Sunday, 11 November 2018

Zephaniah on Remembrance Sunday

I am going through Zephaniah in an eight-week sermon series which includes Bible Sunday, All Saints Sunday and Remembrance Day. Here are some notes for a sermon from Zephaniah 3:6-13 on Remembrance Sunday.

Is there such a thing as “a good war”?
Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.
– T.S. Eliot, East Coker IV, Four Quartets
Why do we call Good Friday good? Its central act was bloody, brutal, horrific, sheer evil. How can this day be good?

(1) Christ’s self-sacrifice reveals the depths of God’s love for us in the midst of horror and brutality...It’s not a “God is love and therefore everyone and everything is just fine as it is” platitude we’re given on Good Friday but the assurance that even a frontal attack on God himself cannot extinguish the love with which he pursues us. Cf. John 15.

(2) Christ’s death has a good outcome, leading to resurrection. Good Friday is good because of what happened as a result – people are reconciled with God and the way to life beyond death is opened for us. This ensures that the Beatitudes in Matthew 5 are realistic.

In what ways could we have a “good war”?
(1) There are virtues (as well as vices) on display in war: loyalty, friendship, self-sacrifice, endurance, courage. We do not celebrate WW1 or any other war. But we honour and acknowledge the good that was found in the trenches - on both sides - amidst the horror and evil.

(2) We do not celebrate the war itself but we acknowledge with gratitude the good that was preserved and the good that came in its wake.

Zephaniah was predicting war, a shake up of the socio-economic system. I have preferred previously to Walter Scheidel, The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the Twenty-First Century (2017). He observes that in England the richest 1% owned 70% of all private wealth just before WW1. Mass-mobilization warfare was a catalyst for greater equality and social solidarity, democratisation (extension of franchise to women) and greater power for workers through unions after WW1, the NHS after WW2. There is arguably good for which the wars have been a catalyst.

Zephaniah 3:6-7 offers two daring thoughts: 
(1) God himself wages war.
(2) God deliberates and seems disappointed.
Both are poetic pictures that could be misunderstood.
(1) God does not literally engage in war as an actor alongside other actors. He neither engages physically in combat, nor gives orders supporting one side of the war.
(2) God cannot be taken by surprise and having read the previous two chapters we know that the prophet, too, was under no illusions about the possibility of disaster being averted.
So why speak in these ways? As for (1), there are specific reasons for highlighting divine involvement in sixth century BC events and there is the general observation that if God is Almighty he cannot not be involved. There are other parts of Scripture more useful to explore the nature of God's involvement in war, here it is sufficient to say that God is not uninvolved.
As for (2), this is a a way of highlighting what would be reasonable and logical. If you find yourself on a road that leads to death and disaster and you notice things beginning to disintegrate, you stop, turn around and come back to the source of life and justice. Everything else does not make sense. Alas, God knows, as do modern psychologists (cf. Jonathan Haidt's The Righteous Mind) that we human beings are not nearly as empirical and logical, as we would like to think.

Verse 8 reiterates and sums up the comprehensive and total war the seventh-century BC prophet foresaw for his people and region. But what is the point? If  the beginnings of war have not produced a change of mind, what good is "a great war" going to be?

Verses 9-11 offer a glimpse. “Surely then” – the destruction of pride and arrogance, the failure of ideologies, the demolition of objects of trust and dependence which compete with the one who alone should be our sure trust and defence, prepares the ground for a big “change” (v. 9, note that the Hebrew word is elsewhere used for overthrowing soemthing, suggesting that an overturning is needed, not merely a gift of pure speech).

Why the emphasis on the purification of speech (mentioned first and picked up later in "will not tell lies" and "no deceitful tongue will be found in their mouths" said about the remnant)?

One reasons is that truthful speech about God is essential for people to come to know God and so call on his name and seek refuge in the name of the LORD (vv. 9, 12), cf. the false speech in 2:8, 10.

Also, fake news foster enmity and unity is the other emphasis ("so that all of them...with one accord") with even distant nations bringing tribute to God, acknowledging him as sovereign. Only then will swords be turned into ploughshares. This promise has not (yet) been comprehensively fulfilled but in Christ God made himself more fully known and draws people from all nations together. 

Experience of war can play a role in this. “For God and country” - the motto of many military regiments and other institutions on different sides of conflict - at its best can be a reminder of our responsibilities beyond the immediate family, but at its worst has been used to co-opt God for our agendas. Maybe one good thing of two world wars is that such partisan claims to divine support have become less credible to us and this can spur us on to a deeper understanding of who God truly is.

