food Service, Service Stations, and of course, Preachers.  These jobs were allowed, but all others were considered to be "Sabbath breakers."

The Pharisees had their lists of "Sabbath breaking" too.  Since the Jews had been scolded by their prophets for unfaithfulness to God's law, which they said brought God's judgment upon them, causing them to lose their land, they came to believe that by being strictly faithful to God's law again, the land would one day be restored.  The Pharisees saw it as their job to make sure everyone took the law seriously and followed it, down to the letter.    By Jesus' time, the Pharisees had come up with 1,521 things that a person could not do on the Sabbath.  The Jerusalem Talmud had 64 pages and the Babylonian Talmud 156 double pages of specific rules dealing with the Sabbath.  Some of them took on the quality of the absurd.   For instance, a person with a toothache couldn't gargle with vinegar but could use a toothbrush dipped in vinegar;  a radish could be dipped in salt, but not left too long in the salt, lest it began to pickle.  Pickling was considered work making pickles on the Sabbath.  

Since Jesus did feel the need to obey all these silly, Sabbath rules; and because he allowed his disciples to glean and pluck grain on the Sabbath, he was named a Sabbath-breaker.  But of course, Jesus did not see himself as a Sabbath Breaker because he had a very different view of what it meant to keep Sabbath.  Jesus excused himself and his disciples by making a reference to how, out of necessity, David once ate the communion bread as a meal.  That bread was considered holy just as the Sabbath day was, but David, along with his soldiers, ate the consecrated bread anyway, because they were in need of nourishment.  Making this illustration from the life of David, Jesus makes a climatic, revealing, but radical point: "The Sabbath was made to benefit people, not people to benefit the Sabbath" (Mark 2:2:27)
So what is the big deal here?  What is the human benefit to keeping the Sabbath which Jesus was referring to?  To answer this, we need to understand two most important texts concerning ‘Sabbath’ found in the Old Testament. The first one we find in Exodus 20: 8-11.   

REST:  If amount of attention given to the fourth commandment among the others means anything, this is the most important commandment of all.  With the most lines given to any commandment, God instructs Moses to tell the people that they must "remember", "observe", and "keep" the Sabbath day "holy" because everything and everyone needs ‘REST’.  Even God himself, after he took six days to create the world, rested on the seventh.  If God is not a workaholic, as O.T. scholar Walter Bruggeman has suggested, then neither should we.  We must honor the Sabbath because we all need to have time to rest and re-create ourselves.

What Sabbath does, by inserting the rhythm of rest into our lives, is give us an entirely different perspective of work, life and time.  God blesses work.  We need to work.  It is a large part of our life to have meaningful, beneficial, and constructive work.  It's hard to be human, without a good job we work at.   But just as important as work itself, is to know how to stop working and have a time reflect and rest.  Rest is built into the cycle of life.  If the human body does not have a time to rebuild and refresh itself physically, socially and spiritually, we are not following the owner's manual and are putting our own lives at risk.   

In France, shortly after the French Revolution, it is said that some Frenchmen became defiant and decided to come up with their own Sabbath day rhythm.  Instead of resting every seven days, they decided to try it every ten days.  It is said that these guys became so stressed out they had to immediately revert back to the seven day cycle, as originally designed.
The Sabbath is a day that is FOR US, not against us.  According to economist Juliet Schor, the average worker added 164 hours, an extra month of work, to the work year between 1968 and 1988.  We spend more, we make more and we work more, but we have less time to live.  "We live in an economy and society that demands too much of people," Schor says.  We need to learn the lesson of Sabbath all over again.   We need to take time rest,  to rest from commerce,  rest from worry,  and to rest from work.  If don't we will lose our sanity.  

When we first arrived in Europe it was a shock for us to realize that at 12:00 on Saturday everything closes everything except Gas Stations and a few convenience shops.  Everyone was forced by the German government to take a rest and have nothing to do but visit and walk.  When you get used to it, it's a wonderful thing to see how everything stops this way.  It gives you time to physically recharge, recreate, and to rejuvenate.  That is what this commandment is about, making sure people who work we have time to rest to slow down and enjoy the simple things in life.  But also, there's something else to this idea of Sabbath...

REMEMBER: In another moment of Israel's history, in Deuteronomy, this fourth commandment is referred to again, but now there another emphasis.  All the same reasons are there as before, "the Sabbath is to be keep holy" and it is a "day of rest".   But there is also an additional reason for keeping Sabbath given.  It occurs in verse 15, where Moses says: "Remember that you were once slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out with amazing power and mighty deeds.  That is why the LORD has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day."   The point is made here, that you need more than rest to get through the life you've been given, but you also need time to reflect and to remember how God has given you the chance to have a life with both hope and meaning.

Have you ever stopped to give very much thought to what it would be like to have been like to have grown up on a plantation in the old south?  When you and I go back to visit some of those historical places in America, we ‘white folks’ might fantasize about how it must have been to have lived in such Romantic, slow going times.  Our African-American friends have a whole different experience.  When they visit old southern plantations, they don’t fantasize, but they have ‘panic attacks’, anxiety, and nightmares because their ancestors where once slaves in those places.  As slaves, their ancestors lived at the mercy of their ‘masters’ and ‘owners’.  There were no options, no choices, no freedom and no self-determination. 

