His body the temple

File:Giotto di Bondone - No. 27 Scenes from the Life of Christ - 11. Expulsion of the Money-changers from the Temple (detail) - WGA09210.jpg

Watching for the Morning of March 4, 2018

Year B

The Third Sunday of Lent

We start with the Ten Commandments on Sunday, though the reason is not the commandments themselves, but the covenant they represent. We have heard, during this season, of God’s covenant with Noah and with Abraham. We will yet hear the promise of a new covenant. God is a god who keeps covenant. Who makes promises. Who binds himself in relationship to the world, to Abraham, to Israel. The commands God gives are the shape of that relationship. Those bound to God will share God’s hopes and dreams and fundamental commitments, just as those bound in any other relationship. And who is this God? One who shows fidelity – and so should we – to God, to neighbor. So I won’t trouble another’s family life. I won’t neglect the elderly. I won’t kill or steal. I won’t lust after the things of my neighbor. Such things rend relationships and this is a god who builds them. We are a faithful people because we have a faithful God.

After these words of the faithful God, we will take up the psalmists words that sing of the wondrous order of creation and God’s wondrous ordering of life revealed in God’s law/torah/teaching: “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul.” There is a good order to the universe, a noble pattern, a beautiful harmony – the work of a faithful God.

Then Paul will speak to us about the word of the cross. The shape of faithfulness is outstretched arms, pierced yet open to embrace. The cross shows the terrible face of a world that has embraced power over others rather than faithfulness to them. But the crucified one remained faithful. In him, love triumphed over power.

File:Giotto - Scrovegni - -27- - Expulsion of the Money-changers from the Temple.jpgWe come, then, to Jesus, with a whip of cords in his hands, driving the sellers and moneychangers from the temple, setting free the animals destined for sacrifice. He is not cleansing a temple practice; he is overthrowing it. Fidelity to God does not consist in ritual sacrifice, but in faithfulness. And Jesus’ faithfulness will be the sign, his body the temple where God encounters us, where grace pours out, where life is given.

With these texts we march on toward the three days, towards the great mystery of death and resurrection, to our passage through the sea from death into life.

This Sunday we continue our Lenten series on Baptism. “Through the Watersoffers an introduction to the Lenten theme. Daily Bible verses and reflections are posted at Holy Seasons as well as the first two sermons in the series: “A great and terrifying promise,” and “Taking hold of the promise.”

The Prayer for March 4, 2018

Almighty God, Holy and Eternal,
who bound yourself to Israel by a promise
and revealed to them your holy will,
cleanse our hearts and lives by your favor
and make us a holy temple of your Spirit;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for March 4, 2018

First Reading: Exodus 20:1-17
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” – God gives the Ten Commandments to Israel at Sinai.

Psalmody: Psalm 19
“The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul.” – A majestic hymn celebrating God’s good ordering of the world.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:18-25
“The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
– The Word which comes from the cross is a power that casts down and raises up, foolish in human eyes, but the power of God to set us in a right relationship to Him who is eternal.

Gospel John 2:13-22
“In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their table.” – Jesus engages in a prophetic action declaring God’s coming judgment upon the temple system, and proclaims his death and resurrection: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”

+   +   +

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AGiotto_di_Bondone_-_No._27_Scenes_from_the_Life_of_Christ_-_11._Expulsion_of_the_Money-changers_from_the_Temple_(detail)_-_WGA09210.jpg Giotto di Bondone [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AGiotto_-_Scrovegni_-_-27-_-_Expulsion_of_the_Money-changers_from_the_Temple.jpg Giotto di Bondone [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Leave your gift

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Thursday

Matthew 5:21-37

23 So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.

When we hear the word gift and altar we cannot help but think of the offering plate and a church altar. It’s hard to imagine a religious institution teaching that you should not make an offering if you are at odds with someone. Every organization dependent upon donations is normally trying to remove any obstacles to giving, not adding one. But then, the mission of the church is not to encourage offerings; it is to make disciples of Jesus.

In the traditional liturgy of the church, just such a moment happens before for the offerings are gathered. The presiding minister declares “The peace of the Lord be with you” and, following the congregation’s response, “and also with you,” bids the community to share the peace with one another. God has made peace with us in Christ Jesus – now, before you give an offering, before you come to the table, we are summoned to make peace with one another.

