A white bench next to the keyboard in our church’s sanctuary has bothered me for weeks. I’ve resisted the urge to move it myself, in case it was placed there by the powers-that-be.
Why does it matter?
Its placement is knocking off the symmetry of a large planted pot, normally in the center of the enormous sliding door-window there, a twin to the plant-and-window combo on the other side.
I’ve wondered if the musicians needed this bench to hold up their music or their instruments. Maybe it was simply a place to rest when they weren’t performing. I’ve watched diligently to see.
And I’ve noted that the only thing this bench has held up over 16 weeks is the extra holder for the tiny grape juice cups, left there during communion today. While musicians and their music trump plants in importance for worship, plants trump an abandoned bench that messes with the rustic feng shui of our sanctuary.
Have I lost you?
I asked Matt, our worship leader, if he minded my moving the bench, convinced as I was that it wasn’t serving any useful purpose, convinced as I was that the beauty in our worship space was increased by its overall symmetry. Which meant that the bench had to go, and the plant had to move back.
Which begs the question, did anybody care besides me?
Evidently Matt didn’t. He laughed. I did, too. Who waits four months to ask what’s-what about something bothersome? And while I might have been thrown off in the past by his laughing about what bugged me, having just read today’s chapters, I dared to believe that if I cared about it, God did, too.
Nothing’s beneath God’s notice.
These chapters cover a wide range of issues, thrown in all together in one big ole’ pot of Commandment Soup.
There are churchy rules, such as who’s banned permanently from worship and paying up promptly if you make a promise, right alongside personal hygiene rules, such as where and how to poop, 23:1-8, 12-14, 21-23.
There are other, more socially sensitive issues like how to handle runaway slaves, how to handle prostitutes and their money, how to handle “nocturnal emissions,” and how to sample your neighbor’s produce without calling it stealing, 23:9-11, 15-18, 24-25.
God tells them how to divorce, how to marry, how to make a loan, and who to charge interest. There’s a lot more here, but I’m tired, just listing this much 23:19-20; 24:1-6, 10-13.
Suffice it to say that God has strong opinions about how his Ten Commandments play out in the affairs of everyday life. He’s not unconcerned about any aspect of living–public or private. He doesn’t mark out the Sabbath as “his day,” and let folks figure out how they want to live the rest of the week.
God cares that how we live respects other people and respects him. The culture of honor he creates in these chapters has implications for everyone, but he seems especially concerned for the poor–the foreigner, the worker, the widow, the orphan, the slave. Infused throughout these chapters is God’s concern that no one be oppressed and that the “haves” look out for the “have-nots,” 23:7-8, 15-16; 24:10-15, 17-22.
Jesus comes along with the very same attitude.
A man asks Jesus, “What do I need to do to gain eternal life?”
Jesus asks him how he interprets God’s law. The man answers with “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. And love your neighbor as well as you do yourself,” 10:25-27; De 6:5; Le 19:18.
In an effort to distance himself from responsibility, the questioner wants to know who’s his neighbor. Jesus then tells the story of the Good Samaritan and asks him, “Who was a neighbor to the robbed man?” 10:29-36.
“The man who had mercy,” he says, the point being: every person is a neighbor to every other. Loving my neighbor means loving every person in my path, 10:37.
I love getting down to the one or two must-dos for living. In a world of constant bells and whistles alerting me to a thousand options for how to spend my time, Jesus’ simple summary of the Ten Commandments, which in itself was a summary of what God elaborated on in five chapters of Deuteronomy, is relieving: Love God. Love others, Mt 22:37-39; De 21-25.
The truth is, I can’t do a lot of things everyday, but maybe I can try to do one or two. Maybe focusing on God first-and-most will make every other thing fall into place.
But I’ve tried that. And it doesn’t work. Simple as it sounds to love God and others, I just can’t do it.
The place I have to start isn’t trying hard, but confessing that I can’t love at all, and that I need God’s help. Of course, it’s easy to love the lovable. But have you noticed that sooner or later, everybody is unlovable?
The good news is that this is why Jesus came in the first place, and the more good news is that he delights to help us.
Asaph helps next.
“God rules,” Asaph says, 7.
I love simple truth.
Because God rules, I can relax and rest. I can play and take a day off. I can trust that he’s at work even when I’m not. I can retire as sovereign in my little universe. I can join in the doings of others and enjoy their contributions.
I don’t have to have the last word or the first–or even any words on a subject. I can offer supporting love-words, instead, or silent ones, breathed and groaned, all by myself.
God’s got us. He’s got this, whatever your this is. He’s involved. He’s near. He’s watching out for you and me. He’s watching out for the down-and-out, too. And he wants us watching out, like he does, being a good neighbor to everyone we bump into.
What God wants is simple: Love him. Love others. And when I can’t do what he wants, he helps me every time I ask, which is often, as it turns out.
God’s way is easy and light.
“For my yoke is easy and my burden is light,” Ma 11:30.
Deuteronomy 23-25, Luke 10, and Psalm 75 are selected for today in The One Year Bible.