Watch the full interview here:
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and Friends,
Greetings in the name of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer and Reconciler.
We write to you as former Moderators of the General Assemblies of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and its predecessor churches, as disciples of Jesus Christ committed to the Gospel’s witness and promise of reconciliation, and as agents of God’s transformative justice in the church and in the world.
The brazen march of white nationalist supremacist groups in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 11 and 12, 2017, and President Donald Trump’s subsequent responses that equivocated on clearly identifying, denouncing and condemning those same groups as instigators of hatred and violence brought the spotlight upon the deeply embedded and pernicious poison of racism and white supremacy so endemic in society and, we dare say, in the church. We are increasingly alarmed when notions of nationalism and racial superiority are masked and clothed in terms of the Christian faith, or confused with the Gospel, or somehow supersede the clear exhortation of sacred Scripture to love your neighbor as Christ loved the Church, or when the Christian faith is used to inspire and organize hatred and bigotry.
We are wisely instructed by the struggles of our faith forebearers when fascism in the form of Nazism was on the rise in the 1930s, resulting in the Theological Declaration of Barmen, which categorically and emphatically denounced the effects of Nazism in the church and in society: “. . .we may and must speak with one voice in this matter today. Precisely because we want to be and to remain faithful to our various Confessions, we may not keep silent, since we believe that we have been given a common message to utter in a time of common need and temptation.” Then again, nearly four decades ago, our South African sisters and brothers stood courageously against the white governmental policy of apartheid and the theologies that undergirded and rationalized that sinful regime. The Belhar Confession stated: “. . .we reject any doctrine which, in such a situation sanctions in the name of the gospel or of the will of God the forced separation of people on the grounds of race and color and thereby in advance obstructs and weakens the ministry and experience of reconciliation in Christ.”
In so doing, we join with our Stated Clerk, General Assembly Co-Moderators, and Presbyterian Mission Agency Interim Executive Director in calling the church to confess and repent of the ways in which we have been complicit and failed to disrupt, challenge, and undo white supremacy and racism. (see their pastoral letter:
As our concerns, sadness and anger have increased over the state of affairs we find ourselves as a nation, we are also equally determined and committed to active prayer and prayerful action, as we know so many of you are doing in thousands of churches, in counter-protests in streets across the country, in letter writing to and visits with elected officials, in mobilizing through social media, in face-to-face/neighbor-to-neighbor conversations. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in summarizing the 19th century abolitionist leader Theodore Parker, exhorted: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
May we, as the present-future generation of God’s people in this time and for this time, work and pray for the reconciliation of all of God’s children, and may the Lord grant us grace and courage for the facing of this hour.
Yours in the service of Christ,
The Rev. Dr. Fahed Abu-Akel, 214th General Assembly (2002), PC(USA)
Elder (Dr.) Thelma C. Davidson Adair, 188th General Assembly (1976), UPCUSA
The Rev. Dr. Susan R. Andrews, 215th General Assembly (2003), PC(USA)
The Rev. Dr. Robert W. Bohl, 206th General Assembly (1994), PC(USA)
Elder Patricia Brown, 209th General Assembly (1997), PC(USA)
The Rev. John M. Buchanan, 208th General Assembly (1996), PC(USA)
The Rev. David Lee Dobler, 205th General Assembly (1993), PC(USA)
The Rev. John M. Fife, 204th General Assembly (1992), PC(USA)
Elder Price Gwynn III, 202nd General Assembly (1990), PC(USA)
The Rev. Charles A. Hammond, 192nd General Assembly (1980), UPCUSA
The Rev. Robert Lamar, 186th General Assembly (1974), UPCUSA
The Rev. Harriet Nelson, 196th General Assembly (1984), PC(USA)
The Rev. Dr. Neal D. Presa, 220th General Assembly (2012), PC(USA)
Elder (Dr.) Heath Rada, 221st General Assembly (2014), PC(USA)
The Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow, 218th General Assembly (2008), PC(USA)
Elder Rick Ufford-Chase, 216th General Assembly (2004), PC(USA)
The Rev. Dr. Herbert D. Valentine, 203rd General Assembly (1991), PC(USA)
Elder William H. Wilson, 197th General Assembly (1985), PC(USA)
110 Q. What does God forbid
in the eighth commandment?
A. God forbids not only outright theft^1 and robbery,^2
punishable by law.
But in God’s sight theft also includes
all scheming and swindling
in order to get our neighbor’s goods for ourselves,
whether by force or means that appear legitimate,^3
inaccurate measurements of weight,^4 size, or volume;^5
or any other means forbidden by God.
In addition God forbids all greed^7
and pointless squandering of his gifts.^8
^1 1 Cor. 6:10
^2 1 Cor. 5:10
^3 Luke 3:14; 1Thess. 4:6
^4 Prov. 11:1; 16:11
^5 Ezek. 45:9[-11]; Deut. 25:13[-16]
^6 Ps. 15:5; Luke 6:35
^7 1 Cor. 6:10
^8 Prov. 5:16
111 Q. What does God require of you
in this commandment?That I do whatever I can
A. That I do whatever I can
for my neighbor’s good,
that I treat others
as I would like them to treat me,^1
and that I work faithfully
so that I may share with those in need.^2
^1 Matt. 7:12
LORD’S DAY 42 (Q/A 110-111)
“Stewardship of Generosity”
It is true that we can feel overwhelmed with the enormous amount of need, feeling like we must do everything to help, and we end up scrambling to do anything that we end up doing nothing. A generous spirit doesn’t assess the quantifiable; a generous spirit just gives.