We have more recently also experienced renewed prosperity and with it a turning away from God as well as rising inequality...But even long after an armistice, a war can bear good fruit, if our remembrance inspires us to seek God, to seek justice and humility (cf. 2:1-3).

It does not happen automatically. In the first few years after the armistice of 1918 there was pride on the one side and humiliation on the other side. The Great War seemed a “good war” for Britain and others, a bad one for Germany and others. In reality, "the war to end all wars" was nothing of the sort and a bad war on both sides because out of pride and humiliation grew the next war.

God’s purposes are different. “On that day you shall not be disgraced because of all the deeds by which you have rebelled against me...I will remove from your midst those of you who are exulting with pride.”

In God’s kingdom there is no place for humiliation and disgrace, nor for pride and boasting.
Why this is so we see in the cross of Christ. We come to the cross as those who receive a gift.

Pride is a failure to acknowledge that all good gifts come from above, that we depend on God for absolutely everything. If we are better than others. If we recognise and speak the truth, if we do not commit wrong, if we love our neighbour and seek their best, it is by God’s grace. If we look down on others we thereby prove that we are not in fact better than them.

Humility is the right stance towards God. And it is very different from being humiliated – or even from putting ourselves down. Holding on to our shame is as much a denial of God’s grace as is pride. The gift we receive as we come to the cross is forgiveness – so that our past need not shape our future.

Pride and humiliation drive us away from God and pull us apart from each other. God’s burning anger which is his firm opposition to our pride and humiliation is our salvation. God takes us out of the cycle of recrimination and violence, reconciles us to himself and allows us to see ourselves and the other in a different light.

May we receive the gift of knowing God for who he truly is and to seek him and his kingdom and so come to the peace and security that is ours in Christ.

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Zephaniah on All Saints Sunday

I am going through Zephaniah in an eight-week sermon series which includes Bible Sunday, All Saints Sunday and Remembrance Day. Here are some notes for a sermon from Zephaniah 3:1-5 on All Saints Sunday.

Why All Saints? Are not all the baptised “saints” – set apart for God? Does the separation of All Souls from All Saints suggest that something has gone wrong? Let us begin to explore this by paying attention to the translation of verse 1.

“Ah, distinguished and ransomed, the city, the dove” – this, translated into English, is how someone in antiquity rendered the Hebrew text into Greek. Spot the difference to NRSV (“Ah, soiled, defiled, oppressing city!”). What is going on? The poet used three Hebrew words that can be understood in very different ways.

The city that should be distinguished in revealing the ways of God has become rebellious against him (as I would render it) – or soiled, as the NRSV interprets it.

The city that has been ransomed, redeemed for God’s purposes has become defiled – a city like any other.

The city is meant to be a dove, a term of endearment in the Song of Songs (2:14; 5:2; 6:9), maybe evoking freedom (cf. Ps. 55:6) and security (cf. Jer. 48:28) or senselessness and hence vulnerability (cf. Hos. 7:11) or innocence (Mt. 10:16). But instead of being like a dove the city is oppressing – no freedom, no security, no admission of vulnerability, no innocence, nothing here to endear her to us. The dove has become a vicious creature.

The people of God should appear glorious, a picture of redemption, innocent like a dove. Instead we so often partake in humanity’s rebellion against God.

In Hebrew, the word for “dove” is also the name Jonah, reminding us of the response of Nineveh (which had just been mentioned in Zephaniah) to the preaching of repentance. Not so Jerusalem.

Verse 2 speaks of a lack of attentiveness and a lack of submission (in Hebrew “listening to a voice” has connotations of obeying). We know of course cases of bad submission in slavish, denigrating obedience. But we see the importance of good submission when it is missing as is the case in verses 3-4.

In the ancient world, not just in the Bible, people were often compared to sheep and rulers to shepherds whose task it is to protect and provide for the sheep. To be good officials and judges, rulers must submit their agendas to these wider and higher tasks. Politicians who refuse such submission and put their own interests and careers above the welfare of the communities they serve are a disaster – “roaring lions” rather than shepherds.

Judges whose decision making does not submit to the law (God's law in this case) but to their own agendas, maybe driven by the amount of bribes they received, are “wolves at dusk” – nocturnal animals at their most hungry. Their greed – alluded to with the comment that “they leave nothing until the morning” – is a threat to the community.

