May 22nd, 2014
There wasn’t time last Sunday to tease out all the implications of what it means not to take the Lord’s name in vain. Let me include one omission here.
In context, the 3rd commandment had particular relevance to one’s making of promises. Oaths or vows they were called, the distinction depending on the type of promise and to whom. To attest to the integrity of one’s word, the oath-taker would invoke God’s name as witness of his trustworthiness, or by calling divine curse upon him should he fail to honor the promise. The Old Testament evidences all sorts of people invoking the Name as validation of their commitment.
But when Jesus comes on the scene oath-taking had devolved into disingenuousness. Now people were invoking not the explicit Name of God to shore up their credibility but of entities implicitly associated with His greatness–“heaven,” “Jerusalem,” and one’s own “head” which insinuated one’s own utter contingency upon God. But by using words other than God their promise gave off an aura of integrity, while affording them a certain wiggle room in what they were promising since the promise hadn’t actually invoked the Name. It was the something not too dissimilar from crossing one’s fingers behind the back. It was duplicity under pretense of sincerity. That’s why Jesus calls for a suspension of oaths invoking the Name or anything associated with it. “Let your yes be yes and your no be no.”
It recalls a scene in A Man for All Seasons, the story of Sir Thomas More, friend and adviser to Henry VIII. When the king seeks an annulment from his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, on account of her having been unable to produce a male heir, he looks to More for both moral and legal support. Their abiding friendship notwithstanding, More cannot in good conscience sanction that which he finds in clear violation of the Law. After he is repeatedly implored to change his mind, More is imprisoned, and threatened with worse if he persists in his alleged recalcitrance.
In this scene More’s daughter comes to him in prison importuning him to recant his position. When he reiterates his conviction, she suggests an alternative: just say the renunciatory words without meaning them in your heart. More’s answer, also quoted in the bulletin last Sunday, rings like a bell on a clear night:
“When a man takes an oath, Meg, he’s holding his own self in his hands. Like water. And if he opens his fingers then—he needn’t hope to find himself again.”
More is warning that making a promise you have no intention of keeping has effects far beyond the pretense of the moment. Some precedents are hard to undo.
Whether it’s the 1st century or the early 16th century the idea of oaths seems far removed from our day. Yet, quoting Thomas Merton, as we did Sunday, “we ourselves are words of His”–from which it follows that any word we say, or promise we make has a certain implicit invocational element to it that implies integrity. To speak as if we aren’t implicitly accountable to God both denies the truth of His sovereignty (Heb 4:12-13), and, per More and Merton, defames both His and our reputations.
Unlikely as it is that you’ll feel compelled to include a “as God as my witness” in your next conversation, your words as one united to Him by faith in Christ automatically invokes His name. Would that you and I were so careful to hold ourselves in our hands.
We’re turning to the fourth commandment this Sunday, the command to remember the Sabbath day. Of the commands this one may be the most hotly contested as to its abiding significance given Jesus’ fair share of confrontations with the religious establishment over its true purposes.
What’s true of this command is true of them all, and for that matter, every instruction in Scripture. But the fourth commandment perhaps represents the clearest connection between the ethical (what to do) and the eschatological (the consummation of God’s redemptive plans for the world). The fourth commandment enjoins us to make room for rest, but the rest mentioned here is part of…a storyline. There’s more than a pro/pre-scription to this commandment; there’s a story here–a story about rest. Exodus 20:8-10 comes early in that story, but not even the earliest part. And we’re not done until we consider Hebrews 4:1-10 (which is part of a larger section beginning earlier in Hebrews 3).
My study this week got me to thinking about something I’d heard from David Brooks recently–just a five minute talk with immeasurable implications for the very ordering of your existence. His words imply we ourselves are a story, and until we discern that truth we will live with a truncated view of our purpose. I will hope to argue that it’s the Sabbath that helps us recover the fulness of God’s story, the one to which we become united by faith in the Son.
Speaking of Storyline, we’ll forego our sojourn through the Confession’s tour of the theological narrative this Sunday, resuming next Sunday. But as a follow-up to last week’s engaging
melee discussion, consider a couple resources
Justin Holcomb is an Episcopal priest in Massachusetts who provides here a salutary explanation of the two schools of Reformed theology. Two? Yes, two. Have a scan of his brief article and then tell us: which school of thought clings more closely to the sensibilities of the Westminster Confession? Then if you had to identify which school CtK, consciously or unconsciously, tends toward, which would you say? Or do we opt for a more balanced “diet” of priorities?
