by Pastor Matthew Bishop
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For it is no empty word for you, but your very life, and by this word you shall live long in the land you are going over the Jordan to possess (Deuteronomy 32:47).
On the bench behind one of the cutting boards in our kitchen is the permanently kept ‘Fluffy Pancake’ recipe for easy access. Taught to at least three generations, these are the perfect pancakes. Better than the shop-bought mixes, not least the pancake shakers. Light. Airy. Able to hold huge amounts of maple syrup as the air is displaced from the finished product on the plate. No empty word on that recipe page. No wonder it’s kept handy.
Just because Jesus died to make good that we couldn’t keep the law does not mean it’s not worth keeping the law handy. And doing. Like yesterday, the reading for today is from Deuteronomy, albeit a much later part. The message is pretty much the same, though. The law is important. Do it. Teach it to your children (who hasn’t got better at something themselves by teaching it to another?). And by this, you’ll have life. You see, as I heard a Jewish Rabbi explain the other day about the Festival of Shavuot*, keeping God’s law brings God’s good action and life into the world.
Of course, there are life-killing ways to live in the law. For example, we want to get legalistic. And judgemental. That’s not lifegiving because it takes over from God. Neither can we live the law perfectly anyway. Too much of what we shouldn’t. Not enough of what we should. All these are things we are rightly cautious about, yet none are an excuse to throw the law out. Instead we, therefore, live beyond Deuteronomy in another: Christ. We cling to him for forgiveness, then seek to do his will. We let him be the perfect interpreter of the law and the sole judge of all people.
On this day that commemorates the Apostle Paul’s conversion (Acts 9:1–19, Galatians 1:11–24), it’s fitting to be reminded of the central place St Paul ascribes to living in God’s commands. It’s the big ‘hinge-point’ of Paul’s letters. Essentially: ‘Because you are saved by Christ … live like it!!’ His letter to the church at Rome put it this sublime way: ‘Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship’ (Romans 12:1). No empty word indeed. How can you make this your prayer and life today?
Thank you, Heavenly Father, for your law. In view of your mercy, by which you gave Jesus as the sacrifice who was holy and pleasing to you because I couldn’t be, give me your Spirit so that I can offer my body as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to you. Amen.
*Shavuot includes the commemoration of the Torah being given at Sinai. Deuteronomy 4 from yesterday is central in this remembrance.