February 13, 2011 All I really need to know… Deuteronomy 30:11-14/Matthew 11:25-30
I’m guessing that most of us are familiar with the saying “All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten.”
That saying is actually the title of a book by Robert Fulghum. It caught on and held a top spot as a New York Times best seller for a good, long time around the year 1989-1990.
The author’s point is well-stated in the title–that some of the most important lessons in life are those that we learn as children.
The kinds of things he talks about are really simple lessons. They’re things that help us get along with each other and generally enjoy a higher quality of life as a society.
For example, some of the lessons that he includes in his book are things like
1. Share Everything
2. Play Fair
3. Don’t Hit People
4. Put Things Back Where You Found Them
5. Clean Up Your Own Mess
6. Say You’re Sorry When You Hurt Somebody
His book caught on when it was written, because the lessons he talks about are disarmingly simple.
These are lessons any child has heard multiple times by the time they’re old enough to read.
It’s not rocket science to understand concepts like sharing, fair play, cleaning up after yourself and saying you’re sorry.
But as we grow older, we convince ourselves that the stakes get high enough to bend some of the rules, right?
That’s why his book sold so well; it’s because we all know that as we get older it becomes harder to follow through on these simple lessons, you know?
He demonstrated with his book that there’s an enormous difference between what we teach our children and how many of us behave as adults.
For example, a second grader can and should learn to clean up their own mess; so why is it so hard for our spouse, or our roommate, or our co-worker?
You don’t need a college degree to understand the concept of sharing; so why is it that once we have a job and therefore resources to share, it becomes so hard to do?
It’s one thing to teach our children not to hit people; but as we grow older we learn all kinds of socially acceptable ways to hit people where it hurts.
We’re hypocrites. I mean we try, and we mean well, but there are lessons that we learn as children that we just don’t follow through with when we’re adults.
Well, Robert Fulghum wasn’t being too original when he wrote this book.
A long time before he wrote the book, a guy named Moses told his followers a similar lesson.
You heard part of it this morning. You can imagine a big group of people standing on the border between the promised land and the wilderness they had come through.
I imagine something like a desert; symbolic of the wilderness they had been in for the past 40 years.
That wilderness had become home for them, complete with it’s dangers and barrenness.
And here they stood, gathered together on the verge of their inheritance.
After a lifetime spent wandering through the desert, a better life was just beyond the river.
And here, on the tail end of what Moses their leader had to say to them, they hear the words
“Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach.”
No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.”
It’s a promise of a better life. It’s the closing of one chapter and the beginning of another.
They’re given the choice between either making the most of the future or continuing to dwell in the past.
I love the setting of this book!
It’s symbolic of where we wake up every day!
The wilderness stretches out behind us for what seems like infinity. It’s a place we’ve experienced for far too long. It’s barren, it’s dangerous, and it’s void of hope.
Behind us lies the uncertainty of a hand-to-mouth existence. We have come through that desert; we have experienced the untamable provision of a God who has walked there with us, and we have experienced God with us through true thirst and true hunger.
And before us lies the promised land; a land of milk and honey. Before us lies the good life.
Maybe we can finally put down some roots. We can build homes, we can plant gardens and orchards. The promise of this land stretches out for miles and miles before us; the hope it represents is too big to be taken in.
See, every day we wake up in this place between the wilderness and the promised land.
Every morning we’re given the choice between what lies behind and what lies ahead.
And the key to the land is obedience.
I know that’s not a popular word with a lot of us.
We are people who like to be obeyed. Taking orders isn’t what we think of as a good time.
But you know, when we think about this group of Israelites listening to Moses, there on the border between the wilderness and the promised land, we have to admit that they must have had at least as many, if not more, reasons to balk at this call to obedience than we could ever have.
After all, they had come from a land of slavery.
God had led them out of the land of Egypt, away from their task masters, away from blind obedience and fear of the whip.
He sustained them in that wilderness place; that place that is neither here nor there; that place where nothing can be taken for granted.
I’m sure that slavery was an image that was still too fresh as they contemplated this land of abundance that stretched out before them.
But in spite of that history, the call to obedience still rang in their ears.
It’s a call that we hear as well. It’s not a blind obedience; it’s a Trusting one!
It has nothing to do with slavery. After all, Jesus invites us to bear his yoke, which is easy and his burden, which is light.
To yoke ourselves to God is to yoke ourselves with the future spread out before us. It’s an obedience that is something like a long surrender of our past, moving always forward to embrace the promise; the yoke that is easy, the word that is in your mouth and in your heart, put there by the Holy Spirit of God who dwells within us.
In the gospel reading we heard today, Jesus praises God for hiding these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.
That doesn’t mean our faith is childish. It means we’re good at making life more complicated than it has to be.
The problem isn’t that we don’t know how to live; it’s that we don’t live that way.
It’s not that the word of God isn’t in our mouths and in our hearts; it’s that we choose to listen to other words.
We like to justify our actions; our non-obedience, by creating these elaborate stories that make sense of our experience.
We tell ourselves that it’s fine to teach these simple lessons to our children; but we don’t value listening to our own advice.
And so, the simple lessons become harder and harder until it seems like they are in the heavens, or beyond the sea, like Moses points out.
But God didn’t put them there. We did by trying to justify our actions.
As for God, He saw that putting them in our lips and hearts wasn’t doing the trick. So he wrapped these lessons and so much more in human flesh, and sent them to dwell right here among us; showing us what these simple lessons look like when taken to the extreme.
Now, obviously Moses wouldn’t have been thinking about Jesus when he spoke these words. But on this side of the Resurrection the words he spoke take on new meaning.
“The word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.”
It’s part of the Holy Spirit’s work within us, like I talked about last week; the seed of God’s wisdom; the mind of Christ that nudges us to an Obedience that comes not from coercion or manipulation, but rather has its roots in the nourishing love of God which is greater than our fear and reveals that which our minds can’t conceive.
Like I said last Sunday, it’s an obedience that enables us to stand up on the train and approach the horrific scene unfolding before us, trusting that whatever happens, we’re being faithful to the Spirit of God working within us.
It’s the Spirit of God who calls to the weary and the burdened, “come to me and I will give you rest”. His yoke is easy and his burden is light.
We’re going to take communion together here in just a few minutes.
We have bread and juice, which are symbolic of Christ’s body and blood.
In consuming these elements, we are making a very simple yet powerful statement; that we are together on this journey. We depend upon Christ for our daily life and nourishment.
It’s an easy statement to overlook in a world where we all have more than enough food in our pantry, but the statement is still there…that for now we eat and drink the Christ who is resurrected in this in-between place, with the wilderness at our backs and the promised land stretched out before us.
The call is to obedience, to the yoke that is easy and the burden which is light.
I’d like to close with a passage from Psalm 139.
Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night’,
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.