Tag Archives: worship

Psalm 50 Recalled to the Covenantal Life

The Temple by Radojavor@deviantart.com

Psalm 50

<A Psalm of Asaph.>
1The mighty one, God the LORD, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting.
2 Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth.
3 Our God comes and does not keep silence, before him is a devouring fire, and a mighty tempest all around him.
4 He calls to the heavens above and to the earth, that he may judge his people:
5 “Gather to me my faithful ones, who made a covenant with me by sacrifice!”
6 The heavens declare his righteousness, for God himself is judge. Selah
7 “Hear, O my people, and I will speak, O Israel, I will testify against you. I am God, your God.
8 Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you; your burnt offerings are continually before me.
9 I will not accept a bull from your house, or goats from your folds.
10 For every wild animal of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills.
11 I know all the birds of the air, and all that moves in the field is mine.
12 “If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and all that is in it is mine.
13 Do I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats?
14 Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and pay your vows to the Most High.
15 Call on me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”
16 But to the wicked God says: “What right have you to recite my statutes, or take my covenant on your lips?
17 For you hate discipline, and you cast my words behind you.
18 You make friends with a thief when you see one, and you keep company with adulterers.
19 “You give your mouth free rein for evil, and your tongue frames deceit.
20 You sit and speak against your kin; you slander your own mother’s child.
21 These things you have done and I have been silent; you thought that I was one just like yourself. But now I rebuke you, and lay the charge before you.
22 “Mark this, then, you who forget God, or I will tear you apart, and there will be no one to deliver.
23 Those who bring thanksgiving as their sacrifice honor me; to those who go the right way I will show the salvation of God.”

There is a lot of debate among scholars as to the original use of this psalm: whether it was a liturgy of covenant renewal or the words of a priest in a sermon but ultimately the original setting has faded far into the background and what remains is a psalm which lifts up a challenge to live one’s life according to the vision of God’s covenant. The book of Deuteronomy was a challenge for the people of God to live according to the covenant and commands of the God of Israel and the prophets frequently exhorted people to reorient their lives around the covenant. This Psalm, in concert with several of the prophets, places the worship of the LORD conducted in the temple in its proper perspective. The sacrificial and religious actions of the temple are not enough to appease the God of Israel, this God expects the people’s lives and their society to be ordered around God’s covenantal vision.

The psalm begins by preparing the hearer to listen to the words that God will speak through the speaker, most likely a priest addressing the community. Psalm 50 is the first psalm attributed to Asaph who is recorded as a Levitical singer in the time of King Solomon (2 Chronicles 11-13).  Asaph begins by declaring the power and might of the LORD whose voice covers the breadth of the day, whose words are preceded by fire and a mighty tempest and calls on heaven and earth so that God may judge God’s people. While there are some thematic parallels to the speaking of God to Elijah at Mount Horeb where the great wind, earthquake and fire proceed the voice of God; this is not the voice of God which comes to Elijah in the sheer silence (1 Kings 19: 11-18) but instead this is the voice of God going out before the world to testify before not only God’s people but all of creation. The people of God are placed into a conversation which the whole world can overhear and judge them by as they are gathered in Zion to hear what God will speak.

Covenant making in the bible is a serious business which took place in the context of sacrificing an animal. The covenant that God makes with Abram (Abraham) in Genesis 17 is probably the best-known example of a covenant making ceremony where the animals are cut open and the parties (God and Abram) pass between the portions of the animals obligating themselves to one another. Therefore, the phrase translated ‘made a covenant’ is literally ‘cut a covenant.’ Earlier in the psalms we have seen times where the psalmist has testified that God needs to act to keep the covenant but here the focus is on the people needing to do their part to fulfill the covenant. The covenant is not about ritual worship or sacrifices but instead is about the way of life that God expects the people to embrace- a way of justice to others and faithfulness to God.

These words were probably spoken in the context of worship, but worship is not enough. In many ancient cultures worship and sacrifice were to appease or entice the god being worshipped to grant favor to the worshippers. The God of Israel has different expectations. God will not be bribed by sacrifice or be satisfied by attendance in worship. The words of the Apostle Paul echo the content here when he appeals to the church in Rome:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12: 1-2

As master of all creation, the LORD has no need of any animal for food. God is not reliant upon the faithful ones for nourishment or life but instead is the provider of all things. What God desires is a transformed life and society which could ultimately renew the world. The people are commended to come to God in thanksgiving and to uphold their vows and the covenant and in return God will deliver and provide for them.

Knowing the right words to recite or knowing the content of the statutes, commandments and the covenant are not enough. One can worship properly and live as the wicked. The way of the wise is the way of God’s discipline. One’s company is indicative of the type of actions a person will commit and one’s words can cause deep harm to brothers and sisters. One’s words, one’s deeds and one’s associations matter in life. The wicked one may have avoided judgment and may have, by their worship and sacrifices, masqueraded as one of the righteous but God promises an end to God’s silence and inaction. To make a covenant with God and to fail to live in accordance with that covenant is viewed as a matter of life and death. There is no one to deliver the wicked from God’s words and justice. Conversely there is nothing that can separate the righteous ones from the salvation of God.

 

Revelation 5 The Lion is a Lamb

Francisco de Zurbaran, Agnus Dei, between 1635 and 1640

 

Revelation 5

1 Then I saw in the right hand of the one seated on the throne a scroll written on the inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals; 2 and I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” 3 And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it.4 And I began to weep bitterly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. 5 Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep. See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

 6 Then I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.

7 He went and took the scroll from the right hand of the one who was seated on the throne. 8 When he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell before the Lamb, each holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 They sing a new song:

“You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals,
for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God saints
from every tribe and language and people and nation;
10 you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God,
and they will reign on earth.”

11 Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 singing with full voice,

“Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered
to receive power and wealth and wisdom
and might and honor and glory and blessing!”