This is not reckless abandonment; we are to be wise with our resources. Yet when we are conditioned to take, to stand up for our rights, to seek that which we feel we are entitled to or what we are told we are entitled to, we miss out on opportunities to share in that which God supplies. Why share? Yes, because God desires for us to give what we have freely received. Yes, because if you have that which your neighbor needs you have a moral responsibility to assist in his/her need. And yes, our mothers and grandmothers are right…stealing is just plain bad, giving is just plain good.
But lest we all of a sudden become generous philanthropists (which would be great) for charity and philanthropy’s sake, Q/A 110-111 does not prescribe philanthropy; its attention is human flourishing to the glory of God; its trajectory is outward and upward. A few years ago our family went to Paris. In the Saint-Chapelle there are a series of stained-glass windows that tell the story of the Christian faith. Each panel is to be read in the boustrophedon manner – reading in an S-shape, starting from the lowest left-hand corner, left-to-right, then right-to-left, alternating successively as you reach each level above the other, working your way from bottom to top, to the uppermost right-hand panel.
Generous giving in the pattern of God’s own generous giving toward us and in God’s desire for us are in like manner, the boustrophedon manner. The triune God who did not withhold even His own Son, comes to us, demonstrates to us such lavish love, and, through the Holy Spirit works in us to extend generous giving to this person and that person, to this community and that. In the giving, we can discern the upward trajectory, as our giving is as an offering to God, acts of worship. Every act of giving, if we see and regard it as God-moments, as God-directed, as God-delighted…they direct us to the One who has given what we have in small and big measure.
Like the Sainte-Chapelle stained-glass windows, every panel lends to the richer story of the faith, where we can comprehend the wideness and breadth of the beauty of God, of God’s gift-giving, of God’s gifts, and of every person whom God brings into our lives.
All this is to say that the contrary realities—what Q/A 110 calls “theft and robbery. . .scheming and swindling—elide the beautiful generosity of God, dishonor God, and make us less than human, or, even un-human. We become as ravenous animals, out for ourselves, for our gain, for our consumption, for our satisfaction. This would be to remain in one stained-glass panel, and, in fact, shattering the precious glass itself. On many levels, “theft, robbery, scheming and swindling” destroy relationships or the potential for having one; exhibit a lack of beneficial creativity and edifying imagination; and at bottom, the acts and thoughts leading to or actualized in stealing commodify people, commodify God, and commodify ourselves.
Rather, the Spirit of God unleashes us to be generous: generous with our lives, generous with what we have, generous with what we don’t yet have (which then become prompters for prayerful hope to meet the need of our neighbor in a fuller way). Generous giving and being generous stewards of what God has given to us are our lifelong, worshipful acts towards the flourishing of our neighbor, to the glory of God.
108 Q. What does the seventh commandment teach us?
A. That God condemns all unchastity,^1 and that therefore we should thoroughly detest it^2 and live decent and chaste lives,^3 within or outside of the holy state of marriage.^4
^1 Lev. 18:27-28
^2 Jude 23
^3 1 Thess. 4:3-5
^4 Heb. 13:4; 1 Cor. 7
109 Q. Does God, in this commandment, forbid only such scandalous sins as adultery?
A. We are temples of the Holy Spirit, body and soul, and God wants both to be kept clean and holy. That is why God forbids all unchaste actions, looks, talk,^1 thoughts, or desires,^2 and whatever may incite someone to them.^3
^1 Eph. 5:3-4; 1 Cor. 6:18-20
^2 Matt. 5:[27-28]
^3 Eph. 5:18; 1 Cor. 15:33
LORD’S DAY 41 (Q/A 108-109)
This isn’t a reflection to extol living a single life as a bachelor, nor is it a reflection to extol being married; I commend both, as one who was a bachelor and as who is married with children. I was blessed as a bachelor, and I am blessed as a married guy. Being single is not for everyone, as is being married is not for everyone. Both are gifts from God, and, as such, are to be treasured, honored, and received with thanksgiving. Both also share a common trait: both are callings/vocations, and, as such, are intended to strengthen and deepen our relationship with God. In this upward sense, whether as a bachelor/bachelorette, widow, widower, divorced, or (re-)married, is your particular relational vocation glorifying God, and, enabling you a greater delight in your relationship with God; in short, is your mind, heart, and body singularly focused on God and delighting in God? Q/A 108 and 109 discuss the seventh commandment’s prohibition on committing adultery. As the Decalogue, in each and in toto, is an expression of God’s character, the seventh commandment expresses the jealousy of God, the singular focus that God has upon us, God’s desire to be worshipped and glorified by God’s creation, not because of a divine narcissism or a divine necessity, but out of worthiness for who God is and what God has done. God’s heart pulses for deep love for us; thus, the first commandment’s exhortation, “You shall have no other gods but Me.” The seventh commandment is an extension of that first commandment (all other commandments are extensions of that first commandment), but from another angle – our intimate human relationships. Our intimate, human relationships are gifts that offer a window into God’s deep desire, delight, and love for us. Are we being faithful in our relationships – in singleness or in marriage? How we regard those whom we love is a key evidence