Tag Archives: law of Moses

God, hidden in plain sight

Lent 3B, 10 March 2015

Readings
Exodus 20.1-17
Psalm 19
1 Corinthians 1.18–25
John 2.13–22

 

We live in a world in which God’s work is largely hidden from us. Yes, Psalm 19 reminds us:

The heavens declare the glory of God—

and we know that more than any other generation. They’ve just discovered a black hole that is about 12 billion times more massive than the sun. It’s also around 12 billion light years away, which means it’s 12 billion years old. It’s almost as old as the entire universe! A black hole that old shouldn’t exist. Physicists are going to have to change their ideas about how black holes are formed. Yes,

The heavens do indeed declare the glory of God.

But: people see nothing of God in the heavens without the eye of faith—even just a little faith. God’s glory is hidden from their eyes.

I want to claim today that while the heavens, are majestically great, they are not God’s greatest work. God’s greatest work is greater still than the heavens—yet it is even more hidden from human eyes.

What is this ‘greatest work’?

Might it be the giving of the Ten Commandments, the law, on Mt Sinai? The story says that before Moses went up Mt Sinai alone except for his brother Aaron,

there was thunder and lightning, as well as a thick cloud on the mountain, and a blast of a trumpet so loud that all the people who were in the camp trembled.

The story says ‘Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke, because the Lord had descended upon it in fire…’ It says that God spoke to Moses in thunder and that the people were not allowed anywhere near for their own safety. If I were there, I’d have been relieved to stay away.

On the mountain God gives the law, which begins

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.

It goes on to set the limits of people’s behaviour—do not lie, steal, commit adultery and so on.

This law has formed the basis of our own code of laws today. Surely it is the greatest work of God?

No, I’m afraid it’s not.

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Jesus and the law (Epiphany 6A, 16 February 2014)

Reading
Matthew 5.17–37

 

What are we meant to do with the Old Testament?

Is it relevant in 2014?

Does the Old Testament still matter now that we have the New?

Has Jesus done away with it? Isn’t it all outdated? I mean Jesus says,

You have heard that it was said by those in ancient times… But I say to you…

And not just once! He says it six times.

Sounds like Jesus is a bit of a radical, turning over the current order, upsetting the status quo, teaching new things.

So does Jesus want to get rid of the Old Testament? Is it ‘old hat’? Has it passed its used-by date?

Christians sometimes speak that way. They talk about the ‘Old Testament God’ as though the ‘New Testament God’ is different. They sometimes assume they are indeed different gods. To them, the Old Testament—and its God—is passé.

So, what do they do with these words of Jesus, which seem to pull in the opposite direction:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil.

The ‘law and the prophets’ are the two most important parts of the Old Testament. They teach us how to live in covenant with the God of justice and mercy. Jesus says he’s not on about abolishing them. Sounds like Jesus hadn’t given up on the Old Testament. And he hasn’t given up on the God who the Old Testament witnesses to.

But much more than that, Jesus says

truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, 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; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

There are 613 commandments in the Old Testament. It’s really easy to break them: anyone here with polyester-cotton clothes is a lawbreaker. Anyone who eats prawns or stroganoff is a lawbreaker. And anyone—like me—who teaches that it’s ok to do such things is a lawbreaker.

Jesus is setting high standards here. Very high standards. So are we hopelessly compromised every time we eat seafood in our best polyester-cotton gear?

Do you see what has just happened? We started off saying how Jesus upset the status quo—saying what they’d heard before is not enough—only to turn around and say he supports every bit of the law.

How does that work?

Well, it’s as Jesus says:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil.

Jesus fulfils the law and the prophets. He fills the law full right to the top

  • by keeping it,
  • by showing us what it means to keep it, and
  • by showing us mercy when we fail to keep it. Continue reading

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