June 5th, 2014
The fifth commandment, we argued last Sunday, invites us to reflection on one of two errors to which we’re prone concerning our honoring those who reared us: to make either too little of them, or too much. In the text we read from Matthew 10, Jesus addresses the second of the two errors (as pointedly as he addresses the first in Matthew 15), saying
Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
We took the first part of verse 37 as the basis for Jesus’ challenge to making too much of our parents. But from the back half of verse 37 we remember the potential for idolatry cuts both ways. As surely as children may become obsequious to their parents, so parents may deify their children.
One moment in C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce illustrates that grotesque parental proclivity. You may remember the setting of Lewis’ imaginative tale: a cohort of hell’s inhabitants take a bus trip to the outskirts of heaven and each passenger is offered an opportunity to cross over into bliss so long as they submit to what heaven asks of them.
One chapter tells the story of a woman who had lost her son at an early age. She comes to the foothills of heaven wanting desperately to see him. Her brother, one already admitted into heaven’s province and therefore now a Bright Spirit of that realm, informs her that she must wait to see her son. Initially perturbed by what she thinks is a monstrous expectation, she eventually turns hysterically demanding, saying,
No one has the right to come between me and my son. Not even God. Tell Him that to his face. I want my boy, and I mean to have him. He is mine, do you understand? Mine, mine, mine for ever and ever.
With his inimitable storytelling facility Lewis leads us to see that this mother has made too much of her son—turned a good thing into an idolatrous thing. What she mistakes as love for her son is really an inordinate desire for wholeness that she thinks her son can provide. And because she looked to her son to make her whole, she could neither love God truly, nor even love her son truly–not until she loved God foremost. As Lewis elsewhere put it
every preference of a small good to a great, or partial good to a total good, involves the loss of the small or partial good for which the sacrifice is made. . . . You can’t get second things by putting them first. You get second things only by putting first things first.
The mother had eaten at the altar of her son, and had become so enthralled with what she thought her son gave her, that she entirely set aside what God had for her.
Jesus put our parents in needed context. At the same time He confirmed that parents are, and always shall be, as much in need of the Gospel penetrating them as the children they rear.
In the Hebrew the sixth commandment runs a total of two words: “no killing.” The chosen verb has connotations that explain its meaning but its blunt succinctness implies far more than instruction. It assumes–and thereby reaffirms–a fundamental and irrevocable value to the human person by virtue of their being made in the image of God (Gen 1:26).
Dr. Charles Habib Malik was a Lebanese Christian instrumental in the crafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations in 1948. An arguably unprecedented document in human history for its globally-collaborative effort, the Declaration outlines as comprehensively and succinctly as it can all that to which every human is entitled.
What provoked the composition of something compared to a global Magna Carta? Consider the time: the world was reeling in the wake of its most deadly world war to date. Tens of millions had died on the battle field–tens of millions more by systematic extermination. The time was ripe for a worldwide effort to counteract the impulses responsible for sacrificing nearly 3% of the world’s population on the altar of ideology. Something–anything–had to be done. If regimes could not be replaced, perhaps a manifesto could be adopted to rein in, or even pre-empt, those murderous impulses? The UDHR was birthed in that desperate time, espousing a notion of dignity intended to promulgate among future generations so that wars like the last would remain in the past.
But while the Declaration asserts the inherent dignity of the human person, and affirms its importance for the world’s freedom and peace, the declaration does not offer a case for why humanity possesses that dignity. It extols it, but does not justify it. This isn’t a criticism of the document; in a culturally and religiously pluralistic enterprise the effort to arrive at consensus at what establishes human dignity would’ve likely torpedoed the entire process. But in our current moment where some will argue without batting an eye that dignity is only a cultural construct–a category arbitrarily asserted for practical and peaceful reasons–one might not take too much comfort in a heralded document that sought to protect and preserve human rights.
Nonetheless, you might be interested to listen to this excerpt from a larger interview with Dr Malik from the 1950s concerning the state of the Middle East.