13 Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing,

“To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”

14 And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the elders fell down and worshiped.

Revelation envisions a world centered upon the worship of God and the Lamb. In contrast to the way in which people will worship idols of stone, wood, and metal or those who will worship at the altars of commerce, military might, fame, popularity or political power the people of God were always to ‘fear, love and trust God above all things’ in Martin Luther’s memorable explanation of the first commandment. The Lord’s prayer asks for God’s kingdom to come and God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. Heaven becomes the template for what life on earth is to become. There is a consistent theme throughout the Bible of the desire of God to dwell among the earth and the people of God represented narratively through stories like God walking with Adam and Eve in Genesis 2, God’s creation of the tabernacle to dwell among the people of Israel in Exodus and decisively for Christians in the narratives of the incarnation in the gospels. Revelation will move us to a world where God comes down to dwell among humanity but here in heaven we see a glimpse of what the properly ordered world will look like. Heaven shows us a world centered on God the Father and on Jesus. To use Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s description from his lectures on the creation narratives, “The life that comes from God is at the center; that is to say, God, who gives life, is at the center.” (DBWE 3: 83)

The previous chapter brought us into the throne room of God where we saw the creatures and the elders worshipping the Lord who is seated on the throne. We begin chapter five with the introduction of a scroll with seven seals which is written inside and one the back. There is a message that is coming from God that is unable to be read because it is sealed and the revelation of its contents can only occur once all the seals are removed. The disclosure of the contents of the scroll and receiving this message from the Lord is a weighty matter and no one or nothing in heaven or on earth or under the earth meets the call for worthiness put forward by the mighty angel. God’s proclamation, judgment and justice seems to have been delayed because of the unworthiness of those throughout creation to receive the message. This situation causes John to weep at the delay of God’s action. In contrast to the merchants and the wealthy in Revelation 18 who will weep at the unfolding of judgment within the scroll, John weeps that justice appears to have been sealed away until another time. But John is among those blessed mourners mentioned in the Beatitudes of Matthew 5:4 for in Christ his mourning will be comforted.

One of the elders informs John that ‘the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered.’ This conquest enables this one to be worthy to open the seals on the scroll, but this is a scene of many reversals and redefinitions. The one mentioned is Jesus and his conquest is in his crucifixion. Instead of a military leader who conquers through military might, as one might expect of one whose title is the Lion of Judah, by his suffering he redeems for God a multitude from every tribe and every nation. Revelation frequently evokes images and figures from Israel’s scriptures much like the gospel of John does. To use Richard B. Hays’ language about John the apostle applies here to John the author of Revelation as well, “John is the master of the carefully framed, luminous image that shines brilliantly against a dark canvas and lingers in the imagination.” (Hays, 2016, p. 284) The Lion of Judah goes back to Jacob’s final blessing of his sons Genesis 49: 9-10:

Judah is a lion’s whelp;
From the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He crouches down, he stretches out like a lion,
like a lioness—who dares rouse him up?
The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until tribute comes to him;
and the obedience of the peoples is his.

1 Kings relates how lion imagery adorned the throne room of Solomon:

The throne had six steps. The top of the throne was rounded in the back, and on each side of the seat were arm rests and two lions standing beside the arm rests, while twelve lions were standing, one on each end of a step on the six steps. Nothing like it was ever made in any kingdom. (1 Kings 10: 19-20)

The root of David recalls the imagery used in the prophets to talk about a coming one who will once again reign in the place of the lost Davidic monarchy. Isaiah 11: 1 specifically links the imagery of branch and root:

A shoot shall come out of the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of its roots.

Other prophets like Jeremiah (23: 5; 33:15) and Zechariah (3:8; 6:12) will refer to the hope of the coming Davidic king referring to the branch imagery. Both of these terms had strong messianic resonance in the hope of the Jewish people around the time of Jesus and many New Testament books would link Jesus’ identity to his association with the line of David.

Jan van Eyxk, Mystic Lamb detail from the Gent altarpiece (1432)

The Lion of the tribe of Judas is worthy to open the scroll but in a reversal of expectations what John sees is not a man or a king or even a lion but a lamb. The lion is the lamb, the one who has conquered is the one who stands as if it has been slaughtered. This reversal is a key image for the remainder of Revelation. John’s gospel places a similar image in the mouth of John the Baptist when he proclaims, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1: 29) The distinctive description of the lamb having seven horns and seven eyes continue to develop the paradox of the scene. The lamb appears like one that has been slaughtered but horns are considered representations of power. The seven eyes are linked to the seven spirits of God which are mentioned in chapter four linking the torches and spirits around God’s throne with the eyes on the Lamb. The description of the Lamb having seven horns sets up a comparison with the dragon and the beast that will arise from the sea (Revelation 12: 3; 13: 1) in addition to the death blow on the beast that arose out of the sea. Both the dragon and the beasts will demand honors that are only appropriate for God and the Lamb.

The Lamb approaches the throne and takes the scroll and the worship of the Lamb begins to radiate outward from the throne of God. The twenty-four elders bring the golden bowls of incense which we learn are the prayers of the saints. As Psalm 141 can state:

Let my prayer be counted as incense before you,
and the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice. (Psalm 141:2)

And in light of the action of the Lamb they lift up a new song. As I read these words I am reminded of Psalm 96 which begins:

O sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things.
His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him victory.
The LORD has made known his victory;
he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations. (Psalm 96: 1-2)

The new song the elders lift up to the Lamb is full of images from the scriptures. The connecting the slaughter of the Lamb and ransoming a people for God probably has its origination in the Passover lamb Exodus 12). Paul can use the image of Christ’s blood becoming a sacrifice of atonement (Romans 3: 25) and Mark’s gospel can briefly point in this direction when it mentions the Son of Man coming to serve and give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10: 45). The ransomed include saints of every tribe, language and people and confers on this group the vocation of Israel as a kingdom of priests (see Exodus 19:6 and the discussion in chapter 1).

The praise of the elders ends and the focus of the vision expands to include an uncountable host of angels lifting up their voices in praise as well. The angelic host lifts up a seven fold praise as they sing together in a full voice. God the creator was given a three fold praise, “Glory, honor and power” but now the Lamb receives this seven fold praise in language similar to David’s praise of God in 1 Chronicles:

Your, O LORD, are the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory and the majesty; for all that is in the heavens and on the earth is yours; yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all. Riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might; and it is in your hand to make great and to give strength to all. And now, our God, we five thanks to you and praise your glorious name. (1 Chronicles 29: 11-13)

This scene of worship and praise ends with all of creation lifting up its voice in praise of both the one on the throne and the Lamb. The worship of the Creator and the Lamb are joined together in a final three-fold blessing of “honor and glory and might.” On behalf of the creation the four living creatures utter, “Amen!” and the elders continued their worship.

We will be returned to these scenes of heavenly worship throughout the book of Revelation. In the midst of the turmoil the saints will be reminded that God and the Lamb are firmly in control and worthy of worship and praise. Even though their praise may seem weak in the midst of the cacophony of the triumphant shouts directed to idols and the emperor, the faithful can know that their voices are joined to the elders, the myriads of angels and all of creation acknowledging the sovereignty of God. Though the individual communities may feel insignificant they are a part of the multitude from every tribe, language and people. They are reminded that all creation centers upon the Creator and the Lamb as they join in the universal worship.

