Thursday, March 30, 2017

Day 58: Food as Holy Offering and Receiving Holy Food

Leviticus 8, 9, 10 and Mark 6:30-56

Leviticus today talks about the ordination of Aaron and his sons while relying heavily on the topic of food. Where and when to eat holy offerings specifically. Mark talks to us about holy food in a completely different manner.

Leviticus 8

This section begins the actual carrying out of the statements God has made to Moses concerning the ordination of Aaron’s sons. I find it particularly interesting that the prophet, Moses, is so obviously held in higher authority than even the head priest, Aaron. The fact that this is noted in a priestly document is surprising food for thought. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that the leadership/priests of Jesus’ day were not so keen on him. They did not want to be under a prophet’s authority.
Of note in the account of offerings is that the most holy offerings, such as ordination, could only be eaten by a priest within the sacred sanctuary court. The priestly portions however of other sacrifices could be taken home and eaten by the family in any clean place.
By the way, did you catch our favorite number 7 once more? Seven days for ordination rites to be complete.

Leviticus 9

Now that Aaron is ordained he steps up and begins actually leading the sacrifices that Moses has done previously. The fire from the Lord that burns the offering is a sign that the Lord will be with the people in a very visible way, through fire and cloud.

Leviticus 10

Aaron’s sons offered unholy fire before the altar of the Lord. This caused the Lord to send out fire to kill them in front of the altar. I cannot begin to imagine this. And we talk about worship wars now.
Aaron is silent, he does not complain after two of his sons are killed. Unlike the people of Israel on the whole, Aaron is willing to accept good and judgement at the hands of God, apparently. Or he was afraid that the fire would consume him as well.
God speaks to Aaron directly here and talks with him about the importance of being sober when in the presence of the Lord and the tabernacle. This is still genuinely good advice for anyone leading a worship service.

Mark 6:30-56

Jesus is with his disciples and acknowledges that they need some time away after their going out into the world to perform healings and other signs and wonders. I can identify with the need for rest, for a break, for time in an isolated place.
The crowds however, find them, as they usually do. Jesus has compassion on them and teaches for a long time. It is getting to be dinner time and the disciples tell Jesus to send the people away to get food. Jesus says “You give them food.”
Initially this is a shocking statement to me. How does Jesus expect them to feed a crowd that large without a caterer or at the very least food trucks? But then I remember that these men had been out in the world performing miracles already. If you could heal leprosy, why would you not be able to figure out bread?
Jesus is exasperated by their lack of faith, and asks them to count the food present. Five Loaves and 2 Fish are brought forward. Jesus has them sit down in groups of 50 and 100, then he blesses the food and has the disciples begin handing it out.
I’ve often called this the first potluck meal. I do not for a second believe that no one in that crowd had any supplies or food stuffs. I think that in a society of scarcity there would have been very few who were willing to offer up those resources. But when they are set down in smaller groups, groups where you are faced with the reality of the hungry faces of your neighbor, I believe you are more likely to share even what little you have.
I do not believe that how the miracle occurred, because getting food insecure individuals to share is miraculous, in anyway diminishes the miracle or Jesus’ capability to perform such signs and wonders. He could have turned the dirt in front of them to an all you can eat fish and bread buffet. The point to me is that even a small amount of faith goes a very long way.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Day 57: Offerings and Homecoming

Leviticus 6, 7 and Mark 6:1-29

This section of Leviticus give us accounts of offerings to God. In Mark we learn about Jesus’ homecoming experience (hint: Your first homecoming was probably better!)

Leviticus 6

Listed here are offerings for the sins of robbery, failure to care for something entrusted to you, and defrauding another. These are things to do to help make restitution in society and with God. Defraud here more than likely refers to not giving someone the agreed upon or fair wages, or withholding wages for some negligible reason. The people were to repay the amount plus one fifth. These particular rules dealt with the person offering the gift, not the priest receiving it.
As chapter 6 continues we are given rules of offerings applying specifically to the priests. This section speaks directly to the leaders of worship to tell them what is and what is not acceptable for them to eat from an offering or sacrifice. Somethings were never to be eaten, fat and blood. Others were okay in certain instances. You could eat from a sin offering, but not from an atonement sacrifice.

