Sermon of the Week
The Lord’s Prayer:
Forgive, and Help Us When Tempted.
Some of you may remember that I studied Ethics in graduate school.
For some, that’s about as exciting as watching paint dry, I know.
I’ve spent a good chunk of my adult life thinking about good things,
about right and wrong
Or, to be more accurate, how people try to figure out what is right and what is wrong.
It’s not all that easy.
Do you look at what makes for a flourishing human life:
Maybe having enough nourishing food, and clean water;
Good sturdy clothing and a place to sleep safe from the elements;
Access to doctors and a chance to spend time with friends and pets;
A good balance between work and play, learning and leisure.
Do you take all of that and then try to maximize that for as many people as possible
Or maybe just for you and your family, or your country?
Do you work out a system of right and wrong based on how you might do that:
try to make everything end up the best that you possibly can
for the most people you can.
That’s one way to do it.
Or maybe you’re more abstract, and you think about rules:
Treat people with respect, particularly your elders, or your parents;
Don’t steal from other people, or ruin their family lives, or long after their stuff;
Don’t kill, don’t lie, use honest weights in your store, that sort of thing.
Maybe those rules come from God,
Or maybe those rules come from some version of the Golden Rule,
the notion of reciprocity that is found in almost every human culture:
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,
What goes around, comes around.
When you think this way,
the rules that are important should therefore
be rules that apply to everyone,
everyone just the same,
in a fair world, a just world.
That’s another way to try to work it out.
There are some others.
But no matter how you look at the task of figuring out what is right and what is wrong,
we human beings have been working on it for almost as long
as we’ve been on this planet,
as long as we’ve had other people to share our lives with.
Our ancient creation stories in the Bible are a good example of this.
The story of the first couple, and the tree in the garden.
Do you remember the name of that tree?
It’s the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”
(That was always a sort of a warning for the person who studied ethics, I think.)
Genesis tells us about the fruit of that tree, so tempting, alluring:
like a good, tall cup of lemonade on a warm summer day.
But we’re not supposed to eat from it.
Everything else is good and tasty and nutritious. Just stay away from that one.
There may be no better way to establish a temptation
than to tell someone not to take something that’s right in front of them.
Did God know what she was doing when she did that?
A young couple once told me about a weekend they had spent
raking in their front yard.
It had been a windy week
And the two 30 foot trees on the property, and the three other trees next door
seemed to cover their entire front yard in brown and yellow and red leaves.
They had a lot to do.
So they got to work:
Two rakes, a dozen yard waste bags,
One of those plastic things you slip inside the bags to keep them open.
They had a son. Max was four.
He had his own rake too: this little bright green plastic thing
and boy didn’t he look adorable trying to help out.
Soon the parents had divided and conquered.
There were four or five huge piles of leaves now
all over the front yard, ready to be bagged.
And, as sometimes happens with toddlers, their son got…well, bored.
His adorable rake was no longer interesting.
Jumping in those piles of leaves was fun the first,
and maybe the second time he tried it.
There was still a lot to do.
So mom sat him down on the front stairs,
gave him a juice box and some goldfish,
and said to him
“Max, mommy and daddy have to keep working.
You can stay here and enjoy your snack
or you can go inside and play with your toys
or you can help us rake leaves.
Just whatever you do,
don’t set foot in the street.”
She looked him in the eyes the entire time she said all this
watching to make sure he understood.
Max understood. Max nodded.
He even repeated it back to mommy
in the way that four year olds can. Juice. Play. No street.
And mom was satisfied. Back to raking for her.
Or so she thought.
She got maybe 10 steps away, back to where her leaf bag
lay waiting for another pile of brown and yellow and red
and Max saw that she was far enough away from him
when he stood up
and started walking, slowly, down their driveway.
Max was looking at her the whole time. Direct eye contact.
And she was looking back, watching her son walk towards the curb. [Read more…]