Friday, May 27, 2016

The Rules of Love

Lately, I have been feeling overwhelmed by the pull of secular culture.  From the right, we are told that material wealth will bring freedom.  From the left we are told that sex with whomever, whenever, for whatever reason or no reason at all will set us free.  The world is trying so hard to redefine reality that it has been blinded to the most obvious of truths.

I have always clung to the church to guide me, especially in times of stormy waters.  That her rules are given out of love to set us free is one of my deepest held beliefs.  And not just in the next world, but in this one as well.

Following is a transcript of a talk I gave at our middle school retreat.  I was shocked at the reception and positive feedback I received from the kids.  It was something I really wanted to say, and I guess it was something they needed to hear.  

Today I would like to talk to you about rules.  We all hate rules, right?

The church, the school, our parents, the man (whoever he is) make rules to hold us down.

Our TV shows, movies, books, songs, even ads tell us that rule followers are boring, rule makers are mean and rule breakers are cool.  Rebels are free because they don’t follow the rules!

Right?  Right?  I’m not so sure.

I think rules may get a bad rap.  I think that our books our movies our songs may have it all wrong.  I think there may be a big misunderstanding about rules, and that the rebel isn’t free, but an unwitting fool.  I am thinking that if together we look at what rules REALLY are and what rules are NOT, you might find that you agree with me.

Let’s examine rules a little bit more closely. Let’s take one of the first rules we all learned.

Don’t put your finger in a light socket!

Now my first question:  Is it your parent’s rule that makes the light socket dangerous? 

No, it is not your parents' rule.  Your parents' rule simply correspond to Reality.  It is a rule based on a law that exists whether there is a rule or not,  let’s call it the 'law of electricity':  The body is an excellent conductor of electricity because it is filled with water.  Electricity will find the easiest way to ground, right through you.  Electrical outlets house electricity.   

There are laws in the universe.  Rules that correspond to these laws are there to protect us.  They are given, in this case by your parents, out of love.  Electricity will do what electricity does!  The rule warns us of reality.  It does not create it.  It illuminates what already exists in the world.

But rules do even more than that.  They make us more free!  Now wait a minute!  If I am not free to stick my finger in the light socket, I am less free, am I not? 

But a toddler that knows the rule about light sockets and can be trusted to follow the rule can be left alone to play, to explore, to move around on his own.
The child who does not know the rule or cannot be trusted to follow it must be confined or hovered over for his own protection.  Which of those children is more free?

So already we know that rules do not make things bad, they illuminate or warn us about a truth that exist in reality whether we know the rule or not.  They are given out of love and they make us more free.

With that in mind, I would like to look at the 10 commandments.

There are many unseen laws of the universe:  Flowers grow toward the sun, the moon circles the earth, what goes up must come down.  The unseen law of the universe upon which the 10 Commandments are based is called THE MORAL LAW.  Theft, lies, murder did not become wrong when Moses came down from Mt. Sinai, just as the Law of Gravity existed before Newton “discovered it.”  And like the Law of Gravity, The Moral Law has consequences whether or not we know the law, whether or not we believe in it.  Because of The Law of Gravity, if I walk out of a second story window, I will hit the ground.  It doesn’t matter what I believe.  My body is governed by the Law of Gravity and trying to defy that law gets me hurt. As our bodies are governed by the laws of nature, our spirit is governed by the Moral Law.  If we try and defy it, we get hurt, we hurt others.  But when we live in accord with Moral Law, we are more human, more truly free.

And so, I want to examine the 10 Commandments to see if we can learn more about what it means to be human, what it means to be free.

The first three commandments are first for a reason.  They are first because they tell us the reality upon which all other realities are based.  They tell us that GOD is GOD and I am not.  I am your God, Honor my Name, Honor my Day.  These do not tell us about God, they tell us about us.  It is not God who needs Honor and Praise, no it is us who need to honor and praise God.  Why?  Because to live in a world where I do not know that God is God and I am not, is a dangerous world.  To live in a world where I am God or God is NOT is world where no one is free.

But more importantly, the first three commandments tell me something fundamental about what it means to be human.   They tell me my purpose:  I was created out of love to be with God.  To be human IS to be in relationship.

The rest of the commandments tell us something equally fundamental about being human, I am called to be in relationship, not just with God, but with others.  This did not come to be true when Moses walked down the mountain.  No, it was true from the foundation of the world.  I bet it didn’t take early man long to figure out that a man alone is a dead man.  But together we can survive and then expand and then prosper to build communities, societies, civilizations.  To be human IS to be in relationship with others. 

Man is social and the first and primary unit of all societies is the family.  And so,

The fourth commandment is in a sense the bridge between those commandments that help us to be in relationship with God and those that help us to be in relationship with the rest of man-kind. 

The 4th commandment.  What truth does it illuminate about reality?  WE NEED A FAMILY.  Again, this did not become true, Bam! with the stone tablets.  It was true always.   The animals probably looked with pity at early man and thought, “Darn, those cubs never grow up.”  99% of what the rest of the animal kingdom needs to know to survive, they know by instinct.  But not man, he must be taught.  A dog doesn’t need to be taught to be a dog, a lion doesn’t need to be taught to be a lion.  But 99% of what man needs to know to be man, to be in relationship with God, to be in relationship with others, to survive, he needs to be taught.  That man needs a family is built into the universe.  The commandment just told us how we could make family work the best.  How family can make us more free.  When we hear it, Honor your father and mother, we might think, "Boy, the kids got the short end of the stick in this one."  But, not so.

