May 17, 2020
Created for Love 6th Easter
1 Peter 3:13-22 John 14:15-21
How do you feel about obedience? What do you do when you are told to obey? I would like you to imagine that you have been placed in a BIG playfield. Everywhere you look, there are inviting places to play. There is equipment for all ages, all ability levels to enjoy, and there are open fields with smooth grass just begging for all kinds of ball games. The place is HUGE, and it seems to go on forever.
‘Way off in the distance, you see that the field is surrounded with a six-foot fence—all around the perimeter—with signs that say “stay inside the fence”. It turns out that there are dangerous cliffs beyond the fence line, and the fence is there to keep folks from straying into danger. And then, to your horror, you see that there are people climbing over the fence! When you go to investigate, you are told that they aren’t satisfied with the safe stuff in the big playfield—they want to go beyond the fence and see what’s out there. You might even hear one guy getting ready to climb the fence saying, “Here. Hold my beer, and watch this!”
Now, if this seems a little unlikely, just read the accounts of people visiting The Grand Canyon–people who climb beyond the safety rails “for a picture”, then fall to their deaths.
Well, I’d like you to hold the image of the protective fence in mind for just a little while as we examine our texts for today.
The Ten Commandments
First, I’d like to think a little about The Ten Commandments. Remember that the Hebrews had been newly-freed from slavery in Egypt. For four centuries, they had been very closely governed, not making decisions for themselves. And now, suddenly, they had to govern themselves! Moses disappeared and went up Mt. Sinai to receive the law. He was gone so long that the people thought he must have died, and they reverted to the pagan worship known back in Egypt. They made a golden calf and worshiped it. Then Moses came down from the mountain and gave the people what he had received from the Lord—The Ten Commandments—which are now the basis for governance for the modern world!
Why did God give them (and us) these commandments? The simple answer is: To help us learn how to live in freedom, and remain there.
There is a common misconception that God is a cosmic killjoy! This is beautifully illustrated by a conversation on BBC Radio’s program called Drive Time. The guest was Rev. Steve Chalke, and the show’s host demanded to know, “Why is God so down on everything we do? Don’t do this and that. Don’t commit adultery. It’s pathetic!”
Rev. Chalke interrupted her with a question: “Does the Bible really say, ‘Don’t commit adultery’?”
“Yes, it does,” she bristled.
“I’ve never read that bit.”
“You know that it’s one of the Ten Commandments.”
“Oh, now I get it. Your tone of voice threw me off.”
“What do you mean?”
“God does say we must not commit adultery, but not the way you said it. Before giving these commandments, God introduced himself to the Hebrews as ONE WHO IS FOR THEM. He didn’t just outlaw the things humans like to do to spoil our fun. Rather, he knows the heart-ache we’ll cause ourselves and others if we pursue agendas opposed to the way he made us to be. The Ten Commandments is God saying, “Look, I love you. I’m the best deal you’ve got going for you. Don’t abandon me. Don’t commit adultery because if you do, it’ll unleash destructive powers that will slowly destroy you and your society. Trust me.”
“Well, no one ever explained it to me like that. That makes so much sense.”
We could compare God’s commandments to the fence around the huge playfield. It’s there to keep us SAFE. It’s not there to lock us in, but to help us live well and be happy. God is saying to us, “I love you and I’ve already proved it to you. So trust me. Keep these commandments because they make sense for you, and they help keep you safe.”
Obedience and Love
Jesus illustrated this concept with a story about a Wise Builder and a Foolish Builder. (Matthew 7) “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise person who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. BUT everyone who hears these words of mine and does NOT put them into practice is like a foolish person who built his house on the sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash!” The lyrics from “Once Upon a Parable” say it well: “Hear and do—standing tall. Hear and don’t—twist and fall.”
In our Gospel lesson for today, we hear Jesus saying, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments, and the Father will send the Spirit of Truth.” (He was getting them ready for the gift of the Holy Spirit!) “Those who keep my commandments are those who love me.”
Made for Love!
So we come to the question for the day: Is God a killjoy, or is God a loving parent?
I’m sure many of you have read William Blake, an English poet and artist. Listen for the voice of a petulant child in this couplet of his: “Priests in black gowns were walking their rounds, And binding with briars my joys and desires.” I hear the same voice when people complain about all the “thou shalt not’s” in the commandments.
I prefer to remember that a loving parent creates a zone of safety around children so that they can gradually learn to self-govern. And God’s Spirit does the same for you and for me! Like Paul’s words to Timothy, “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.”
- POWER to live well, to obey, to overcome difficulties
- LOVE of God, love of others, love of self—a gift of God
- SELF-DISCIPLINE, which makes the fence of the commandments comprehendible!
Friends, God is our loving Parent, the Creator who created us for LOVE! Within that love is a huge amount of leeway for making choices and being creative ourselves. Because of love, there are also limits and boundaries, put there to make life as good as it can possibly be.
Here’s a quote from Randy Newman (not the singer-songwriter), a teacher at the C. S. Lewis Institute: “If we fail to grasp that disobedience brings bondage, we’ll never understand why our culture continues to spiral downward. Without the boundaries of Scripture, our sinful hearts flee from the good things that God has for us, imagining we’ll find them on our own. Attempting that only leads to misery.”
Friends, let’s pray that God will bless us with such overwhelming LOVE that we are empowered by the Spirit of Love and self-discipline!