Readings 6 Oct 2002
[27th Sunday of "Ordinary Time"]
Exodus 20: 1 - 4, 7 - 9, 12 - 20
This is one of the two recordings of what we call the "Ten Commandments" - the heart of the Jewish Law. (The other is in Deuteronomy 5: 6 - 21). The Decalogue, ten words, is the encapsulation of duties to God and neighbour that will lead to a righteous lifestyle. Note however that the covenant is established in who God is and what God has already done for the people (verses 1,2). The Jewish faith is often wrongly accused of being essentially legalistic. But the giving of the law is shrouded in the story of God's faithful acts towards the people. Verse 2 is a summary of the meaning of the Exodus. There is an implicit and missing "Now ..." in the law that God gives. Our actions and behaviours are in response to God's.
What words of paradox are employed here to describe God's glory! "There is no speech or language", yet the voice of the heavens declaring it "goes out to all the earth ... to the ends of the world". Creation speaks fully of God. The setting of the sun in its place is testimony to the greatness of God. What more does a person need? This glory is seen to in the Law that God gives (see above reading). Faced with God's glory, all we can do is humbly confess, "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you" (verse 14).
Phillippians 3: 4 - 14
Paul is here clearly outlining his credentials under the Law (verses 4 - 6) - none has better qualifications to righteousness than he! Yet it is all loss for the sake of Christ Jesus. Paul's righteousness is 'imputed', or given him in God made known in this Jesus. Living out that faith is on-going: Paul in no way claims perfection, but "presses on" to what Christ Jesus has for him. Living faithfully is a continuing process, not a once-and-for-all decision of the moment.
Matthew 21: 33 - 46
Here is another strange parable! Much of the imagery is lost on us, but a vineyard was the common picture of Israel, God's people (see the link here in Isaiah 5: 1 - 7). As happens in our day, rural reconstruction occurred in first century Palestine, with small land holdings being taken over by larger, more powerful 'conglomerates'. This left a landless peasantry. Typical of the parables, there is a shrouded criticism of Jesus' hearers, themselves likely to have been landowners (see the response in verse 45, 46). This parable is about God's sovereignty, and the world being run according to how God designs. As land is God's, so is the world and we owe God due stewardship.
Comment: [Early Sermon thoughts]
I think that in each of the readings above we have the attempt of people to shape or control God - perhaps by exemplary keeping of the Law (which Paul addresses), or in the Gospel by the power and position of land holding. My early sermon notions are about "God in a box", our 'domestication' of God, which robs God of the inexpressible greatness we see in the Psalm. Our control of God, keeping God as small as our lives is a simultaneous denial of both God's sovereignty and God's grace.