Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Top of the Range

If you are familiar with Britain’s major supermarket chains, you will know that they have three levels of own-brand products: a low-cost basic range, a mid-cost range, and for those who are prepared to pay the extra there is the top of the range, ‘taste the difference' / ‘finest' range.
When God gave his ten top tips for human society, number 5 on his list was “Honour your father and your mother.” The word that we translate as ‘honour’ is an ancient Hebrew word that expresses the same thing as the labelling on the top of the range products in our supermarkets. God is asking us to consider our parents with high regard, to value them and ensure that we care for them. If we do that, he promises, we will all live longer.
When St Paul turned his mind to his particular divine instruction, he realised that it wasn’t setting parents above their children but was requesting equality. St Paul suggested that children should listen to their parents, and that parents should not exasperate their children. Extending this idea to slaves and masters, Paul requested that both slaves and masters should listen to one another. (The passage in Ephesians 6 commonly uses the term ‘obey’, but the word Paul used means ‘listen to’, which is more open ended.)
The over all picture, from Moses to Paul via Jesus, is that everyone is of value. Whether we are children too young to work, or are too old and frail to work, we are of value, we are top of the range in God’s judgement.
In all human societies, some people are valued more and some less. But this is not how God would have us be. To God, we are all of great value, whatever our age or state of employment. You, and everyone you meet today, are in the “God’s Finest” range. Value them.

Saturday, 8 September 2018

God's Name

I grew up with a wonderful great-aunt, who was called Ezal. Ezal wasn’t her actual name, it was the best my uncle could manage as a small boy, and the new name stuck. Everyone called her Ezal: my parents, me, her sister, my cousins - even the vicar. When I visited her in hospital as she was dying, with the name “Ezal” written on the board above her bed, she confided in me that she wished that someone would call her by her proper name before she died. Her name was Ethel Wash.
When God was preparing to rescue the Israelite people from Egypt, he announced a name for himself, a name by which he wished all generations to address him, for all time. It’s a fairly clear instruction. Some years later, in his 10 key instructions to the newly rescued Israelites, instruction number three was: “Don’t mistreat my name”. God’s name was important; he didn’t want his people to lose it’s value.
Tragically, God’s carefully chosen name has indeed been mistreated, and for many generations - ourselves included. We mistreat it by completely failing to use it.
When Moses asked God his name, God replied, “I am what I am. That is my name. Say to the Israelites, ‘I am’ has sent you.” Because the meaning is the key part of a Jewish name rather than the word itself, if God called himself “I am”, the people were to call him, “He is”. And that is the name that is used throughout the Old Testament - 6823 times in all. When David sung his famous 23rd Psalm, he sang, “He is, is my shepherd…”
However, after calling God by name for a thousand years, the Jewish people stopped using it, and started calling God other things instead. By the time Jesus was alive, they had the name in writing, but they never spoke it, so no-one knew how it was pronounced. Then, when the Old Testament was translated into other languages, the name was lost altogether.
In the English language tradition, we have replaced God’s name, 'He Is’, with a totally different phrase - the LORD. It's a mistake we inherited from the Romans. Some churches have reverted to the four letters of the name in Hebrew - YHWH, which no-one knows how to translate. Some have adopted the anglicised version - Jehovah. But none of these are God’s name. God’s name exists in careful translation, and it means: “He Is”.
It is our loss. We have lost the key emphasis that God himself chose to give us, that he is not above us, or greater than us, but that he simply IS, for all time and for all people. Whoever we are, wherever we are, God is right there with us.