That's how it once was for Israel  when they were in Egypt.   They were slaves with no freedom to rest or worship as they needed.  They had to do what they were told.  But now, God gives them a day to remember and reflect upon their new freedom.  This God who granted their freedom to become their own people and to determine their own destiny does not want them to forget what they now have and who has given it to them.  The Sabbath is the day to rest, to remember and to reflect upon everything that matters most.  It was a time to come away from the daily tasks of life that might re-enslave us, unless we remain determined to remember who we are to whom we belong. We belong to this gracious God who has made us free.   

Early Christians decided to let Sunday morning become their Sabbath, since this is the day that Christ arose from the grave to free them from their slavery to sin and selfishness. They got up ‘early’ because they were still working on first day of the week, and most of them were living subservient lives under the Romans.  Many of them were still Jews worshiping in Synagogues on the Sabbath as well, but Sunday morning had become another worship time that was even more special to them.  They saw themselves as part of a new Exodus, because another one even greater than Moses (Hebrews 3:2) had come to open a whole new world of hope for them.  Because Christians had experienced God=s love and healing power in Jesus Christ, they worshiped on the "Lord's Day” to ‘remember’ and follow their ‘living’ Lord. 

This is why we still gather on Sunday.  We are not Jews, but Gentiles, but we gather to enjoy the same blessing which Israel received, and even more:  By receiving, celebrating, and observing Sunday as our Sabbath, we are ‘grafted into’ the holy vine of God’s people, as his chosen, peculiar people who remember and rest in this God who still strong and mighty enough to save us from the chaos, confusion, and insanity of the world.

That is what Sabbath means.  It does not matter whether it's a Saturday or Sunday, but what matters is who you are, what you still need to be fully human, and what God has done to enable you reach your full potential. 

We stop and keep Sabbath because to be who we have been created to be, we have to rest, we have to remember, and we have to reflect upon what and who matters most.  If we don’t we get lost and we become enslaved all over again.  If we keep our nose to the grindstone too long, our lives become worthless like animals, without meaning or purpose.  If we don't ‘stop to smell the roses’ and reflect about what our short lives mean, we soon come to the end without anything to show except a final suffering and death.  But if we remember that there is a liberator, a deliverer, who stands with us against the empty, final, nothingness of our lives, then everything looks different.  Life matters, you matter, and so do the choices that you and I make.  Most of all, the God you trust in matters.  Without him you are dust, you are nothing, and there is no hope at all.  You better eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow you die, and there is nothing else.  But those who ‘live and trust Him,” “will not perish, but will have everlasting life.”  This is the Word we come to remember and realize as our reality, as we “keep Sabbath” in the Spirit of Jesus.

I recently read the story about an old man, up in years who was downsized from his job and went looking for work.  When he finally found a good paying job, they told him to come in the next day, which was Sunday, his Sabbath day.  The man was not particularly a religious man, but he was always in church on Sundays and he believed that the Sabbath day, was holy, a day of rest and of remembering.  He turned down the job and ended up taking a lesser job and having to live on much less as well.  When the man finally died, his family, who loved and appreciated his very simple life, wrote on his tombstone,"Our dad was a simple man, who taught us how to live."

Joan Chittister wrote that going to her grandmother’s home on Sundays was like nothing else in her childhood.  In her good Protestant Grandmother’s house, “absolutely nothing happened on Sunday except church, Sunday school, and the family meal.  She did not play the radio.  She did not sew.  She did not work around the house.”  Joan continued: “You didn't have to be a philosopher in that house to figure out that Sunday was a different kind of day.  Grandma sang hymns to herself as she went from room to room throughout the day.  She frowned if Grandpa hammered boards in the garage.  She frowned at loud laughing.  She frowned at anything “frivolous.”  She frowned at the very thought of doing anything secular like going to a movie, playing games in the yard, having a party — shopping! — all these were entirely out of the question.”  She concludes: “I didn't much like to be in Grandma Chittister's house on Sundays. It was so different from the rest of the week. It was so compelling.
But, from her, I got a message about life that stayed with me forever. Life, I learned young, is about more than noise.  Life is about listening to the music of the soul. Work is important but it can be a distraction from meaning. Reflection is of the essence of being human…Sabbath says everything all the grandmothers of an earlier age were trying to teach us: be still, be thoughtful, be contented, be gentle with the world and you will become everything you were ever meant to be.” (From Chittister, Joan (2012-08-01). The Ten Commandments:  Laws of the Heart (pp. 37-38, 43). Orbis Books. Kindle Edition).   

