Summary: Morality is more than "strict" or "lax". It begins in the heart, develops moral principles and guidlines, and ultimately is in the context of a relationship with God who cares
Illus: I placed signs on the wall on either side of the platform: "strict" and "lax", moving back and forth toward one or the other at appropriate times.
How strict should you be? How strict should you be with your kids? How strict should you be with yourself? We want to have self-discipline...yet we need to be able to make daily choices that reflect the situations we are in. Some people are stuck in rigid system of rules. Others seem to be floundering, going whichever way the wind blows. Do you ever wonder about how strict or lax you should be?
(Read 2:23-24) The Pharisees were strict. They had 613 mitzvot, not to mention hundreds of gezeirah. (39 of the gezeirah dealt with the Sabbath.) Today, most of us are very lax on the Sabbath. In fact, does anybody really keep the Sabbath any more?
Over the centuries, there has been a movement back and forth between "strict" and "lax" on the Sabbath. The early church was probably quite lax; they moved worship from the Sabbath (Saturday) to Sunday, the day Jesus rose from the dead. The Puritans were strict, as was the culture of my childhood. Extremely strict can get ridiculous; yet too lax can be dangerous. (Illus: In one small town we lived in, when the local factory went to 7 day work weeks, drinking and affairs went up.)
How strict should we be? It’s not just Sabbath: What about sexual boundaries? (Illus: I had a college roommate who went off to a very strict Bible college where boys and girls had to sit on opposite sides of the aisle when they went to class.) (Illus: Today, students are likely to live in a coed dorm, and may encounter a culture where "hooking up" with anyone and everyone is common.) What about business ethics? Some people draw lines...and then see how close they can come to the lines without going over. (dramatic illus: teeter over the line)
The bipolar system doesn’t work any more! (Illus: I used Kenneth Lay and Beyonce) Lines are fine, but today the lines are floating and bobbing in a cultural sea of change. (Illus: My grandfather in business had decisions like whether to sell a sick chicken. Today, the average businessman is engaged in high finance.) (Illus: My grandmother probably concerned herself with how much ankle to show. Today, how many images must a young woman process?) Many people are wandering in a moral no-man’s land: not strict, not lax, but the lines are not clear any more.
The bipolar system never did work very well! (Read 3:1-6) Strict Sabbath rules led to total absorption with self and lack of compassion. But the other extreme was (2:14-17) Jesus called them sick--and they were! (public servants skimming off the top, prostitutes and wild partiers--sick) (Illus: You can add some from the news.)
WAS JESUS "STRICT" OR "LAX"?
If you think Jesus was strict, read 2:25-26. But if you think Jesus was lax, listen to this: (read Matthew 5:17-19) It might appear that Jesus was somewhere in no-man’s land, depending on the situation. (We went there in the 1960’s. "Situations ethics" didn’t work; it led to the breakdown of the family and society that we see so often today.)
Jesus was not wandering in no-man’s land. He stood above the "rules" and "lines." (At this point I moved up from the floor to the platform.)
WHAT DO WE LEARN ABOUT MORALITY FROM JESUS?
1. Morality begins in the heart. (Read 3:5)
(Illus: I had a pastor friend who said that God wasn’t interested in the 613 mitzvot. He reduced the rules to 12, and then Jesus reduced them to 2. Too simplistic? Maybe.)
Can we eliminate or ignore God’s law? NO! How can you love God if you don’t care about his laws? (Illus: You say you love your wife...but you don’t honor her by picking up your underwear, remembering her birthday, or staying faithful.."I don’t care about stuff like that.") Jesus (in the Sermon on the Mount) took the commandments as his foundation and went even deeper.
If your heart is not right, it doesn’t matter whether you have 2 or 10 or 613 or 5000 rules! Morality begins in the heart.
Let’s look at the Sabbath. the purpose was to love and worship God. Do you have that desire? If you do, you will make worship a priority, come with a good attitude, be willing to express your love with passion...and live a life that honors God. But another purpose of the Sabbath is to love people (second commandment). That includes yourself! In Deut. 5, one reason for the Sabbath is that "you were slaves in Egypt." Sabbath is not just about a day; it is about balance in your life. It is about taking care of yourself and encouraging others (especially your family) to take regular breaks from work and responsibility. The Sabbath question is, "What are you worth wehn you are not ’producing’ or pleasing someone?"