In such situations prophets ought to be speaking truth to power but if, e.g., they are more concerned about their own reputation – like newspapers whose chief concern is to make a profit – they will not submit to the truth, they become “faithless persons”.

The tasks of priests should have been the most straightforward of them all. God’s word lays down clearly their tasks and responsibilities. But it takes courage to distinguish between what is holy and profane, between what belongs with God and what does not, to declare right and wrong in accordance with God’s word when these distinctions are not popular and so the priests here are taken to task for doing violence to God’s instruction.

We all submit to something or someone. The question is whether we submit to God, to what is good and right and beautiful, or whether we submit to tradition, to an ideology, to the needs of our family, or purely to our own desires.

What happened in Jerusalem at that time is that a people that was linked with God’s name and revelation, that was committed by covenant to submit to Him – as our baptism commits us to submit to Christ and gives us the name Christian – have instead submitted to other gods and agendas, mostly their own.

There was no attentiveness, no submission, no obedience, no trust in God. The city “has not drawn near to its God” and so had become indistinguishable from any other city.

So far so bad, but then comes verse 5.
The LORD within it is righteous; he does no wrong.
Every morning he renders his judgement,
each dawn without fail;
but the unjust knows no shame. (NRSV)
Right there, in the midst of this unfaithful city, is the LORD God – righteous, just, committing no iniquity, no unjust acts, doing no wrong. As the apostle Paul put it, “if we are faithless, he remains faithful-- for he cannot deny himself” (2 Tim. 2:13). Here is good news: God cannot be compromised. His integrity, truthfulness, and justice remain unchanged.

But what good is that? What does it mean to say
Every morning he renders his judgement,
each dawn without fail?
How is that evident when God loves to delegate, loves to rule indirectly? He has given his word to his people. Does he not render judgement through his human agents, the priests, the prophets, the judges, the officials? If God’s agents fail, how is God’s judgement rendered? Well, imperfectly at best.

But the saying (wrongly?) attributed to Teresa of Avila that “Christ has no body but ours, no hands but ours” is not entirely true. Other parts of creation fulfill Christ's command. And there is a hint of that in the Hebrew poetry.

I reckon that the expression translated “each dawn” in the NRSV has a double use and meaning, belonging with both poetic lines (in what scholars call a pivot pattern). God renders his judgement, implements his decree each dawn by bringing forth the light of morning. Poetically speaking, the reliable movement of the sun – coming up, traversing the sky and going down, day by day – is an implementation of God’s decree, without fail because there is no will involved other than God’s.

In reality, of course, the sun is the fix point and it is the earth – it is us – that are moving. And this also presents us a beautiful image, as we remember that the sun shines forth its light whether we see it or not, whether we can see the sun brightly in the sky or whether it is hidden behind clouds, whether we and our part of the earth are turned towards the sun, feelings its warmth, or whether we are turned away from it at night.

The sun is constant and in this an image of God’s constancy and the fact that he has ordered the universe in a way that offers some stability (reliability and therefore predictability), even when we mess things up. The light and warmth of his love are unchanging.
but the unjust knows no shame.
The final line reminds us of the reality on the ground. God does not commit unjust acts but the unjust know, i.e. experience, no shame (in the objective sense = disgrace) – not at the moment anyway.

This will in fact change – the whole book is about the disaster that shook things up in the sixth century BC. But for most of the time we live in a world in which many who bear God's name sully his reputation and do so without being taken to task for it -- and this is why we have saints days and celebrate All Saints.

Sadly there are many who have been set apart for God in baptism but have no knowledge of God, whose mind is set on things of this world rather than on Christ, and whose lives dishonour the name of Christ by which they are called.

And so we remind us of those saints, those set apart for God, through whom the light of Christ shone so brightly that they show us what it means to live with and in Christ. They were of course not perfect but there was, as it were, credible evidence in their lives which could be used in a law court to convict them of being Christian.

We sometimes use the saying “I’m not a saint” to mean “I am not perfect” but it would be foolish to dismiss our call to be saints on the grounds that we will never be perfect in this life.

The question is one of identity. We are all sinners, falling short of the glory of God - of our calling to reflect him into this world. Those of us who are baptised are all saints in some sense, namely set apart for God, bearing the name of Christ. But some are saints by name only and in reality sinners who live without God in the world. Others are saints in a fuller sense – they depend on Christ, draw close to him, listen to his voice and seek to implement his will – while still being sinners, falling short of their calling in one way or another.

