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in Advent

ADVENT: DAY 20

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But recall those earlier days when, after you had been enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to abuse and persecution, and sometimes being partners with those so treated.  For you had compassion for those who were in prison, and you cheerfully accepted the plundering of your possessions, knowing that you yourselves possessed something better and more lasting.  Do not, therefore, abandon that confidence of yours; it brings a great reward.  For you need endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.  For yet ‘in a very little while, the one who is coming will come and will not delay; but my righteous one will live by faith.  My soul takes no pleasure in anyone who shrinks back.’  But we are not among those who shrink back and so are lost, but among those who have faith and so are saved.”—Hebrews 10:32-39

 

I have never really delved into The Letter to the Hebrews.  I have read it, but the temple language and the high atonement theory have prodded me to focus my attention elsewhere.  For, no matter how rich the material is, the temple cult seems to be miles and miles from my context.  So, of the oft-touted trifold role of Christ—prophet, priest, and king—the role of priest has always held the least appeal for me.

 

As I have found myself saying so frequently lately, though, I am learning.  The temple is an apt metaphorical ecosystem for so much of what happens in this world.  We worship at the altar of Mammon.  All too many of us dedicate ourselves to the service of that altar.  The real kicker, though, is that those with power and privilege sacrifice others at that altar to Mammon—to more power and more money.  We oppress, dispossess, and slaughter unwilling victims in order to maintain and expand principalities of injustice.

 

Hebrews, however, gives us an alternative vision of the temple.  Jesus is at once the high priest, the sacrifice, and the god.  When we look at the theodicy, we often ask how a loving God could willfully send their child to suffer terribly and die, all for the sins of others.  I, also, am deeply troubled by this question.  Another way of looking at it, though, is to see that God chose to become incarnate as a human, to join in the fullness of suffering, and to willingly die alongside of those who are sacrificed at the altar of Mammon.  The entire paradigm was flipped.  The all-powerful God relinquished power and joined the oppressed.  The all-powerful God chose to use that power to challenge the earthly principalities.  The all-powerful God chose to be sacrificed alongside of those who did not choose such a fate so that the system would fall and the sacrifices would no longer happen.  The temple was torn down and rebuilt.

 

Clearly we have polluted this temple of incomprehensible grace.  We continue to choose the altar of Mammon.  Yet, we have an example and a clarion call from Hebrews.  “You endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to abuse and persecution, and sometimes being partners with those so treated.  For you had compassion for those in prison, and you cheerfully accepted the plundering of your possessions, knowing that you yourselves possessed something better and more lasting.  Do not, therefore, abandon that confidence of yours; it brings a great reward.”  Those of us with power in this world must choose to partner with those who are publicly exposed to abuse and persecution, with those who are being imprisoned.  We must make use of our possessions to aid in the struggle while we still have them, and we must be willing to let go of our possessions without remorse.  We must challenge the principalities with confidence.  We must be active to the point of being targeted ourselves for public abuse and persecution.

Imagine if the Church became such a temple!  Let us seek to make it so as we await the coming of the High Priest.

Posted December 18, 2015

 

in Advent

ADVENT: DAY 19

Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church - Outreach - Blogs - TEEZing Out The Roots

The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.  It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the LORD.  But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.”—Jeremiah 31:31-34

 

And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying, ‘This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds,’ [the Holy Spirit] also adds, ‘I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.’  Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.”—Hebrews 10:16-18

 

I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.  I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.  YHWH’s covenants and laws have taken on many forms throughout history.  In the time of Naamah, Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel, covenants were “cut” between YHWH and a patriarch, with a sign from above and an altar built on Earth.  Presumably the content of the covenant was shared orally from person to person, descendant to descendant.  In the time of Miriam and Zipporah, YHWH first wrote the law directly with a finger on stone tablets.  So, the fingerprint of God was physically on the stone.  Moses quickly broke these tablets because of the disobedience of the Israelites.  After another set was made, they were placed within the “ark of the covenant.”  This was an ornate box carried around on poles, and only the high priests had access to it.  YHWH physically traveled with the ark and the Israelites during this period, in pillars of fire and smoke.  Sometime after this the law was written on scrolls.  It was lost at various moments in Israelite history, only to be found and read aloud to all by people like Ezra.

 

It was probably scrolls such as these that Jesus was found studying in the temple when he snuck away from his parents as a child.  Just yesterday I was having a front porch conversation with Prince and Samson, two youths who have befriended me, about whether or not Jesus could read and whether or not that mattered.  The conclusion we came to was that he probably could read based on this studying in the temple and on the verse about him writing in the dirt.  The other conclusion, though, was that it did not matter.  For, the covenant, the law, and the prophets were passed from generation to generation via oral tradition.  Even if Jesus could not read, he could have been just as learned in the tradition of his people by listening to the stories of his parents and of the village elders.  Proverbs and parables have been passed on in just this way here in Zambia.  

 

The next discussion on the porch pushed the heart of the matter even further.  What of those who cannot hear or see or talk?  Without turning to the Bible at all, we collectively agreed that what truly matters in terms of our relationship with God is in our hearts and minds.  God knows our hearts and minds.

 

These two passages then take the porch conversation deeper.  God has written the covenant and law in our hearts and our minds.  Jeremiah and the author of Hebrews had the revelation that just as YHWH wrote directly on the first tablets, YHWH has directly touched each and every one of our hearts and minds. 

 

What exactly does this mean for us?

 

For one, as in the time of the great wandering in the wilderness, God is journeying with us in person.

 

Secondly, God’s covenant and law reside within us in a way that we can understand according to our individual contexts.  It thus also will take different manifestations based on context.

 

Thirdly, the covenant and law are based both in our hearts and our minds.  Rationalism has no priority over emotion, and vice-versa.  We are to listen to the Holy Spirit in the fullness of who we are.

 

Fourthly, God’s covenant and law transcend the barriers that we put up based on ability, race, class, sex, sexuality, gender, nationality, citizenship, education, and incarceration status.

 

Finally, the covenant and law are no longer negotiated between a patriarch or ‘hero’ and God.  Instead, God is in direct relationship with each and every one of us.

 

We Christians believe that Jesus of Nazareth embodied a new covenant, meaning that Creation became a New Creation and that all of us are new creations.  We Christians believe that Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled the law and made it perfect, meaning that we ought to look at the lived action of this human being and apply it to our own lives in our own contexts.

 

You should already look at all humans with awe because they are created in the image and likeness of God.  Now you should add to that awe, because they also carry the covenant and the law in their very essence.

Posted December 17, 2015

 

Posted by Tyler W. Orem with

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Being planted in the rich soils of Zambia to inspire regrowth at home. “Other seed fell on good soil and bore fruit” -Matthew 13:8