Get some sleep!

DEUT 10: 12-22. PSALM 119: 1-8 1 COR 3: 1-9. MATT 5: 21-37

One of the lovely things about my morning routine is our daily dog walk. Each morning, Maggie and I walk with Maureen and MillyMae. Maureen is an amazing storyteller, and she regales me with tales from her life, and from her work as a nanny. This week, one of those stories came back to me as I’ve been reading these pretty unpalatable readings…

One of the children Maureen nannies is a little 5-year-old named Otis.  He is sharp and inquisitive and very bright. One day, Maureen and Otis were on the train, heading to the city, travelling in a busy carriage, full of commuters.

Into this mass of people, Otis pipes up, ‘Maureen…do you know one thing I really HATE?’

‘What’s that?’ Maureen replies. (Several people in the carriage also wonder what this little person REALLY HATES and begin to tune in).  ‘SLEEP’ he says, ‘AND, do you know my mother makes me do it every single night???’

I’ve been thinking about that gorgeous exchange this week; about Otis and his mummy and their inevitable battle each bedtime. Go to sleep! I hate sleep! It’s good for you! I hate it! I’ve been thinking about encouraging those we love to do the things that are best for them and how unpopular that might seem but how important it is.

And I’ve battled with Jesus’ words in the gospel reading because if I was to truly follow them, I’d be standing before you, eye-less and hand-less and bound for prison or the gates of hell. I would. And the only reassuring thing about that is I would probably be alongside most of you here, wouldn’t I?! wouldn’t I???

But yesterday, something shifted in my mind and heart, and I began to read that list of unattainably high standards alongside the reading from Deuteronomy; those beautiful verses that said ‘what does the Lord your God require of you? Only to keep the commandments of the Lord your God for your own well-being’ and I thought, Wow. God is loving me! God is commanding me for my own wellbeing, not because God is a killjoy and wants to steal my fun!

I want what’s best for you, says God. But since those days of Deuteronomy, humanity had several centuries to muck things up further, and get themselves into all manner of trouble, so Jesus raises the bar higher…

You have heard it said, ‘you shall not murder’, but now I say ‘don’t even be angry with your brother and sister’. You have heard it said, ‘do not commit adultery’ but now I say, ‘don’t even look with lust because you’ve already committed adultery in your heart’.

Jesus is loving his followers; he is deeply caring for his people – don’t do those things because they’re not good for you and I want you to experience the best life has for you. Don’t only avoid the big things, avoid the things that lead to it. Not because Jesus wants to steal our fun. Not because he has insanely high standards for us and is waiting for us to fail so he can send us to hell. None of that, but simply because he LOVES us. He utterly adores us. Every single one of us. And he wants the best for us.

He knows what happens to those who murder – he knows the shame and the guilt and the anger and the hatred and the secrecy and all the other things that will chew us up and spit us out. He knows we don’t need to be sent to hell because we will be living there already. And he doesn’t want that for his people, so he says don’t even get angry. Don’t go down that path. I know where it leads.

And he knows what happens to marriages and relationships where adultery sneaks in. He knows of the shame and secrecy and resentment and the damage it causes to hearts and minds and self-esteem and self-worth. He knows that and he doesn’t want that for his people. He is saying these things for our own wellbeing, as those verses in Deuteronomy say.

And these gospel verses are part of the sermon on the mount; they come soon after those glorious ‘blessed are’ verses that I wept through a couple of weeks ago. And that struck me yesterday too. Jesus is saying don’t do these things because they’re really not good for you and I love you and I don’t want to see you hurt and damaged. I don’t want to see you weeping on your bathroom floor at 3am, weighed down by whatever it is you have done – and I don’t want you to do things that will make you believe you are separated from my love.

I don’t want you to do that. But. If you do. When you do. Know this:

Blessed are you. Blessed are you anyway.

Blessed is the murderer and the angry one and the adulterer and the lustful. Blessed is he who sins with his eyes and she who sins with her hands. Blessed is the divorced and blessed is the one they left. Blessed are you. I’m still here, Jesus says, and nothing will ever separate you from my love. It’s not what I want for you, but it is not the end. It is never the end.

I read these words from Jesus as judgement. I read them as pass or fail. And I didn’t come out well. And The Church, and Christians have used these words to condemn and judge others. They have used them to abuse people who are tentatively taking their first steps towards faith in God. These words have been used to keep people out of church and to keep people oppressed and to push them further onto the fringes of society. And, friends, THAT is the sin here. Because these words are intended for love:

My darling friends, Jesus is saying, my precious followers, I want life for you in all abundance. I want all that is best for you. when you slip up you are still loved and still welcome and still held and still whole, but I want more than that for you so I am giving you these guidelines so that you might choose life.

Whenever Jesus speaks, his message is love.

Every time God speaks, it is to reiterate the point that we are loved and accepted and welcome and forgiven. Every time. Always.

So, just as Otis’ longsuffering mama will probably have to keep having the nightly ‘go to sleep’ battle, so too will God keep on encouraging us to make wise choices, for our own wellbeing. May we see it as encouragement not judgement. May we share it as encouragement not judgement. And when our heavenly parent suggests it, may we go to sleep!


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