Sunday, March 2, 2014

All the Law and the Prophets

To download the podcast of my sermon, click here.

When I was a child, only occasionally when I questioned them on an order did my parents say, "Because I told you so".  For the most part, my parents were keen to share with me the logic and reasoning behind certain laws and rules in our household.

Although at the time, I did not appreciate these laws and rules at the time because they ruined what would have been an otherwise splendid crime spree, but now I understand why there were laws, and I why I needed to understand the reason why.

Some laws were there to protect me, to be sure: don't put your hand on the oven, don't play with matches (both of which I did, with disastrous consequences in both cases), and so on.

Other laws were there to ensure that I would grow up to be a respectable, responsible and respectful young man: say please and thank you, respect your elders, do your homework.

These laws were in place because my parents had a vision of what a good person should be, and teenage rebellion aside, I think they did a fairly decent job, and I am grateful now that they had some vision of the type of person I should be.  Things might have gone a completely different way had I been left to my own devices.  Without their vision and guidance as elucidated in their rules, I might not have turned out as well.

I think this is what Transfiguration Sunday is all about (click here to read the text from Matthew I preached on).  The setting is fairly simple: Jesus and several of his disciples go up to the top of a mountain to pray.  This is not so odd: most of us can relate to the wonderful sense of peace and detachment we get from being in a high place.  It also seems to be a fairly ubiquitous aspect of human nature that God, gods or the divine are somewhere "up there".

While they are there, Jesus is transfigured (trans meaning change, figure meaning face or shape).  He is clothes in white and is radiant with the presence of the divine.

This moment indicates a couple of things in the life of Christ and the lives of the disciples.  First, it represents the first moment when the disciples had any notion of his divinity.  They realized then in that moment that Jesus was something more than human.  He shared in God's divinity.  He had, more than any other human before or since, a closer contact with, knowledge of and affinity with God than any other person.

Something else is realized in this passage, and this is evinced by the presence of Moses and Elijah.  These are not just random apparitions.  They are very significant.  Moses, you may recall, went up the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments.  As such, in ancient Jewish thought, Moses was associated with the Law.  He brought the Law on behalf of God.  Elijah, you also may recall, went up a mountain to be with God, was trapped in a storm, and heard God speaking in the silence after the storm.  As such, Elijah was seen as the greatest of prophets (that is before Jesus came along).

So here you have two aspects of spiritual life which are bound up in the person of Christ: Law and Prophecy.  If I may simplify, what distinguishes these two things is that Law is what we do, Prophecy is what God does.

Law were the rules the ancient Jews followed: the Ten commandments, the food laws, the purity laws.  Sounds pretty straightforward.  But Jesus biggest criticism of the Pharisees was that they had lost the understanding of why these rules existed in the first place: to show love to God and neighbour.  The Law can be a hollow shell, and that was what it had become.

On the other had, Prophecy is the progressive revelation of God's will and action in the world.  Prophecy is the story of God's people at work in the world, of God's hope in the world.  One could say that it is the gradual story of God's plan for the world.  But without rules, it would be very difficult for us to know how or what we should do to be part of that unfolding.

Both Law and Prophecy are incomplete without the other, and indeed they were until Christ made it clear in The Great Commandment ("love God, love your neighbour") that the function of the Law was indeed to ensure peace, compassion , mercy and justice.  In other words, Jesus represents the synthesis of Law and Prophecy.

In the same sense that when our parents reveal the reasoning behind the rules to us, we may appreciate and understand them a little more, Jesus life, mission and ministry made it clear why we were following the rules.

Similarly, in the same sense that the household rules guided us towards being the people we are today, the Law was still necessary to help us become part of God's unfolding will here on earth.

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