Sermon of the Week:
Laying Down the Law
Week nine of a nine part sermon series:
I Feel Seen: Ancient Stories and Modern Wisdom
Keywords: Decalogue, Order and Ardor, Torah, Improvisation, Jazz. #pcusa
Permission to podcast / stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE with license #A-733469. All rights reserved.
Though it is tempting jump right into an analysis of these ten commandments, individually,
we’re not going to do that this morning.
There’s a lot to go over here, if we were going to do that,
and if I’m honest,
we’re trying to be more focused with these meditations,
and that kind of sermon could go a while….
[I know, I know. I hear some of you saying to your computer screens:
Hey Chad, the Chiefs game is on Monday Night this week. We have time!]
Then again, on the other hand,
I don’t want to just spend two or three minutes covering each of ten commandments,
which is all we’d be able to do for our regular 20-minute sermon.
That doesn’t seem quite right, either.
If we wanted to, we could do a 10-week sermon series just on these verses, at least,
looking carefully at all of it: have no other Gods, or idols, or speak God’s name in vein,
keep the sabbath holy, honor your parents,
don’t murder or break the vows of marriage or steal or lie or covet your neighbor’s stuff.
It would be worth it do that kind of study, though, someday.
Maybe we’ll do that for an upcoming sermon series.
Looking at those topics, one at a time
would tell us a lot, say,
about the religious environment that the Hebrews were living in at that time,
in the 10th century BCE, and what it meant to ask them to just choose Yahweh,
even though that might be a no brainer
given what they’ve been through.
That might help us think about why people some people struggle to believe in God these days,
why we might struggle with God some days,
and how there are other stories in the Bible, like the one we read about Jacob two months ago,
that might put that sort of struggle in a more favorable light…
Or we could look at what it might mean to put our ultimate faith and trust
in something other than God,
that’s what we call an idol,
and how we are tempted to do that, all the time,
and how ultimately unsatisfying it is
to put our trust in something that is going to let us down,
something like the pursuit of success, or economic and political power,
or nationalism, or the latest gadget in our pocket,
or the diet and health fad of the moment,
or, in the church world, in denominationalism, and so on,
rather than trusting in God, and God alone, as our ultimate concern,
the ultimate source of strength and hope and love and community…
We could talk about oaths, and what it means to put the name of God in the middle of them.
The importance of integrity, trustworthiness, and honor.
Or how about a focus on Sabbath, and how good rest is,
for body and spirit,
and how we seem to be getting worse at taking breaks,
at unplugging, at taking time to renew…
Yes, we could even talk about our parents,
which would be a pleasant conversation for many of us
and not so pleasant for others…
And that would only be half of them.
Consider that a preview into a sermon series on the ten commandments
whenever we get around to it in the future.
But if you’ve been following this current sermon series for the last few weeks
you might get a sense that our focus is a bit different today, anyway,
in that we’re looking at this moment in this story,
telling us something about the Hebrew people
and the journey they’re on, together,
wondering out in the wilderness
struggling to keep it together after 400 years in Egypt,
it’s all any of them know,
but now they’re newly free from servitude,
literally moving into the unknown
having no structure, no order, no clear plan,
other than “hey follow that pillar of cloud in front of us”
“don’t stray from the caravan if you know what’s good for you”
“hey there’s manna to eat and, when our canteens get low,
Moses can get some water from the rock for us…”
What ARE they doing, anyway, Moses?
So, one way to read this passage
is to step back from the individual commandments
and ask ourselves more basic questions,
Why, do you think, it happened,
that literally in the middle of nowhere,
as the people were disorganized, unfocused, like a ship without an anchor,
that God called the Hebrews to this mountain and spoke these words to Moses?
Maybe one way to think about that question
is to talk a bit about boundaries, about structure.
Last night many of us gathered at The Kirk for Jazz on the Lawn,
with thanks to our Deacons who put together this socially-distanced event.
For about 90 minutes last night,
Earlie and Danny and Gerald
offered music that was a balm to my spirit
as cooped up as we have been these past several months.
I don’t know a lot about Jazz,
so take all of what I’m about to say with a serious grain of salt,
but I’m amazed when I watch talented people create Jazz music.
They might start out with a song they plan to offer
a rhythm, a melody, a plan,
but in the middle of that there is always spontaneity, and improvisation.
How do they do that?
How do they do it so effortlessly and beautifully?
Well, it takes a lot of work, and practice,
and, honestly, it takes some structure.
The band leader might start off and play around a bit with the melody,
given the particular instrument they’re using,
and then will hand things over to someone else,
who will do things differently, their own way,
for however long they feel moved by the song at the moment,
and then they make eye contact with one of the others
and then that musician will run with it,
before it all goes back to the leader to continue the song…
and somehow jazz happens,
the end result being something fresh and new and authentic.
It was really a gift to spend that time last night with many of you
enjoying such wonderful music,
and it had me thinking about the art of good jazz …
it is perhaps the most free-flowing music you can imagine
the artist goes where she goes…
for as long as she goes…
but note well: even with Jazz, the music is never completely free of structure, of order.
You’ve got to know your instrument, for one.
How to play the guitar or bass or trombone,
how to do chord progressions, harmony, rhythm.
And you have to have agreement with
the other people who are playing,
the ones not improvising at the moment,
because their job is to keep rhythm,
to provide the background sounds that creates the musical canvas, so to speak,
upon which the improvisation happens.
Even in Jazz, you know if something isn’t quite right
if someone is out of sync,
if the pieces don’t work together.
Without some structure, Jazz isn’t Jazz.
And the same goes for any other kind of music,
Rhythm and Blues, Rock and Roll, Lullabies or Zydeco. [Read more…]