For them and us saints days and All Saints may be useful after all as an inspiration to keep going and to pray fervently that the light and warmth of God’s righteous love would ever more clearly shine through us too and we would be Christians not in name only but as those who live in Christ.

This is one of the things it means to pray Hallowed by thy name.

Saturday, 3 November 2018

Zephaniah on Bible Sunday

I am going through Zephaniah in an eight-week sermon series which includes Bible Sunday, All Saints Sunday and Remembrance Day. Here are some notes for a sermon from Zephaniah 2 on Bible Sunday.

If every part of Scripture is profitable for our learning, to equip us for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17), how is Zephaniah 2 useful? All this talk about long-gone nations seems remote.

Without even much study reminds us of one or two things:
  • God deals with tribes, nations and empires which is to say God’s purposes are for communities, not just individuals
  • and related to that: God has purposes in history, the messiness of our political lives
Note how  the events in v.4 are given as a rationale for the exhortation in vv. 1-3.

In the Gospel we heard Jesus claim: “the scriptures...testify on my behalf” and looking at Zephaniah 2 we may be reminded straight away of three things:
  • “when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son” (Galatians 4:4)
  • historical events matter (pace Jordan Peterson and others)
  • God has intentions for the body of Christ

Humility: it’s not all about me and the here and now. It’s about God and his purposes across time and space for all of humanity. This is one reason for the Bible not being a self-help book of useful lessons for individuals.

If we dig deeper, we see an emphasis in Zephaniah 2:5-15 on cities at the beginning (the Philistines) and end (the Assyrians with focus on Nineveh) and a concern with describing the (rural!) aftermath of the destruction rather than the military events themselves (vv. 6 – 9b – 13b, 14). This reinforces a contrast implied earlier in the book (cf. 2:15 with 1:12) between the urban elites and the poor. The two groups embody different attitudes in Zephaniah.

The dispossession and devastation is characterised as leading to the end of a whole socio-economic system - “the end of the world” for the communities concerned. Why? Because injustice had become endemic and systemic.

Assyria was thought to be the major power at the time but with v.12 (“killed by my sword”) which alludes to the destruction of Thebes by the Assyrian army in 664 YHWH claims this for himself.

Reading this chapter as part of the whole Bible, we must not let it denigrate culture in favour of “the simple life” of the poor - after all the Bible's story ends in a city - but there are reminders here that can serve as reproof and correction for us about the typical temptations of

  • urban life and commerce (Philistines - called "Canaan" = merchant),
  • enjoying greater peace and security than others (Moab and the Ammonites)
  • enjoying prosperity and being able to shape the world to suit us (Assyria)

Let us never think that we enjoy peace and security and success and prosperity because we are better than the people of Aleppo, the refugees sleeping rough in the forests in northern France or the people who go to food banks when we go to the supermarket. Let us not ignore those who live on the margins of society and associate with rather than merely give to the poor.

Note also that God’s judgement has a positive purpose, it is in another sense not the end of the world. Twice we read about a Judean “remnant” (the word reminds us that Judah goes through the disaster as much as the other nations; it is not the beneficiary as such) and there is a glimpse of hope for non-Judeans as well in verse 11, to be teased out further in the next chapter: Disaster demolishes idols and so enables recognition of the one true God. This must be a good thing.

Ultimately we will see such victory of the truth over fake news and gods only in the final judgement but there are glimpses of this victory in modern history as well, e.g. in the way militant atheism has been unable to suppress the Christian faith in China and Russia.

We should not see God as being bent upon bringing disaster, as if he delights in the death of anyone, but able to bring good out of disaster.

Almighty God, our only strength and refuge, forgive our pride and arrogance and wean us off a false sense of security. Have mercy upon our nation. Grant us repentance sooner than disaster. Let your kingdom come and all the world acknowledge your majesty.

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Preaching Zephaniah

I am half way through an eight-week sermon series on Zephaniah. For last week's Bible Study I produced a crib sheet to remind us of the first three sermons. This may not make a great deal of sense to those who have not heard the sermons but I put it here anyway.

Zephaniah 1:1-7
Deuteronomy 18:15-22; “The word of the Lord that came to Zephaniah.”
The end of the world, announced in 630s or 620s BC.
  • disintegration of the present political system in early sixth century BC
  • on the cross
  • “at the end of days”
God’s involvement in such disaster; God’s aim.
Invitations to face up to God, e.g. James 5:14-16.

