May 1st, 2014
One wry wit replaces another soon on Late Night television. David Letterman dropped the droll bombshell a few weeks back that he’ll retire in 2015, to be succeeded (yes, like a talk show reign) by none other than master of irony, Stephen Colbert, host of The Colbert Report. Why update you on what’s transpiring in the comedic domain of pop-culture? It has a little to do with the sermon series that begins this Sunday on the Ten Commandments.
Ironically a few years back, Colbert interviewed a congressman who’d sponsored legislation that mandated the display of the Decalogue in public buildings in his state. Well, his interview with the congressman went something like this:
I post the embarrassing moment not to pile on the ill-prepared congressman, or even to comment on the often confused intermingling of religion and politics, but to ask ourselves some probing questions: while perhaps we could’ve enumerated God’s foundational words to Moses with greater skill, are they foundational to us, or mostly decoration? Do they shape our being and doing, or have we reduced them to mere guidelines? Have we allowed our understanding of God’s grace in the gospel of Jesus to unintentionally but nevertheless effectively marginalize them?
In this series we want to rediscover what each of the commandments mean and why they matter. But we take a short exhortation from the prophet Jeremiah as our primary reason for reviewing the Ten Words given at Sinai:
Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths,
where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. (6:16)
These commands of God were given after Israel’s liberation from Egyptian bondage, and in anticipation of her entrance into a land promised them–a land that would mean for them “rest on every side” (Josh 21:44). The Decalogue represents that ancient path from which a later Israel had departed, and to which God was calling her to return. They were meant for her rest. So we want to ask and answer in each sermon a common question: how is this command meant to provide us rest?
This Sunday we begin where God began. It’s the commandment upon which all the others hang–the commandment you have to violate first if you violate any of the others: “you shall have no other gods before me.” There is a simplicity in its succinctness, but its implications are deep and wide. Its simple message to us is this: Let God be God. So we’ll try to answer three simple questions:
- what does that mean?
- why does that matter?
- how is that done?
God’s “first” word to Israel was both pre-emptive and corrective. They’d need to hear and heed Him in the land, and they needed to hear and heed Him before they got to the land (in fact their intransigence only delayed their arrival). Both before and after they entered they’d have to put off that which had come to compete for their love for God. The same project remains for all those who’d follow Him, and in ways that are not without pain. So as you prepare for coming to the Table this Sunday, sit with the first commandment.
Oh, and tell the children in your household that even Frog and Toad will have something to say Sunday about this commandment.
We’ve been trying our hand at making sense of the Westminster Confession of Faith for the last several weeks during our 2nd hour Storyline class. We’ve sought to understand their distillation of the teaching of Scripture through the lens of story, since the bible itself tells a story of redemption. Thus our class title. Last week we considered why Jesus acts as hero of the storyline. [sidenote: Stephen Colbert has another interview with Bart Ehrman, the New Testament scholar and the debunker de jure of New Testament credibility whom we spoke of last week; Colbert’s wit, as you’ll see, can be somewhat discomfiting for the one at whose expense it is.] A recent TED talk made the case that all our stories of heroism basically follow a common storyline. The sagely C.S. Lewis, who knew a thing or two about myths and stories both ancient and modern, argued that while there is commonality between the story of Jesus and other stories, it’s the former that was the “Myth Became Fact“:
The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact. The old myth of the Dying God, without ceasing to be myth, comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history. It happens — at a particular date, in a particular place, followed by definable historical consequences. We pass from a Balder or an Osiris, dying nobody knows when or where, to a historical Person crucified (it is all in order) under Pontius Pilate. By becoming fact it does not cease to be myth: that is the miracle.
For very good reasons do we find Jesus’ heroism not just arresting but historically credible. This week we shift into a new segment of the Storyline: how the plot resolves through the Hero who arrives just in time. For three weeks we’ll explore that resolution in three dimensions:
- resolution through being reborn (5/4)
- resolution through being remade (5/11)
- resolution through being re-commissioned (5/18)
If you’ve attended any of the sessions you’ve become immediately aware of how pithily the theologians of the Assembly crafted each paragraph. You may have also experienced a certain challenge to maintain your focus given the sheer volume of concepts packed into each chapter. So we’re going to take a little more hands-on approach to the dense material. For that you might choose to acquaint yourself with the material in advance of Sunday’s session. (Homework? What?) We’ll consider our rebirth by looking at four different chapters in the Confession (click the links for each chapter’s content):
- Chapter 3 on God’s Eternal Decree
- Chapter 9 on Free Will
- Chapter 10 on Effectual Calling
- Chapter 11 on Justification
We’ll break into groups, divide and conquer the material, and share our rough and preliminary insights about how the chapter contributes to our understanding of the Rebirth according to the Confession.
And as small postscript to Jim’s lesson on the Trinity from a few weeks back, one of you (HT: Jane Peterson?) mentioned a book by Mike Reeves that brings the profundity of the doctrine into a far more accessible light–and in a wonderfully winsome style. The book is Delighting in the Trinity (didn’t we say something about adoration last week?), and here’s an excerpt from a talk he gave explaining the cruciality of understanding this doctrine if we’re to understand (and delight in) the Gospel.
First Sunday Lunch is back in session this Sunday at the Luby’s at 5600 S Hampton Road and 67, just north of I-20. Bring yourself and bring a friend. Share a meal while you share part of your story. (and save the date for our beginning of Summer picnic, June 1st.)
It’s never a waste to read saints’ case for the practice of prayer–so long as you respond to the reading by then putting it down and practicing prayer in turn. Here’s a famous sermon on prayer by Jonathan Edwards entitled, “The Most High a Prayer-hearing God.” Take and read. Then pause to pray, and among other things for:
- peace in the Ukraine and Crimea
- rescuers attending to survivors on the capsized Korean ship
- Ron Morren on the loss of his brother last Saturday
- the family of CtK charter member and longtime professor, Bob Longacre, who died last week. Memorial services are pending at both Town North Presbyterian and Wycliffe
- our students at Redeemer Seminary and Association of Biblical Counseling as they complete the semester
- your presbytery as it meets for its quarterly gathering
- our gracious hosts, Fairmeadows Baptist Church, and other churches in our city
See you Sunday at 9:30,
As you’ll hear Sunday, the cartoonist and author Tim Kreider is only the most recent observer to confirm something magnate Andrew Carnegie said nearly a century ago, “all men must have an idol.” While riches and fame have lost a little of their lustre as we’ve seen bearers of each fade and fall, one idol that remains is the love of another. It has become our salvation.