Updated: Jan 30
We are now 19 days into the Lenten period of sacrifice, so we almost at the halfway point.
As always, it is important to remember the nature of the season when examining the readings.
From Genesis, today we read about the Ten Commandments being spoken by God to his chosen Israelites.
We need to see how these laws are reminders, as that which is an important part of any changes made within each of us, now in our time in the wilderness, staying away from the temptations of the material plane.
Now, I feel safe in assuming nobody here today gave up murdering, adultery, or stealing for forty days. Hopefully, no one feels the need to use Lent as a jumping off point, towards turning over a new leaf of life that no longer includes those sins.
So, the other laws in “The Top Ten” are the ones that could use some reflection today: No other God, no idols, no using the Lord’s name in vain, keeping the Sabbath holy, honoring your parents, and not coveting what your neighbor has. Reflecting on those today can help us keep the faith as we go forward.
In the psalm today (Psalm 19), verses 1 through 6 paint pictures of the unspoken laws – natural laws – the laws of the wilderness – that prove God is present, even when we cannot hear his frightening voice, as it was heard when He told the Israelites His commandments … what they would have to agree to be His chosen people.
Verses 3 and 4 of Psalm 19 say, “Although they have no words or language, and their voices are not heard, their sound has gone out into all lands, and their message to the ends of the world.”
This means the Ten Commandments that were spoken by God are also speaking a message that is not heard. The message is like a law of cause and reaction. It is like a law of nature, where a tiny flake of snow is blown by the wind, joining with another, and another, until a small ball of snow finds gravity pulling it downhill, rolling over other flakes of snow, building bigger and bigger as it goes.
These commandments spoken by God are connected to one another. One begets the next.
You are born into a world of many gods, but when God rescues you, then you become beholding to that one rescuer. You have no other gods that you serve.
When you have only one God, you often come to admire those who help you remember not to bow down to other idols – either those represented by graven images or those represented as humans who preach a good sermon. After all, it is up to each and every one of us who have been rescued by the One God to become His most fervent believer – and that means little time is left to admire what others are think about God.
When God said, “You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God,” which others transform into “not using the LORD’s name in vain,” this is then pointing out how God knew there would be those who knew followers of God would forget the second commandment and shift their eyes to those who would beat their chest and proclaimed the loudest, “I love the LORD more than anyone else!”
Not only does that distract people who should be worshiping only God, it gets them to follow such human beings … as in the examples of chest-beaters like Jim Jones, David Koresh, and Warren Jeffs (to name only a handful). They have all claimed to be speaking for God, so that others follow them, bowing down before them as gods, so they become idols leading the lambs to slaughter.
Again, if you are keeping your eyes facing God, all that hot air that comes out of the mouths of false prophets is nothing more than the sounds of wilderness breezes.
This then leads to keeping the Sabbath holy, which means you have to understand what the Sabbath is and what it means to rest one day a week. Remembering that you are a snowflake rolled up in a ball of commitment to the LORD, you work six days as a priest, preparing for one day to do nothing but enjoy the peace of the LORD.
Keeping the sabbath holy does not mean: Make sure you go to church for a couple of hours on Sunday; and then spend the rest of Sunday going to Wal-Mart and/or out to lunch or dinner some place, where someone has to work just to serve you those things you pay for.
Keeping the Sabbath holy means do nothing that keeps someone else from also keeping the Sabbath holy … which includes gas stations, parking attendants, vendors as sports arenas, professional athletes, etc, on and on, so forth. When you work as a priest for the One God, you enter those arenas the other six days, with the intent not to be distracted by all the noise, bells, and whistles of materialism.
This dedication is not something that comes natural to adult human beings. If left alone to figure out how to play with one’s time, one would always do what one wanted to do, with no concern about what someone else thinks or feels. That is where parents come into play.
You honor your parents by learning from them how to serve the LORD, which means being washed, dressed, and brought to church every Sunday; but MORE IMPORTANTLY, it means seven days a week you watch your parents and learn how to be a priest who only serves One God.
Fathers teach their sons. Mothers teach their daughters. Boys grow into men, and girls grow into women; but the love of God leads children to become parents themselves, through loving unions, becoming husbands and wives, fathers and mothers.
Thus, we honor our parents by becoming parents, always keeping in mind that God is our Father, and we will bring forth new fruit to continue that commitment to Him.
Now this love of God, which permeates our being, is how we get that voice inside our heads that tells us what we should do and advises us against doing other things.
All human beings face temptation, just as Jesus did in his wilderness experience. Having the love of God in our hearts keeps us from thinking “It would be so easy to just take that which isn’t mine.” It keeps us from letting fear and anger gain control over us, having us strike out rashly and harshly, committing acts of murder. It reminds us of a commitment to a spouse is made before God, alerting us to step away from the temptations of lust.
