God’s Directions/Changes

Message for Sunday, Oct. 5, 2014 in St. Paul’s UCC, Eureka, SD. The scriptures were: Exodus 20:1-4, 7-20, Philippians 3:4b-14, and Matthew 21:33-46. Title was “God’s Directions/Changes.”

Usually I start out these messages with a personal story then give you some historical information on the scripture and finally tie things all together. Today I want to flip things around, and bear with me you will understand in the end.

Our scripture lessons today include statements from Paul about where he fits into the Jewish life. He is writing to the Christians at Philippi, and explains his own connections to the Jewish faith. He says that he was circumcised and a Jew born to the tribe of Benjamin, a student of the law, a Pharisee, but he gave that all up to be an apostle for the gospel of Jesus. He says nothing matters, but faith in Jesus.

In Matthew, Jesus gives us a parable that perfectly reflects what God did for us. There is a rich man who owned a vineyard. Almost sounds like the opening line of a joke. He owned a vineyard and instead of working it himself, he had tenants on it, and he lived in a far off place. Sort of like the people from out-of-state, who buy the land in our own area. The comparison is God made the world and it is his.

The rich man left the vineyard to the tenants to work and plant and reap, and then he sent one of his slaves to collect the rent payment. When the slave showed up, the tenants beat the slave, this happened repeatedly. This is like God sending the prophets that were numerous in the Old Testament. He sent them, but they were rejected over and over and over.

Finally the rich man decided to send his son because he believed the son would have more authority and would come back with the payment that was owed. Instead the evil tenants killed the son believing that if the son were gone, they would inherit the land. God sent his only begotten son, Jesus, and the leaders of his time killed him. The imprisoned him, beat him, hung him on a cross and crucified him, and when he rose from the dead, they still didn’t accept the magnitude of what they had done. At this point in the parable the chief priests and Pharisees realized what Jesus was saying and they wanted to kill him, but they knew that they couldn’t get by with it at the time, so they waited.

In Exodus today we read the story of the 10 Commandments that God gave to the Jewish people and the world through Moses. It is a list of how to live under God and in harmony with others. Over the years, I have come to realize those rules aren’t just a set of items forbidden (verboten) for us. They are not only the DON’TS of how to act. They are a list of ways to behave that in essence protect us from bad consequences.

An example includes: If you don’t kill, you not only avoid jail, you avoid all of the other consequences of people disliking you, your guilt, the sadness and sorrow of another life being gone.

What about false witness? If you don’t say anything bad, especially a lie about someone else, you don’t need to keep lying and remembering that lie not to mention how you deal with all the broken relationships.

I will also mention one more of the commandments that we of the German-Russian heritage are not so good at keeping; at least it was never a priority in my family growing up. It is the one rule that James’ Dutch family has hung on to so tightly. It is the Commandment to keep the Sabbath. My in-laws are still very strict about this rule. Though they did milk on Sunday’s (that only because his father felt it would be abuse of the cows not to do so), they hold very strictly to the no work on Sunday’s even when in the middle of harvest time. My parents would never have taken the chance of losing a crop to a rain or hail just because they took Sunday off.

I have to admit that in the BC part of our marriage (before children) James and I were also very good at keeping that commandment. Before we had any of our daughters, Sunday was a day of church, and except for making meals, it was a day of rest. After having lived both ways, I can really see the importance of this rule more each week, and more each year older I get. Keeping the Sabbath isn’t just about Bible study as you read in the books like Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Farmer Boy. It is about giving our bodies a day to rest and recover. If you take a day, be it Saturday or Sunday, a day at the beginning or the end of a week of work, but a day to rest, you give your body time to rest and repair and recover for the next set of work. Perhaps for those of us who work at a desk, it isn’t such a big deal, but in that case taking time for our minds to recover is just as important.

Just ask any coach of worth, they will tell you that after a hard workout or a hard week of workouts, when you rest, you get recovery, and with recovery comes improvement. With rest your body and mind and soul improves. God was not demanding this rest so we could have one more rule to break; it is for our own good. It seems in American we try to save all our Sabbaths for retirement, but I am beginning to wonder if maybe by that time it will be too late. I don’t think it works that way to build it all up for the end. I have even heard the saying, “I will sleep when I am dead.” Maybe, but at what rate do we wear out at that case?

Today as we celebrate World Communion Sunday, I need to be reflective. Today it has been a year since I first filled this pulpit so we could get an idea if we wanted to go down this road together. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had started down the road in this direction, maybe not specifically here, but somewhere several years before that day. For me it happened about the time that I left my teaching job with the Mobridge-Pollock system.