Exodus 27: The Court of the Tabernacle and the Altar

Erection of the Tabernacle and Sacred Vessels by Gerard Hoet (1728)

Exodus 27: 1-8 The Altar

You shall make the altar of acacia wood, five cubits long and five cubits wide; the altar shall be square, and it shall be three cubits high. 2 You shall make horns for it on its four corners; its horns shall be of one piece with it, and you shall overlay it with bronze. 3 You shall make pots for it to receive its ashes, and shovels and basins and forks and firepans; you shall make all its utensils of bronze. 4 You shall also make for it a grating, a network of bronze; and on the net you shall make four bronze rings at its four corners. 5 You shall set it under the ledge of the altar so that the net shall extend halfway down the altar. 6 You shall make poles for the altar, poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with bronze; 7 the poles shall be put through the rings, so that the poles shall be on the two sides of the altar when it is carried. 8 You shall make it hollow, with boards. They shall be made just as you were shown on the mountain.

Most people assume that the sacrificial rites were at the center of the religion of the ancient Jewish people, yet this assumption is incorrect. The altar for sacrifice is placed outside of the tabernacle itself in the court of the tabernacle. The altar is made out of lesser materials than the materials used for the ark of the covenant and the lampstand and the table where the bread of the presence is placed. Instead of gold, bronze is used to overlay the acacia table and poles that make up the altar. The sacrifice is done in that space between the holy place of the tabernacle and the common space where the people live, work and worship.

The altar itself is massive, roughly seven and a half feet square and four and a half feet tall. It is also a significant departure from the low stone or earth altars discussed earlier in Exodus. Also at four and a half feet tall the priest would need some type of stair or pedestal to stand upon to be able to use the altar. This new altar is a departure from the open, simple and very modest temporary altars. Yet, it is also very functional for use with larger animals and for regular use. Perhaps the altar was placed closer to the front of the court of the tabernacle so that the priest when he ascended the stairs would be facing away from the tabernacle and not have to worry about exposing himself when climbing the stairs.

As a Christian, I also think this provokes some interesting thoughts about the way in which we arrange things in our worship spaces. Many traditions will call the fixture in the front of their worship space an altar, and particularly for a Catholic perspective where they can talk about the sacrifice of the mass this makes sense. From a Lutheran perspective, we may officially call the fixture a table but many people still consider it an altar even though we have a different perspective on exactly what communion is and what it is for. Many older churches have this table or altar pushed against the back wall there the pastor or priest faces away from the people (and presumably toward God) but most newer church buildings place the altar away from the wall and the pastor/priest faces the people. The architecture and where the pastor/priest faces makes a theological point about the character of worship and who the act is for. From a Lutheran perspective, the act of communion is primarily for the people, and for the ancient Jewish people there is a part of the sacrificial act which is for the people since much of the sacrifice was not burned up but eaten by the family or the priests. From a Catholic perspective, the sacrifice is offered up before God as a reminder of Christ’s sacrifice, and from the ancient Jewish perspective there is also the element of the sacrifice raising up a pleasing odor to God. Ultimately all of these traditions attempt to give glory and offer up their best to the God they attempt to serve faithfully.

 

Exodus 27: 9-19 The Court of the Tabernacle

9 You shall make the court of the tabernacle. On the south side the court shall have hangings of fine twisted linen one hundred cubits long for that side; 10 its twenty pillars and their twenty bases shall be of bronze, but the hooks of the pillars and their bands shall be of silver. 11 Likewise for its length on the north side there shall be hangings one hundred cubits long, their pillars twenty and their bases twenty, of bronze, but the hooks of the pillars and their bands shall be of silver. 12 For the width of the court on the west side there shall be fifty cubits of hangings, with ten pillars and ten bases. 13 The width of the court on the front to the east shall be fifty cubits. 14 There shall be fifteen cubits of hangings on the one side, with three pillars and three bases. 15 There shall be fifteen cubits of hangings on the other side, with three pillars and three bases. 16 For the gate of the court there shall be a screen twenty cubits long, of blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and of fine twisted linen, embroidered with needlework; it shall have four pillars and with them four bases. 17 All the pillars around the court shall be banded with silver; their hooks shall be of silver, and their bases of bronze. 18 The length of the court shall be one hundred cubits, the width fifty, and the height five cubits, with hangings of fine twisted linen and bases of bronze. 19 All the utensils of the tabernacle for every use, and all its pegs and all the pegs of the court, shall be of bronze.

Over the past couple years, I have learned a lot about church design because I was involved with planning, and now executing an expansion to the congregation I serve. There is a lot of work and planning that goes into utilizing the resources that people commit to the church and to attempting to design space faithfully. One thing I have learned that designing sanctuary space or holy space is much more expensive than designing office space or fellowship space. Holy space attempts to communicate something of a connection to God and it frequently uses various types of precious things: metalwork, art, stained glass, high ceilings or large windows. Typically, when you build a church these are the first things that you design and build since they serve the central functions of worship where the other spaces serve a supporting function. That doesn’t mean these other spaces are unimportant but for religious spaces the highlight of their function is for worship and the most precious resources go into those places. The design of the tabernacle reflects this. The tabernacle itself uses primarily gold and gold overlaid pieces of furniture, clasps, and utensils. For the court, the primary metals used becomes bronze and silver.

The tabernacle’s walls are twice the height of the court’s walls and would be seen from the exterior of the structure, and yet this courtyard does provide a buffer between the holiest place of the tabernacle and the mundane place where the people live. It is an open-air area which is very common in ancient dwellings and temples since much of the activity would be outside. The court of the tabernacle is larger, roughly 150 feet by 75 feet, than the tabernacle but still not a huge space by modern standards of building. Yet, the structure is primarily a place where the priests would be and not the people, like in modern worship spaces, and the structure had to be portable so that also puts a severe limit on the size of the structure.

Exodus 27: 20-21 The Lamp

20 You shall further command the Israelites to bring you pure oil of beaten olives for the light, so that a lamp may be set up to burn regularly. 21 In the tent of meeting, outside the curtain that is before the covenant,1 Aaron and his sons shall tend it from evening to morning before the LORD. It shall be a perpetual ordinance to be observed throughout their generations by the Israelites.

