The Shape of Integrity

The SHEMA "Hear O Israel: The LORD is our god. The LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your might."

Foundational statement of a people that has lived through epic journeys, migrations and forced relocations for thousands of years. It has lived through years of enslavement, foreign occupation, impoverishment and through the grandeur of the kingdom years.

It is a statement that we Christians have inherited. For the most part, we understand this statement as a commandment one among ten or one out of two. Listen again. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your might.

And as a commandment, as a law, as a rule, or even as a strong suggestion, we struggle with obeying it as it says…with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your might. As commandment, it becomes impossible to fill. How can I direct all of my attention to loving another?

But perhaps we can see it another way. Perhaps we can hear it as promise. Or even go so far as to see it as identity.

There is a core story in our first reading from Deuteronomy. I don't know if you heard it, it began, a wandering Aramean was my ancestor. It is the story of course of Abraham going down into Egypt to escape the famine, only to have his future generations end up as slaves. It is the story of Moses and Aaron and their exodus into freedom. It is the story of promise and covenant with God that gave meaning to the lives of every Israelite. It is a story that is foundational for us as well. Remember Stephen before he was stoned retold the story of the Exodus but with a twist. He challenged his accusers with not living out the promises or fulfilling the covenant.

They were angered by his charges…because as far as they knew, they had obeyed everything - dotted all the I's and crossed all the T's. You see the early people of the covenant tried so hard to be sure to do what God wanted that they created a fence of rules designed to make sure they wouldn't possibly disobey their part in the covenant. They had their own share of people like James Dobson, Max Lucado, Steven Covey, Tim LeHaye to interpret for them how to go about doing what was right in their lives.

Then King David and all their contemporary singers and musicians wrote those great praise songs we know as Psalms. People would sing them when they went on caravan, or at family gatherings on the roof tops with their next door neighbors. They would sing them on their way to the temple. These were the songs that gave people hope, in a time when people could not read - these songs taught the love of their God for them and the promises he had made. When life got difficult these psalms would return to their lips reminding them of who they were and WHOSE they were and what was the center of their existence.

Paul says that very thing in the Romans reading. The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart. (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim): because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

For those of you who have ever learned a foreign language, you will have at times been frustrated by the fact that there are not always exact one-to-one corresponding words or phrases to get your meaning across. This is particularly true of verbs. Past tense and future tense can seem extremely complicated when you start talking about he did, he was doing, he has done, he would have done, he shall have done. And suddenly there you are mixing the future in with the past or the present or perhaps with commands and also promises.

And so it is with the word Bible translators have assigned the English - shall and often times "will". It is a fluid, flexible word filled with encouragement. It should not always be assumed that it is a mere command but rather bound up with pride and joy knowing God has richly blessed and will continue to bless NOT because of anything we have done but because of WHO GOD is. And so, the sense is, perhaps not now, not this minute, but the time is coming when this will be our reality…and so we live in that future reality - now.

You see God was trying to form a people who were unique, who were peculiarly his, who were particularly identifiable. Their behavior in every minute of their daily life would be their distinguishing feature. Knowing themselves claimed by the Lord, their behavior would reflect God's purposes. Their lives would proclaim the greatness of God and would become a light to others.

But it is too easy to slip over to the legalistic side. In tending to our own desires, it is easier to say, okay, just tell me what I'm supposed to do and I will do it. As if to say, I'll add that to my chore list and get it accomplished. And at the end of the day, the month, the year, or perhaps the end of my life, I'll get my reward. OR. OR here's the other side of it. We see God's promises and we stretch our desires as far as we can testing how strong God's promises really are. How faithful will God be, before God crosses me off the list.

THAT - THAT was what Satan was trying to do with Jesus during the days in the wilderness. OH Satan knew all of the promises of Scripture. And, we know that he knew God just as well. And, so he was preying on the humanness of Jesus. We heard that Jesus had been without food for forty days. Can you imagine how hungry…how his body was longing for satisfaction. We read about three challenges, the devil presented to Christ, change the stone to bread, worship the devil and all the world would be his, and jump off the temple steeple and watch the angels come and protect you. But these three were not all. The scripture tells us that Jesus was tempted the entire 40 days. Tempted with untold numbers of things.

But Jesus resisted, He returned over and over again to the Psalms, to the scriptures. Why? Were his Bible passages stronger or truer than the ones the devil used? NO and I hope you don't get drawn into that trap of quoting verses to prove your point. Because if you do, you've missed the point.

Instead, think. Think, What is God trying to do in this world, what are God's reasons for drawing you unto God's self. What does it mean to have been given "life." Are we just trying to get through this existence with as few errors as possible or as many earthly pleasures as we can get away with? Do we use anesthetizing substances to help us avoid facing life's real challenges? Cigarettes, food, alcohol, drugs, sex, thrills.

I am not standing here to read you a bunch of rules and laws to follow. I won't tell you you gotta stop smoking, doin drugs, or overeating - even though that would be beneficial to your health. I'm not going to teach you today the ten commandments over again so that you can resist a temptation that might come your way this afternoon. Although that would help.

Instead, I want you to go away from here knowing WHO you are and WHOSE you are. It's like a filter through which you see the world and your responses become automatic. For example, I have been a seamstress all my life. That becomes my filter through which I make clothing and decorator choices. If you are a survivor of the depression, you make economic decisions through a certain criteria. If you are a democrat, you have a certain platform that influences your decisions. If you are a Christian in today's world you might have run around with WWJD bracelets or bought the Prayer of Jabez books or you're really into the Left Behind series. These decisions come from life experience - and sometimes they come from media hype.

And some of it is good and some of it is the devil bombarding us with temptations every minute of the day.

Read other sermons by Pastor Joan