Being silent before God: 
  • stopping the routine, 
  • pausing the activism, 
  • stopping the talking 
– but here ironic.

Zephaniah 1:7-18
“How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:23, 25)

The risk factors (cf. 1 Timothy 6:17):
(1) with great power (<- resources) comes great responsibility
(2) wealth & power often disconnect people from those who are less well off
(3) wealth ~ greed + violence and fraud nexus
(4) wealth creates an illusion of independence and safety

“Madame missionary, I never realized that Jesus was all I needed, until Jesus was all I had.”

Zephaniah 2:1-3
The well-off asked to act as if they were poor – as a matter of urgency! Why?
--> Learning about dependence (humility)
--> Developing a longing/hunger for justice (righteousness)

What might this look like for us?
Not simply to give to the poor but to belong with “the humble of the land”.

The “humble of the land”... (who are responsive to God)
(a) humble circumstances, low rank
(b) having a modest estimate of one’s importance
... are asked to seek

(1)  the Lord
(2) righteousness = rightly ordered relationships > justice for me
(3) humility – seeking humility > humbleness being forced upon me

Friday, 7 September 2018

Hebrew Bible Perspectives on Economic Ethics

Thomas Krüger, “Wirtschaftsethische Perspektiven der Hebräischen Bibel,” in A. Härter, E. A. Kunz, and H. Weidemann (eds), Dazwischen: Zum transitorischen Denken in Literatur- und Kulturwissenschaft (FS J. Anderegg). Göttingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 2003. Pp. 333-347.

  • the location of the Torah in the wilderness following the experience of slavery and mistreatment,
  • that the wilderness where everyone is provided for by God and no-one knows whether they are going to be rich or poor in the land is an ideal place to agree to a law which serves rich and poor
  • that the people’s voluntary agreement is required for the divine laws to be put into force (Exod. 24; Deut. 26:16-19; 28:69);

  • the importance of key terms within the prophetic critique such as zedakah (the preservation and restoration of a life-promoting order for the community and the world), mishpat (which aims at the amicable resolution of conflicts in a balancing co-ordination of interests), and hesed (the elementary bond, solidarity and loyalty in the manifold human relationships such as between relatives, between friends, between host and guest, between master and slaves),
  • the ideal of the economic independence of individuals or individual families (ideally shalom);

  • that the social critique of the prophets assumes that the ultimate aim of social and economic action is to safeguard the freedom of all members of the community which requires a certain distribution of goods and especially of the means of production (which can well be uneven but not such that the rich become richer at the expense of the poor);

  • a development within the composition history of the Torah from (1) Exod. 21-23 which focuses on the reconciliation of interests between the rich and the poor, via (2) Deut. 12-24 which aims at the elimination of poverty – a goal which is considered worthy even if not achievable, to (3) Lev. 25 which has even distribution of income as its goal;

  • the biblical insight that the freedom of the individual and of the individual clan requires economic independence  and
  • the biblical conviction that an economic system oriented towards freedom and justice will be more successful in the long run than ways of running the economy which ignore them;
  • makes the point
  • that the difference of treatment between members of the community and foreigners is not to take advantage of foreigners but to prevent being taken advantage of, given the less charitable systems in Israel’s neighbourhood,
  • that the Psalms and wisdom literature qualify the value of wealth and prosperity in favour of justice (e.g. Prov. 10:2) and love and peace (e.g., Prov. 15:16-17), not least with God and the afterlife in view (e.g. Ps. 4:6-8; 17:14-15; 73:25-26), so that wealth can be considered problematic as much as poverty (Prov. 30:8-9);

  • that the most detailed and thoughtful reflection on the value of material wealth and its just distribution is found in Ecclesiastes, esp. chap. 4, reinforced in 5:9-6:9, where it is emphasised that material goods are means to an end, namely the enjoyment of life which God intends for every human being with the consequence that (a) the rich can only lay claim to that part of their wealth actually needed for their enjoyment of life and (b) a distribution of goods which allows everyone to enjoy life is desirable;
  • that Eccl. 11:1-2 then reinforces the second insight of Eccl 4 which given the uncertainty of life draws the conclusion that it makes sense for the rich to work towards a system that balances  discrepancies of income, not least as they might be in need of such a system themselves in the future.