of how we regard the invisible, almighty God. When Grace and I got married 12 years ago, we shared that during our single days, we each prayed to the Lord for a mate whose passion for the Lord surpassed our own. It’s not that we could quantify passion, but our prayers were hopes that whomever we married, we desired another whose commitment was singularly to God, and secondarily, to the other. This was essential because we as human beings are faulty and are easily guided by our own rationalizations and fleeting emotions. Secondly, being human beings, we are mortal, and if Grace’s undying love were to me and me alone, or me to her and her alone, when either of us predeceased the other, will our world crumble and shatter to a point that we would be unable to live, unable to function, unable to have any more meaning, significance, value, worth, purpose and calling in life; our singleness nor our married state could not replace God, could not satisfy the mind’s, heart’s, body’s longing for what only God can provide. If God were made to serve our singleness or our marriage, then singleness or marriage would have become our god, and a counterfeit god it would have proven itself to be. Q/A 108 and 109 force the diagnosis upon us: Is your singleness or marriage serving to have you delight in God and in God’s ways? An adulterous mind/heart/body is a double-minded, double-hearted, double-bodied person. To whom is your singular focus? And are you encouraging others to live out their callings/vocations to delight in God, whether in their singleness or in marriage? Grace and I understand our marriage to be an exhibition of the Gospel (God’s love in Christ for the Church), as well as building up one another in our discipleship of Jesus Christ. If, in our singleness we were committed to the Gospel and discipleship, then, surely and hopefully, now in our marriage, God desires and expects that in our married state there would be that ongoing commitment to the Gospel and discipleship, if not an enhancement and expansion of that commitment. Likewise, in your singleness – whether unmarried, divorced, widow/widower – are you exhibiting the Gospel and discipleship of Jesus Christ? Being single applies to singleness and marriage. Because at its heart, being single is about a singular focus – the singular focus of God upon us, and God’s calling to us to be singularly focused on God as we discover this in our relational commitments to one another.
105 Q. What is God’s will for you
in the sixth commandment?
A. I am not to belittle, hate, insult, or kill my neighbor—
not by my thoughts, my words, my look or gesture,
and certainly not by actual deeds—^1
and I am not to be party to this in others;
rather, I am to put away all desire for revenge.^2
I am not to harm or recklessly endanger myself either. ^3
Prevention of murder is also why
government is armed with the sword.^4
^1 Matt. 5:21-22;Gen. 9:6; Matt. 26:52
^2 Eph. 4:26; Rom. 12:19; Matt. 5:25; 18:35
^3 Rom. 13:14; Col. 2:23; Sirach 3:27*; Matt. 4:7
^4 Gen. 9:6; Exod. 21:14; Matt. 26:52; Rom. 13:4
*Sirach is a deutero-canonical book, treated with respect but not as canonical by the 16th century reformers.
106 Q. Does this commandment refer only to murder?
A. By forbidding murder God teaches us
that he hates the root of murder:
envy,^1 hatred,^2 anger,^3 vindictiveness.
In God’s sight all such are disguised forms of murder.^4
^1 Rom. 1:29
^2 1 John 2:9,11
^3 James 2:; 1:20; Gal. 5:20
^4 1 John 3:15
107 Q. Is it enough then
that we do not murder our neighbor
in any such way?
By condemning envy, hatred, and anger
God wants us
to love our neighbors as ourselves,^1
to be patient, peace-loving, gentle,^2
merciful,^3 and friendly toward them,^4
to protect them from harm as much as we can,^5
and to do good even to our enemies.^6
^1 Matt. 22:39; 7:12
^2 Eph. 4:2; Gal. 6:1-2; Matt. 5:9; Rom. 12:18
^3 Matt. 5:7; Luke 6:36
^4 Rom. 12:10
^5 Exod. 23:5
^6 Matt. 5:44-45; Rom. 12:20-21
LORD’S DAY 40 (Q/A 105-107)
Following the tragic events of the 9/11 attacks, the wise insights of the former Chief Rabbi of London, Sir Jonathan Sacks, provided a faith-based, robust framework to engage difference. In his book The Dignity of Difference: How to Avoid a Clash of Civilizations, Sacks prescribed that we as a human race must move beyond mere toleration of differences of beliefs and perspectives, and move towards dignifying difference.
What it became vividly apparent on a global scale expressed realities on the local level – i.e. indifference, sarcasm, to outright disregard, disrespect, and utter hatred towards others with whom we disagree, when left unchecked and unaccountable, can erupt into murderous acts involving passenger jets crashing into buildings, decades of warfare in the Middle East or separation of families in a divided Korean peninsula.
Toleration of each other and merely seeking amicable co-existence with one another treats members of the human household, and members of the household of faith, as like college roommates who can choose to engage and relate, to come and go as we please; in short, to merely exist as entities.
As creatures made in the image of God, we understand who we are derivatively from our Creator; the triune God is personal, relating to one another (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) in community, and relating to the creation God made. This means we are fully human when we are in relation with the triune God and with one another. And because no two are exactly alike, we are made to engage in difference, with difference, not indifferently.
While one necessary step to engage difference is to acknowledge difference, which is what toleration does, merely acknowledging doesn’t really engage, doesn’t bring one eye-to-eye, face-to-face, hand-to-hand with the other. Such engagement is necessary to truly, really, and fully confront our fears, our anxieties, our anger, and unrequited hopes.