An olive oil lamp that is to be tended by the priests is to provide light outside the tent of the tabernacle perpetually burning during the night, or perhaps perpetually depending on how the translation is rendered. Either way the lampstand outlined previously now is given its function and a part of the role of Aaron and his sons is to maintain this light and keep the lampstand burning. In many churches, they keep perpetual candles going as a symbol of the presence of God or as a reminder of the eternal light of God. Most of these in modern churches are long burning candles that are replaced regularly rather than an oil lamp, but the distinctive lampstand becomes an important symbol for the Jewish people as discussed in Exodus 25: 23-40.

Exodus 25: Holy Things for Holy Space

Exodus 25: 1-9 A Voluntary Offering for the Tabernacle

The LORD said to Moses: 2 Tell the Israelites to take for me an offering; from all whose hearts prompt them to give you shall receive the offering for me. 3 This is the offering that you shall receive from them: gold, silver, and bronze, 4 blue, purple, and crimson yarns and fine linen, goats’ hair, 5 tanned rams’ skins, fine leather,1 acacia wood, 6 oil for the lamps, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, 7 onyx stones and gems to be set in the ephod and for the breastpiece. 8 And have them make me a sanctuary, so that I may dwell among them. 9 In accordance with all that I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle and of all its furniture, so you shall make it.

For many Christians Exodus 25-31 and 35-40 are portions of scripture they either pass over or perhaps read without much reflection. Yet, particularly in ancient literature where the documents must be hand copied by a scribe, the dedication to such a significant amount of space, ink and time to the preservation of this vision of the tabernacle should make us slow down and take notice. In contrast, the construction of the temple in 1 Kings occupies only two chapters.

Perhaps because I have spent a lot of time over the past two years planning and working with an architectural firm on an expansion for my congregation I have a greater appreciation for the level of detail that goes in taking a vision and attempting to communicate it in text to the people who will construct the expansion. The term tabernacle comes from the Hebrew word which means to dwell and the project they will be constructing will be a place the LORD can dwell with the people. In one sense, it is attempting to create a bit of heaven on earth: the use of the finest resources and specific patterns to emulate in some small way the visions of the throne room of God that Moses and others will see. In another sense, it is a modeling of what creation was supposed to be. There is a creation narrative pattern where the order is brought together and God comes to dwell with humanity in a recreated garden space. Probably both heaven and earth become models for this dwelling place and the greatest resources of the earth are used for this act of creation of a sacred space.

The offering for the space is voluntary not compulsory. Unlike the temple, where Solomon’s building activity places a heavy burden on the people including compulsory labor, the tabernacle will utilize the gifts people freely bring and the divinely gifted artisans that God provides. Unlike the golden calf of Exodus 32 which is hastily molded and cast and whose worship quickly devolves into reveling and disorder, this will be a space where the orderly worship parallels the orderly vision of creation in Genesis.

As we move through the individual components set aside for the tabernacle and the construction of those elements I do believe the construction of this holy space is an act of devotion and worship. There have been times within Christianity where the focus has been upon the building and the collection for those building would also put a high toll on the faithful. My tradition, the Lutheran Church, emerges out of a conflict over the raising of funds through indulgences which would ultimately go to build St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. But as people of faith we do need sacred spaces, places where God promises to dwell among us. It is faithful for people to give of their own wealth and resources and talents to build these places that are a little taste of heaven here on earth.

James Tissot, Moses and Joshua in the Tabernacle (1896-1902)

Exodus 25: 10-22 The Ark of the Covenant

10 They shall make an ark of acacia wood; it shall be two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high. 11 You shall overlay it with pure gold, inside and outside you shall overlay it, and you shall make a molding of gold upon it all around. 12 You shall cast four rings of gold for it and put them on its four feet, two rings on the one side of it, and two rings on the other side. 13 You shall make poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold. 14 And you shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark, by which to carry the ark. 15 The poles shall remain in the rings of the ark; they shall not be taken from it. 16 You shall put into the ark the covenant1 that I shall give you.

17 Then you shall make a mercy seat of pure gold; two cubits and a half shall be its length, and a cubit and a half its width. 18 You shall make two cherubim of gold; you shall make them of hammered work, at the two ends of the mercy seat. 19 Make one cherub at the one end, and one cherub at the other; of one piece with the mercy seat you shall make the cherubim at its two ends. 20 The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings. They shall face one to another; the faces of the cherubim shall be turned toward the mercy seat. 21 You shall put the mercy seat on the top of the ark; and in the ark you shall put the covenant that I shall give you. 22 There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the covenant, I will deliver to you all my commands for the Israelites.

Rather than an image of the LORD the people of Israel have a chair or footstool marking where God’s presence will meet them in this holy space. The ark also serves the additional purpose of being a storage space, like a chest, for the covenant or the law. The very best materials are used in this item that will occupy the central and holiest place within the tabernacle. Acacia wood and pure gold form the box and the elaborate lid for the ark of the covenant.

The ark will become a central representation of God’s presence among the Israelites in the time of Joshua, the Judges, King Saul and King David. It is brought out into the battlefield with the armies of Israel. At times when it is captured it bring calamity to the nations who are not the LORD’s priestly kingdom and who place the ark within the pantheon of gods that they worship. It is a place where God’s holiness is reflected to the people and some manner of God’s presence dwells. The ark, which is roughly forty-five inches long and twenty-seven inches wide and deep, (Myers, 2005, p. 227) becomes a mobile seat of God’s presence. Interestingly the mentions of the ark of the covenant disappear during the time a permanent temple is built and it is not mentioned from Solomon’s reign onward. The lost ‘ark of the covenant’ has occupied the imagination of writers of fiction along with items like the holy grail or Noah’s ark as a powerful relic of ancient times.

It is also notable that while the mentions of the ark of the covenant disappear in the time of the monarchy so do the references among the kings to the covenant itself. It is only when the high priest Hilkiah rediscovers the book of the law in the temple that the covenant is for a moment renewed prior to the Babylonian exile. During the exile as the people no longer have the physical structures of the temple to be a place where they can be brought close to God’s presence the written copies of the Torah and other writings become the center of life for the Jewish people. It is during this time without a tabernacle or temple, ark of the covenant or any of the other items used in the worship of God that the Jewish and later Christian followers of God would become people of the written word.

