In last week’s piece, ‘Removing the Veil‘, I shared the week’s collect in which we prayed, ‘Set us free, O Grod, from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son our Saviour, Jesus Christ […]’. Last week’s readings supported that prayer through enlightenment on what it means to fast in a manner that pleases God, a description of those who fear the Lord and an exhortation in the Gospel to stand up and be the light of the world.
This week, in the Lesson (Deuteronomy 30:15-20) without a breath, we are told,
‘See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.’Deuteronomy 30:15-18
I almost hear the mic drop after these words.
These verses are part of Moses’ final discourse to the second-generation Israelites just before his death which occurs four chapters later, at the end of Deuteronomy. After decades of going through the wilderness with their stubborn ancestors, Moses thought he would give it one last try with this new generation before his passing. It was what any responsible leader would do, right? Just think of Jesus’ parting words to the apostles – the Great Commission found in Matthew 28.
The exhortation is pellucidly clear, wouldn’t you say? Obey God and you live; disobey God and you die. Is there a straighter path to the abundant life for which we prayed last week? I must admit: the people of yore did have a way with words. Messages certainly weren’t sugar-coated. They were ‘abundantly’ clear, leaving little room for doubt.
Do You Want to be Happy?
The Response, Psalm 119:1-8, appends to Moses’ exhortation by affirming that those who ‘walk in the law of the Lord’ are ‘happy’, similar to the message given us in last week’s Response, Psalm 112, which held up as happy those who fear the Lord. But walking in the way of the Lord is a tall order: have you ever taken note of the law as set out in Leviticus? Traditional Jewish law records more than 600 laws which, as Jesus reprimanded the Pharisees, not even they obeyed fully! No wonder, when Jesus was approached by a lawyer, he simplified all the law in the Great Commandment as recorded in Matthew 22:35-40 – the first, echoing what Moses said in Deuteronomy: that we are to love God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind and, the second, which is like the first commandment, is to love our neighbour as ourselves. Let us give thanks that we uphold these commandments, not by might, not by power, but by the Spirit of the Lord of hosts! Expressed in the words of this week’s collect,
‘O God, the strength of all who put their trust in you: Mercifully accept our prayers; and because in our weakness we can do nothing good without you, give us the help of your grace, that in keeping your commandments we may please you both in will and deed’Collect: Sixth Sunday after Epiphany
How Does God Answer Prayers?
At this point, I remind us of this week’s message: God answers prayers. The abundant life for which we pray comes not through our deeds, but by the grace of God and through the mercies of God which last forever. In the Epistle this week, 1 Corinthians 3:1-9, Paul corrects the Corinthians,
‘For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.’1 Corinthians 3:4-6
The abundant life for which we prayed last week comes through the grace of God for, on our own we can do nothing.
It Begins with Humility
Several months ago, in my piece entitled, ‘Without Me, You are Nothing’, this very message was captured. Indeed, it’s not a message meant to belittle. Rather, it’s a call to humility, also the topic of another message. The abundant life is not for those who are full of pride. It is for those who humble themselves, recognising their weakness but for God. As affirmed in 2 Corinthians:
‘Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.’2 Corinthians 12:8-10
Friends, typical of our God who challenges us to think differently, whose thoughts are not ours, nor whose ways are ours, but whose ways are higher than ours and whose thoughts are higher than ours, the high road to the abundant life is through the choice to lower ourselves, to humble ourselves. Let’s face it: God can’t take control in the life of one whose pride prevents him/her from relinquishing that control to God. God does not impose His will on us; we must choose. Is it any coincidence that the section of Deuteronomy 30:15-20, is labelled the ‘necessity of choice’. The abundant life comes through our own choosing.
God’s will to extend the abundant life to us cannot be done in the life of one who will not submit to self-examination as Jesus exhorts us in this week’s Gospel – Matthew 5:21-37. And, while it’s a dramatic statement, that we should tear out our right eye and throw it away or cut off our right hand if either causes us to sin (see Matthew 5:29-30), is it worth holding onto our pride if it cheats us of the abundant life?
Friends, I encourage you, as Moses did, as Paul did, and as Jesus did, to set aside the things that bind you. What are these things? For each of us, our bondage looks different, but for each of us, our bondage is rooted in pride. Even fear is rooted in pride. To fear and not trust God is, tacitly to say, ‘God, I hear you, but I need to know what you’re doing for only when I know will I know that you know what you’re doing.’
Clothe Yourselves Carefully
As I close I beckon you to the abundant life: throw off the cloak of pride, clothe yourselves ‘with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience’ (Colossians 3:12), acknowledging and accepting your weakness for we can do nothing good without God. The season of Lent begins in just over one week. And, even if you don’t recognise Lent, journey in repentance and humility for 46 days beginning on Ash Wednesday, February 22. Take the high road and humble yourselves, for only then will we please God in will and deed and earn our share in the abundant life which God has made known to us in Jesus Christ. Only then can God answer our prayers.
Until next time, I pray you the love of the Father, the peace of the Son, and the joy of the Spirit.
Leave a Reply