Krüger concludes
  • that we obviously cannot simply transfer the ethical deliberations and economic concepts of the Hebrew Bible to our situation in which economic structures and processes are vastly more complex but
  • that the biblical texts can remind us of some of the basics easily overlooked in our complex world, namely that freedom presupposes economic independence, that wealth and propserity are means to an end, that success of human endeavour does not depend only on effort and skill but also on factors beyond human control,
  • that the biblical aim of an an even distribution of “land” (which in those days meant means of production, labour, and food) is at least worth considering.

Monday, 5 March 2018

Understanding Nationhood

“The contradictions in modern understandings of nationhood are obvious. On the one hand, the notion of nation-sates that matured in Europe in the nineteenth century was based on a romantic ideal of matching ethnic, linguistic, and cultural boundaries with political borders. At the same time, these same nations were caring the rest of the world up into subject states in which state boundaries often bore no relationship whatsoever with ethnic boundaries. But this raises the question: What does it mean to be a nation? Modern Western answers to this question tend to be as inconsistent as the perceptions of the ANE. Several factors that contributed in varying degrees to the ancients’ national self-consciousness may be identified.
1. Ethnicity. The importance of this factor varied. In the territorial states of northern Syria (encompassing the Phoenicians and Aramaeans) this element appears to have been inconsequential in the determination of national boundaries. In the national states farther south ethnicity was one of the primary determinants of nationality...
2. Territory... In territorial states membership was determined simply by residence within the territory of the state [גּוֹי], without consideration of ethnic origin or affiliation [עָם]. The size of such states tended to depend on the political, military, and economic power of the king ruling in the capital city. Accordingly, a single ethnic or cultural group [עָם] could be divided into a series of states [גּוֹיִם], a pattern evident in Aramaean and Phoenician regions (e.g., Damascus, Hamath, Tyre, Sidon). In national states membership was determined by affiliation with an ethnic group, and ethnic borders tended to coincide with political boundaries (e.g., Israel, Ammon, Moab, Edom...The boundaries of territorial states fluctuated, depending on the ability of the king to control his region or incorporate more land. For both types of states territory played a critical role in national development...
3. Theology. In the ANE, nations tended to be identified with their own distinctive patron deity...In the minds of Phoenicians and Aramaeans, like the Mesopotamians, a people related to a specific god by virtue of residence in that god’s land. The Hebrews, by contrast, viewed their association with Yahweh as primary; the land of Canaan represented his grant to them after he had established himself as their God by covenant...But this notion of national deities was not absolute. The gods of the nations outside Israel tolerated the worship of other divinities by their subjects, even within the homeland or city, and the subjects felt free to worship other gods at home, and especially when they traveled to a new land...
4. Kingship. In both territorial and national states the institution of kingship served as a glue holding the subjects of a nation together...
5. Language. Several types of evidence in the OT suggest that people of the ANE recognized a link between language and nationality...However, [other evidence] suggests that the relationship between language and nationality may not have been the subject of much reflection...The OT traditions imply that all the nations of southern Syria (the Philistines, Edom, Moab, Ammon, Israel) gave up their native tongues in favor of the Canaanite dialect without any loss of national self-consciousness...
From Daniel I. Block, “Nations/Nationality,” NIDOTTE 4:966-972.

The Decalogue and Confession

Lent has long been considered a good time to take stock, to confess our sins before God. And the Ten Commandments (see previous post) are sometimes recommended to help us prepare for confession. As I encouraged my congregation to prayerfully reflect on the Ten Commandments for this purpose I asked them to remember this: When we ask ourselves, “have I kept this law?” the question is fundamentally not “have I done anything that contravenes it?”

Much more basic are these questions:
  • Do I believe what these commandments imply about the nature of reality? Do I trust God?
  • Do I want to keep these commandments? Do I love to do God’s will?
Because if I am merely interested in not getting on the wrong side of the law or if I try to earn brownie points with God, I have completely and utterly misunderstood what this is all about. Christ delivered me and so I need not fear God’s judicial punishment or earn his favour. Christ lived the perfect life here on earth. I want to follow him and so I want to read and reflect on the Ten Commandments in order to learn about my God, to trust him more, and to live as a human made in the image of God, as a child of my heavenly Father, and as a disciple of Christ. And I pray that God’s Spirit would enable this.

And so, e.g.,  when reflecting on the last commandment I want to “learn how to make distinctions between desiring that which is wholesome and good and beneficial for both people and nature and that which only feeds a hunger for more than we need.” (Janzen, Exodus, 238) I want to ponder the question why it is that we have more than some and less than others which leads me to two other questions: what does God want me to do with the resources he has given me and what might he want to tell me by not giving me someone else’s resources?