Obedience always assumes a legitimate authority.  In the military, soldiers obey their commanders, they do not obey the commanders on the other side.  We obey the 10 Commandments because they were given by God out of love.  Children are required to obey their parents because parents are required to love their children.  To love means to put your welfare above my own.  It means to sacrifice my own self-interest for your good.  And if children obey and parents love, our families correspond to the Moral Law, and we are more free.  Think about it.  A child who has no one to obey is a frightened child.  But when there are rules to obey, children are more free to grow, live, laugh and learn without having to worry about all the dangers in the world. 

 The rest of the commandments can be broken down into basically three categories:  Property, sexual relations and speech.  Wait a minute, you are forgetting the 5th, what about thou shall not kill?

I will not insult your intelligence by elaborating on the obvious.   A society where there are no rules about killing is a dangerous society.  It is a society that is not free.  Not much else to say.

The 7th and 10th commandments deal with property:  You shall not steal, you shall not covet your neighbors’ goods.  Now remember, the 10 Commandments illuminate the Moral Law and the Moral Law helps us to be more human, more free.  So why does Moral Law assume a right to property?  I don’t think it is because the universe cares about your tv, my necklace, his ox and cart.  I think it is because to share is essential to relationship.  To be in relationship with God and with others means to SHARE.  And guess what, I can’t share if I don’t own.   Maybe in a perfect world, but we do not live in a perfect world.
As a parent, it is one of the hardest virtues to teach a young child.  If I have a cookie and tell you to share it with your brother, you are not really sharing because it is my cookie.  But if the cookie is yours and I take ½ and give it to your brother, you have not shared. But if I give you the cookie as your own, and I leave it up to you to choose, there are no guarantees.   You may choose wrongly.  You may choose the cookie over your brother.  And life isn’t about cookies, it is about brothers.  All the cookies in the world are not equal to one brother.  Freedom is not having choices, though choice is a necessary element of freedom.   Freedom comes from choosing wisely.

To steal robs us not just of our goods but of the opportunity to share.  And to share is to be in relationship, and that makes us more fully human, more free.

The 6th and the 9th commandments tell us about human sexual relationships.  Like Electricity, sex is wonderful, powerful and therefore can be dangerous.  There are many, many rules that govern it.  I think some people believe all the church's moral laws are just about sex.  That is not true, but we do need more rules to swim in the ocean than to swim in a pond.  We could examine each of the church’s teachings and see what they illuminate about reality and how they protect us and make us free, but we would need another whole period for that.  Let it suffice to say that the reality that all the laws illuminate is that Sex is for Marriage.  Why?  Because  human sexual relationships produce what?…a human, thank you Capt. Obvious.  But all animals mate, dogs, cats, lamas.  But because our relationships produce a human, ahh, now that is why it is so wonderful and powerful.  Because man is more precious than anything else in the entire universe, he is created in the image and likeness of God, he is one of a kind.  Have you heard…Modern sceicne can now detect a spark at the moment of human conception.  Doesn’t surprise me one bit.  The human is a miracle and deserves much.
Remember back to the 4th commandment:  We need a family.  If you examine any rule of the church regarding sexual morality, you will find that it protects in some way the family and each of its memebers:  mother, father, children.  And when we follow the rules that govern sexual relationships, we are safer, we are more free.

The 2nd and 8th commandments deal with speech.  Don’t take the name of the Lord in Vain, thou shall not lie.  Speech.  Speech is so uniquely human.  We are the only creatures in the universe with speech.  Certainly not the only ones who communicate, but the only ones with words.  And from the very beginning, man used those words not just to communicate needs:  give me some milk, hand me that wood, help!  No, we told stories about the stars, recorded our history, I bet in caves all across the world, mothers had words to say, I love you my child.  Now GO TO SLEEP!  Speech is how we build relationship, with God and with one another.  It is an essential part of being human.

My very favorite part of the whole bible is the beginning of John:  In the Beginning was the Word.  And the Word was with God.  And the Word was God... And The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
Jesus is God’s words!  Jesus is God's WORDS! All that God wanted to say to us, all the warnings, all the love letters, everything! He says in the person of Jesus.  And what is God?  John tells us that just as beautifully:  God is love.

So what did Jesus tell us about the 10 Commandments?  We call it the Summary of the Law.  Love God, Love neighbor, love yourself.

Did this mean, "Hooray now we can lie, cheat, steal, disobey?"  Of course not!  Love is the HOW and the WHY!  Love doesn't change the rules.

If I love you, I don’t want to lie to you or about you.  I don’t want to commit adultery, I don’t want you dead.  If I love, the law is made easier to follow. 

If I do not steal all my neighbor’s lawn art, that is an act of love.  If I don’t gossip about people I don’t really like that much, that is an act of love. 

I love God and my neighbor by following the rules and I follow the rules because I love God and my neighbor.  Love doesn't change the rules, love is following the rules.  Following the rules IS love.

Jesus is the key.  It is through the person of Jesus that we are taught how to be fully human, how to be most perfectly in relationship with God and with others, so that we may be most free.

And the cross is the perfect icon to remind us of this.  His cross points up to heaven, to our heavenly father, and His arms stretch out across all space and time to embrace each of us.

You have spent this retreat meditating on what it means to be in relationship, with Jesus, with others.  Remember:  Rules are an essential part of every relationship.  They are not there to hold us down, but to set us free.  They help us to be most fully human. 
Remember when Satan told Adam and Eve to break the rules.  He told them that if they disobey, they would be like God.  He only lied about the disobey part.  Man can be like God.  What? Yep, remember, God is love.  When we love, we are godlike.  And to love is to follow those commandments and to follow those commandments, that too is love.

And so, I close today with a challenge for each of you moving forward.  Give rules the benefit of the doubt.  Remember that rules are given out of love, to protect us, to make us free.  That rules, when they correspond to the 10 Commandments, illuminate reality, illuminate the Moral Law.  And that the Moral Law, every single solitary letter, is about being in relationship with God and with others.  And this truth will set us free.

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