F.D. Bruner has been a favorite source of pithy quotes for our sermons at CtK. His ostensibly encyclopedic familiarity with theological literature ancient and modern, conservative and liberal, deems him a valuable repository of humble insight. You may remember one clever turn of phrase of his we harvested last year while studying Mark’s depiction of Jesus’ feeding the five thousand (Mk 6:30-44). The disciples mouths were as agape as the crowd’s bellies were empty when Jesus exhorted his confidantes, saying, “you, feed them.” Five loaves and two fish were all they had–or so they thought. That’s when Jesus “looked up to heaven and said a blessing” at which the meagre fare multiplied, and then satisfied everyone present.
Bruner’s salutary summary of the passage was this: “Every disciple must learn to count to eight.” Five fish, plus two loaves, plus one Lord equals more than enough–if only we’ll ask for the Divine Supplement.
This Sunday night we’re going to learn to count to eight again during our monthly time of corporate prayer. We’ll let our vision for Faithful Presence outline the structure for our prayers, but we’ll ask the Spirit to inspire their utterance. More than an hour of prayer might seem exhausting. Praying in public might seem awkward. Gathering again Sunday evening after we’ve worshipped together Sunday morning might feel like a legalistic way of impressing God with our piety. But things are not always as they seem. One thing is undeniable: we (myself included) could all stand to learn to count to eight.
Come bring your fingers and learn to count again: we’re at the home of Paul and Cathy McAndrew, 1215 Rita, Sunday night, June 9th, 6-8pm.
We received almost 50 responses to our Community Group Survey. That’s a fantastic response. However we’ve noticed that several of you didn’t “divulge” your identity–including those who wanted to know more about these groups. So, check back to see if you included your name at the end of the survey.
Meanwhile, over a dozen of you expressed an interest or curiosity in co-facilitating a group. You should’ve received an email from us yesterday about a forthcoming meeting towards the end of the month that hopes to add clarity to the nature of the groups and the role of facilitator. If you made note of your interest (or curiosity) in group facilitation but didn’t receive an email, let us know so we can send you the details!
And if for some reason you never received an invitation to take the survey, click on the monkey to the right.
By now you should’ve received the invitation to a special lecture and conversation with Drew Trotter, director of The Consortium of Christian Study Centers. In lieu of our Sunday Night Fellowship in June, we’ll be gathering on Saturday night, June 21st, from 6-8pm to hear Drew share his insights into how the Best Picture nominees do more than tell stories; they reveal something deep about our moment and ourselves.
In order to know how many are coming, we’d ask everyone to RSVP by clicking on the “attend event” link in the invitation you received. Bill and Robin Harris are kind to host us: 1369 Green Hills Ct. Eat before you come, but light refreshments will be provided. If you have no idea what we’re talking about, click here for the invitation. Then complete the following to get on our email list for events like this.
As we announced last Sunday, we’ll soon need help in our children’s sunday school during 2nd hour. Curriculum is already provided and can be easily prepared. Sally Lloyd-Jones’ The Jesus Storybook Bible is our content. We only need people who want to make the eternal truths simple for young minds. If you’d like to volunteer or would just like more information first, contact Breanna Elam for more information. Any volunteers will need to submit to a simple background check.
Finally, we’ll be headed to our denomination’s 42nd General Assembly in Houston soon. Backstory will take a hiatus for a couple weeks, but should report in sometime during the Assembly. Annual assemblies tend toward the tedious. This one is shaping up to be fairly significant. Doctrinal, procedural, and pastoral issues will dominate the proceedings–including most notably an overture (resolution) exhorting churches to take more robust measures in protecting children from abuse within and without. We referenced the first concrete action in that direction at last year’s Assembly. Praying for a gathering managed by Robert’s Rules might seem a bit weird. Considering the content of our deliberations, though, we will require something more than our collective wisdom.
Things you might pray for–both near and far
- for our time of corporate prayer Sunday night
- for this new effort to form groups that allow us to learn faithful presence
- for the mother of Debby Comer recovering from surgery earlier this week
- for the family of Dr. Bob Longacre whose memorial service will be held Saturday, June 7th, 2014, at 2:00 p.m. at Faith Bible Church, 1437 Pleasant Run Road, DeSoto, TX. Following the memorial service there will be a reception at the Dallas Center’s Cowan Apartments.
- for those seeking 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,
If Drew Trotter were giving his talk in 1955 he might’ve included this film. Jesus’ commentary on the 6th commandment is at bottom an answer to Cal’s (and Cain’s) question.