I wonder how the community would react if we spoke more bluntly: “Don’t come to the dinner table divided from one another.” “You can’t be reconciled to God if you won’t be reconciled to one another.” “God doesn’t want your money if you’re not going to walk the walk.”

Jesus and his hearers, of course, are not imagining people in pews with ushers passing offering plates. They are imagining the massive temple platform surrounded by its grand colonnades. They are imagining the inner courtyards: for Gentiles (beyond which no gentile could go); for women (beyond which no woman could go); and for men (beyond which only priests could go). In the walled and colonnaded courtyard that is open only to ritually pure Jewish men there is a gate that leads further in to the temple courtyard with its great altar and the smoke of the rising offerings. Beyond that altar stands the temple proper, covered in gold, its giant pillars guarding huge closed doors. What could be seen only over the top of the enclosing walls is now revealed in full glory. To that gate a man brings his calf or lamb (or doves, if he is poor) where it is slaughtered and the priest takes it to the altar for the gift to be burned in part or in whole.

By the time you had completed the rituals, passed through the courts, and stood in line with your animal – to be told to leave the creature there and run out in order to be reconciled with some adversary… now we can hear the startling point Jesus is making.

God is in the world to reconcile. God is in the world to heal the human community. God is working to restore the torn fabric of life. It is not just murder that rends the human community, but every word of insult and anger. It is not just the act of adultery that tears at society, but the passions willing to violate the integrity of another family. We ought not think, says Jesus, that our moral behavior and religious acts mean anything if they are not joined to the reconciling work of God.

Tough words. Important words. Life-giving words.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ASecond_Temple_view1.jpg By Ariely (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons.

The un-rending

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Watching for the Morning of February 12, 2017

The Sixth Sunday after Epiphany

The Law, the Torah, God’s teaching/instructions for our life as a faithful community, stand front and center in our readings this coming Sunday. From Deuteronomy, written as a sermon by Moses to the people as they stand at the edge of the promised land setting forth again the commands and instructions of God, we will hear the challenge that before us stands a choice between life and death. Blessing will follow if we remain faithful to God and walk in God’s ways; curses will follow if we do not.

The appointed verses from Psalm 119 for Sunday is the opening strophe of the majestic acrostic hymn celebrating the gift of God’s Torah from Aleph to Taw, beginning with the affirmation: “Happy are those…who walk in the law of the Lord.”

Paul is writing about the Corinthian congregation as mere babes, still living on milk rather than solid food, bound as they are in the ways of the world around them rather than living the way of God.

And then Jesus takes up the commandments. After his stunning opening in the beatitudes and the declaration that the poor are not only honored in God’s sight but are light for the world, Jesus dramatically transforms the commandments from a safe and secure legal code (don’t kill, don’t commit adultery) to a summons to live the reign of God:

“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.

We will hear the same summons in the commandments about adultery and vows (and then, in Matthews Gospel, about revenge, acts of mercy, prayer and fasting). More is expected of the human race – and of God’s people – than to refrain from killing, though even that has proven itself far beyond our willingness to obey. But the kingdom chooses to rip no tear in the fabric of the human community, to rend no relationship. Jesus is driving towards that stunning command: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”

We are in the presence of the dawning of God’s reign, the lifting of every burden, the setting right of the world, the un-rending of the fabric of life. And we are summoned into its bold and daring and imperishable life.

The Prayer for February 12, 2017

Gracious God,
in love you made the world and laid its foundations,
giving your gracious order to the creation.
In love you revealed your law to a people you brought out from bondage,
showing them the path of life.
Renew in us your vision for human life
and make us faithful in our calling to live as children of your kingdom;
through your son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for February 12, 2017

First Reading: Deuteronomy 30:15-20
“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.” – Moses addresses the people as they prepare to enter the Promised Land, urging them to remain faithful to God, for their life in the land depends on following God’s commands.

Psalmody: Psalm 119:1-8
“Happy are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord.” – In a magisterial acrostic psalm setting forth the wonder of God’s law/teaching, the poet expresses the wondrous ordering reality God brings to life.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 3:1-9
“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.”
– Speaking to his divided congregation, Paul says they are yet babes in Christ who must be fed with milk, having failed to learn the basic truth of how they are to live in Christ.

