The LORD said to Moses: “Speak to the Israelites, and tell them to make fringes on the corners of their garments throughout their generations and to put a blue cord on the fringe at each corner. You have the fringe so that, when you see it, you will remember all the commandments of the LORD and do them, and not follow the lust of your own heart and your own eyes. So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and you shall be holy to your God. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: I am the LORD your God.” - Numbers 15:37-41 -
Dominating the headlines last week was a multi-state lottery whose jackpot had swollen to two-thirds of a billion dollars. That’s billion, with a “B”. It seemed for a few days like nearly everyone was talking about it. People were joking together, daydreaming together, taking turns sharing their personal “what if?” or “why not?” in hushed and reverential tones while their eyes searched the horizon for a glimpse of how brightly lit the future would we if it were cloaked in all the robes of a lottery winner.
Over the years I’ve preached dozens of sermons exhorting the church to steer away from gambling, but last week that didn’t stop me (and a couple of friends who will remain nameless) from joining in the “fun” and forming our own little conspiracy and buying a couple of tickets each. Not that we really serious about it. After all, to get a true picture of the odds of winning you’d have to fill the largest football stadium in the United States to capacity over 180 times and then pick out a single individual for the honor. But by last week enough tickets had been purchased to account for every possible combination of numbers. “Someone is going to win…why not us?” we joked. And what’s the harm? Financially I’ve spent more on a round of coffee for these same friends.
It is most often in small matters that we begin to stray from God. It seems relatively harmless to waste a few moments, or part of an afternoon, spinning fantasies of being other than we are and indulging ourselves in what author and neuroscientist Dr. Robert A. Burton calls “the pleasure of our thoughts.” (Burton, On Being Certain, Believing You Are Right Even When You’re Not, Pg. 86)
The trouble is, small things tend to add up quickly. From the time of Moses until now, one of the characteristic traits of God’s people has been that even when completely filled with God’s grace we tend to leak. We forget, dissipate, distract, set aside, and ignore the very things we are meant to do, and then fill up the little cracks and empty spaces with stuff we are really better off without. But when my hand reaches to take hold of anything other than what God wills for my life, it doesn’t really matter whether I’m clutching onto thirty little lottery numbers or thirty pieces of silver…when it separates me from the will of God, sin is still sin even in tiny and subtle forms. Small and insignificant indulgences, left unchecked, will grow like weeds and choke out the Holy Spirit’s work.
No wonder Moses and the Israelites talked constantly about the laws of God. They meditated on them, they slept on them, they recalled them in “their going out and in their coming in”, they taught them diligently to their children, and when they still tended to forget they tied blue tassels onto the corners of their prayer shawls to help them remember: obedience to God is the source of their power and their life together.
I don’t usually cover my head when I pray, or gaze in meditation upon a blue-tasseled garment, but I have in Christ Jesus a living reminder and example of perfect obedience to the will of God. Reading through the scriptures in this Holy Week the Spirit speaks to my heart, and I look upon the image of a solitary man, God’s only begotten son, sacrificing his very self so that every other person may have life “in abundance.” I eat the bread and drink from the cup and receive life from one who gave himself for all. One, given for all! Is not the very shape of our communion the pure antithesis of gambling, where all have given (sometimes disastrously so) and only one will receive everything?
Almighty God, through your Son Jesus you have revealed to us the path and the example of love’s perfection. Grant us the strength and the grace to follow him in that way that brings life to the world. Heal our vision until we see nothing but your will, heal our hearts so that we may learn to love as you love, and strengthen our will with discipline that we may accomplish your purpose. Forgive us, cleanse us, and renew us by the power of your Holy spirit, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.
April 02, 2012