Summary: A sermon on the law for Christians.
The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 3, 2006
St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church
The Rev. M. Anthony Seel, Jr.
“The Empty Cube and God’s Design”
In the west end of Paris stands La Grande Arche de la Defense. Work on La Grande Arche began in 1982 and was completed in 1990. It was one of the grand projects of France under then president Francois Mitterand. The marble-clad structure is two 35-story office buildings linked by a 3-story roof section. The open cube design is 348 meters wide and 106 meters tall. It occupies a 100-meter square.
George Weigel is the author of The Cube and the Cathedral, and he reports that all the guidebooks that he consulted “emphasized that the entire Notre-Dame – towers and spire included – would fit comfortably inside the Great Arch” ( p. 2). The Great Arch was built to be a 20th century version of the Arc de Triomphe, “a monument to humanity and humanitarian ideals rather than military victories” (Wikipedia).
The Grand Arch is almost a perfect cube. The height, as I’ve said, is 106 meters. The width is 108 meters, and the depth is 112 meters. It is almost a perfect cube, but almost is a very important word in this case. The cube that is much larger than the Cathedral of Notre-Dame is not perfect. For Weigel, the cube is a metaphor for secular Europe cut adrift from its Christian past. The cube in all its modern sterility speaks of a vision of the world that deemphasizes or eliminates altogether any reference to God.
The cube, physically and spiritually speaking, is empty and hollow at its core. At the center, the Grand Arch is physically, literally hollow. La Grande Arche stands as a metaphor for what Weigel calls “the Europe problem.” Part of the Europe problem is what Orthodox Jew Joseph Weiler of New York University School of Law calls “Christophobia.” We see Christophia in the decision by the European Union to leave out of the E.U. Constitution any mention of the Christian heritage of Europe.
1500 years of Christian influence and contributions to the development of Europe were purposely excluded. In June, 2004, after much debate, the completed draft constitution included one reference to simply “the cultural, religious, and humanist inheritance of Europe.” Weiler, an Orthodox Jew mind you, comments: “to ignore the Christian roots of European democracy is to ignore the fact that Christian thought is part of the patrimony of Europe for believers and non-believers, Christians and non-Christians, alike” (ibid., p. 71).
We have a similar problem in the Church when we seek a New Testament Christianity that is cut off from its Old Testament roots. The New Testament cannot be cut off from the Old because the OT is necessary for us to properly understand the New. Moreover, the Hebrew Scriptures are what our Lord read from and taught from during His earthly ministry. Jesus said,
“For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be great in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:18-19
So, today, we turn to Moses, who says in our first lesson,
v. 1 “And now, O Israel. Listen to the statutes and the rules that I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you.”
First, Moses says, “Listen to the statutes and the rules that I am teaching you.” Listen, because these statutes and rules are from God. God has given them to you to bless you. First, God has given them to bless you for life. As Christian ethicist Lewis Smedes says, “The commandments fit life’s design” (Mere Morality, p. 6). In his book, Mere Morality, Smedes suggests a question. Smedes reflects, “Behind all the traumatizing questions thrust at us by the cultural revolutions of our day lies the question of whether there is, in our spiritual environment, a creative Mind who wills human life to develop and grow within certain patterns and toward a purposed goal” (ibid.).
Our answer is an emphatic yes. God our Creator has given us a pattern for life and the commandments are part of that pattern. As Christians, we are a people of law and grace. Law and grace are not at odds with each other; they work together to bring us to God. The law shows us our need of God – we cannot live perfectly in the way that God has set out for us to live. Grace is God’s answer to our sin problem. We do sin and our sin brings us under the judgment of God who is holy, perfect and without any sin. On the cross, Jesus pays the penalty for our sins with His death. From the cross, Jesus offers us God’s forgiveness. Law leads us to grace, the grace of God in Jesus Christ.