Leviticus 7:

Chapter seven continues the rules for priests concerning offerings. Each priest was to eat whatever they were the ones to sacrifice. There are two exceptions to this. One, the raw grain offering was to be divided between the whole of the priests. Two, the breast of the beast was to be divided among all of the priests, but the individual priest was allowed to keep the right thigh.
I will add that, once again, I am so thankful to not have to participate in these sacrifices.

Mark 6:1-29

Jesus returns to his hometown of Nazareth. He is not welcomed with open arms. People do not believe in him, they do not accept him, and there is very little he is able to do among them because of their unbelief. He does, Mark tells us, heal a few people.  Perhaps the saying is true, you can never go home again.
Jesus sends out the twelve, two by two, to cast out demons and heal. They are able to perform great deeds in his name. So great that word of Jesus and the disciples spreads all the way to the home of Herod, the “king”.
Herad is convinced that Jesus is John the Baptist, risen from the dead. Why would he think that? Here Mark gives us the account of the death of John the Baptist. It tells us that Herod had a guilty conscience and was afraid of facing judgement for his sins. Remember that according to the rules in Leviticus you are not guilty of sin until it is revealed to you. This is the instance I believe when Herod realizes his blood guilt.

Day 56: Sacrificial Rules and the Unclean Women

Leviticus 3, 4, 5, and Mark 5:21-43

These passages tell us about rules for sacrifice and healing of a girl and a woman. The rules presented here help to highlight the rule breaking people accused Jesus of committing.

Leviticus 3

This section begins the rules for sacrifice and offerings. Chapter three talks about sacrifices made by or for an individual. Well-being offerings, which are spoken of in Chapter 17 also, are for all meat that is eaten. This prevents the idea of mass slaughter by reminding everyone that all life has meaning. This sacrifice could be male or female.

Leviticus 4

This section of rules contains that lovely number of completion, the number 7. These are specific rules for the priests to follow as they begin sacrificing in the tent of meeting. There is to be an ash heap outside of the tent that is only to contain the remainder of the now sacred sacrifice. I also found it interesting that the sin offerings were different depending on your place in the nation of Israel.
An ordained priest must sacrifice a bull for their sin offering (an offering for sin that you did not know at the time was sin, but later were convicted of its sinfulness) If the religious leaders led the whole assembly of Israelites to sin one bull was to be sacrificed. The elders laid hands on it as a way of representing the whole of Israel. If a ruler sins they could sacrifice a male goat. If a regular everyday person sins and later learns and repents, they could sacrifice a female goat.

Leviticus 5

When you became aware of sin you have guilt and must bring an offering. This awareness is important to the nature of the offering. The writers also allowed a sliding scale for those in different economic ranges.
There is also the idea that the sacrifice or the equivalent must be given. This refers to when a sacred object has been made unclean or damaged. The person must give the amount to replace the item and give a sacrifice or extra silver that would equal the cost of a sacrifice and the priests would do a sacrifice for them.

Mark 5: 21-43

This portion of Mark contains the story of Jarius’ daughter and the hemorrhaging woman. Mark loves to tell stories by splitting one in half and inserting another story. These stories are called intercalations. I had a New Testament professor who called them sandwich stories. These two events relate to and help interpret one another.
There are many similarities in these accounts. We do not know either females names. These unnamed women both have illnesses. The woman has been hemorrhaging for 12 years while the girl is 12 years old. The woman touches Jesus’ clothing to be healed. Jesus touches the girl and heals her. The woman has been “unclean” for 12 years, exiled from community because of her illness. The girl is thought to be dead and will now be put out from the community. Her death would make her unclean.
What do you think Jesus might be saying about the designations of clean and unclean?

Monday, March 27, 2017

Day 55: The Priests Manual and the first Missionary

Psalm 90, Leviticus 1, 2 and Mark 5:1-20

These chapters give us the first priests instruction manual, a discussion of human nature verses God’s nature, and the sending out of the first missionary.

