Thursday, 5 March 2015


Prospect
The Rev'd Robert Warren                                                                        
Exodus 20:1-17

As a theological student I got roped in to doing a service for a small church of a different denomination in the Laurentians, just north of Montreal, that was without its minister on a particular Sunday.  The elder - a local worthy of many winters - first showed me around the church hall ("The Boy Scouts use it on Tuesday nights - the fat women, they use it on Wednesdays!" ) before taking me into the Sanctuary itself. On the back wall of the small wooden church were the words of the Ten Commandments written out in surprising large letters on either side of a small window.  The text covered the entire wall from ceiling to floor.

"I guess, being an Anglican, you're not much used to this", he said to me with a smirk.   

I wanted to protest that we Anglicans didn't in fact spend our entire lives in Las Vegas, Gomorrah or bathed in the light of a twirling disco ball but I did have to admit that I was unused to seeing the Ten Commandments set out in such an "in your face" manner in a church building.

"We've got them in our book", I said.

There is a problem with the Law of God being something which members of a particular community "have" and which marks them out as being qualitatively better than their neighbours, whether atheists, Jebusites or Anglicans.  The ethical portions of the Ten Commandments are to be found in some form in most ancient systems of law - even those systems which could have had no connection to Israel and its history.  The bigger problem, though, is how they are used. The Law of God has tended to be something which the Saints point down range - in the direction of their opponents and opposites.  It tells us who out there deserves to be punished. 

This is not the use that Jesus (or St Paul) makes of the Law of God.   Yes, the Commandments serve to identify sin and wretchedness.  They express clearly the distance which exists between ourselves and God and the growing chasm which, because of our acts and attitudes, separates us from our neighbour.  But understand rightly: The commandment against murder includes fleeting anger as well and the commandment against adultery includes the occasional wave of lust.  We may feel these things are not even within our control. 

So when the law is pointed back at the saints and not at those in the next village, what should it do? It should provoke hunger, not merely for law-keeping but for righteousness which is a thing of a very different order.  The route to that might well not be rejoicing in an eighty percent success rate at law-keeping. The route to that might well be the confession of our sins. 

Something else we have in our book.