These evils are avoided by spending time in the wilderness and learning to have control over our minds, through God in our hearts. Still, it helps if we live with likeminded people, in safe neighborhoods, rather than places that seem like Sodom and Gomorrah.
We human beings, after all, are social creatures. We need safety in numbers for survival. This means we have to live reasonably close to others. Today, that typically means subdivisions and apartment complexes.
When we live among people who worship other gods, or no god at all, our eyes perceive a world that rarely sacrifices for a higher goal.
We begin to allow temptations to eat away at us. We begin to wish it were easier being a devoted servant to the LORD. We want to have what the neighbors have, without all the guilt that we feel … for peeking away from God and looking at how the rest of the world lives.
The wilderness takes us away from that distraction. When we are alone, with only God and His angels to attend to our needs, we are happy to receive a little morning dew, and a little manna from heaven.
Survival becomes the expectation, not luxury.
When you see how all the first ten laws of God are the interconnected basic requirements for a child chosen to serve God, as His priest, it becomes easy to see how so few choose not to serve God.
The vast majority of human beings bow down before the altar of self-service.
They always seek to take the path of least resistance, with no thought about where that leads.
That is why Paul wrote to the Corinthians telling them, “The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.”
That means there are people living among us who have no commitment to God,
whatsoever. They can only sacrifice for personal gain, for short periods, much less than 40 days. Their mantra repeats the words, “I’m sorry” … when they get caught.
So, to try and tell them about being willing to die on a cross … to suffer the humiliation of suggesting others sacrifice all the comforts of the physical realm, just to maintain a system of religious laws … well, forget that foolishness.
Even the religious people of ancient Jerusalem, who would prepare to honor the commitment to a Passover Festival every year, they had lost all understanding of the spirit behind the Laws spoken by God.
Temptation had been allowed to set up its tables along the steps leading to the Temple. Vendors were hollering out, “BUY YOUR SACRIFICIAL ANIMALS HERE! DOVES FOR SALE! UNBLEMISHED LAMBS RIGHT HERE!”
The clink of coins in cash registers was constant.
I remember going to Bible study at an Episcopal church and hearing one of the elder ladies of the congregation sadly say, “I remember the days when you came to church expecting it to be quite. Now, it is a constant din of noise.”
Imagine what the noise factor was during the days of Jesus’ ministry, at the peaking of arrivals for a week celebrating the Passover, with so many pilgrims in town.
I was more like a convention, with Jerusalem a party town, rather than a solemn place for dedicated priests to congregate … in reverence to their LORD.
Once, perhaps, the Passover festival was a time to remember a nation of people’s freedom from slavery to multiple gods, when they were saved by the One Lord; rather than a good excuse for a family reunion and cookout.
In John’s Gospel we read how “the disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” That comes from Psalm 69 and the context means the way perverted practices and behaviors become insulting to those who still adhere to the basic principles behind the laws of God.
When one thinks about how the disciples were led to remember a quote that uses the word “zeal,” with that word being the root for the word “zealot,” the point John was making was the minds of Jesus’ disciples saw someone who can be characterized as “having a fanatical commitment to his or her religion.”
Jesus was seen by the Jews who witnessed his actions, which included his newly recruited disciples, as being a Zealot. That was “an extreme Jewish sect or political party that resisted all aspects of Roman rule in Palestine in the 1st century A.D.”
These days, a “zealot” is a troublemaker, as one with an extremist view of religion.
However, the verses surrounding “Zeal for your house will consume me,” states one’s commitment to the LORD, as one who will do nothing to disgrace God or bring shame upon one’s self. One like that will defend God from those who did dishonor the Lord.
David sang of a willingness to accept scorn and ridicule from others – those less committed to serving God – in order to maintain the Law. Jesus would be mocked by those who could not understand his prophecy of his death and resurrection, as being the rebuilding of the temple to the Lord. The Law was written on Jesus’ heart. His body was the temple, as it should be upon all true priests serving only One God.
Jesus saw the turning of the Temple into a marketplace as allowing evil to rest on the doorsteps of the Lord’s House, as a distraction to all who seek a steadfast relationship with the Father.
In that way David was a zealot, as was Jesus. The problem was not that.
The problem was that no one else in Jerusalem had that level of commitment to having no other gods before the One.
As we continue our small steps towards some personal sacrifice during this period of Lent, start today to let your eyes see your life more clearly. Examine how much you accept distractions into your normal world, with no zeal to turn anything over, with no strong urges to make a scene that shows how strong your commitment to God is.
Look closely at how Psalm 19 sings:
“Above all, keep your servant from presumptuous sins;
let them not get dominion over me;
then shall I be whole and sound, and innocent of a great offense.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight.”
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