More than a having a Sabbath law that makes us frown, Sabbath should be, however, about having a “Sabbath-Heart”.  Isn’t this what Jesus was trying to teach us?  Sabbath is not about what you do or don’t do, but Sabbath is about who you are.  Sabbath is not about getting some ‘rest’ because you are tired, but Sabbath is about finding ‘rest’ and ‘peace’ in being human.  Sabbath is about resting, remembering, and reflecting, but it is also about resisting the powers that can enslave us again, making us forget who we, whose we are, and what matters most.

When we keep Sabbath, we find ‘time’ to rest and reflect because we 'tell' time differently.  When we see time differently, spend time differently, we will also learn to live and work differently.  Everything about our lives changes when we take time to stop, rest, remember, and reflect—both talking to God, and, as John Denver once sang, “listening for the causal reply” --- which can come through nature, through Scripture, through family, through friends, and through the time we put back into our hands because we keep God in our lives.  When we do this, we can rescue time and "redeem the time", so we never fully lose it.  Sabbath is about the ‘heart’ that takes time because it has time, as God has now put eternity into our own hands.  There is a great song in German that goes:
Meine Zeit steht in deinen Händen.
Nun kann ich ruhig sein, ruhig sein in dir.
Du gibst Geborgenheit, du kannst alles wenden.
Gib mir ein festes Herz, mach es fest in dir.
Translated it goes something like:
My time is in your hands, O Lord.  
Now I can be at peace and fully rest in you.  
You give me confidence.  Your loves changes everything. 
Give me a steadfast hope and make me strong in you.

Keeping the Sabbath is day and time we remind ourselves that our time all is finally in God's hands.  It is not finally your life in your own hands.  Time belongs to God,  just like your life belongs to God.  And if you take time to listen and learn, you will hear that times is talking.  Are you listening?  How do you find rest in your soul when your life is a race against time?  You won’t.  Only when you put your time into God’s hands will you find rest that keeps you from losing your sanity in a world that keeps on ticking, ticking, and ticking, and going nowhere fast.  Time will finally turn against you, and against me, unless we find ‘rest’ in this God who has ‘time’ and will keep ‘us’ in his hands.  When you realize, remember, reflect and rest in this, you are keeping ‘Sabbath’.  Amen.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

WE NEED GOD to Have A Caring Heart

A Sermon based upon Exodus 20:17;  Mark 7:9-13;  Luke 12:51-53;  14: 26-27
By Rev. Charles J. Tomlin, D.Min.
Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership
14th Sunday After Pentecost, August, 21th 2016
If you don't care for your parents, you probably won't care about anybody.  But if you do care for your parents, you’ll have the potential to care about anybody.  Let me explain.

When I went off to college, I went to a different college than where my Father wanted.  But Being a good father, he supported me anyway.  But as my Father had feared, I brought home some of those new ideas. 

Dad had warned me about those new ideas, and that if I learned too much too fast, I might not be a good a preacher.  But I honestly felt like some of the things I was learning were good and valuable lessons for life.  I wanted my Dad to know the good stuff  I was learning.  He had enabled me to go off to school and now I wanted to share with him so he could learn them to.  Needless to say, it didn’t work out so well. My Dad never understood how some of those ideas could be good.

My Dad was a very good, intelligent man who had little chances for higher education.  He taught a Sunday School class as large as the attendance in my first church.  Dad knew every phone number of every members and kept them all in his head.  In his grocery business he figured small orders without a calculator and then he was able to add the tax in his head as well. Dad had practically memorized the important parts of the Bible as well.  All I had to do was ask him where a parable or story was and he knew it chapter and verse.  His Bible knowledge passed on to me gave me an edge when I studied the Bible at college level. 

Yet, when my interpretations began to clash with his, I soon realized that I was not going to change his views.   If we were going to remain father and son, with positive relationship, I had to give up trying to change him.

That was the day I became a true adult.  I understood that I could be my own person, but  I also could allow Dad to remain who he was as well.  So, I choose to discuss the things that united us and did not dwell on the things that divided us.  This was the moment I understood more fully what it means to honor your Father and Mother.  I was become my own person, and no longer had to obey my parents, but I was also learning to how to honor, respect and care for them as an adult child, in spite of our differences.

Some Jewish Rabbis say this sixth commandment is one of the most challenging commandments of all.  We live in culture that has been dominated with the thought of  Sigmund Freud, who through his psychological concepts has encouraged the mental killing of the oedipal Father which ultimately resulted in announcing the death of God into modern society.  Freud taught us to hate the ones who produced us so that through therapy we can become gods unto ourselves[1]  To put this in plain language, the world’s voice says live to
toot your own horn over everyone else’s, including your parents. Since you know more than they do, go out there and knock’em dead and make a name for yourself.   
To HONOR and respect YOUR PARENTS SUGGESTS THAT YOUR LIFE IS NOT YOUR OWN and that you have been ‘bought with a price’.  I realize this is ‘slave language’ but it’s also a graphic reminder that we are finite, limited human beings who will never absolutely be ‘our own person’ because we are always in debt to those to whom we owe our life and being.  If you can understand what I'm saying now, you owe them, even if they weren't perfect, and even if they had serious failures.  If you are alive today, you at least owe your parents honor and respect.