That’s what dignifying difference does. Sacks bases dignifying difference on the Jewish notion of covenant. In a covenant, you must fully engage, laying yourself on the line for the other, promising to be with the other come hell or high water; it’s a resilience to stick with the other when the going gets rough. It’s also attempting to understand the mind and heart of the other, to see the world through the other’s life. It’s giving dignity and worth to each person, to their attempts at wrestling with life, to their interpretations, perspectives, and backgrounds. Imagine stepping into the shoes of the broken humanity of the terrorist in the cockpit of that airplane seconds before it smashed into the World Trade Center tower. Sure, there was seething anger; but what about the man’s family, images of his parents, of his village, memories of a childhood. We see this exemplified in the late Pope John Paul II’s humble and courageous visit to his would-be assassin in prison, offering him forgiveness, seeking to understand the man, not as a killer, but as a fellow human being.
All of this is easier said than done. And that’s precisely the point. To dignify difference necessarily requires the intervention and intrusion of God upon our wills, upon our minds and hearts. There is no human strength that we can muster to empathize with a perceived enemy or an actual foe; there is no amount of human willpower that would cause you or I to sit down across the table with one who has denied our humanity, disregarded our faith and personhood, or tore up our reputations. It’s takes hard work; it takes God working upon us.
Q/A 105-107 addresses the sixth commandment of killing, of committing murder, and the treacherous terrain that leads to it. Human beings kill with missiles, bullets, and knives; but we also kill with angry Tweets, racist words, sarcastic looks, silent gossip, sexist jokes. Or still worse, outright indifference, apathy, and ignorance of each other, an intentional setting aside akin to the shrugging of the shoulders, and a “whatever…who cares?” kind of an attitude toward each other. In every respect, any or all of the above denies the other as created in the image of God, placed on God’s green earth to be in relationship with us, and gifted to us for some reason or another yet to be discovered.
Q/A 107 hits the nail on the head (hitting it lovingly, of course! :) – it’s not only that God wants us to withhold from killing each other – that’s toleration; there’s a positive, intentional aspect. To not kill is to play it safe; to move beyond not killing to actually loving your neighbor is taking the ultimate risk; and love takes risk.
God approaching us as Jesus Christ, taking on flesh that was strange to God’s own divine nature – here’s dignifying difference par excellence. To dignify difference is to love our neighbor, is to love God, and is to embody the life of Jesus in us.
104 Q. What is God’s will for you
in the fifth commandment?
A. That I honor, love, and be loyal
to my father and mother
and all those in authority over me;^1
that I submit myself with proper obedience
to all their good teaching and discipline;
and also that I be patient with their failings—^2
for through them God chooses to rule us.^3
^1 Eph. 6:1[-9]; Col. 3:18, 20-24; Eph. 5:22; Prov. 1:8; 4:1; 15:20; 20:20; Exod. 21:17; Rom. 13:[1-5]
^2 Prov. 23:22; Gen. 9:25; 1 Pet. 2:18
^3 Eph. 6:4,9; Col. 3:19, 21; Rom. 13:[1-5]; Matt. 22:21
LORD’S DAY 39 (Q/A 104)
“Slave to No One, Servant of Christ”
This Q/A, and several of the Scriptural proof-texts attached to Q/A 104, have been abused by slaveholders/slavemasters to oppress and dehumanize their subjects; it’s been used to subjugate whole nations; it’s been misused to rationalize abusive relationships and domestic violence.
Lord Acton’s apt observation holds true: “Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.” In human hands and in the human will, we take God’s good gifts and twist it for our own ends and our own purposes; by dehumanizing our neighbor, we dehumanize ourselves, and become monstrous savages who commodify people, who monetize our relationships for our own ends.
Despite the misuses and abuses of the fifth commandment, Q/A 104’s explication of it, and the Scriptural proof-texts appended therein, there is great value in what is being said.
Do we honor our parents (or those whom we regard as our parents), whether they are living or dead, in what we do, in what we say. Would they be proud of your action or your speech?
There’s a delight I have in seeing how my sons give me so many chances to throw a baseball or football, like as if we were playing for the first time. As my sons mature and grow in their strength and accuracy, they’ve already come to know what I’ve lived with all my life – I’m not a Babe Ruth, nor am I a Joe Montana. And with them, that’s ok. They give me the chance to throw yet another ball – sometimes the football spirals, more often it wobbles like a penguin flying in the air. And the chances they give me honor me for what I am able to teach them, even within my limitations.
Q/A 104’s beauty comes in the realistic recognition that all those whom we look up to fail us in small ways and big ways. Our family, our friends, our superiors…every single human being fails us; we fail ourselves. We are disappointed, hurt, wounded on every side. There’s no surprise there.
One of the powerful affirmations of the Reformed theological tradition is its view of humanity: we are 100% sinful as we are 100% redeemed. The nicest, kindest person also has within, a heart that lurks with deception, trickery and cunning. Likewise, the meanest, baddest, rudest person has an element of God’s grace within. This is not a semi-Pelagian reduction of the human nature; this is a true recognition that all of us, without exception, fall short of the glory of God.
Over the years, my sons have called me their hero. But they also know, and I know, that while I may be heroic at times, there are many more days when I rely upon their abundant forgiveness, patience and love towards me.
When we are servants to Jesus Christ and Christ’s way of seeing and doing things, we are free, we are set free to see ourselves and all people the way that Christ sees us and the way Christ relates to us. In that way, we become bound not to ourselves, or the dictates of others, or guided by the definitions that others put on us, but by Christ. At the same time, we can receive the good graces from all people – what they have taught us, what they continually impart to us to show us God’s love – and enfold that into our lives and into our being.