At that time I knew that something needed to change in my life. Some part of what I was doing was not right. I was going through a situation sort of like one that I had heard about and laughed at years ago. It seems there was a young man who testified at a revival meeting about how he had turned his life toward God. He told the congregation gathered for the meeting that he had been told by God to sell his car and turn his life around. Later when a woman was sharing the story with her brother, he laughed and said, “Oh I thought it was just because he had too many tickets for exhibition driving and that was why he had to sell his car.”

See when I left teaching that sort of joke flashed at me. I like to think that I moved on because I was tired of the commute. I said that I was frazzled from the bad winter, the impending road construction and the distance of the drive. The truth was that I wasn’t happy as a teacher anymore, and I had loved teaching. I had loved the students, the subject matter, the activities and especially the pace of the work. But something had changed. I wasn’t effective in what I was doing. I don’t know if it was the age group or the subject or the extras, whatever the case, it just wasn’t working for me or the students.

I began remembering a story of a woman in my hometown. She passed away a few years after James and I moved to Herreid, and I was saddened by her loss because she was someone I enjoyed listening to and someone I wanted to get to know better. My sister later told me that she wasn’t always an interesting fun sort of person to be around. She spent much of her adult life crabby and looking at the empty part of the glass instead of the full part. Until one day she realized how her attitude was affecting her and those around her, and she just changed. I was amazed that someone could do that. I began to want that ability to change. To change pace, attitude, life-style and mostly to change the way people saw me, and I wanted to make a difference.

I knew that I would have to have a closer relationship with God to affect any of these changes so I started with reading the Bible. I had a Bible when I was a youngster that mapped out how you could read the entire Bible in a year by reading one chapter in the morning and one at night, and so I modified that by reading two each day starting in separate places. I began with the first of Matthew and Psalms. I believe that I am on my third time through, and though I may not concentrate as well as I should on each chapter, it has been good for me. I also copied an idea from an unlikely place, a movie. The heroine of The Help, wrote her prayers. I began doing that, and though I am a little lax on that part as of late, boy was that an eye opener to actually write down what you are praying for.

I tell you these things not to say this is how you must be, or to brag about what I have been doing, but to share with you some pieces of how I got to this place. See I realized something long ago when I was teaching, besides the importance of learning how to pick your battles, you need to know that the only attitude you can change is your own. I was reminded of that again when I listened to Holly present her talk at the Women’s event in Selby and Wednesday at the Valley meeting in Herreid.

The directions that God gives to us in the 10 Commandments and the parables that Jesus uses to point out the flaws in the Jewish leaders and the people of his day and ours are not there to show us how wrong we are. They were not made and given to human kind so there would be a way to convict us. Those laws and rules are there for our own protection, they are there to give us a better way to be. Jesus gives us the summary of the law when he tells us to Love God with all our heart and strength and might and to love our neighbors as ourselves, and they are all our neighbors.

When we do those things, we have the right attitude, we have the right directions, and people see us for a person who cares more about others than ourselves. I know that I have lots left to learn, and a long way to go to be the person that God wants me to be. I also know that with your help, I have changed more than I care to admit. In our short time together, you have changed me, and for that no matter how much more time we have together, I will always be grateful. The only thing that I am really sure of is that God gives us directions, and God helps us with changes. We just have to be willing to listen and do. Amen!

8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. christinelaennec
    Oct 14, 2014 @ 14:22:35

    God certainly does help us with change. Moving to a new city was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but I knew it was where God wanted me/us to be, and he has really helped my heart to heal, and helped me to begin a new life. It’s been a good exercise in trust….

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  2. Kathy
    Oct 12, 2014 @ 09:56:25

    The only thing we can change is ourselves. Yes, by the grace of God. I love the depth of what you share here, Lucinda. Really good guidance.

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  3. glenda zimmerman
    Oct 07, 2014 @ 09:38:05

    Change is so very hard for me!! I guess that’s why I still live in the same house as I did when I was 8 years old!! And taught in the same school for 32 years. Good sermon, LuCinda!! Hopefully, I will try to be a better person every day and do what the commandments tell us to do. Wouldn’t life be perfect if everyone followed those commandments??

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  4. deliciousdaydreams
    Oct 07, 2014 @ 05:47:19

    I love how you focused on how God tells us these things for our own good. Excellent and thoughtful, thank you! 😊

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