But Honoring parents can be A BIG CHALLENGE FOR SOME.  All Parents have flaws. They all will sometime fail.  You, nor I, came with a set of instructions.  There is no book that tells us how to be perfect at parenting.  Someone has said that the only way that Jesus could have been our perfect Savior is not to become a parent.  Since parenting is an inexact science, all parents make mistakes.  We make mistakes in how we instruct and discipline our children.  Parents make blunders.  Others fail in their marriages.   All of them have some kinds of flaws, like we all do.   I’ll never forget the day they let our RA’s out early and I caught my mother smoking.  That may not sound like a big deal to you, but it was a big deal to me.  I got angry.  I stormed out of the house.   I told her how wrong it was.    My honor and respect for her was lost in that moment.  Of course, later I learned that things were different that I first perceived.  My mother tried not to smoke around me and she was hiding her addictive habit for my own good.  She was trying to help me, not hurt me.  But in those days that was hard for me to understand.

While we can understand the mistakes parents make, because we are all human, some parents more difficult to understand or honor because they stop trying to parent.  Either because they want their children to like them or because they are too busy, it has been asserted that parenting is on the decline in our culture.  According to a recent survey in the Wall Street Journal, the average American parent spends less than 15 minutes in serious discussion with their children.  For Father’s, the average is 17 seconds per day.  Years ago parents needed no family time because the culture was agricultural, everyone lived at home, all worked together and the children learned most everything at home.  Today, we live in an urban culture, even in rural areas.  In it’s extreme form, children can go through a day without having any face-to-face time with parents. 

Worse, some parents have abdicated moral teaching and value learning to television, schools, or to churches. Even in the best of situations a school and a church can only help to reinforce what the parent is already teaching at home. Nothing replaces the parents influence. If parents have no time to fulfill their role as parents, how will they be honored?

Because PARENTS CAN sometimes BE LESS THAN HONORABLE, this command may GET COMPLICATED.  It’s certainly hard to honor a parent when, the child has so much left-over emotional pain, they have to leave out the first two words of the Lord’s prayer.  They can’t say ‘Father’ or because it hurts too much. It’s also hard for an adult child who told me that the worse job she has in her life, is looking for a mother’s day card that will be respectful without telling a lie.  Attendants in nursing homes can take you to room after room of aged, forgotten, parents who are rarely, if ever visited by their adult children, even though they only live minutes away.  Honoring and caring for our parents can get very hard, because of their sin or our own.

I think it’s interesting that JESUS understood the human STRUGGLE to honor parents. In Luke, 12:51-53 Jesus asks: Do you think that I've come to bring peace to the earth?  No, I come to bring a strife and division!  From now on families will be split apart, three in favor of me, and two against, or the other way around.  There will be division between father and son, mother and daughter, mother-in-law and daughter-in-law.  In another text a little further on, Jesus says in stronger language, If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters, yes, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:26).  Perhaps the most revealing moment of Jesus’ struggle to honor his parent came as his mother and siblings came to take him home because people were claiming Jesus to be insane., Jesus responded quite sharply: Who is my mother and brothers? My mothers and brothers are those who do the will of the Father.” (Matthew 12:48-50).  

When it came to a decision between choosing what is clearly the will of God and what are the wishes of our parents, God’s will took precedence.  While Jesus was talking about discipleship, and in no way was giving anyone an excuse not to honor their parents, the CLASH JESUS faced, children still face, when they are trying following and do the work and will of God.

But to completely or to disrespectfully disregard our parents or to cut oneself off at the root is something that Jesus did not do, even as he became his own person.  Do you know why we must not dishonor or disrespect parents, even if we disagree with them?  Here’s the issue: We all have belly buttons.  There is nothing so revealing about how vulnerable, dependent and needy we humans are, than our own belly buttons.   When the Ten Commandments tell us to honor Father and Mother it recognizes one great truth.   We all come from somewhere.  Someone gave birth to us.  Someone changed our diapers, fed us, nursed us back to health, and earned a living to put food into our mouths.  No human can raise themselves. We all have to be cared for by someone to get to where we are, and we all have to be cared for by someone to humanely get to where we’re going.

This sixth commandment reaffirms that LIFE IS INDEED A GIFT and that we need family to survive.  We need to be cared for by our families and we need to care for them as well. Our family gave us the first images of God’s grace.  Science tells us that at least half of everything you’ll ever know you learn before age 5.  The first 4 months determine most of your personality.  You depended on your parents for most everything that made you who you are and you will loose part of your soul when you forget that you are someone's child.

What you can't do, Jesus taught, is have a good EXCUSE to stop HONORING, RESPECTING and caring for YOUR PARENTS?  In Mark 7: 9-13, we read how during Jesus’s day there were religious leaders who taught that everyone else should care for their needy parents except them.  They excused themselves for religious reasons, as they had taken a special vow to God. The time and energy they were supposed to give to their parents they were now giving to God.  But Jesus says that by neglecting the care and honor of their parents, even for the best reasons, they are ignoring God’s moral law. NOTHING EXCUSES US from honoring and respecting our parents.  Because they are our parents, they deserve our care and respect.