In his treatise On Christian Teaching, St. Augustine provided a helpful hermeneutic to discern and determine whether a particular doctrine, and, by extension, a Scriptural interpretation, was on track with the overall Scriptural witness, in sync with the ancient, ecumenical theological traditions of the one holy catholic apostolic Church, and whether they comported with the thrust of God’s redemption in Christ through the Spirit. His hermeneutic has been dubbed the “rule of love”: does the doctrine/interpretation enable the Church to love God more and deeply and to love neighbor more and deeply?
Augustine’s “rule of love” is most applicable to Q/A 104 and the application of it in our lives and in our relating to one another and how others relate to us. With the sins and failings of ourselves, of our parents, of our family, friends, neighbors, superiors, etc., are the graces that we offer and receive enabling us and them to love God and love neighbor more and deeply?
103 Q. What is God’s will for you
in the fourth commandment?
that the gospel ministry and education for it be maintained,^1
and that, especially on the festive day of rest,
I diligently attend the assembly of God’s people^2
to learn what God’s Word teaches,^3
to participate in the sacraments,^4
to pray to God publicly,^5
and to bring Christian offerings for the poor.^6
that every day of my life
I rest from my evil ways,
let the Lord work in me through his Spirit,
and so begin in this life
the eternal Sabbath.^7
^1 Titus 1:5; 1 Tim. 3[:1]; 4:13; 5:17; 1 Cor. 9:11, 13-14; 2 Tim. 2:2; 3:15
^2 Ps. 68:27; 40:10-11; Acts :42, 46
^3 1 Cor. 14:19, 29, 31
^4 1 Cor. 11:33
^5 1 Tim. 2:1-3,8-9; 1 Cor. 14:16
^6 1 Cor. 16:2
^7 Isa. 66:23
LORD’S DAY 38 (Q/A 103)
“Always a Pacific Guy”
In an ordination service for a teaching elder/minister of Word and Sacrament, there is a moment where there is a giving of the symbols of office (the so-called traditio symboli instrumentorum). This time involves immediate family members or a close friend giving the newly ordained minister a liturgical stole, a cross, a Bible, and, almost always, a liturgical robe. The investing of these symbols of office collectively express that the ordinand is now ready to function as teaching elder, carrying with her the blessing and prayers of the community, and expressing upon him the community’s confirmation of God’s calling.
On the occasion of my ordination, my parents and parents in-law placed a black Genevan gown on me. This was then followed by words from a dear friend of mine and a ministry colleague who exhorted me to never forget that underneath my ministerial garb and the trappings of the ordained office, I am a man, a Pacific guy, a boy from the islands. (I was born in Guam if you didn’t know) His was a necessary reminder then, and everyday since then, that my core identity is as a child of God who entered this world at that little island in the Pacific.
When I reflect upon Q/A 103, I’m brought to the Pacific islands from whence I came. The fast-paced urbanites of New York City or Los Angeles will wax impatience in Guam or any tropical island for that matter because there’s an easy-go-lucky, “Qué sera, sera” (whatever will be, will be) posture towards life; in my Filipino culture, we call it “bahala na” (loosely translated, “let it be.”)
Things in the island get done….eventually. Don’t sweat it, we’ll get to it. Stop looking at the clock, pull out a chair, grab a Styrofoam plate, go to the feast table, get some food, some drink, and enjoy your family, friends, and neighbors. No need to drive 60 or 70 mph to get to your destination..not that you could anyway, it’s too small of an island. Cruise at 30 mph, you’ll get there. Don’t sweat it. Bahala na.
What matters in the island is God’s beautiful creation around you (the blue skies, the coconut treets, the white sands, the warm breeze, the blue water, the multichrome flowers and birds, the green gecko on your ceiling) and God’s beautiful image-bearers around you – your parents, your siblings, your grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, extended family, godparents, next door neighbors, their friends,…and anyone in the island who wishes to join the party. The people matter, you matter. God matters.
Q/A 103 and its description of what the fourth commandment is about tells us that – the people matter. You matter. God matters above all else. When we want all of the “i”s dotted and “t”s crossed, when we want all of our ducks in a nice neat row, when we stress, and our overly anxious hearts want our life and the world around us to be perfectly on-time, perfectly planned, and perfectly controlled, the Lord of the Sabbath says, “Cool it.” There’s a time for work, but you weren’t made for just work. The Sabbath is a welcome gift from God, our Creator who knows our limitations, even when we are erratic and want to transcend our God-given limits; pay attention to physiological/physical signs of stress, the emotional and mental evidence, and the pangs of the soul.
When the Sabbath is lived into, we find a restful freedom to let go and let God. It’s a comfort and consolation that even when we are sleeping and slumbering, the God of the Sabbath neither slumbers nor sleeps. We are creatures, not the Creator. And as such, we honor and express our love and thanksgiving to God by being still and believing/trusting that God is God and we are not.
In the Sabbath rest, the assembling together of God’s people in corporate worship is the primary place that our hearts and minds are kindled to this divine awareness of our limitations and God’s limitless love and care for us and the entire creation. In Word and in Sacrament, in prayer and with praise, the people of God are recalibrated and refreshed, to let go, and let God.
