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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

It's Not Too Difficult

2010-07-11 Deuteronomy 30:9-14 It's Not Too Difficult
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)

Pop quiz: How many commandments are there? Ten. (Very good.) Why does it seem like there are so many more? God wrote ten on the stone tablets, but by the time Moses gets through with them, there are a lot of footnotes. Deuteronomy is marvelous. Laws, laws, and more laws. Laws saying, Don't eat that, don't wear this kind of clothing, don't fraternize with those kind of people, don't tease bald people (actually, that one's in Leviticus). Don't do this, don't do that - Don't, don't, don't. Moses starts out with ten bullet points, but he ends up sounding like your mother on prom night.

If you read the Bible, looking for the "don'ts," you'll find them. Lots of them. You might come to the conclusion that the Bible is all about keeping you from having a good time. Lots of people believe that. Is it fun? Eeaah. Is it fattening? Eeaah. Can you do it without clothes? Eeaah, eeaah. Sure, there are Ten Commandments on two big tablets. But there are also a lot of appendices and attachments, codicils and addenda, lugged behind in wheelbarrows of smaller tablets.

So, it might be surprising that Moses, the man who brought you the Ten Commandments (and a whole lot more), is also the man who, at the end of his life, sums up all his vast, expansive teachings, saying this, which we read today:

Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven, that you should say, "Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?" Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, "Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?" No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.

Moses, the great law-giver, does a most graceful thing. He cuts us a break. He doesn't resort to the classic, "Oh, and one more thing." He doesn't beat us over the head with a big stick of don'ts. Moses concludes his teaching, saying, "Look, folks. It's not that difficult. The secret's not hidden away in heaven. It's not buried beyond the sea. The secret - if there is a secret at all - is already within you. It's in your mouth. It's in your heart. And if there, then if you look, if you listen very closely, if you're very, very still, you can see it, you can hear it, you can taste it."

Make no mistake: life would go better for us kept God's laws, each and every one of them. Moses says keeping God's law will make you, "abundantly prosperous in all your undertakings, in the fruit of your body, in the fruit of your livestock, and in the fruit of your soil." But on the off chance that we haven't memorized Deuteronomy, and on the chance that our livestock, soil and bodies don't turn out that fruity... given the probability that we haven't done so great at keeping half of the laws we do remember, it's a comfort to know that God has already planted the essence of the law within your heart and in your mouth.


Last Wednesday night, we had a huge picnic, talent show and play to celebrate the Summer Recreation Program. Great food, and for the first time ever in a Presbyterian sanctuary, a dance routine performed to Lady Gaga. The play, acted entirely by the kids, answered the burning question, What if Cinderella, Snow White, and all their family members sorted out their issues on the Jerry Springer show? It was, in a word, therapeutic. I'm not sure how he got past security, but one of the fairy tale characters who showed up was Jiminy Cricket. He was tired, he said, of being the conscience for all the other fairy tale characters. He needed to live his own life, find his inner "cricketness."

On one hand, it would be pretty cool to have a character like Jiminy Cricket following each of us around, as our conscience. Whenever we'd come close to getting into trouble, Jiminy'd say, "Ah, ah, ah!" And he'd catch us, just before we did something sinful, or fattening. On the other hand, Jiminy could get to be really annoying, too. After a few super-puritanical days, we might develop secret fantasies about leaving him at the bus station, or squashing the little bugger.

The Bible says, "Your conscience is not a fairy tale. Nor is it something you can run away from, or squash like a bug, beneath your heel." That's not exactly what it says. What it does say is that the word of God, the law of God, is written upon your heart. That it's something that's with us from birth. Knowing God, and knowing God's ways, is as natural to us as our first breath. Why? Because it's in our hearts; the Bible tells us so. Part of being created is bearing the thumbprint of the creator. We may not be able to recite Deuteronomy, but deep inside, we can sense rightness, we can divine the divine and know its ways.

How do you know a sunset is beautiful? How do you know an orchid is exquisite? Why does a beautiful piece of music bring us to tears? Who tells you a child's laughter is a delight? Is it someone or something external, whispering in our ears? Or do we just know, in our hearts, from our hearts, because we happen to be children of God?

Likewise we know, from our hearts, that to miss a sunset, because we're too busy typing short messages into our phones, is a wasted chance. We know that to crush the flower in our hands is cruel destruction. We know that ignoring the music because we're too preoccupied with where we have to be next, or what we should have said to that mean person two years ago, we know that missing the music because of these things is a loss that can never be recovered. Your child laughs a stomach-full of belly-laughs and you say, "Be quiet! I'm trying to concentrate!" You miss the voice of angels.

God has written the essence of the commandments on our hearts. We know they are there. But because we're too busy memorizing Deuteronomy, or making money, or re-living the past, or wishing life was better, we live in the imaginary worlds of our minds' fantasies. We live with spiritual heart disease. Spiritual heart disease is when we block off the vessels of the thriving life God intends.

The essence of the law is written upon your heart. It's already there. Pay attention to the whispers of conscience, the whispers of conscience-ness, whispers of consciousness. Slow down and listen to what your heart would tell you.


The other place Moses tells us God has put the essence of the law is in our mouths. Really. That's interesting. Given the tendency of our mouths to get us into trouble, that seems a very odd place to find God.

The website, PassiveAgressiveNotes.com has some touching notes from kids to their parents. Like the handmade Mother's Day bookmark from the seven year-old girl that says, "Thank you, Mom, for trying not to say cuss words near me." The potty mouth can break loose at the most inconvenient times. Like when you're trying to explain the true meaning of Christmas and people won't stop watching TV. I'm pretty sure Jesus would understand us losing it, in that case.

I believe the Bible when it says God puts the essence of the law in our mouths. I think the default words that want to come from our lips are words of love, and kindness, and forgiveness. I think our minds foul up those words, and twist them into put-downs, and trash-talking. If we took away our feelings of guilt, if we took away the lust for what we're entitled to, if we took away the rotting beef about what the world owes us, if we took these things away, what words would be left? Words of thanksgiving. Words of praise. Words of love and lovingkindness. These miraculous words are connected to the essence of the law, and they're in our mouths. They're rich and full of elegant flavor. They don't taste spoiled, or sour, or stale. The beauty of these words isn't that saying them makes us sound smart; it's that releasing them reconnects us to the people around us, people who also have these words inside them, waiting, waiting, waiting to come out.

I love you. I care about you. I'm praying for you. You can do it. People are yearning to hear these words and you, you are yearning to say them. Women seem to be able to say them more easily then men. We guys have some catching up to do. Hope springs eternal.

The essence of the law is there, within your mouth, and within your heart. They are there at the beginning of our lives, and they'll be there at the end. Alpha and Omega. From A to Z, we are built to recognize, and speak of our Creator God.

Moses himself says, "Surely this commandment is not to hard for you." Loving and expressing love isn't like Calculus. It's not like learning a foreign language. It's not even as hard as learning to ride a bike. It's something that's already within you. You don't have to learn how to do it, you just have un-learn how to hold it back. Not hiding in heaven, not buried beyond the sea; the kingdom of heaven is within you. Jesus said so himself. And so did Moses. And so can you.