Exodus 25: 23-40 The Table and Lampstand

23 You shall make a table of acacia wood, two cubits long, one cubit wide, and a cubit and a half high. 24 You shall overlay it with pure gold, and make a molding of gold around it. 25 You shall make around it a rim a handbreadth wide, and a molding of gold around the rim. 26 You shall make for it four rings of gold, and fasten the rings to the four corners at its four legs. 27 The rings that hold the poles used for carrying the table shall be close to the rim. 28 You shall make the poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold, and the table shall be carried with these. 29 You shall make its plates and dishes for incense, and its flagons and bowls with which to pour drink offerings; you shall make them of pure gold. 30 And you shall set the bread of the Presence on the table before me always.

31 You shall make a lampstand of pure gold. The base and the shaft of the lampstand shall be made of hammered work; its cups, its calyxes, and its petals shall be of one piece with it; 32 and there shall be six branches going out of its sides, three branches of the lampstand out of one side of it and three branches of the lampstand out of the other side of it; 33 three cups shaped like almond blossoms, each with calyx and petals, on one branch, and three cups shaped like almond blossoms, each with calyx and petals, on the other branch — so for the six branches going out of the lampstand. 34 On the lampstand itself there shall be four cups shaped like almond blossoms, each with its calyxes and petals. 35 There shall be a calyx of one piece with it under the first pair of branches, a calyx of one piece with it under the next pair of branches, and a calyx of one piece with it under the last pair of branches — so for the six branches that go out of the lampstand. 36 Their calyxes and their branches shall be of one piece with it, the whole of it one hammered piece of pure gold. 37 You shall make the seven lamps for it; and the lamps shall be set up so as to give light on the space in front of it. 38 Its snuffers and trays shall be of pure gold. 39 It, and all these utensils, shall be made from a talent of pure gold. 40 And see that you make them according to the pattern for them, which is being shown you on the mountain.

Before we have the design of the building we have the details of some of the central items that will occupy the space that will be designed around it. The ark, the table and the lampstand have symbolic and functional purposes. The table is also to be used for holy things and so it is made from acacia wood and pure gold. It may not occupy the same type of visual imagery within the people of Israel’s imagination as the ark of the covenant will, but it does hold a very practical purpose of being a place where the twelve loaves of the bread of the Presence are placed as offering. Bread was the basic element of food for the Jewish people and the twelve loaves probably symbolized the produce of the twelve tribes before God visually. It is these loaves that David is given to eat since there is no other bread in the temple when he is fleeing from King Saul in 1 Samuel 21, which apparently were normally eaten by the priests who worked in the tabernacle.

The lampstand with six branches, three on each side with lamps on each branch and in the center, artistically crafted from gold to look like almond blossoms while serving a practical function of providing light in a time before electricity would also come to serve a symbolic function. Even though the ark disappears from imagery and writing once the temple is built the lampstand would remain and become a central image of Judaism to the present day. For example, when the temple is destroyed in 70 C.E. and items from the temple are brought in procession in Rome one of the easily recognizable images is the lampstand and it becomes reproduced on the arch of Titus in Rome (see below). The Menorah, as this type of lampstand will later be known, is still the Emblem of the State of Israel.

Roman triumphal procession with spoils from the Temple, depicted on the inside wall of the Arch of Titus in Rome

Exodus 18: Jethro Models Faith, Worship and Leadership to Moses

Jethro and Moses by James Tissot (1896-1900)

Exodus 18:1-12 A Family Reunited

Jethro, the priest of Midian, Moses’ father-in-law, heard of all that God had done for Moses and for his people Israel, how the LORD had brought Israel out of Egypt. 2 After Moses had sent away his wife Zipporah, his father-in-law Jethro took her back, 3 along with her two sons. The name of the one was Gershom (for he said, “I have been an alien1 in a foreign land”), 4 and the name of the other, Eliezer1 (for he said, “The God of my father was my help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh”). 5 Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, came into the wilderness where Moses was encamped at the mountain of God, bringing Moses’ sons and wife to him. 6 He sent word to Moses, “I, your father-in-law Jethro, am coming to you, with your wife and her two sons.” 7 Moses went out to meet his father-in-law; he bowed down and kissed him; each asked after the other’s welfare, and they went into the tent. 8 Then Moses told his father-in-law all that the LORD had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel’s sake, all the hardship that had beset them on the way, and how the LORD had delivered them. 9 Jethro rejoiced for all the good that the LORD had done to Israel, in delivering them from the Egyptians.

 10 Jethro said, “Blessed be the LORD, who has delivered you from the Egyptians and from Pharaoh. 11 Now I know that the LORD is greater than all gods, because he delivered the people from the Egyptians,1 when they dealt arrogantly with them.” 12 And Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, brought a burnt offering and sacrifices to God; and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to eat bread with Moses’ father-in-law in the presence of God.

Jethro, called Reuel in chapter two, re-enters the story and brings with him Moses’ wife and two sons. While we aren’t told exactly when Zipporah returns to her father-in-law’s house with her children we last heard about her and Gershom (their first-born son) in chapter four on the journey back to Egypt. There could be any number of reasons for their separation including: to protect her and her two sons from being able to be used as captives by Pharaoh, to prevent Moses from being distracted from his task for the time, to allow Moses to establish his authority among the Hebrews without his foreign wife being present, or perhaps Zipporah was pregnant and it was easier for her to give birth away from the stresses of the exodus journey (based on Eliezar’s name) and we could imagine many other reasons but ultimately the text remains silent on this. We have a separation of an unknown period and what appears to be a joyous reunion.

The relationship of Moses to Jethro is one of respect and honor. Moses’ actions upon Jethro’s arrival convey respect and welcome. He is welcomed into their camp and into Moses’ tent with warmth. Moses tells the story of what the LORD has done and how they have journeyed to this point and Jethro offers his blessing.

One interesting thing to notice in this passage is the blessing that Jethro offers to the LORD in comparison to the first commandment. The first commandment begins with the statement of what the LORD has done in delivering the people from the land of Egypt and then states that the people are to have no other gods before the LORD. Jethro also begins with blessing the LORD who has delivered the people from the land of Egypt and then exclaims his new knowledge that the LORD is greater than all gods, because he delivered the people from the hands of Pharaoh. Here a foreigner demonstrates before the people what the faith of Israel will look like in the future. Like Melchizedek in the book of Genesis, he becomes one of the people of the nations that point to the LORD the God of Israel.