Yes, worship is like being ordained and being re-ordained, all over again. Gathering in worship is being confirmed in our God-given calling that began in the waters of baptism, where letting go and letting God was the only thing we could do.
That’s where our lives need to be – a continually calling that let’s go, that lives as we do in the Pacific islands. Bahala na.
101 Q. But may we swear an oath in God’s name
if we do it reverently?
A. Yes, when the government demands it,
or when necessity requires it,
in order to maintain and promote truth and trustworthiness
for God’s glory and our neighbor’s good.
Such oaths are grounded in God’s Word^1
and were rightly used by the people of God
in the Old and New Testaments.^2
^1 Deut. 6:13; 10:20; Isa. 48:1; Heb. 6:16
^2 Gen. 21:24; 31:53; Josh. 9:15, 19; 1 Sam.24:[21-22]; 2 Sam. 3:35; 1 Kings 1:29; Rom. 1:9; 2 Cor. 1:23
102 Q. May we also swear by saints or other creatures?
A legitimate oath means calling upon God
as the only one who knows my heart
to witness to my truthfulness
and to punish me if I swear falsely.^1
No creature is worthy of such honor.^2
^1 2Cor. 1:23
^2 Matt. 5:34-36; James 5:12
LORD’S DAY 37 (Q/A 101-102)
“You are my witness”
Read the story of the patriarch Jacob (Abraham’s son) and how he labored many years to win the hand of Rachel, Laban’s daughter. I’m struck by how Jacob toiled beyond the agreed upon time, with no textual indication that he resisted or justified himself towards Laban. Only after Laban cheats him for the Nth time does Jacob tell Laban how terrible he had been treated. (Genesis 31:1-8ff)
Fast forward to Jacob’s son, Joseph, the one sold to Midianite traders. Upon being entrusted in a leadership post in Potiphar’s (a captain of Pharaoh’s guard) household, Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph. Joseph resisted but Potiphar’s wife falsely accused Joseph and he was summarily imprisoned. The text said, “But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love” (Genesis 39:21a)
We cast our common lot with politicians in wanting to self-justify ourselves and try our best to protect our integrity and reputation. Having a well-documented paper-trail is a key to corporate risk management; in other words, make sure your butt is covered at all times and in every way.
Q/A 101-102 speaks to us about keeping our word, living lives of integrity when others aren’t looking, and who will be our witness and guard our integrity and passion.
This is not to say that we don’t keep the paper trail; we do, we should and we must. We have to be wise with the threads of communication we have – emails, text messages, faxes, recordings, archived testimonies.
But there’s something to be said about making our “Yes” be “Yes” and our “No” be “No.”
We can prove ourselves to be right, but relationships aren’t built and deepened by who is right, or justification of right-ness and the proof of another’s wrong-ness. Can you imagine being in a friendship or any relationship where it was about proving yourself to be right to win an argument or proving the other person to be wrong.
We can heap all of the paper trail and electronic evidence, but what we’ll end up being is a church, community, nation, and world of individuals who seek self-protection, self-justification, in which everyone walks on egg shells.
I think of the thousands who have been wrongly accused, wrong imprisoned, and for some, wrongly placed on death row, and later to be released after decades behind bars. When heaps of evidence were brought before courts decades prior to shuttle them to prison for crimes they didn’t commit, they were left to languish in prison, with the Lord as their witness. Only in time was their innocence confirmed; our mass incarceration and death penalty systems are needing drastic and comprehensive reforms. The great, late Nelson Mandela comes to our mind, whose 25 year imprisonment galvanized his resolve against apartheid and strengthened a movement to free South Africa of that pernicious evil.
To whom do we entrust our reputations, our integrity, our best or worst face?
Q/A 101-102 is a reminder to us that God alone is trustworthy and true. The best we can do, by God’s grace, is to live lives and speak words that are as trustworthy and true, with God as our witness. These two sections evoke thanksgiving in us because it kindles in us the trust that God does have our back, that when we make our “Yes,” “Yes” and our “No,” “No” the pieces will come into place somehow. Therein lies our freedom – we can be free from constant self-justification, we are set free from incessantly proving ourselves right, or winning the argument, or spinning the truth to put our best face or foot forward; we are unshackled from finding the politically-safe angle. We are free to just be.
For God to be our witness, and no one else (not even the smartest, most holy person you can think of), is to confess that the Lord has always and will forever be trustworthy and true; the Lord’s track record of being honest, of being true to who He is, to what He says He will do…every single time, God has shown Himself to be true.
God doesn’t pummel us with being right; we would plead no-contest before the Almighty.
What God does do, because this is a real relationship after all, is call us to trust in Him, to love Him, as He demonstrates again and again His true and trustworthy love for us; God has us covered through and through.
If there was anyone who should have and certainly could have justified and protected himself – Jesus Christ was the One. In Matthew 4, he had the opportunity in the wilderness as Satan presented three chances to prove himself. At the ultimate place of proof, Jesus could have avoided death and called upon the angels to rescue him from the cross.
But it wasn’t about proving himself, nor about proving the rightness of the argument. If it were, it would have ended long before, and Pilate would not have had his way.
Thanks be to God! We can place our trust and confidences in God. God is our witness. Let your Yes be Yes, and your No be No.
