Sunday, January 04, 2009

Second Sunday after Christmas

Do you ever feel litigious? Do you ever want just sue someone? Other people do it, why not me? Maybe it’s just post-holiday stress, but maybe it’s high time we started making lists.

Now, I love my parents: they are fine people. And I wouldn’t want to single them out for the array of lawsuits I have planned, for a couple of reasons. First, it makes more sense to sue the wealthy, so they catch a break. Second, the stuff I’m thinking of belongs to all parents of the 60’s: a much larger pool of respondents. So hear goes:

My mother fondly remembers turning back to watch me take my first steps in the back of the family wagon during a long trip through the Adirondacks. You hear a heartwarming story: I hear lawsuit. Did you know that child restraint seats were invented in 1921, to coincide with the introduction of the Model-T Ford. Granted the ‘restraint’ was a bag tied to the seat, but the safety feature existed, and I call that grounds to proceed. Who’s with me?

It gets worse. The bicycle helmet? Did you know that the bicycle helmet has existed in some form or another since the early seventies? Sure you had to be a Tour de France racer, but they existed. My mother frequently says, “you boys were so careless on your bikes.” See the subtle shifting of blame here?

The toboggan: You know the toboggan. Thin strips of wood conveying children downhill at great speed. Sick Kids Hospital has produced some ‘common sense’ guidelines for toboggan use, and I gotta say, I smell lawsuit:

Select a hill with a no greater than 30 percent incline (that’s not Mt. Albert, let me tell you).
Have the supervising parent check the hill for dangers such as rocks and trees.
Never lie down on the toboggan, kneeling only.
Always wear a helmet when tobogganing.

Maybe these are interconnected lawsuits? I could keep going, but my mother reads these things online and I don’t want to tip her off. She might warn all the other parents of the 60’s and our cause will be lost. And I understand there may be a counter-suit coming regarding a grandchild quota or some such nonsense, so I better leave off for now.


St. Paul was not a lawyer, but he knew the law. He wrote as someone who understood the law and the nature of mutual obligation that comes when you enter into a covenant. He even writes like a lawyer, a problem that can only be solved when you break it down and go slow. So, beginning at verse 13:

In him, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance towards redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

Upon hearing the truth of God’s desire for our salvation, we had, in effect, become a party to a covenant agreement, with an imaginary seal set upon us. The seal is significant, and points to something more than an ordinary contract. As it developed in common law, the seal indicated something extraordinary was happening here, that something beyond the normal exchange of benefit and consideration.

The seal pointed to the importance of the promises: that the very character of the parties here was at stake here. Failure to honour the integrity of the seal was much more than a simple breach of contract, it was breaking faith with your partners. In the era before the ubiquitous lawsuit, people worried less about exposure and worried more about their reputation. The seal upon a covenant was serious business, made decidedly more serious when the covenant partner was God.

Covenants still exist in law, but are becoming less and less common. They have enjoyed a bit of a revival in the era of the monster home and the gated community, as property developers looked for ways to crack down on garden gnomes or those wooden profile pictures of someone bending over. Restrictive covenants were created to reign in individual expression, based on the assumption that a uniform looking neighbourhood has a higher resale value.

Biblical covenants are a different animal. They do have some variety in expression, but by-in-large they deal with mutual obligation and a promise to keep covenant. Some are very simple: “I will be your God and you will be my people” (Exodus 6.7). Some are much more complex. The Mosaic covenant comes with specific rules (commandments) but remains in the realm of mutual obligation and the need to keep promises.


Many of us have a hard time accepting gifts. Children love getting presents, and adults too, but there also seems to be a moment when it becomes harder and harder for us to accept gifts. We fear we can’t somehow repay; maybe we don’t feel deserving; maybe we don’t like the idea of becoming indebted in some way. However this works, there comes a time when gifts are not the easygoing things they once were. They have meaning, if only in our minds, and therefore receiving gifts is more complicated than before.

St. Paul and others got this. They understood that the great gifts we have received: life, forgiveness, redemption, deliverance—all these gifts—are impossible to repay. God has saved us, and we can’t repay the favour. Jesus died on the cross, and we can’t reciprocate no matter how hard we try. God gives us the gift of each day, and unless we can create more heavens and more earth, we can’t begin to repay on the scale we have received. So what to do?

We can live well. This is not the point of my sermon, but needs to be said. One way to respond to a great gift is to live in a manner that would please the giver. In the eighty plus years of being the United Church we have largely succeeded in honouring God by being better people. But that is only one response.

The primary response, the response that we tend to put in the backseat of this station wagon called the United Church is praise. We are called to praise God, to honour God’s holy name, to sing God’s praise from waking to sleeping, to never cease to praise the One who made us and saved us and makes us one. Remember the Westminster Larger Catechism? Question one: What is the chief aim of human life? “To glorify God and enjoy God forever.” Do we spend enough time glorifying God? Do we spend enough time enjoying God? Can we even begin to know what that means?

Here’s a New Year’s resolution, one without danger or risk of a lawsuit. Glorify God and enjoy God forever. Step one may be learning what this means. Or, at the very least, becoming open to the idea that this is the chief aim of human life, something few of us spend a lot of time contemplating. We have received so much, we have grace upon grace, gift upon gift, and God deserves our praise. We can live well too, but first, and foremost, God deserves our praise. Amen.


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