One thing unique about this commandment is that it is the only commandment with a promise.  This promise could be understood both positively and negatively; in other words, it promises good consequences if we obey, but implies negatives when we don’t. The Brothers Grimm included an old moral tale about a little old man, with trembling hands and feeble eyes, whose uncertain table habits became increasingly offensive to the daughter-in-law with whom he lived.  One day she unsympathetically objected to her husband, the old man’s son.  So, they took the fumbling old man to a corner of the kitchen, set him on a stool, and gave him his food in a n earthenware bowl. Now he was no longer troubling them by his dribbled food; now the tablecloth was no longer soiled by his trembling behavior.

One day, in his trembling, he dropped the bowl and broke it.  Now the daughter-in-law lost all patience and compassion and blurted out,  “If you are a pig,” she said, “you must eat from a trough like one.”  And they made a little wooden trough, and he ate from it.  At that time, the pride of their lives was their four-year-old son. One evening they noticed the little boy playing with blocks of wood with deep concentration. When the father asked what he was doing, the boy said with an engaging smile, “I’m making a trough to feed you and Mamma when you get old.”

The tale continues that after hearing this from their own child, the man and woman just looked at each other, not saying anything.  Then they cried and then went to the corner and led the little old man back to his place at the table.  They gave him a comfortable chair, and put his food on a plate. Never again were they angered by the food he spilt or by the dishes he occasionally broke. They realized that by honoring a parent, they possessed their own future.[2]

“Honor your Father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land which the LORD your God is giving you.”  When you treat your parents with respect and honor you give  give them back the care that has made your life possible.  A great reminder of this is a powerful, unforgettable sculptor in Oslo, sculpted by Norway's premier sculptor, Gustav Vigeland.  It is a walk-through, Sculptor entitled, “The Cycle of Life”, made of 121 larger-than-life pieces, which depict the full range of human life and family, from infancy to old age.  The scluptors stretch across the river bridge from one side to the other on both sides of a four-lane highway that connects one part of the park to the other.  The artistic work traces the coming together of a young couple, the coming of their children, then the changing relationship of parent and child.  Finally, the artist shows the connection between the generations: a grandfather and a grandson, a grandmother and a little girl.

You can't help stare in awe at some of the huge pieces, find tears in your eyes at the sight of others.  A walk across the bridge is a walk through your own life. If you watch the people watching the statues, as well as the statues themselves, you get glimpses of the pain and the beauty that underlie each of their separate lives at separate stages.  But one of the statues on the garden bridge stops every sightseer in their tracks.  To this one, the response is almost always universal delight. This one is the Sinnetagen, the figure of a foot-stomping, raging two-year-old who is claiming his right to be human, to be listened to, to be respected for who he is and what he wants.  

This particular statue, I think opens us to the full potential of this fourth commandment.  This fourth commandment is not about being powerless children, controlled by the will and wishes of authoritarian parents.  No, it is about having the kind of freeing, caring, guiding parents, who allow us to be ourselves and to test ourselves over against the world, while under the watchful eye and wisdom of those who love us and have gone this way before.  Without the constant care, love, and shaping by our parents, this two year old doesn’t stand a chance.  But with them, this youthful ‘foot stomper’ gains the power to live, and its youthful wanderings can be guided, molded, until this child reaches its fullest potential as a human being.  It is all because parents care, that we have roots that give us the wings we will need to soar to the highest heights of human life.

This is really what this fifth commandment is about.  It’s all about having the kind of honor and respect that is filled with care.  This commandment has been called the ‘bridge’ commandment because bridges our responsibility to care for our community with our responsibility to care about and respect God.  If we don’t develop a caring heart—that keep that heart of respect and honor for the very parents who cared for us and made life possible for us, then a truly honorable life becomes impossible for us.  Most interestingly, this word ‘honor’ is from the Hebrew word which means, ‘to make heavy’.  The weight of love that has carried us must now be carried by us as we bear the weight of having respect, honor and care for our parents.  Amen. 

[1] The Truth About God, Stanley M. Hauerwas & William H. Williomon, Nashville, Abingdon, 1999, pp. 67-68.
[2] As retold in The Ten Commandments from the BackSide, J. Ellsworth Kalas, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998, p. 55.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