Psalm 90

This Psalm gives us a comparison between the eternal nature of God and mortals. This passages is called Moses’ prayer and it sounds much like what we might have expected Moses to say to God on the mountain when he is asking for mercy for the people of Israel. The psalmist says that people gain wisdom with age, hopefully, even though that wisdom is limited because they do not live long. He also asks God to give value to the work of the hands of God’s people.

Leviticus 1

Leviticus is called the Priests Manual. The purpose of priests was to teach the difference between common and uncommon, clean and unclean. The priests helped set the cultic culture of the Israelites.
There are believed to be two different sources for Leviticus; P, the priestly code, and h, the Holiness code. H, or the Holiness code, is thought to be the later because it appears to comment on and have redaction of P.
In this chapter we are given instructions of offerings. These are the parts that make me want to skip this book all together. The thing I find interesting is that the people are a part of the ritual by choosing the sacrifice and doing the slaughtering. Aaron’s sons, the priests, only step in as silent intercessors.

Leviticus 2

We get more details about offerings in this chapter. Offerings by fire are food offerings, they bring smoke, but are not burnt up. The priests are allowed to eat these gifts. No leaven or honey can be included in the offerings for aromas, but salt must always be included.

Mark 5: 1-20

Jesus goes into the land that is primarily Gentile land. When he crosses the lake he meets a man shackled to stones, who bruises himself with rocks, and is naked. The people have chained him because his demons that some say might have been some form of mental illness.
There are a lot of plays on words in this passage. The demon says its name is “Legion”. A legion is a unit of 6,000 Roman troops. Tombs, demons and pigs were all considered unclean by Jews. The pig herd of 2,000 would have been there to feed Gentiles or the Roman occupying forces. There is an element of humor to the Legion being cast into the swine and hurled off of a cliff.
The most interesting part of this whole account to me is the people’s reaction. They see the demoniac clothed and in his right mind and they are afraid. After the miracle of healing they are scared. They are so scared that they beg Jesus to leave. How often are we scared by changes in others? When have we reacted with fear to something being different than we knew it before?
The man begs to leave with Jesus and Jesus tells him no. The man is sent out into the ten cities to share the good news. He becomes the first missionary to the Gentiles.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Man Who Sees John 9

