This Heavy Burden

The Rev. Jimmy Abbott
18th Sunday after Pentecost
October 8, 2017

Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20

We’re going to start this morning with a pop quiz. A pop geometry quiz. You thought you were never back to tenth grade, ha! We’re going to calculate the weight of a solid object using its dimensions and pounds per cubic feet of the material used to create this thing. So here we go!

It’s six feet tall, three feet wide, and let’s just say eight inches deep. Multiply all that together and you get twenty thousand seven hundred and thirty six. Convert that to cubic feet by dividing it by one thousand seven hundred and twenty eight (twelve times twelve time twelve). Oddly enough, that gives you twelve. You kept up with that, right?

Okay, our object is made of that beautiful pink Texas granite. Pink Texas granite weighs roughly one hundred and seventy five pounds per cubic foot. So, one more little equation – twelve times one hundred and seventy five – and this thing, this object, weights two thousand one hundred pounds. Over a ton.

It’s massive. And it’s on the back lawn of the Texas State Capitol. It’s that behemoth monument of the Ten Commandments put there in 1961 in part by Cecil B. DeMille, the guy who directed the Charlton Heston movie.

Let’s break down that number down again – how much does each commandment weigh? Well, that’s easy. Two thousand one hundred divided by ten – each commandment weights two hundred and ten pounds. And you know what I think? I think that’s too much. That burden is too much for us to bear.

See, when we read the ten commandments like we did from Exodus this morning, we get this picture in our minds of a God who pokes himself in our business. Like a giant, disciplinarian in the sky wagging his finger at us. Thou shalt not, thou shalt not, thou shalt not… Over two thousand pounds of pink Texas granite hung around our necks.

This is a disservice to the ten commandments. The commandments are not burdens, they are gifts from God. They are a sign of God’s love for his people. Think of it – the Israelites have been slaves in Egypt. God, through Moses, has delivered the Israelites over the Red Sea, out of slavery and into the freedom of the wilderness. The whole point of getting the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt was so that they could go this mountain, this very mountain where they now stand, and worship God. What we read this morning is the culmination of being freed from slavery. Receiving the ten commandments are not burdens, they are gifts from God in celebration of being freed from slavery.

Look back to how the ten commandments begin. They don’t begin with, “thou shalt not.” The first line of the ten commandments is, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” This whole thing is based upon a relationship. “I am your God, you are my people.” These are not arbitrary rules that fell from heaven and landed on the Texas capitol like a big pink meteorite from the sky. These are the guidelines for a relationship, the relationship between God and God’s people. When the people follow the commandments they celebrate the God who delivered them from slavery. It’s like marriage vows – if you were to make those promises to a complete stranger, they would come across as heavy burdens. I have to care for this person, even if they get sick, even if they go broke? That sounds like a miserable burden. But in the context of the relationship, between two people who love each other, the marriage vows are gifts.

I could preach all day about each one of these commandments, because each one of them is about being freed from some type of slavery. Being freed from greed, from lust, from anger. I’m going to restrain myself, and just talk about one of them. The fourth commandment. Perhaps the greatest gift of them all.

“Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work.” This commandment surely doesn’t weight two hundred pounds. This commandment is a gift from God.

See, our burden is work. I’ll put it more explicitly, we are addicted to work. We are hooked on it. It’s how we define ourselves. Think what happens when you meet a stranger. “What’s your name?” “What do you do?” “Oh, I’m a lawyer, an engineer, an accountant, a bus driver, a teacher, the rector of Holy Comforter.” Work is not only what we do, it’s become who we are. We must not carry this burden any longer.

The gift of the commandment to remember the sabbath day is that for one day, one day, you are more than what you do for a living. On that one day, that day when you rest and worship, you remember that at your very core, you are God’s beloved child. The world, and your boss, wants to define you by how much you work, how many hours you’re putting in, how many emails you’re cranking out, how many deals you’re closing. But the gift of the fourth commandment is that God does not judge you that way. God sees the you that is really you. That you can rest, you can take a day off, and God will love you for who you are.

And I know how hard it is. We thought that laptops and smart phones would make work easier, when in fact, all they did was make us work more because we can’t get away from it. We can’t get away from the emails, the text messages, the phone calls. Like the Israelites of old, we are enslaved and can’t escape from our work. And usually, the person enslaving us to work, is ourselves. It’s the work that feels like two hundred pounds around our neck.

But what concerns me even more, is how hooked we are on the news. Those same little devices that we use for work are the same little devices that play out world dramas six inches from our face. Our brains are now so hooked on the drama, on the news, that we have a hard time separating out what’s important and what’s not. Every little thing enrages us. It starts our hearts pumping and our minds racing. North Korea has nuclear weapons, Puerto Rico is a disaster zone, another hurricane is coming, people are kneeling during the National Anthem, there’s a massive shooting in Las Vegas, it just won’t stop.

We are slaves to it all. And rather than turning it off, we go looking for more. It’s like we, as a culture, are dealing with post-traumatic stress. Constantly going from one trauma to another; all the while we’re working so hard that we are completely exhausted. Completely spent. And so what do we do? We self-medicate with the bottle, the pill, the TV. This is no way to live. And in fact, it is killing people.

What stands in our way from absolute mayhem? What can take this heavy burden from us? God’s gift of the fourth commandment. Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy. The day, or maybe just that hour when you can turn off your phone. When you don’t have to answer an email. When you see that little red badge on your Facebook icon, and you don’t click on it. Sabbath is about going to church, about worshipping, but also about remembering that you are God’s beloved child. It’s about having a day to detox. To let the work and the news pass out of your system. Like the ancient Israelites who would let a field lay fallow for a year so that the soil could replenish its nutrients, the sabbath is a day to stop, and to be fed, to be restored.

I know that some of us long for the good old days when we had the blue laws, when stores and restaurants were closed on Sundays. Sure, we might have more people in church when that happens. But even then, if we need a government to dictate our spirituality, then it’s not really spirituality. It’s just another burden, another massive weight hung around our necks.

Jesus has brought us into the land of freedom. Those burdens that we carry, those thousands of pounds of emotion, of work, of exhaustion – Jesus wants to take those off our backs. The gift of Jesus Christ is that we are loved not for what we do, but for who we are.

Now that we’ve reached the end of the sermon, I seriously considered giving you all another little pop quiz – to see if you could list all ten commandments. But I will not lay that burden on you. Now, I do want you to go home this week and memorize them. The pop quiz will be next week. Memorize them not because they are the rules of some disciplinarian, wagging his finger at you; or because they are these huge stones set in public places. No, memorize them because they are a gift. Because in each commandment, God is freeing us from a certain type of slavery.

And as your priest, I am pleading with you for your spiritual well-being – escape the slavery of being plugged in. Find time when you can stop, detox, and breathe deeply with God. And as you breathe, to feel Jesus lifting those great burdens off your shoulders. So that you can stand taller, and remember that God loves you for who you are, not for what you do. Because you are God’s beloved child.

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