WE NEED GOD to Keep Life Sacred

A Sermon based Upon Exodus 20:13; Matthew 5:21-26
By Rev. Charles J. Tomlin, D.Min.
Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership
Year C: Proper 15, 13th Sunday After Pentecost, August, 14th 2016
A despondent woman was walking along the beach when she saw a bottle on the sand.  She picked it up and pulled out the cork.  Whoosh!  A big puff of smoke appeared.
"You have released me from my prison." the genie told her.  "To show my thanks, I grant you three wishes.  But take care, for with each wish, your husband will receive double of whatever you request."
"Why?" the woman asked.  "That bum left me for another woman."
"That=s how it is written," replied the genie.        The woman shrugged and then asked for a million dollars.   There was a flash of light, and the million dollars appeared at her feet.  At the same instant, in a far-off place, her wayward husband looked down to see twice the amount at his feet.
"And what is your second wish?"
"Genie, I want the world's most expensive diamond necklace."  Another flash of light, and the woman was holding the precious treasure.  And in that distant place, her husband was looking for a gem broker to buy his latest bonanza.
"Genie, is it really true that my husband has two million dollars and more jewels than I do, and that he gets double of whatever I wish for?"
The genie said it was indeed true.
"OK, genie, I=m ready for my last wish," the woman said. 
"Scare me half to death."
We laugh about death wishes.   But have you thought about how prevalent they are in our language and culture?   Even our most common, everyday speech betrays us.   "I sure hope that Carolina slaughters Duke this year?"   "That=s a killer car."  "Climbing those stairs was murder."   "I could kill you for that."   I've even heard preachers say, "If we only had a few more funerals, this church would grow." 
Our culture has been nicknamed a "culture of death" due to the fact that media, magazine,  children's games and toys, even our common speech, are permeated with images of violence, murder and death.  I challenge you to watch T.V. for one evening without finding a channel depicting excessive violence and murder.  Besides our obsession with death, we are the first generation with the power to destroy all human life on the planet earth hundreds of times over and we have our choice of weapons, nuclear blast or nerve gas.  
More than ever before in the history of humanity, life and death are in our power.   This is made clear in that some of the most potent political issues of today are matters of life and death: abortion, capital punishment, euthanasia, and genetic manipulation.  Also, with the breaking of the genetic code, we have even greater potential to manipulate and manufacture life or death.  Will we as a human race decide for using these powers for good or for evil?  Life and death are literally, in our hands

In today's text, Jesus echoed the sixth commandment when he said: "You've heard that the law of Moses says,"Do not murder.  If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment."   Moses gave us God's law to help us use our human knowledge and power for good and not for evil, for life and not for death.  Without respect and reverence for life, humans would have little chance of survival.  Because we are among the most vulnerable creatures, but also having the greatest potential for good or evil, we must counter our tendency toward death.  This sixth command is the most obvious necessity: “Don’t murder!”
Remember in the Garden of Eden, how God told Adam and Eve that if they ate of the forbidden fruit, they would surely die?  Well, we all know what happened next.  They could not resist to choose the forbidden fruit of death over life, and people have been doing it ever since; people hurt each other, they hurt themselves, people don't exercise enough, people eat too much, people don't take care of themselves, people don't take care of their relationships, their own souls or their bodies.  People do all kinds of destructive things, crazy things, even life threatening things to each other.  There is an almost obsessive wish for death and destruction that permeates the human condition to put us all at risk.  Streets are not safe.  Businesses and factories are not safe.  The schools are no longer safe.   Neither are the churches and our homes.   Without respect and reverence for life, without upholding this sixth commandment, no one is safe, anywhere, anyplace or anytime.
Theologian James Cone once categorized the basic forms of violence that threaten human life today.  Violence between races; vividly revealed the constant oppression of minorities throughout human history.   Violence against women;that age old most subtle exploitation which has throughout most most of human history refused to give women equal rights.    Violence against children; the use and abuse of children, who because of adult or parental failure and irresponsibility will never have a chance to live a normal life.  And finally, he mentions Violence of the rich against the poor; the terrible reality that the rich get richer at the expense of keeping the poor, poor.
But it is not, Jesus implies, that violence is just out there, but that it is in our ‘hearts’ and can be found in our ‘own back yard’.   This was made painfully real to me when I once read how a family in my own community (an upscale middle-class community), made national headline news when they left their children alone at a hotel while they went to a NASCAR race in Florida.  Several years ago in a small North Carolina town, a young, attractive, middle class woman and her son were locked up in an out-building like animals for weeks after the Father had beat them so badly he could not look at them without feeling guilt.  After escaping, the mother and child came to a church seeking sanctuary and counsel, hoping for redemption.   The mother told the local pastor, "I want help for my son so that he will not turn all this pain and hurt into hate and violence like his Father."