Secondly, Jethro becomes the first in the book of Exodus to offer a sacrifice to God after the departure from Egypt. This is increasingly surprising, as Carol Myers notices, since the justification give to Pharaoh multiple times in the beginning of Exodus is to let the people enter the wilderness to offer a sacrifice to the LORD their God. (Myers, 2005, p. 137) Yet, it is a priest of Midian who before Moses, Aaron and the elders models what this sacrifice to God might look like. As I mentioned when I was discussing Psalm 29 the Jewish people were not afraid to uses the praises uttered about other gods and modify them to talk about the LORD the God of Israel. Here is another time where a faithful outsider, Jethro, demonstrates to the people of God what a life of praise can look like.

Jan van Bronchorst, Jethro Advising Moses (1659)

Exodus 18: 13-27 Jethro’s Advice to Moses

 13 The next day Moses sat as judge for the people, while the people stood around him from morning until evening. 14 When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, “What is this that you are doing for the people? Why do you sit alone, while all the people stand around you from morning until evening?” 15 Moses said to his father-in-law, “Because the people come to me to inquire of God. 16 When they have a dispute, they come to me and I decide between one person and another, and I make known to them the statutes and instructions of God.” 17 Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “What you are doing is not good. 18 You will surely wear yourself out, both you and these people with you. For the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone. 19 Now listen to me. I will give you counsel, and God be with you! You should represent the people before God, and you should bring their cases before God; 20 teach them the statutes and instructions and make known to them the way they are to go and the things they are to do. 21 You should also look for able men among all the people, men who fear God, are trustworthy, and hate dishonest gain; set such men over them as officers over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. 22 Let them sit as judges for the people at all times; let them bring every important case to you, but decide every minor case themselves. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. 23 If you do this, and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all these people will go to their home in peace.”

 24 So Moses listened to his father-in-law and did all that he had said. 25 Moses chose able men from all Israel and appointed them as heads over the people, as officers over thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens. 26 And they judged the people at all times; hard cases they brought to Moses, but any minor case they decided themselves. 27 Then Moses let his father-in-law depart, and he went off to his own country.

Beyond modeling a first commandment faith and a sacrificial worship to God, Jethro brings to the people of Israel and to Moses, its leader, worldly wisdom. Moses has taken the central role in leading the people out of Egypt: he is the spiritual, military, political and legal authority and the one who stands between the people and God. He is the one who everyone comes to for support, legal ruling and whenever there has been a crisis. Already Moses has had to deal with two instances of water related strife, food related anxiety, as well as the people’s first military threat. Now the people are waiting for Moses to address their needs, their internal conflicts and to hear their cries. As Carol Myers states, “Jethro notices more than the supremacy of Israel’s god; he also notices that Israel’s leader is overburdened.” (Myers, 2005, p. 137)

Within this passage we have one of only two places in the first five books of the bible (or torah) where the phrase “not good” is used. Throughout the creation narrative in Genesis one we hear God say repeatedly that is was good, but the only other place where the phrase “not good” is used is Genesis 2: 18 where God says it is ‘not good’ for the man to be alone. (Sacks, 2010, p. 128) Here also it is ‘not good’ that Moses is alone, here he needs appropriate partners for his own good and for the people’s.

The critical task of finding officers, people who can be trusted to hear the people’s concerns and to respond fairly and who are not going to be vulnerable to bribes or coercion makes the life of the people of Israel possible. Here these officers are not given the title of judge, and there are probably several reasons for that. The office of judge in the people of Israel’s history gets developed in the times between Joshua and the time of the kings and the judges are people who lead the people for a time and have more of a Moses-like role than a purely judicial one. Also, throughout the book of Exodus, the people has been referred to in a military manner. Within many military units the commanding officer has legal responsibilities for those who serve under them, for example under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (or UCMJ) which provides the basis for the legal system used in the U.S. Military the commanding officer does hear cases and assign punishment. In disciplinary matter the commanding officers is judge and jury while still being the commander. These people who will mediate the commands and instructions of Moses to the people are foundational to the emerging structure of the people.

Moses role becomes one of intercession, instruction and of finding subordinate leaders. Moses will continue to stand between the people and the LORD their God and this will become an increasingly critical role as the people continue their journey. Moses will also become the teacher of the law that is about to be given as well as interpreting the law to the people. Moses will continue to have to teach the people how they are to live and what they are to do. But Moses cannot do it on his own, he will need multiple leaders to share the burdens and responsibility of leading the people of God. Sometimes this is the hardest task: both finding and trusting these new leaders. I, and many other leaders, struggle with this portion of leadership-with equipping others who will not have the same amount of training and experience that you do. Yet, this worldly advice was deemed important enough by the people of God that it was included within their scriptures.

Communio: A Poem

 

 candle

There are times when the words and symbols spark
Lighting up our world, illuminating the dark
And in our mundane world magic appears
To strengthen resolve or to calm our fears
With a community of saints on holy ground
Where the remnants of ancient faith are found
 
In those rare times, you can almost feel
The mystery hiding behind the real
Where good and evil struggle and strive
And God and the devil are still alive
Where water and wine and flesh and stone
Unite us together. We are not alone
 
Where God’s presence has come to earth to dwell
And deep runs the water in the spiritual well
Where hope emerges from the pain
And the drought ends in heavenly rain
Where we see again the world made new
And the magic returns to me and to you

Psalm 27- Faith in an Age of Anxiety

The Temple by Radojavor@deviantart.com

The Temple by Radojavor@deviantart.com

Psalm 27
<Of David.>
 1 The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
 2 When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh– my adversaries and foes– they shall stumble and fall.
 3 Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident.
 4 One thing I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple.
 5 For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will set me high on a rock.
 6 Now my head is lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the LORD.
 7 Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me!
 8 “Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!” Your face, LORD, do I seek.
 9 Do not hide your face from me. Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help. Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation!
 10 If my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will take me up.
 11 Teach me your way, O LORD, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies.
 12 Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries, for false witnesses have risen against me, and they are breathing out violence.
 13 I believe that I shall see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.
 14 Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!

The fear of the LORD is the antidote to the fear of the things that produce anxiety in the world around the Psalmist. One of the most common commands when there is a divine revelation through a dream, an angel or a prophecy is “Do not be afraid.” Often these words come in situations that would produce fear and yet the one who calls the Psalmist, the prophets and poets, the kings and the shepherds, the young women like Mary and old men like Zechariah becomes their light and salvation throughout their life and journey. As the apostle Paul can write to the church in Rome, “What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?” Or as Martin Luther could explain when talking about what it means to follow the first commandment of having no other Gods, “We are to fear, love and trust God above all things.” The Psalmists faith in God becomes such a central part of their life that they can enter into the darkest valleys without being paralyzed by fear because their LORD is indeed guiding them through those places and times.