Gospel: Matthew 5:21-37
“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times… But I say to you…” – Jesus takes up the commandments about murder, adultery and swearing oaths, revealing the depth of their meaning in bringing human life under the governance of God’s Spirit.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AWTC_Julia_DSCF1149.JPG By J. Lane (Wikipedia Takes Coventry participant) (Uploaded from Wikipedia Takes Coventry) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Where heaven touches earth

Watching for the Morning of March 8, 2015

The Third Sunday of Lent

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Mosaic in Monreale Cathedral

“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Jesus’ prediction of his death and resurrection takes an entirely different form in John’s Gospel than we read last week in Mark, but once again the Gospel points us towards Jerusalem (and towards our keeping of the Paschal Triduum, the three day observance of the cross and resurrection). The one who transformed water into wine, turning tears to joy and bringing the joy of the wedding feast to come, is the true temple where heaven touches earth.

In the background stands God’s covenant with Israel at Sinai: the stunning encounter wherein the people pledge their loyalty to the one who brought them out of slavery – and God proclaims his loyalty to them: “I will be your God and you will be my people.”

But being the people of God requires fidelity to the character and values of this God who delivers the oppressed. And so we have the “ten words”, numbered differently by different faith communities, but expressing the fundamental obligations of a people freed from slavery lest they enslaves themselves again – or enslave others.

The psalmist sings his praise of the ordering work of God, shown in creation and in God’s law/teaching.

It is that broken covenant that jeopardizes the temple. Instead of becoming a refuge for all nations it has become a “marketplace”, a commercial center for the exploitation of pilgrims. It no longer proclaims justice and mercy. It no longer bears witness to light and life. It no longer is a place of encounter with the mercy of heaven. Now all this is found in Jesus, destroyed and raised up, crucified and risen.

Paul knows that the message that encounters us from the cross is power, power to save, power to cast down and raise up, power to kill and make alive, power that carries us into the new creation. It is judgment against all human sin – and the stunning proclamation that God has dismissed our debt to him, opening the path to new life.

(For our daily Lent devotion from Los Altos Lutheran church, and for sermons and other information on Lent see our Lent site.)

Our theme this Lent is Renewal, and for Lent 3: Renewing Families

The Prayer for March 8, 2015

In the temple, O God, Jesus cried out
against what was unholy and untrue
Watch over us,
renewing our lives and our families
that, cleansed of all selfishness,
our love may be deepened,
and we prove faithful to you and to all.;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever

The Texts for March 8, 2015

First Reading: Exodus 20:1-17
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” – God gives the Ten Commandments to Israel at Sinai.

Psalmody: Psalm 19
“The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul.” – A majestic hymn celebrating God’s good ordering of the world.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:18-25
“The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
– The Word which comes from the cross is a power that casts down and raises up, foolish in human eyes, but the power of God to set us in a right relationship to Him who is eternal.

Gospel John 2:13-22
“In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their table.” – Jesus engages in a prophetic action declaring God’s coming judgment upon the temple system, and proclaims his death and resurrection: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”

 

Photo: By Sibeaster (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“It was a sabbath day”

Saturday

John 9

stained glass14Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes.

It’s not that the Sabbath day doesn’t matter. It’s not that this is an old archaic practice that is no longer binding. It’s not even that Jesus was challenging a too literal observance of the Sabbath command. Jesus was fulfilling it.

The Sabbath is the day of rest when all creation has been brought to perfection. God separates the light from the darkness. God separates the waters above from the waters beneath. God separates the waters to allow dry land to appear. Then God populates the sky with heavenly bodies, the land and sky with earthly bodies, and in his consummate creative act creates humans, male and female, in God’s own image. Over all this God seven times declares it is good – the seventh and consummate declaration spoken over the whole thing was that “it was very good.” The creation is brought into perfect life. And God rests. All things are good and perfect and whole.