Violence and hate which result in abuse or murder happen anywhere and everywhere.  This is not violence found only in the big city, but this about hate and anger that can build in every human heart.  Our potential to hate and to hurt, is part of a complex cycle of violence that is not yet broken.  Stop and think about it.   In most every drug abuse case, in most ever child abuse case, in most ever spouse abuse case, most every assault, murder or domestic abuse case; the violent aggressor is a victim who has become angry; angry enough to hurt someone else because they are sick and tired of being hurt themselves.   On national T.V. some years ago, they were interviewing a young girl who was involved in a street gang.   She was asked why she, especially as a young teenage girl, had chosen to take part in a lifestyle of crime and violence.   "Well," she responded, "Where I grew up had one of two choices: either you became the victim or the victimizer.   I decided that I was going to be the victimizer."   If you were given her circumstances which would you have become?
Moses was given important insight when he made a law against human violence a major concern of true religion.  The Bible itself is a book filled with the awful human truth of human aggression and violence.  Cain becomes jealous and kills his brother Abel.  Joseph's brothers kidnap him an leave him in a hole to die.  Judah rapes his sister Tamar.  Moses himself murdered an Egyptian in a fit of rage.  Joshua kills thousands of innocent people as a part of  what he called, “Holy War”.  Samson killed Philistines for sport and ended up a victim of his own violent nature.  Saul had only slain thousands, but David, the hero, had slain ten thousand.   The cycle of hate and violence never ends—and it continues today with radical Islam slaying thousands in the ‘name’ of Allah.            
Sometimes, what makes the Bible (Our Bible) difficult to understand or interpret, is that sometimes we read that it seemed like God wanted certain people dead.  It seems that God wanted Israel to slaughter its enemies, instead of love them.   It seems that God wanted the women and children murdered.  It is said that God demanded "eye for eye", and "tooth, for tooth."   To a people not yet fully redeemed from their own violent nature, even God appears hateful, angry and an encourager of the continual cycle of violence.  But it is exactly against this kind of negative reading that Jesus now says, "You have heard it said...."   Stop!  Think!  Trust me!  This is how people used to see things: People have looked at life and God from lesser viewpoints, they have interpreted wrongly what God had in mind, so you now need to look again at what God is really about.  God once spoke the ultimate truth through Moses, "Do not murder," but the murdering has continued—and even in the name of God.  To break the violent cycle deep within human nature, and in religion itself, something else must be said.  
Jesus came to bring us a greater understanding of this sixth commandment.  He came to say a word against all our human hate and violent death.  Jesus came tell us why jealous Cains keep on killing innocent Abels, why poor whites in the south wanted blacks to remain powerless and enslaved, why Hilter persuaded so Germans to turn against their Jewish brothers and sisters, why so many why children are killing other children in our culture, why teenagers can become their own biggest threat, and why some adults end living up in an endless cycle of hate and violence themselves. 
Jesus knows why people continue the violence and hate.  He does not say the devil made us do it, society makes us do it, or others have made us do it, but he says, just like he said about Adultery, that everything violent, hateful, and hurtful comes from within Our own hearts.  He says that people who become the victimizers in our worldC those who hurt, hate and kill are victims themselves who hurt because they haven’t been healed.  Because they still have anger in their hearts that has not been healed, they end up hurting others—and will finally destroy themselves.  This is why Jesus said, AI say, if you are angry with someone, you are subject to judgment!   If you say to your friend, "You idiot!".... or you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell."  Jesus says that behind all this hate, this violence and the powerful and subtle death wish in our culture is an inner anger: an anger still unresolved in the human heart.    Violent people, hateful people are angry because they are still hurting people themselves, who will hurt others because haven’t been healed in their own heart.
I don't have to look any further than my own family tree to discover how right Jesus is.  My grandfather died young.  It was a painful thing for my Father's family of seven children to have to grow up without a Father during the depression.  My Father was twelve and his oldest brother who then had to become the man of the family was only 16.  He had to grow up too fast.  Then came World War II.   There was inner pain.  There was struggle.  There was anger built up in his heart.  My uncle had a difficult life and later it got worse.  He had a son who was a victim of polio.  My uncle began to drink away his troubles.  One day, my cousin, with polio weakened hands, took a gun and put three bullets into his own Father's stomach.  The anger and the pain went unhealed, and finally judgment day came.
This hidden, often unnoticed anger can be anywhere.  Even among the religious and the righteous.  There was a family I was knew were more negative than positive.  It didn't seem to matter what the church decided to do, they were "again it".  When the church doors where open to new people or new ideas, you got this feeling that they were like vultures waiting for someone to stumble so they could pounce.  I wanted to understand their anger and resentment.  Why was so much anger and negativity built up?  One day I came upon the family secret.  Many years before the community had looked down upon this family.   There was some kind of “Scarlett Letter” in their past, that they now turned into a need for perfectionism that became so rigid that dealt with their own hurt by now causing pain to  everyone else. 
Most tragically, when hurt remains unresolved, unhealed, the anger does go outward toward others, but it turns inward.  Anger in the heart does not always end up in a Rambo type rage toward another person.  Unresolved anger can be repressed and suppressed until we end up self-destructive.  I had a friend in High School whom I had been in church with in Statesville. He was easy going, good looking, nice guy who was also a rising star basketball player and good student with a true Christianity personality.  After I went off to college and he was finishing his final year in high school, tragically, his parents divorced.  That was rare in those days and was not supposed to happen in a Christian family.   It was told to me that after his parent's divorced, my friend turned the anger inward, and blamed himself.  He was hurt and he was angry.  He was so angry in his heart that he went out and took his own life. 