John 9 The Man Who Sees
My 20th high school reunion is this Summer. I have found myself thinking back to what happened in High School. I’m a member of a group in Facebook that is planning the reunion and each time I see a name pop up I find myself digging for a memory. There are usually several to choose from, but the other day I saw the name of a girl and the only thing that came to mind was “that’s the girl who kissed the skunk.”
Now to be sure, not many people have kissed a skunk in my view before, but this particular girl did so in 3rd grade. We were 8. A vet visited out class and brought all kinds of animals with him, including a descented skunk that someone had kept as a pet but abandoned due to societal pressures. (The neighbors kept trying to kill it) Yet that is my identifying memory of her. We attended the same schools for junior high and high school, yet every time I see her I think of her kissing that skunk.
No doubt she has done many wonderful and splendid things with her life. Perhaps she herself doesn’t even remember kissing the skunk. It wasn’t something that we teased her about. I remember thinking she was quite brave. But I have let that moment define her.
In our story, today the main character is defined by his past. Even now, thousands of years later, we call him at best, the man born blind, more likely just the blind man. We cannot let go of his blindness because its who he is. Well, really who he was, but redefining identity is tricky at best.
The man is brought to Jesus’ attention as a way to test Jesus. An object lesson, if you will. Those speaking about him do not speak to him. In fact, he might as well be a convenient prop on the side of the stage, something to reference, but not touch or interact with.
They ask Jesus about his sin, his parents sin. Why is it that God created him blind? What sin occurred that could warrant such punishment? They want Jesus to give them a reasonable, well thought out explanation, hopefully quoting the Torah, or they want Jesus to fall flat on his face and be humiliated.
Jesus, however, refuses to play their game. It is not sin that caused this illness, this limitation, this roadblock. It is here so that you might experience the glory of God.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could look at our illnesses, our challenges, our limitations and roadblocks through this lens? I am by no means denying the reality of sin and it’s affects in the world and our lives. But there are times when we get too bogged down in the past, how we got here, and have no vision for the future God intends.
This man has an encounter with the Logos, the Word-made-flesh, and he is indeed redefined. The same God, who according to John, made the world “All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.”[1]  This Word knelt in the dirt, mixed his spit with the dust and placed it over his eyes and tells him to wash in the water.
When the man returns, he can see! His whole world has changed in an instant. I picture his excitement being like one of the many YouTube videos I’ve watched of people with cochlear implants hearing loved one’s voices for the first time. There is a moment of confusion, but then overwhelming joy!
He returns to the people and everyone rejoices. Right? No, in fact everyone seems put out by his healing. Some even deny that he is the same man born blind.
In this story, it seems like it’s just really, really hard for the people around the man who received his site – which John calls him in v. 18 – to adjust to his new reality or see him for anything more than what he used to be. And so, some folks don’t recognize him at all. Others, including his parents, know what he struggled with and see his transformation but aren’t sure what to make of it.
The two exceptions to this pattern of being trapped in designations reflecting the past are, first, the man himself and, second, Jesus. The man who sees can only rejoice in his recovery and looks ahead to an open and even delightful future that probably exceeds anything he had previously imagined. How else, I wonder, could he engage the religious authorities who have intimidated others (including his parents) with such good humor: “Do you, also, want to become his disciples?” Indeed, there is a certain joyfulness to his portions of dialogue that is easy to miss if we understand him only as “the man born blind.”
Consider the brave playfulness of his retorts to the authority: “I do not know if he was a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see” (v. 25) Or, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing” (30-33). He has been given an open future and nothing will deter him from seizing it.
Jesus also looks to the future rather than the past, inviting this man to faith and encouraging him by not just taking his question seriously but by revealing himself to him – indeed, the play on “you have seen him” is simultaneously poignant and joyful. All of this leads the man who now sees to make the quintessential confession in John’s Gospel: “Lord, I believe.” [2]
This man who sees, his whole life is changed. He not only sees physically but no sees as a follower of Jesus. His eyes have been opened to more than the physical world around him. He has received a sight that allows him to see Jesus as God would have us all see, as Lord.
God sees in ways we don't and the only chance we have of getting a glimpse of that heavenly vision is to wake up and pay close attention, surrender to God's choices instead of our own and listen to those often dismissed by the people around them: youngest sons, Samaritan women, beggars blind from birth. What they say may well wake us from our stupor, challenge our assumptions and cause us to be more than a little uncomfortable. Such light may hurt our eyes, but if we are willing to stay in it a while our vision will adjust and we will see much we'd never noticed before. We may even come to recognize Jesus.[3]
On this fourth Sunday of Lent, I invite you to be redefined. To let go of the labels of the past, those designations that keep you buried or chained to an old identity. Important things have occurred in our past, to be sure, some things even worth celebrating, but we cannot live in the past.
A friend once observed that there is a reason that a car’s front windshield is so big and its rearview mirror so small: while it’s good to be able to glance back occasionally, the key to getting where you need to go is looking forward.
The events of our pasts, our pains, our scars, our triumphs, our losses, may indeed describe us but they cannot define us. We are no longer the people we once were. We are, as our baptismal vows remind us “beloved children of God” God’s love is more powerful than the past and will always win out.
“I don’t know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future.” It’s one of those Christian saying we find on mugs, pillows and bumper stickers, but it speaks a real truth.
Open the eyes of our hearts Lord, Open the eyes of our hearts. We want to see you. We want to see you. Amen.

[1] John 1:2 NRSV
[2] David Lose In The Meantime Lent 4A The Man Who Now Sees
[3] Jill Duffield The Presbyterian Outlook 4th Sunday in Lent

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Day 50: Ordination and New Wine

Exodus 29, 30 and Mark 2

The passages for today tell us about the Ordination of Aaron and his sons as the first priests of the Israelites. In Mark, Jesus gives hope to the people and challenges them to accept the new wine in new wineskins.