99 Q. What is the aim of the third commandment?
A. That we neither blaspheme nor misuse the name of God
by cursing, perjury,^1 or unnecessary oaths,^2
nor share in such horrible sins
by being silent bystanders.
we should use the holy name of God
only with reverence and awe,^3
so that we may properly
pray to God,^5
and glorify God in all our words and works.^6
^1 Lev. 24:11[-16];19:12
^2 Matt. 5:37; James 5:12
^3 Isa. 45:23
^4 Matt. 10:32
^5 1 Tim. 2:8
^6 Rom. 2:24; 1 Tim. 6:1; Col. 3:16
100 Q. Is blasphemy of God’s name by swearing and cursing
really such serious sin
that God is angry also with those
who do not do all they can
to help prevent and forbid it?
A. Yes, indeed.^1
No sin is greater
or provokes God’s wrath more
than blaspheming his name.
That is why God commanded it to be punished with death.^2
^1 Lev. 5:1
^2 Lev. 24:15-16
LORD’S DAY 36 (Q/A 99-100)
“What’s In A Name?”
The naming of someone or something takes special care. My mom intentionally spelled my name with an “a” not the usual “i” to set me apart from the same ol’, same ol’. She also chose my name because “Neal” means “champion.” (Unfortunately, that term doesn’t apply to my athletic prowess, or lack thereof, as evidenced by the fact that I was usually the last one chosen in the class line-up at recess throughout my growing-up years. Even to this day, I throw an occasional football spiral and my sons throw faster baseball pitches.) The second part of my first name, “Leon” is the reverse of my father’s name, “Noel.” My middle name, “Dionida” is my mother’s maiden name. And my last name means one of three things in Spanish: water dam, strawberry, female servant. (I prefer water dam, if you want to know).
The same care went into the naming of our two sons and their particular Korean names. In fact, both of our sons’ Korean names were given to them by their late paternal grandaunt in South Korea. We don’t know if it involved tea leaves or white smoke but it is shrouded in mystery that to this day, we aren’t certain how she came up with their names.
The naming of places, such as “Bethel,” meaning “house of God,” designated memorial markers for some decisive or phenomenal event, an encounter with God, a battle won or lost; it was for remembrance.
Names are given for remembrance. But not just mere memory. Names are given to re-member; that is they have a reconstituting effect. Names bring us back to origins, to when that decisive moment happened, or back to our birth.
My parents have a term of endearment for me, “Nilo.” (pronounced, “Nee-lo.”) This name was one they used when I was a child, in those instances when they wanted to call my immediate attention; my mom often used it in combination with her widened eyes and pursed lips when I needed to be disciplined. In high school and college, when my smart-alecky side conflicted with my parents, that name “Nilo” was a quick reminder that no matter my age, no matter my educational degrees or job positions, I was and always will be their child.
God’s name is a sacred one, so set apart and holy that one of the ten commandments is about honoring God’s name and keeping it holy. The so-called tetragrammaton, the Lord’s name in Hebrew letters Latinized as “YHWH,” took such extra significance that when readers of the ancient manuscripts came across the Hebrew name of God, because its pronunciation was unknown and should not be spoken because of its set apart-ness, the tetragrammaton would be called “Adonai” (translated “Lord). Later, as vowels were added to the Hebrew letters, we get the modern rendition, “Yahweh.” (Even Hollywood cinematography and popular literature comprehend this notion of special nomenclature as shown through the Harry Potter series and the prohibition to not say “the Name,” in reference to Harry Potter’s and Dumbledore’s nemesis, Lord Voldemort.)
The Lord’s name is an expression of God’s character, of God’s essence, of God’s self-revelation, and God’s self-giving. God has no parent, God has no origin. There was no time in which God was not. He is the I AM, the subject and object, the One who has no predicate. God is.
That is what is at stake in Q/A 99 and 100.
The revealing of the Lord’s name to us human beings is a gift – we have been let in on a special, sacred part of God. Attached to the Lord’s name is who God is, what God does, what God promises. In sum, contained in the Lord’s name is God’s very covenant with us. God’s name is an outward expression of God’s inward disposition to be for us, to be with us.
As with our birth name and the reconstituting/ re-membering function, the name of God calls us back to the One who is our Creator, the One to whom we belong in life and in death and in the life to come.
There was a time when I forgot my ID at the airport security line. I was sweating bullets, trying not to miss my flight, all the while trying to convince the TSA security that I was Neal Presa and no one else. Our identification is very precious. Hackers use all sorts of tricks and methods to gain access to our identity for their own gain. In a technology age where every electronic device is a portal into our privacy and identity, we do our best to guard that which is precious to us – our name. With our name and the identity markers that go with it (Social Security numbers, email passwords, credit reporting bureaus), we also guard our integrity, our reputation, our name and our family name. Hijacked identities make us vulnerable and invaded.
Do we honor the name, integrity and reputation of the Lord of the universe, the One who created us, who as Jesus Christ, redeemed us, and who as the Holy Spirit, seals His love upon us?
This is the section of the Catechism on gratitude. As such, do we live lives worthy of the calling to be which we have been called, namely, as the holy people of God for whom and to whom the triune God gives and reveals of Himself?
In contrast to Batman’s sidekick, Robin the Boy Wonder, who repeatedly exclaimed:
“Holy this and holy that….”
The God of Abraham, Sarah, Ruth, David, who has come as Jesus Christ, and through whom the Holy Spirit is given – He alone is the Holy One. This means that we, who are called holy, saints – we are set apart for the purpose of living lives that are set apart for God’s purposes. The covenantal command is operative, “Be ye holy, for I am holy,” says the Lord.
