Family Values Week One: Calendars & Morals

This week I am launching a new sermon series, "Family Values: Rediscovering What's Really Important."  The idea is pretty simple...

Our culture has become marked by anxiety.  There is no way to escape the deluge of bad news that just seems to permeate the air around us.  Some blame it on the recent 24-hour news cycle that was once a phenomenon, and is now just the status quo.  Others blame it on the immediacy of information from cable TV, the internet, smart phones and social media.

There is the passage of Scripture from Psalm 85 where the psalmist extols the virtues of those who are walking in pilgrimage to the Holy City of Jerusalem with the blessings of God all around them.  "They move from strength to strength," he writes.  Strength to strength... that sounds beautiful doesn't it?

Unfortunately, I think that most of the people in our culture move from fear to fear.  We move from being anxious about terrorism to being anxious about war.  We were fearful of being without and now we find ourselves fearful that we will never again have enough.  Disasters loom: both man made and natural.  Athletes cheat and heroes fall.  Politicians let us down and reveal that they only have their own best interests at heart.  People all around us are angry, frightened and lashing out against one perceived injustice or another.

Why do you think that TV shows like The Real Housewives of New Jersey or Jersey Shore or Say Yes To The Dress is so appealing to people?  I mean, watching shows about the lives of vapid, feckless, people does nothing to improve your life.  But it does numb you, and make you forget about an  anxious world and realize that there are at least a few people in the world who are more screwed up than you are.

I think that the best way to describe all of these things is by simply saying that we have seen, "The Destruction of Certainty."  We are having to come to grips with the fact that we placed our faith and trust in the wrong things and now our world is upside down.

So what is needed to return to what is really important?

I think that we have to get back to some basics--to the things that truly matter.  So, over the course of the next few weeks I will be preaching on Family Values, and how we need to rediscover them.  When I was younger, there was a group called the Moral Majority, led by Jerry Falwell and other conservative Christian types.  The Moral Majority really began what many folks have now coined "The Culture War," but more specifically launched a campaign back in the 80's to restore family values to our culture.

That's not what I'm espousing here.  The family values that I'll be preaching on are both Biblically based and fairly inclusive.  In other words, it doesn't matter where you land on some of the more divisive issues of our day, you can begin rediscovering:

The Morality of Calendars and keeping the Sabbath
Sacred Space for Quality Family Time
Living Simply
Caring for the Earth
Practicing Hospitality

These were values that were present in "the good old days."  We need to find them again.

This week I'll be teaching about the Morality of Calendars and keeping the Sabbath.  They're connected.  

First, here's a question, "Can a calendar be a moral document?" And what does that even mean?  So what does your calendar tell about you?  And I don't mean the type of calendar that you have on your wall. What takes priority, has primacy of place on your calendar?  For most of us our calendars are filled with work-related items or things that we have to get done.  We might schedule a vacation or two during the year, but usually we have to reschedule all of our work-related items to make sure they get done regardless.  And when we get back from vacation we pay for it by having to overschedule to get all the stuff done you didn't do while you were gone. 

Those of us who call ourselves Christians ascribe to the truths and the sacredness of God's commands and covenants with the ancient Hebrew people.  Particularly we lift up the "Ten Commandments" as authoritative not only for Jews and Christians, but for all people.  The Commandments cover all aspects of living in community both with God and with other people.  But then there is this strange commandment dealing with the Sabbath.

The Fourth Commandment begins this way, "Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy."  For the ancient Jews the Fourth Commandment was much more than a prescription for a day off.  Rabbi Saul Berman once wrote, "There is more to Shabbat than not working just as there is more to peace than not fighting."  The ancient Hebrews were so serious about Sabbath-keeping that those that broke it could be put to death.  And the Sabbath was for everyone and everything: land, animals, servants, men, women, children, you name it.

The ancient Rabbis had a unique way of thinking about God's command to "remember" and "keep" the Sabbath.  They said that God uttered 2 distinct words at the same time.  It's not enough to remember the Sabbath, one has to keep it.  And keeping the Sabbath is incomplete unless one remembers why it is being kept.

It was also believed by the ancient Rabbis that only free people "own" their time and can choose to stop working (or slaving).  The Sabbath reminds God's people that they have been set free--they are no longer slaves.  By remembering and keeping the Sabbath, the ancient Hebrew people self-identified as former slaves and aliens, who had been given freedom and identity in Christ. 

One of the ancient Sages in the Hebrew tradition would find things in his week to save for the Sabbath.  He would set aside good food and drink and other things that he could enjoy during the Sabbath--an act of discipline and honor. 

One way that many Rabbis speak of the days of the week place the Sabbath in a position of primacy.  They will say of Sunday that it is "the first day of the week before Sabbath."  Monday would be the "second day of the week before Sabbath," and so on. 

In the Hebrew tradition the day begins in the evening.  It stems from the Genesis poem where we read, "evening and morning was the first day..."  Basically this positions the cessation of work, rest, family dinners and time with friends at the beginning of the day and not at the end. 

Imagine if we began looking at our calendars with this kind of Sabbath mentality?  In our culture we don't seem to value Sabbath in the way that it was intended.  If our Sabbath is a day that we just don't work... what does it say about the importance of the other days?  Our work life and the busyness of weeks and months dominate our calendars.  We elevate those days to prominence and consider Sabbath seasons or days as an afterthought. 

The world is not a place of endless productivity, ambition or anxiety...  It's time for us to make a change and realize that our calendars are moral documents that show where our hearts truly are.  And according to Jesus, where our hearts are is also where our treasure happens to be. It's time for us to discover a Sabbath lifestyle as a vital part of our Family Values. 

First, we need to Emphasize the Sacred.  The sacred moments need to be given the greatest priority when we are scheduling our lives.  Are we worshiping with our family and friends?  Do we focus on scheduling less evening activities in order to find space to rest, eat and share with friends and family in our homes?  Are we setting aside beautiful things to experience in our Sabbath moments to honor them and make them memorable?

Second, we need to Focus on Life-Giving Activities.  Work is honorable and there are Biblical mandates to work well and faithfully in order to honor God and to be a good testimony of the grace of Jesus Christ in our lives.  But when work becomes the be all and end all in our lives, we are out of balance and need to find other life-giving things to experience and to do.  This could be as simple as reading, writing letters to friends, spending time with your children or grandchildren, taking that trip you've always wanted to take...  It's not rocket science.

Third, we need to Plan Upside Down.  This means that your calendar construction begins with the quiet moments, the restful moments, the family moments.  This means that your calendar construction begins with a Sabbath mentality and all of the sacred moments and life giving activities get scheduled first and foremost.  Obviously, your work schedule doesn't change a whole lot, so you know in your head that you'll have to put that on your calendar regardless.  But your heart should be forcing you to take your pen and write all of the Sabbath moments first.  What if you sat down at the beginning of the year and just planned all of your vacation, time off, restful weekends, nights at home, family gatherings, dinners with friends, quiet moments at a restaurant...?  All of those days, weeks, moments would become sacred, wouldn't they? 

Isn't that the kind of thing that would change your family?  I mean if your values shifted from the secular to the sacred when it came to your time and the construction of your calendar, how would your family be transformed as a result?  I believe with all of my heart that this must happen.  If Christians are going to begin pushing back against the darkness of our anxious culture it needs to begin with our time.  We have been set free in Christ, we need to live like it. 

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