And then the perfection is lost. The first humans trust themselves more than God. They hide from each other behind fig leaves – and from God in the bushes. The joy of childbirth becomes joined with pain. The joy of tending the land becomes the sweat of work in a world with weeds. Cain rises up against Abel. Blood is shed. God tries to stay the bloodletting by protecting Cain, promising to avenge any harm to him – and Lamech trumps God by promising seventy-sevenfold revenge to anyone who harms him.  Weapons are made.  The line between heaven and earth is broken by angels consorting with humans. Were it not for Noah, the world would be lost.

But God ponders Noah and grace triumphs. God sets about restoring his creation. Redeeming it. Setting it free from its bondage. Restoring his garden. He calls Abraham. He gathers a people out of bondage in Egypt and teaches them to live God’s justice and mercy. He gives them a land where all can be fed.

And then it goes astray. But Moses and the prophets and the psalms lay the foundation for God’s restoration of his world. They bear witness to the day when sins and forgiven and the Spirit of God poured out on all. They promise a day when swords are beaten into plowshares and the lion lies down with the lamb. Through the law and prophets and writings God promises to bring his creation to its ultimate Sabbath rest, to bring us into the perfect peace of God.

This is what Jesus is doing on the Sabbath. He is fulfilling the rules not breaking them. He is bringing light into the world. He is healing every wound. He is releasing us from our debt of shame. He is restoring our sight. He is bringing God’s perfect peace.

The tragedy is that these very religious people could not see. The sorrow is that “the world loved darkness.” We harp on the rules and miss all that they promise: A world where God is God. A world where God’s name is not used for falsehood. A world where all enjoy God’s Sabbath rest. A world where the elderly are protected and provided. A world where no harm is done to another’s life or family or reputation. A world where truth reigns and there is no evil eye. A world gathered at one table. A world of light and life.

It was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 

Exactly.

 

 

A command, a promise, a path

Friday

Matthew 5

Lioness with kill

21 “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.

It is a commandment; “you shall not…”  We are right in hearing it as an imperative: “Don’t kill,” or even a jussive, “You may not kill.”  But, technically the grammatical form of the verb is a simple future tense: “You will not kill.”

What if we heard it as simply descriptive rather than proscriptive?  What if the voice at Sinai were simply describing what is to come – that we would not kill?

We shouldn’t kill.  But we also shouldn’t eat so much.  We shouldn’t go without exercise.  We shouldn’t gossip.  If we hear the commandments in that realm of what should be – we all too easily compromise those values.  We rationalize.  We excuse.  We kill because it is necessary in war.  We kill because certain crimes require capital punishment.  We kill bad guys bent on doing us harm.  We kill because our home was invaded or we felt threatened.  I can understand and even join many of these rationalizations – and in the broken world in which we live such things may sometimes be necessary.  But it isn’t the world God intended.  And it isn’t the world to come.

Rationalizations and exceptions rob us of the sense of horror killing should evoke – not just the killing of another person, but the fearful awareness that all killing is a dangerous trespass upon God’s territory, an arrogant and idolatrous presumption to decide life and death that belongs to God alone.

The fact that God gives permission to kill in certain circumstances doesn’t make it our right, only that we are acting with divine permission or command.  We do not even have the right to slaughter an animal for food, except that God gave permission – with instructions on how it must be done so that we remember the giving and taking of life is God’s turf.

Perhaps reflecting on the fact that the commandment is written in the future tense – you will not kill – can help us reclaim some of this lost ground.  Perhaps we can regain the notion that killing is not ours to do.  It is unthinkable.

Oh that it were unthinkable.  Such violence surrounds us.  We are inured to the death of inner city youth and Syrian civilians.  We have witnessed remarkable slaughters in this last hundred years – which makes the commandment also a promise.  In the future to come, in the day of the LORD, in the reign of God, in the governance of God’s spirit, it will again become unthinkable.  The future that awaits us, the future that has come among us in Jesus, the future in which we walk now, is free from death.  Forever.

And then, maybe, we can appreciate the word of Jesus that more is at stake here than just killing.  Those who live the reign of God will not even insult another.  We will not even start down the path that in the ancient world so easily escalated to murder – and in every part of the world wounds rather than heals, divides rather than unites, incites rather than reconciles.  We will not walk that path.  We walk trusting the promise that of a world reborn.