The fear of the LORD is not an immunization against bad things happening to the faithful one, the Psalms and even the theology of books like Deuteronomy are not some simple prosperity gospel where trust in the LORD guarantees a return on investment in wealth, happiness, children, flocks and fields. There is a sense in which that trust is rewarded and validated but the Psalmist and those throughout scripture who are lifted up as models of faith often live challenging lives. Job, for example, would continue to believe that he would be vindicated by the LORD even when his household and health were all destroyed and yet, defiantly, Job would trust that God would answer his plea. The martial imagery of enemies that attack in cannibalistic fashion or an army that encamps around the faithful one may be metaphors for the great struggles or, if the Psalm refers backwards into David’s experience, it may reflect the reality of being one who is hunted for. Faith doesn’t make life easy but it may make the incredible struggle that one goes through bearable because faith becomes the antidote to the overwhelming fear and anxiety that may be present otherwise in the Psalmist’s life.

Worship becomes a foundational piece of the faithful life. The desire of the Psalmist is to live their life in the house of the LORD. The temple or tabernacle becomes a place to seek God’s presence, God’s voice and guidance, to reaffirm one’s trust in their God and a place where prayers can go forth. It is a place where defiant shouts of joy and joyous songs and praises can be offered. It becomes a continual reminder that the Psalmist does not journey alone, but that the LORD their God and other faithful ones, perhaps many other faithful ones also join in these defiant shouts and songs. Faith is strengthened in the continual dwelling in the house of the LORD.

Their God to the faithful one becomes shelter, the one who conceals them under the cover of the tent and the one who sets them upon a rock. Shelter, while used only here in the Psalms, reflects a common idea of the LORD sheltering the people of Israel and is the word behind the Feast of Sukkoth (Festival of Booths) remembering how the LORD cared for the people during their Exodus journey. The LORD has been the rock and foundation before, as in Psalm 18, but now the LORD places the Psalmist upon a rock where they are safe and sheltered from their enemies. As Rolf Jacobson can point out the tent can be a reference to the tabernacle or temple but it also has the element of being God’s protective presence. (Nancy deClaisse-Walford, 2014, p. 269) Within the hospitality culture of the ancient world being concealed under the cover of the tent may also allude to the expectation of protection provided for the guest that has been welcomed into one’s home and there are numerous stories throughout the bible, probably the most famous being that of Lot and the two angels that he shields within his house in Genesis 19 (a text often misinterpreted). In the ancient world if someone comes to your house and you extend them hospitality then their lives are entrusted to your care.

Yet, even the faith that knows that the LORD is their light and salvation may have to convince itself to trust in the midst of the challenges of life. For me verses eight through fourteen may be this type of internal dialogue of faithfulness in the midst of challenge. There is the plea to be heard and the reminder spoken to oneself to seek the face of the Lord and a reaffirmation of this seeking followed by a plea not to hide or turn away, a plea not to cast one off or forsake. There is the continual struggle to remember the character of God and yet the falling back into the language of commitment, deeper commitment to the faithful one than even a parental bond may yield. This Psalm has been a Psalm of commitment and trust and the Psalmist calls upon God in the midst of their struggles to uphold that trust: not to give them up to their adversaries and to lead them on the level paths. The Psalm ends on that note of trust as the wait for the LORD and the belief that in the midst of their time of trial the LORD will somehow deliver them or give them the strength and courage to endure.

Psalm 24- The Coming of the LORD

Altar Paraments created for Easter Lutheran Church in Eagen Minnesota by Linda Witte Henke

Altar Paraments created for Easter Lutheran Church in Eagen Minnesota by Linda Witte Henke

Psalm 24

<Of David. A Psalm.>
1 The earth is the LORD’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it;
2 for he has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers.
3 Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place?
4 Those who have clean hands and pure hearts, who do not lift up their souls to what is false, and do not swear deceitfully.
5 They will receive blessing from the LORD, and vindication from the God of their salvation.
6 Such is the company of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob. Selah
7 Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in.
8 Who is the King of glory? The LORD, strong and mighty, the LORD, mighty in battle.
9 Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in.
10 Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory. Selah

This Psalm, which uses the language of the approach of the Creator to the creation and the approach of the faithful to the hill of the LORD where the worshipper and the worshipped one meet taps into the creation narrative and the wonder of Psalm 8 with the questioning nature of Psalm 15 about who may dwell in the LORD’s presence. Power and promise and presence all come together in the prose of this Psalm. We a poetically brought into the presence of the triumphal approach of the Creator’s return to the earth and the joyous reception of the faithful ones.

The Psalm begins with describing the approaching LORD not as an invader or alien to this world but instead as its founder, shaper, creator and rightful owner. In language, like Genesis 1, where the deep with its chaotic waters are moved over by the Spirit of God and the speaking of God pulls life and land out of the seas and rivers. God is the one who places limits upon the seas and the waters as the book of Job can poetically echo:

Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb?—
when I made the clouds its garment, and thick darkness its swaddling band,
and prescribed bounds for it, and set bars and doors,
and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stopped’? Job 38: 8-11

Once the Psalm had used the language of praise to testify to the immense power of the Creator whose dominion extends over all the earth and all its creatures it moves to the place where the creature can meet the Creator. The first two verses are pointing to the descent of the LORD to come to the world God created, but now the pivot turns to the worshipper ascending the hill of the LORD to the tabernacle or temple to participate in the celebration of the LORD’s advent. How does one prepare to receive the ultimate honored guest? As in Psalm 15 the preparation is not cultic but ethical. There are no rituals, no prescribed sacrifice but instead what is called for is a life that is ethically right. Clean hands and pure hearts and lives oriented toward God and not towards other gods and finally words spoken truthfully. Approaching the LORD in worship in the Psalm is connected to a life lived authentically. If anything is left on the altar to be sacrificed it is one’s life, as the apostle Paul can state in his letter to the Romans:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12: 1-2

Yet, if one is offering up to the LORD a life of clean hands, pure hearts, rightly oriented soul and truthful speech what one receives in return is a blessing and vindication. The Creator sees and honors the gift of the created one and as we heard in Psalm 23 provides for and grants the shelter of a shepherd and the protection of a host even amid conflict.