Calling upon the name of the Lord, and honoring the Lord’s name in speech, in work, and in heart, is to be continually reconstituted and re-membered as a child of God, a calling back to the One who claims us, whose Name directs us to the fullness of God’s self and the God who by virtue of His holiness, His set apart-ness, has reserved Himself for us and for the life of the world. Honoring the Lord’s Name is honoring the Lord Himself, loving Him and seeing that others likewise honor and love the One to whom is due the same.
96 Q. What is God’s will for us
in the second commandment?
A. That we in no way make any image of God^1
nor worship him in any other way
than has been commanded in God’s Word.^2
^1 Deut. 4:15[-19]; Isa. 40:18; Rom. 1:23; Acts 17:29
^2 1 Sam. 15:23; Deut. 12:30; Matt. 15:9
97 Q. May we then not make
any image at all?
A. God cannot and may not
be visibly portrayed in any way.
Although creatures may be portrayed,
yet God forbids making or having such images
if one’s intention is to worship them
or to serve God through them.^1
^1 Exod. 23:24; 34:13; Num. 33:52; Deut. 7:5; 12:3; 16:22; 2 Kings 18:4
98 Q. But may not images be permitted in churches
in place of books for the unlearned?
A. No, we should not try to be wiser than God.
God wants the Christian community instructed
by the living preaching of his Word—^1
not by idols that cannot even talk.^2
^1 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:19
^2 Jer. 10:8; Hab. 2:18-19
LORD’S DAY 35 (Q/A 96-98)
Sweat equity is where you contribute your time and labor for the restoration or upbuilding of something, usually as a means to substitute using money (financial equity).
As with most anything, sweat equity has a positive and negative aspect. On the positive side, as with the model that Habitat for Humanity uses, sweat equity enables low-income families to contribute themselves to a building project, to participate in the construction of their homes and the homes of others. Sweat equity opens up possibilities and opportunities for ownership where a financial lender may not take the risk, or where a family simply doesn’t have the funds to contribute.
In our human nature, the negative aspect rears its head. Our human nature is that after a job well-done, we can become self-congratulatory, or mold the outcome to our own liking, our own image. I’ve been to several Little League games where some fathers have lost their cool with other fathers, seeing their sons as the outward embodiment of themselves, their hopes, perhaps…their sweat equity of investment of time, dropping off at practices, purchasing sporting equipment. Consider the mixture of cultural fascination and cultural critique of Honey Boo Boo as the cultural image of youthfulness gone wild with parental encouragement.
But we don’t even have to turn to outward images, to external expressions of idolatry, societal images. The potential and, in fact, common practice of idolatry is lived out daily in our hearts. Pride is our killer, and pride emerges again and again with our sweat equity – anything we have achieved, anything we have done, anything we have invested time, energy, money…we extend our image, our illusion and vision of what should be. What retirement might be like. What this career might be like in this or that place.
Don’t get me wrong. Strategic planning, casting our nets wide, setting goals are all good things. But the Lord knows our human natures and the inclinations of our hearts….unchecked and unrestrained, our sweat equity quickly translates into image of ourselves, idolatries of ourselves cast upon others.
What are our modern-day, lived-for idols and images that are counterfeit gods? What are yours? What are mine?
The worship of God is comprehensive; it’s not primarily on a Sunday morning…the worship of God is Sunday through Saturday, all the days of our lives.
Where are the altars that we bow to?
The Holy Spirit has given us the trifecta gifts of faith, hope, and love. These three gifts enable us to live in such a way that we are propelled by that which we cannot see, an utter dependence on God’s leading and direction, receiving and giving love.
Idols and images have a way of being placeholders for our hopes and our fears, the deep anxieties of the heart. The fascination with cultural icons or the next “American Idol” exhibits our anxieties of what we wish to be. Idols and images are expressions of gratifying/satisfying the anxiety by providing a ready placeholder for past-present-future hopes and fears.
Faith, hope and love don’t work on such a timetable. Faith, hope, and love are given by God, and deepen over time, through experiences of trial and travail, through prayer, through patiently waiting upon God, through the hearing and receiving of Scripture, through the sacraments, through deep friendships as gifts from God for the people of God.
When we are tempted to see in our sweat equity that we have crafted our present, that we have planned our future, that we are dealing with our anxieties, Q/A 96-99 knocks on our hearts. We show our gratitude to God, in delighting in Him, casting our hopes and fears of all the years upon Jesus the Christ:
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers – all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.” (Colossians 1:15-20, NRSV)
The Reformed theological tradition holds to the dual nature of God’s covenant with us as being both a covenant of grace and a covenant of works: we receive and understand God’s reconciling love in Christ as a covenant of grace – we are the beneficiaries of God’s love not because of what we’ve done nor of who we are, but solely from God’s desire to be with us and for us; that is grace.
Yet, what we receive as a covenant of grace, from the perspective of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, the work of salvation as effected in the incarnation, the life of servant ministry, His death, His resurrection – that was work, that was sweat equity…the sweat equity of the Son of God, the Son of Man…for the daughters and sons of God. For you. For me. For us.
The one who is the very image of the invisible God, restores us and restores our identities as ones whom God has created in His image. May you reflect the image of His Son, Jesus Christ, whose sweat equity was given for you for the life of the world.