Have a read of Holcomb’s take on Reformed history, and then consider this quote from Evan Koons.
We are called to abide in God, and say, “Let it be to his plan and our part in his divine and wondrous mystery.” We can be assured that God’s desire for our work here is intimately related to his plan for all things.
And God will sustain us, for our work is a mighty collaboration, not only with our Creator, but the entire world. In this broken world, we have a responsibility to bring healing and harmony to our most immediate surroundings and work outward. By these actions we, too, are healed. As our calling is great, may we not be enamored by our abilities or fall in love with the fruit of our labor. We must seek God’s grace and seek to orient our work toward community with him
As it relates to last week’s lesson, our good works are for this good world defaced and enslaved to sin. They are our faithful presence to the world. (which school of Reformed thought does Koons and his documentary seem to feature?)
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As we mentioned last week, we’re going to try something completely different this week at our Sunday Night Fellowship: a little film criticism but with a theological purpose. We’ll watch the first installment in the series of Kieslowski’s Dekalog (The Decalogue). The first film is a tragic story with the first commandment as its subtly underlying theme.
For a little orientation to the film, here’s an excerpt from Steven Greydanus’ introduction to the series:
“What is the true meaning of life?” Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski has asked. “Why get up in the morning? Politics doesn’t answer that.” The Decalogue, Kieslowski’s extraordinary, challenging collection of ten one-hour films made for Polish television in the dying days of the Soviet Union, doesn’t answer Kieslowski’s questions either. What it does is pose them as hauntingly and seriously as any cinematic effort in the last quarter century.
The decalogue is not easy to keep, and The Decalogue is not easy to watch. Although the ten episodes explore moral questions, they do so in the context of disordered, sometimes dysfunctional lives of a modern, generally areligious urban populace. Kieslowski never preaches, and seldom even seeks explicitly to clarify lines between right and wrong, but the prevailing mood is somber and downbeat, the general sense of something having gone wrong unavoidable. Like much of the Old Testament, The Decalogue is a chronicle of human failure.
The ten episodes are linked by a common setting, a Warsaw high-rise apartment complex where all the characters live (an early establishing shot perhaps suggests the Tower of Babel), and also by the occasional overlapping of characters from one episode into another. There is also an enigmatic, silent observer whose presence in nearly all the episodes suggests some symbolic role. This observer has been variously identified with God, truth or conscience; Kieslowski’s agnostic comment was “I don’t know who he is” though he also added, “He’s not very pleased with us.”
See you this Sunday night, May 25th, at our regularly scheduled time of 6-8pm. Have dinner before you come, but we’ll pop the popcorn. For those with kids, we’ll have a Pixar film up and playing in a nearby room–so bring ’em. (If only the sequel to The Incredibles would hurry up!)
CTK and Fairmeadows Picnic, Sunday, June 1st, 12pm to 2pm at Armstrong Park, Duncanville.
All are invited for a fun time of fellowship together. Ice and paper goods will be provided. Suggested items to bring:
last names A-K: bring two vegetables, fruits or salads for 8-10 people
last names L-Z: bring a main dish for 8-10 people
singles: bring dessert plus bread or drinks (2 liter soda, gallon water or tea)
and everyone bring games to play!
Contact Sheri McMillan for more information.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer argued the paradoxical nature of faith and obedience when he said, “a concrete commandment has to be obeyed in order to come to believe.” Faith is in a sense a precondition for obedience, and yet obedience–even a blind kind–may be what seeds faith until it blossoms. Isn’t prayer the same? Prayer is an act of faith, but is it not also a search for it, a pursuit of that rest and repose attendant to faith? Why not then seed and seek faith by praying for these, and whatever else you might share with us
- for Ron and Diane Morren as they head to Uganda for another stint of teaching
- for those among us who mourn, who wait, who struggle
- for our new graduates: Breanna Elam from Redeemer Seminary, and Emily Comer from Washington and Lee University
- for peace in the Crimea
- for swift and safe progress in the release of the nearly 200 young girls abducted in Nigeria
- for our gracious hosts, Fairmeadows Baptist Church, and other churches in our city
See you Sunday at 9:30,
Bonus: We teed up last week’s sermon with a reference to Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age–more specifically, James K. A. Smith’s summary of Taylor’s colossal tome entitled, How (Not) to be Secular. Well (and HT: Debby Comer), now you don’t even had to plod through Smith’s vastly shorter and more accessible work: Mike Cosper has summarized Smith’s summary of Taylor! If that weren’t enough, Cosper even employs Star Wars to help us navigate his thought.