You have heard it said…

Watching for the morning of February 16

Year A

The Sixth Sunday after Epiphany

Persian Jesus miniature of Sermon on the Mount

We tend to think of the commandments as a guide and measure of personal morality, but the question that prompts them is how are we to embody a free and just society.  Murder begets retaliatory murder.  Adultery invites revenge.  Divorce in the ancient world broke alliances, insulted families, and rent communities.  False testimony in the market or the court ruptured the social fabric.  The commandments were certainly not a path to heaven; they were the path – as Moses reminds the people in our first reading – to a long and good life in the land.  They are modest illustrations of the life God intended for humanity when he breathed into us the breath of life.

Sunday we continue in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus takes up the commandments.  He is not content with the limited interpretations and applications offered by the Scribes, the comfortable compromises that excuse and allow so many subtle and not so subtle abuses of our neighbor, so many advantages taken at his or her expense – thoughts, words and deeds that are not born of God.  It is not enough to refrain from murder; we must turn away from the insults that escalate to violence.  It is not enough to avoid the act of adultery; we must avoid the desires that rupture relationships.  The life God intended for us, the life governed by the Spirit of God, the life of the age to come that is dawning now among us in Jesus, is not a life constrained by the threat of an external law – it is a life shaped and empowered by a vision of the world made whole, of the world redeemed, of all creation brought to its true and promised goal.  It is a life born of grace – a fire and light for the world.

The Prayer for February 16, 2014

Gracious God,
in love you made the world and laid its foundations,
giving your gracious order to the creation.
In love you revealed your law
to a people you brought out from bondage,
showing them the path of life.
Renew in us your vision for human life
and make us faithful in our calling
to live as children of your kingdom.

The Texts for February 16, 2014

First Reading: Deuteronomy 30:15-20
“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.” – Moses addresses the people as they prepare to enter the Promised Land, urging them to remain faithful to God, for their life in the land depends on following God’s commands.

Psalmody: Psalm 119:1-8
“Happy are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord.” – In a magisterial acrostic psalm setting forth the wonder of God’s law/teaching, the poet expresses the wondrous ordering reality God brings to life.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 3:1-9
“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.”
– Speaking to his divided congregation, Paul says they are yet babes in Christ who must be fed with milk, having failed to learn the basic truth of how they are to live in Christ.

Gospel: Matthew 5:21-37
“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times… But I say to you…” – Jesus takes up the commandments about murder, adultery and swearing oaths, revealing the depth of their meaning in bringing human life under the governance of God’s Spirit.

Sabbath

Thursday

Isaiah 58

13If you refrain from trampling the sabbath,
from pursuing your own interests on my holy day;
if you call the sabbath a delight
and the holy day of the Lord honorable;
… I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth.

English: the 4th Commandment on Nash Papyrus &...

English: the 4th Commandment on Nash Papyrus “Remember the Sabbath” row 9, words 5-8. in Hebrew script: “zahor et yom ha’shabat”. similar to Exodus 20:7 Egypt, 2nd century CE עברית: הדיבר הרביעי מעשרת הדברות בפפירוס נאש, “זכור את יום השבת” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Keeping Sabbath is one of the ten words.  For those who would boil the rich and wonderful legal codes of the Torah down to ten commandments, the Sabbath is one of these ten essentials.  No matter how you number them, breaking Sabbath is in the same select list as murder, kidnapping, elder abuse and violating another’s marriage.

At first glance it doesn’t seem to match up.  Keeping Sabbath looks to us like a ritual obligation.  All those that follow are filled with deep ethical dimensions that affect the well being of society by governing the way we treat one another.  Keeping Sabbath seems like an obligation towards God.  In our society, such a religious obligation seems clearly secondary to the “higher” ethical norms concerning the treatment of others.  Why then does the prophet equate keeping Sabbath with such fundamental humanitarian concerns as feeding the hungry and caring for the poor?

For most of human history we have enslaved one another.  Binding another to serve one’s will seems endemic to human nature.  There have been formal institutions of slavery, encoded in law, and many informal and indirect ones.  There is a serfdom that binds you to the land, but also a serfdom that binds you with debt – the coal miners living in mining towns paid in script only good at the mining stores.  There is the slavery that binds by law, and the enslavement that binds by fear we see in human trafficking and the conscription of child soldiers (join us or we kill your family).  The bent woman before Jesus in Sunday’s gospel is spiritually enslaved.

