Gilbert Bowen is a minister in Illinois. A few years ago, he took a trip to Israel. When he returned, he introduced his congregation to a new phrase—Shabbat elevator.
Bowen learned about Shabbat elevators when he had to change hotels at the last minute in Jerusalem. He saw a brochure telling of a new hotel. The brochure mentioned that the hotel had a Shabbat elevator. What in the world is a Shabbat elevator? Bowen knew that the word Shabbat means Sabbath. But what is a Sabbath elevator?
Bowen investigated. It turns out that a Shabbat elevator is an elevator that automatically stops at every floor like an old milk train. It takes a while to get where you are going, but you don’t have to push any buttons. Why would that make any difference? By pushing buttons, you can make the elevator skip unnecessary stops. Isn’t that better!
Remember that we are talking about Jerusalem. In Jerusalem, orthodox Jews take God seriously. The Ten Commandments tell them not to work on the Sabbath. They believe that pushing elevator buttons constitutes work. So they have special elevators that run continuously on the Sabbath, stopping at every floor. That way they don’t have to push buttons—to do work—on the Sabbath.
Most of us cannot imagine living like that. We’re glad that we don’t have to observe those kinds of laws. We’re glad that we don’t have to use Shabbat elevators.
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But I would like to invite you to consider the Shabbat elevator from another perspective.
• Orthodox Jews build hotels with Shabbat elevators so that they might keep the Sabbath holy.
• Orthodox Jews choose to stay in hotels with Shabbat elevators so that they might honor God.
• Orthodox Jews live all of life in honor of God.
• They honor God by keeping the Sabbath holy.
• They honor God by their prayers.
• They honor God by the food that they eat.
• They honor God by the clothing they wear.
• They honor God by the way that they instruct their children.
I am reminded of the 150th Psalm. The Psalmist says, “Let everything that has breath praise (God)!” The Orthodox Jew says,
Let all that I do praise the LORD!
Let our prayers praise the LORD!
Let our food praise the LORD!
Let our clothing praise the LORD!
Let our hospitality praise the LORD!
Let our manners praise the LORD!
Let our elevators praise the LORD!
Let all that we do praise the LORD!
Isn’t that what the Ten Commandments ask of us! Pictures of Moses bringing the tablets down from the mountain traditionally show two tablets. The first tablet contains the first five commandments, which have to do with honoring God. Listen again:
“I am Yahweh your God…
You shall have no other gods before me….
You shall not make for yourselves an idol….
You shall not take the name of Yahweh your God in vain….
Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
Honor your father and your mother….”
All those commandments have to do with honoring God—with giving him first place in our lives. The second tablet—the last five commandments—has to do with honoring our neighbors.
When I first read about the two tablets, the first five honoring God and the second five honoring our neighbor, I was reminded of the man who came to Jesus asking, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?” (Matthew 22:36)
“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul, and with all your mind.’
This is the first and great commandment” (Matthew 22:37-38).
Then Jesus went on to say, “A second likewise is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself'” (Matthew 22:39).
Jesus made it very simple. We can please God if we do two things. Love God! Love our neighbor! It’s that simple!
But what does it mean to love God? If we loved God, what would that look like? What would we do? The Ten Commandments tell us that:
• If we truly love God, will put no other gods before him. We won’t let money be more important than God—or sex—or hobbies—or entertainment—or food—or drugs—or friends—or even family. We will not let anything be more important than God.
• If we truly love God, we will not make any idols. We won’t worship idols made of word or stone or politically-correct language. We won’t worship Jack Kennedy or Martin Luther King or Bill Clinton, and we won’t worship Ronald Reagan or Newt Gingrich or Rush Limbaugh.
• If we truly love God, we will not use his name disrespectfully. In our culture, that has come to mean not using the words God and damn together. But honoring God’s name means much more. We are God’s children. We honor his name when people can look at us and say, “There goes a Christian. Isn’t it wonderful what God has done for him (her)!”
• If we truly love God, we will rest from our labors on his day—not easy to do in a world that demands that we work days, nights and weekends.
• If we truly love God, we will honor our father and mother. God calls us to honor our Heavenly Father, but he also calls us to honor our earthly fathers and mothers.
Love God! Love your neighbor! What does it mean to love our neighbor? What would our lives look like if we loved our neighbor? The last five commandments tell us that:
• If we love our neighbor, we will not murder her or him.
• If we love our neighbor, we will not commit adultery with our neighbor’s husband or wife.
• If we love our neighbor, we will not steal our neighbor’s car or her stereo or anything else that belongs to our neighbor—not even a postage stamp.
• If we love our neighbor, we will not tell lies about her or him.
• If we love our neighbor, we will not allow ourselves to pine for our neighbor’s house—or her husband—or his car—or her clothes—or his job—or her bank account—or anything else that belongs to our neighbor.
In a sense, these last five commandments, which focus on our neighbor, are a continuation of the first five commandments, which focus on God. We love God by honoring him directly, and we love him indirectly by loving his children—our neighbors.
I would like to close with one last story. A businessman, notorious for being ruthless, once commented to Mark Twain,
“Before I die, I mean to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
I will climb Mount Sinai
and read the Ten Commandments aloud at the top.”
Mark Twain thought for a moment and responded,
“I have a better idea!
You could stay home in Boston
and keep them!”
• Let us stay home and keep the commandments.
• Let us honor God with our lives.
• Let us honor God with our prayers.
• Let us honor God with our brotherly and sisterly love.
• Let us honor God by doing his will.
• Let all that we do praise God!
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.