With all the struggles of life that we must endure, it is possible for any of us to become walking time-bombs of anger.  Our angry age shows up in everything from violent expressions in movies, road rage, to increased violence among children.  Because pain is everywhere, none of us are exempt from the potential of being hurt by or hurting others with violence.  While I consider myself to have grown up in wonderfully safe, Christian environment, yet while undergoing psychological testing as I was preparing for Christian ministry, the psychologist told me that on the test results I showed evidence of unresolved anger in my heart.   I couldn't believe it.  Me? An angry person?   Well I do remember that bully who picked on me in school until I leveled him.   I do remember when I was a late bloomer in sports and was chosen last in elementary school?   I also remember the time, during harvest festival that I raised enough money to become King of the School, but was out foxed by a kid who cheated.   Well, yes, I have been angry.  I remember being in a fight with a guy stronger than me and throwing sand in his eyes because I didn’t him to have the advantage.    I remember the time one of my friends called me the dirtiest fighter.   I remember the time when I joined some other guys in vandalizing public property.  I remember that, yes, I have been hurt and I have had anger in my heart, and I have also hurt others too.
Maybe the most painful moment in my life is when I was driving home from high school and had a life-threatening car crash because a school mate of mine was driving reckless.  His recklessness cost me the full use of my left foot, which brings me limitations and pain even today.   Yes, I have reason to be angry at people who have hurt me and used me, just like you do.  Sometimes too, I've wanted to nurse the anger, hold the grudge and keep the pain fresh in my heart because I don’t want to forget how much it hurt. 
But the truth is, we've all been victims.  Doesn't the Bible say that we are all victims of sin.  Being a sinner is not something we asked for, but its something we are born into and are not fully responsible.  Just by being born, we are given a ‘raw deal’.  The serpent still sets us up.  We are all victims and we all can also become victimizers of others and of ourselves. 
This is why Jesus’ word about the sixth commandment is not "Do you have anger in your heart?"  Of course we all do and Jesus knows it.  Jesus shows us our own anger, even at God, but it is not to condemn us, but to reveal God’s love and to help us find deliverance from our own self-destructiveness.  Jesus tells the person whose been hurt, or who is carrying around anger in their heart to "Go, be reconciled to that person...."   Even while you are at church, worshiping and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, reconciled.  "Come to terms quickly with your enemy before it is too late.... Make peace!  Settle matters!   Be reconciled! 
Do you remember that Old Testament story of Jacob wrestling with man at the Jabbok River?  This wrestling match went on all night long.  It reflected Jacob’s own long struggle with hurt and hate.  For you see, even Jacob's name meant supplanter, or deceiver.  He had been hurt, had hurt, and was still hurting people.  He was a victimizer.   It all started when he fell victim to a sibling rivalry induced by his mother.  Because of the rivalry, after cheating his brother of the birthright, Jacob had to leave home.  Living in a distant land, he met a woman, a distant cousin Rachel, and wanted to marry her.  Instead, just like he had deceived his brother, now his uncle deceived him into taking her less desirable sister Leah.   He had to work 7 more years to have the wife he really wanted.  He finally revenged his uncle, by becoming more successful in the livestock business.  But this too backfired into a major family feud so that Jacob had to leave town again. 
Do you see that the struggle by the River Jabbok is more than geographic, but it's spiritual and emotional territory.  It's the river that separates the tragic land of his past with struggle to have a future.  It's the land, we might call, "no where else to go."   On one side of the river lived his warring uncle, Laban.  On the other side of the river he was about to meet his older and stronger brother Esau, from whom he had cheated the bright-right.   Now, Jacob is tried, so tired of hurting and being hurt.  He's longing for healing only God can give.  Only by taking his struggle to God, can he release his heart from this cycle of anger and hate.  Jacob will not let God go until he gets the healing and blessing only God can give.
Jesus knew that we are all wrestling with anger and hurt. We’ve been hurt by broken relationships, broken trust, bad choices, and dysfunctional families, which we all have, at time.  Because of this, everyone carries some kind of anger in their heart.  It is not anger itself that destroys us, but it the lack of healing, the unresolved hurt, with the lack of reconciliation.  The next scene in Jacob's life is the next day, after his struggle with God, that Jacob meets his brother Esau and is fully reconciled with him.  "To see your face is like seeing the face of God...." (Genesis 33:10), Jacob says.  It is not coincidence here, that when Jacob took his pain and his struggle to God, his struggle with his brother ended.  Only when we take the struggle to God, do we find the way to reconcile with others for healing our deepest hurts. 

 People who leave conflicts unresolved can find themselves in an endless cycle of vengeance, hate and anger.  But Jesus showed the way to end the cycle.  Jesus too was a victim, if not the ultimate victim.  But Jesus refused to become the victimizer filled with hate.  When the sin of the world took his life, Jesus said, "no one takes my life, but I lay it down myself."  While they nailing him to the cross he cried, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.?"  Jesus too struggled but he would not let God go until he too was blessed.    Jesus was not a victim because he was victorious in God.  Jesus championed the way to break the cycle of human pain, anger and hate.  He shows us how we can become victors, not victimizers.  This all begins in our own hearts, when we are willing to lose and let God win.  Amen.