It is easy to hear the exodus story as God’s triumph over the mighty empire of Egypt, but why then would God need ten plagues?  Wouldn’t one or two massive exercises of power have sufficed, just as the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki brought Japan to surrender?  Why start with a silly trick of turning your staff into a serpent?  Why begin with a few days of polluted water?  Because this is not about power; it is about redemption.  The Nile was the source of life for Egypt and God is declaring that he is the author of life.  The serpent was a symbol of royal power in Egypt and God is the one who holds Pharaoh and his kingdom in his hand.  God’s purpose was not just to save Israel, but also to save Egypt.  It didn’t take ten assaults to break Israel free; God provided ten opportunities for pharaoh to repent, to turn away from the prison of slaveholding.  Pharaoh behaved like us all: only as the price became more and more unbearable did he finally relent.

With the Sabbath command, the God who delivered Israel and Egypt from the house of bondage takes his stand against all enslavement.  The commandment isn’t just that I should rest on the Sabbath, it is that I must give rest to others.

Humans were not created for work.  In the Babylonian myth, humans were created to serve the gods.  In the Genesis narrative humans were created to walk with God.

When I “trample on the Sabbath,” I trample on my neighbor.  If I cannot turn off my wants and needs, if I cannot for one day set aside my “own interests” for the sake of others, then the life of all is degraded.

I understand the “modern economy,” but when I want to be able to go to the grocery store in the middle of the night, that choice affects not only me and my household, but all who must work in order that the store might be open at my convenience.  And when the demands of work encroach ever further into our lives, children and families and neighborhoods are undermined.  It may be the way of the world, but the way of God gives Sabbath.

So the Pharisees were right – Jesus needed to honor the Sabbath.  They just didn’t understand that is exactly what he was doing: the woman was being set free from her bondage.

More than rules

Friday

Colossians 1

God the Father 11

God the Father 11 (Photo credit: Waiting For The Word)

9For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God.

“The knowledge of God’s will.”  My will for my daughters and the rules we had in our household are two different things.  My “will” was that they be honest, responsible, compassionate and cooperative.  The rules were specific things that seemed appropriate in order to help them be honest, responsible, compassionate and cooperative.  But the rules are not the point.  I would not be pleased with a child who was home by curfew, cleaned her room, and always had her homework done if she were also manipulative, deceitful or cruel.  God’s will is more than rules.

Paul doesn’t pray that the believers in Colossae will know God’s rules; he prays they will understand God’s will.  The legal materials in the Old Testament are not simply social mores of a forgotten time, nor are they timeless requirements of the divine will; they are attempts to give insight into the will of God for our existence.  It is not enough to observe the rule about only taking the eggs and not the hen from a nest in the field if we do not see in that law the will of God for humanity to respect and preserve the created world.  It is not enough to observe the rule that you not cut down fruit trees when laying siege to a city if you have laid waste to the cropland to punish the people with hunger long after the war is over.  It is not enough to refrain from adultery if your heart desires what belongs to another – or you fail to desire what belongs to you.

Laws are nice and neat, black and white.  And they are also open to sophisticated parsing – just exactly which neighbors do I have to treat as if they were members of my own household or clan?  Once you have asked that question, you are no longer seeking God’s will; you are seeking something else.

I appreciate the need for rules and for careful thought about their application.  But we cannot use rules as tools to control others, as tools to define “us” from “them” or “good” people from “bad,” as proof of our righteousness or the means of meriting God’s favor.  The rules are there to give us examples of what God’s will looks like.  It doesn’t mean we are free of the rules; it means we are seeking to understand and live God’s will.  We are seeking to understand God’s vision for human life – care for one another, care for the earth, care for ourselves; compassion, justice, peace; love of God and love of neighbor.

“What does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

This is Paul’s prayer.  He has not come to Colossae to convert them from one system of religious practices to another; he has come to give them understanding of the will of the one who stands at the beginning and end of time and calls us into the fullness of our humanity.

PS The references above to provisions in the Torah are found in Deuteronomy 22:6 and 20:19