Exodus 29

This section is dedicated to the Ordination of Aaron and his sons. I will say, I am glad that such ordination rituals are not in place today! I’m not sure that I would have done well with blood placed on my ears, sprinkled on my garments, etc. I also really don’t like raw meat, so this would have been hard, to say the least.
Again we are given extreme detail of how the preparation for the ordination was to be conducted because it was to be the first ordination of the Israelites. This section continues to set them apart from the people they will come into contact with in the Promised Land.
Here we see the priests’ share of the sacrifice being introduced. We also have the number seven, the number of completion, once more. Seven bulls to be sacrificed, one a day for ordination. Fourteen lambs sacrificed, two a day, for seven days to atone for the altar.
God states that these provisions are to make things holy so that God may dwell with the Israelites in the tabernacle.

Exodus 30

More worship instructions are given regarding an altar for incense, atonement money, ritual washing, and recipes for anointing oil and incense. These are to set the people and their worship, apart. The significance of the recipes is that some things are to be used by God or for God only. While these scents were seen as pleasing, they were not to become common. They were to be associated with worship only.

Mark 2

Jesus continues on his travels and arrives in Capernaum. Great crowds gather and a group of men who seek healing for their friend, dig a hole in the roof and lower him before Jesus. Jesus tells the man that he is forgiven, based on his friends act of faith. This has always held interest for me. How much influence do we have on other peoples’ lives? Can our faith bring others to healing? How are we recognizing that in the church today?
The scoffers say that Jesus cannot forgive sins, God alone claims that privilege. Here Jesus boldly claims that same right with an act of authority, by forgiving sins and telling the paralyzed man to get up and walk.
Jesus is criticized throughout Mark for the company he chose to keep. He spent time with the “undesirables.” I wonder how much time and effort we put into reaching the undesirables of today with the love and message of Jesus. How often do we enter into relationship with such individuals or groups?
Jesus speaks about new wine and wineskins. Wine would stretch the wine skin over time and therefore a new skin, with elasticity was needed. If you poured new wine into an old wineskin, the wine skin would eventually burst. We cannot live our faith the exact way others do, those wine skins are used. We must not be afraid to be stretched and challenged by God’s word and Jesus’ love and the Holy Spirit’s call each and every day.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Day 49: Instructions for Worship and Jesus Heals

Exodus 27, 28 and Mark 1:23-45

These passages continue to teach the Israelites how to worship. Jesus in Mark shows people the power of God.

Exodus 27

Here we find more instructions for worship. These have to do with the courtyard that is to surround the Tabernacle, the place for worship, and with the things to be kept in the bounds of the worship space.
Worship of God was a new thing to the Israelites who had been kept a slaves and not allowed to worship with freedom. Step by step God is offering ways to set themselves apart in their worship.
How are we set apart in our worship?
Artist interpretation of Priestly Robes

Exodus 28

God gives instructions here on clothing for worship, specifically the priests clothing for worship. There is mention that God gave tailors specific wisdom about how to make these unique garments. This helps us to see that worship does not only involve the priests, but without the gifts of all of God’s people, worship is incomplete.

Mark 1:23-45

Jesus is walking around with his disciples on the Sabbath. He casts out an evil spirit. He then goes and heals Simon’s mother-in-law and she gets us and serves, also on the Sabbath. This is where the grumbling against Jesus begins.
Jesus becomes popular and moves on from that place throughout Galilee. The Spirit of God cannot be kept in one place. He heals people because he is moved by compassion.
One particular man is cleansed from Leprosy by Jesus’ touch. Jesus tells him to go quietly to the priest and be declared clean, but the man goes out into the streets sharing his good news. Jesus can then no longer enter anyplace openly and becomes an outsider, having to stay in the lonely places outside of towns.
Even then people flock to go outside, where Jesus is. Jesus will not let the evil spirits he casts out speak because they know his identity and in Mark, Jesus tries to keep his identity as the Messiah quiet.