what to do on Sunday

This past Sunday I preached at First Greenville, but the good old CD recorder wouldn’t work … so here are the notes from my sermon, for those who wanted a recording.  (For those of you who don’t attend First Greenville, just know that I use few notes or none at all, so this is pretty rough…)


Matthew 12:1-8, 7/24/11

We were made to worship and serve God.

  1. Famous question from the Westminster Catechism — what is the chief end of man?  To glorify God and enjoy him forever.
  2. You can see bits of this purpose of glorifying & enjoying God peeking through when:
  • you’re on a mountaintop or see a beautiful sunrise,
  • or there is a crisis and you drop everything to serve those in need

Often we don’t worship and serve as we should.  Sin gets in the way and distorts the connection God wants to have with us.

  1. God created commandments to help heal the rift, give us a bridge to reconnect, remind us of our true purpose
  2. Many of the commandments are about how you live your everyday life:  keep the Sabbath holy, don’t covet or lie or steal, honor your father and mother
  3. In your experience, you may have seen how not following the commandments can lead to difficulty:
  • If you get off-track with your spiritual life you feel distant from God.
  • If your relationship with your loved ones turns sour, it impacts your whole life.
  • If you run with a crowd that cheats and steals and lies, chances are you’ll do those things too.

So the commandments are a help, to turn and re-turn to the right direction.

There’s a funny thing about commandments, though.  Some people wind up worshiping them instead of the God who created them.  This is the problem Jesus experienced.   Other rabbis were asking similar questions about the purpose of the Law (you may have heard the argument about whether to leave an ox that has fallen into a ditch on the Sabbath.  What if your livelihood depends on that animal?)

Jesus leads us to some tough questions:

  • Do we serve the Law or serve the God who gave the Law?
  •  And does the Law serve God and God’s creation, or does it serve itself?

Jesus engaged his opponents with a theological and Scriptural debate, drawing from the sacred texts of the Law, the history of the Kings of Israel and Judah, and the prophets.

I wonder if people worship commandments, and end up mis-using them, because they are angry.  They believe in a mean, vengeful, and vindictive concept of God, and in their anger they will use anything to bolster their belief.  The Laws of the Hebrew Bible, when twisted into the service of angry people, can become weapons.

The facts emerging about this shooter in Norway indicate that he believed in a twisted type of God — a God who wants everyone to look the same, believe the same, and act the same, and issues severe dictates to keep everyone in line.  I don’t believe this type of being is God — it’s something other, something evil, an idol.

The problem with this idol is that it promises security and freedom from people who bother us.  It promises us life at the expense of other people’s lives.  But the world can’t be forever twisted to meet our demands.  If we allow this vindictive idol to have space in our hearts, then we cannot handle the world around us.  Changes in society, political discourse, and personal freedom do not fit in the worldview of a hateful person who believes in a spiteful God.

Jesus of Nazareth came into a world that was changing rapidly — urbanization, spread of Greek and Roman culture, political changes — and many people felt threatened.  But he taught a way to live that witnessed to the Kingdom of Heaven, a way that was faithful, although maybe a little different from the way people lived when Moses stepped off the mountain with those 10 commandments.

I believe in a God who helps us adapt.  Our God gives us some foundational concepts that help us in any situation, and our God gives us a Savior who shepherds us through any circumstance.  Our God helps us figure out what to do when we’re hungry on the Sabbath.  Our God gives us guidance when we are in a hospital room with a dying loved one, trying to figure out the best course of action.  And our God gives us a spirit of understanding so that we can make it in a constantly changing world.  God can do these things because the world, its people, its laws, and its history all belong to God.

So what can we do with the Sabbath?  I hope that each of us will find a way to allow Christ to be Lord of our lives.  That’s what the Sabbath is about, allowing God to take over for a day.  Each of us can find some action, or a discipline, or a habit that reminds us who is Sovereign.  I’m grateful for the Sundays of my childhood, which were filled up with church activities — those Sundays taught me to rest in the presence of God.

Thanks be to God, who holds this earth, with all its sin and suffering, all its potential and promise, in the palm of his hand.  Amen.

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