This is an adapted transcript of the sermon I delivered this morning at St Peter’s Church in Blackley. I used a basket full of vegetables, a stock pot and a jug of water as props to help tell it, and I’d love to hear your thoughts if you would like to leave a comment. Thank you.
We all know that in order to live and be nourished, we have to eat food. It’s obvious really! The biological law of our humanness is dictates that without food, we will die a bodily death. And the spiritual law of our humanness dictates that without sustenance from God, we will die a spiritual death.
Take soup as an example. To make a pan of soup you need some ingredients – an onion, a couple of carrots maybe, possible a stick or two of celery for the base and then maybe some chicken or whatever.
When the law was given to Moses, he had a list of 10 laws, 10 instructions, or if we keep with the picture of soup, he was given a list of 10 ingredients. The laws (or ingredients) were there to help the Israelites live a full and meaningful life, being connected to God and to each other with rules about how they should manage their behaviour and so on. In Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 6: 1 – 9), Moses reiterates those laws. He was drawing close the end of his life at that time, and he was literally laying down the law again because it had gone a bit awry in the hands of the Israelites. By his assertion “Hear O Israel,” we can almost hear his desperation at their inability to keep it simple and stick to the basic law, the 10 commandments given to him many years earlier.
If we keep thinking of the soup analogy, they had taken the simple ingredients for a hearty and healthy soup, and in the manner of a Michelin-starred chef, began adding things that didn’t really make it a better soup, or a healthier or tastier soup, but added and added to the list of ingredients until there were more than 600 individual laws by which the people had to live.
Six hundred? Hang on a minute! From these couple of things (onion, celery, carrot, chicken) there came a whole host of extras – herbs, tomatoes, barley, lentils, garlic, seasoning, peas….
I don’t know about you but if you’re like me you have some worries about what you’re feeding your family and I do like to check what other people are cooking. Maybe online or in a celebrity recipe book to see what the latest way is to do things. My Gran has her own recipe for pea and ham soup, but I can’t imagine me ever cooking it her way, I would probably substitute the ham shank for a gammon joint, or the peas that need to be in soaking on a Friday for cooking on a Saturday would be replaced with something else. I might add different herbs – or extra herbs and on it goes. My soup wouldn’t be the same as hers and I would probably end up adding too many things that don’t need to be there.
Personally, I don’t actually like pea and ham soup so I’d definitely make something different, probably vegetable or chicken or something, and you will have your own ways of cooking it too. But the point is that it would still be soup. Still food to feed my family with to nourish them and in the case of my children, to see them grow up healthily. I could ask you all who read this about your own choices for including in soup and we could go on and on discussing about what should be in and what shouldn’t be in – garlic for tomato soup, yes or no?
Whatever decisions we come to, it is still soup.
But can you imagine what would happen if we ask Nigella, Ainsley Harriott and James Martin what they would put in their soup and tried to copy them. Can you imagine the confusion and the clash of flavours if we try to put in everything they said we should? All the things that we are told that are good for us in one pot? You’re only trying to follow the law, but how confusing!
Let’s just pause a moment here to think about what the law was for, and why they were handed down in the first place. God’s law was there so that people could be close to him, and to live their lives in fullness with him.
Spare a thought for the Israelites then, who only wanted to be obedient to God and be drawn closer to him. They ended up with so many laws that they lost what it was all about, they lost focus and they lost track of the very thing they were supposed to be doing, simply by overdoing it so much. It sounds odd to us, but can you imagine their confusion? “Do this, but do it then, not then. Do that, but not in that way, do it like this but only on a day when…” and so on. We see remnants today of those ancient additional laws. So, from the original commandment that we should observe the Sabbath, we have some people who are so keen not to do anything that resembles work from sundown on a Friday to a Saturday, even though it may cause them more hassle than by not doing it. From driving a car to tearing off a piece of kitchen roll, how are we brought closer to God by not doing these things? Yes, it is important to rest and to pray etc, but not to the point where you make life more difficult for yourself.
Mark tells us that Jesus came and took away all that confusion, that clash of laws, that stopped people living their lives as God wanted them to. (Mark 12: 28 – 34)
He made it perfectly clear to that scribe who questioned him about which is the most important law. Jesus didn’t choose a carrot, or an onion. He didn’t even choose the protein-rich chicken. He chose this – water.
Water is the thing that keeps all those ingredients together and defines a pile of diced veg as a soup – water. Simple, humble, everyday, water. Living, loving water from God our Father.
My soup analogy and the water is my way of drawing a parallel to the way Jesus explained the law. He explained that overriding all of the laws was the one about love. Love for God and love for each other. He couldn’t make it any more straightforward really.
All the rest of the laws, commandments, rest on those two things – Love God, love each other. If any other law were invoked, then we should look first of all at whether it stopped us doing either of those two.
Take jealousy for example. If we put love before jealousy it would put a different light on a situation say where the next door neighbour has a new car, and you were envious of him for it. By putting love first, we would be happy for him that he was in a position to enjoy a new car. But that’s not easy is it? We have all felt those pangs haven’t we? Sometimes mild, sometimes downright painful!
What about honouring our parents? Not so easy in some families, where family honour is the single most important thing in their lives. How does it work when putting parental honour first puts a barrier up between us and God? The teenager who has heard God’s call and wants to go to church, but the family honour, and the parental instruction is that we don’t go to church in this family. They’re all nutters who go there.
Jesus has the answer, and that is by putting love for God before everything else the solution is easier to find.
But we live in a world where it just isn’t quite that straightforward. There are very real dangers out there for young people who don’t or can’t live up to parental expectations. But we have to trust God. He is with us in all things, and he is faithful to us through every single moment of our being, and he will see us safe through to the other side.
If we love him, we trust him.
LOVE is the law that we need to live by most of all. It is LOVE that keeps us all nourished. LOVE is the commandment, the law that Jesus tells us is the one that holds it all together. Without love, we are nothing. Our love FOR God, our love IN God for each other.
To go back to the analogy I painted earlier, like a soup without water, if we don’t have love for God and for each other, we are nothing but a collection of dry ingredients. With our protective skins and outer shells intact, we are not actually joining in with this thing called life. We must be cut up and diced – maybe with a bit of seasoning – and totally immersed in the living waters, the love of God, for us to fully embrace his nourishing and life giving force.
It’s hard though isn’t it? We all know people and situations where it is difficult to see love, or show love. But we have to. It’s the one thing that God says we have to do. If we are not loving him and we are not loving others then we are not doing very much of anything at all. We stay in our little plastic bags at the bottom of the fridge and we don’t get transformed into something glorious as he wants us to be.
It’s difficult to burn soup – it can get a bit thick and claggy at the bottom of the pan sometimes, especially if we don’t keep it stirred, but if there’s too much going on, too many lentils, too much salt perhaps, how best to rescue it? We would add more water wouldn’t we? It’s the same with us and our lives. When we feel like we’re getting a bit claggy and overwhelmed with lots of unpalatable things going on, what do we need to do? More water, more love. More God, more love.
It doesn’t end with us simply being immersed in God’s love and being nourished by him. We have to show others what a joy it is to be a part of him, a part of his glorious creation and how our lives are blessed by him every day.
And how do we do that?
By love of course.