Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Obeying the Law

Wednesday, April 28, 2010 -- Week of 4 Easter

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 961)
Psalms 119:49-72 (morning)       49, [53] (evening)
Exodus 33:1-23
1 Thessalonians 2:1-12
Matthew 5:17-20

I can remember reading this gospel passage as a child and becoming very stressed about it.  "...not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.  Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven..."  There was some consolation that the issue was placement in the kingdom of heaven, not banishment.  Yet, I worried.  I knew that I didn't know all of the commandments of the law of the scripture.  Even if I knew them, I doubted I could keep them, especially down to the "least of these commandments." 

I had been taught that Christians didn't follow all of the laws of the Torah.  I knew we didn't eat kosher.  But here we have words attributed to Jesus that seem to say that all of the rules apply, including kosher.  I worried that we were all in a heap of trouble.

As we'll read tomorrow, Jesus intensifies the law.  There is a way of being obedient by following the letter of the law.  Jesus expects more.  Jesus expects the transformation of our hearts.  Jesus does not ask us to follow the rules, Jesus asks us to internalize the spirit and live by the same spirit which created the rules.  It's not enough to avoid the sin of adultery, but we are to guard our hearts and eyes from looking upon another person with lust.  Actually, that intensification of expectation brought me a lot of anxiety as well.

It always seems more difficult when we frame these anticipations negatively.  "Do not do X."  There is something inside us that seems to want to rebel at such limitations.  We see that struggle in our recent readings from Exodus.  There are some things that I find I respond to when they are phrased negatively.  There are certain things that I want to avoid.  I don't even want to get close to going there, so I can tell myself, "Don't..." 

But most of the time I find that I am better motivated when I frame things positively.  There is something inspiring when we embrace great goodness. 

"Love your neighbor as yourself."  That sounds both more intense and more inspiring than "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house, or wife, or slaves, or ox, or donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor."  Love demands that we incorporate the letter of the law and raise expectations beyond mere performance and beyond the simple avoidance of wrong.  There is something important that happens when we shift our attention beyond mere performance of rules, a potentially self-absorbed focus that tempts pride and prompts anxiety.  Instead of asking myself "am I following all the rules," it seems more important to move my attention toward my intention and motivation.  What is my motivation?  What is my intention?  Motivation and intention guide action.  Can love be my motivation?  Can my intention be to act out of love?

There is something simple, inspiring and comprehensive about Jesus' summary of the law.  Love God with all your heart and mind and strength; and love your neighbor as your self.  Indeed, on this hangs all the law and the prophets.



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About Morning Reflections
Morning Reflections is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site at this location --

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

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Our Rule of Life
We aspire to...
worship weekly
pray daily
learn constantly
serve joyfully
live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas


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