The Psalm concludes with the image of a King returning to their walled city in triumph as a metaphor to describe the advent of the LORD. The city itself is called to have courage that the long-awaited return of the king will occur. They are to prepare for this coming in hope and courage based on the identity of the one who is expected to return. This is the LORD, the creator, the divine warrior, the rock, the mighty one, the LORD of armies (literal rendering of the LORD of hosts), the LORD who could speak to seas and oceans and rivers and stop their advance. The praise echoes in the certainty of the LORD’s descent not only to the earth but specifically to meet the faithful ones in the holy city. Those with clean hands, pure hearts, rightly oriented souls and truthful tongues sing out in praise at the expected coming of the King of glory.

What I Learned About Myself, Life and God from My Divorce Part 3

Apophysis-Betrayal (1footonthedawn at deviantart.com)

Apophysis-Betrayal (1footonthedawn at deviantart.com)

This is the final reflection on this at this point in my journey.

7. The Place of Ritual and the Value of a Worshipping Community- I know that many people have had bad experiences in churches, synagogues and places of worship after a divorce, which is sad but a very real experience of many people-but not every place is like that. For myself, as a pastor I found myself in a new community, where I knew the pastor as one of my colleagues and I showed up with my kids each Sunday and as much as I could be I was anonymous. I did have a few people ask where their mother was in an inquiring and not an accusing way (to which I answered that she had chosen not to be there) and since I was still at the process of trying to save the marriage initially and later going through the divorce I didn’t want to close any doors, but I needed a place to just be. I knew that when I needed I could talk to the pastor as a friend and as a person who knew more of what was happening but mostly I just needed to be around the rituals and around a worshipping community. I needed someone else to sing when there were no songs coming out of my heavy heart. I needed something that was familiar and known in the midst of all the changes. I needed to be reminded that in the bigger picture that I mattered. I needed to hear about forgiveness, that I was valued, that I mattered. I needed to be in a place where I could begin my journey of healing.

8. The Gift of Limitations-For years in my life I would always find a way to dig a little deeper, to draw on some reserve of physical, spiritual or emotional strength and continue to do whatever needed done. In my relationship with my ex, in my work or school, in my life failure was never an option. The time leading up to the divorce pushed me for the first time in my life beyond the breaking point, where I reached a point where my spiritual and emotional strength were exhausted and depression began to sap even my physical strength. At the time, nothing about this seemed like a gift but it forced me to begin to pay attention to my own body and mind for the first time. To accept that my energy had limitations, that I needed to take breaks and pay attention, that there were times that I would need to say no to a commitment because I simply was not in a state of mind to deal with things. I began to listen more closely, to recapture some of the parts of myself that had been lost in pushing so hard for so many years. I began to recommit to listening and paying attention which eventually turned into poetry and writing, and I made space to listen to stories, to read, to listen to music and to make time for myself and not feel guilty about it. In accepting my own limitations I was able to find strengths that I had long forgotten about.

9. Seeing Myself as Worthy of Being Loved Again-I never imagined how deeply the rejection I felt from my ex-wife would reach into my sense of self-worth, but it challenged the core of my identity. I had always been pretty confident, in at least decent physical shape, considered myself fairly attractive and charismatic, emotionally resilient, intelligent and I had done a lot of things in my life that I was pretty proud of. The things that happened in this time caused me to question all of this, through both words and actions everything that I was felt rejected. I felt ugly, emotionally flat, I questioned whether anyone would find me interesting, I wondered whether everything I had done in the past was merely me managing to get through rather than really achieving anything. I wondered what type of future I might have in relationships, I was also wondering what I would do as far as work. Everything seemed in a period of months to have gone away and I really began to wonder who I was. I’m not sure exactly when it happened, and it probably didn’t happen all at once, but slowly I began to see that I really was pleased with the way I had lived my life, that I genuinely was happy with who I was. That I was worthy of being loved again, that I was still creative and intelligent (and in fact the experiences had opened up new avenues of creativity) and that I was OK with who I was. Not that every moment and every day I remembered this, there were occasional dark times and still are every once in a while, but  the emotional resilience did return and that I was able to see myself as worthy of being loved again.

10. The Process of Forgiveness and Reconciliation– Until you’ve really been hurt you don’t understand how difficult forgiveness and reconciliation really are. Even when you have made the choice to forgive there will be times where past actions are reenacted in your mind and you need to let go of them to move forward. It was a journey from the point where I had made the initial decision to forgive my ex (while we were still married) and work towards reconciliation and the possibility of a new beginning, to realizing that the reconciliation which occurred (which involved the divorce which I didn’t want) was much different than what I hoped for, to continually having to commit to trying not to allow things that happened in the past to determine the relationship going forward. It was a journey and not a one-time decision, and yet it was a journey that ultimately led me towards healing.

In the midst of the many challenges and lessons I have changed and grown. It took time and I have been able to walk with several others through their own journeys through broken relationships and divorces. It was not a skill I was seeking or an experience I wanted but you can learn to find the gift in even the most challenging of times.

purple rose 01 by picsofflowers.blogspot.com

The Disconnect Between Worship and Obedience:Jeremiah 6: 15-21

Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem by Rembrandt van Rijn 1630

Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem by Rembrandt van Rijn 1630

15 They acted shamefully, they committed abomination;
yet they were not ashamed, they did not know how to blush.
Therefore they shall fall among those who fall;
at the time that I punish them, they shall be overthrown, says the LORD.
16 Thus says the LORD: Stand at the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. But they said, “We will not walk in it.”
17 Also I raised up sentinels for you: “Give heed to the sound of the trumpet!”
But they said, “We will not give heed.”
18 Therefore hear, O nations, and know, O congregation, what will happen to them.
19 Hear, O earth; I am going to bring disaster on this people,
the fruit of their schemes, because they have not given heed to my words;
and as for my teaching, they have rejected it.
20 Of what use to me is frankincense that comes from Sheba, or sweet cane from a distant land?
Your burnt offerings are not acceptable, nor are your sacrifices pleasing to me.
21 Therefore thus says the LORD:
See, I am laying before this people stumbling blocks against which they shall stumble;
parents and children together, neighbor and friend shall perish.

Apparently the reality that some people may be faithful church attenders while they live lives that are fundamentally out of touch with God’s desire for their lives is not a new reality. As Walter Brueggemann states:

In place of torah, Israel has substituted cultic action (Jer. 6:20-21): frankincense, cane, sacrifices. Israel has devised a form of religion that reflects affluence, which can be safely administered, and which brackets out all questions of obedience.” (Brueggemann 1998, 73)

It is a nice, safe, easy religion that has allowed the people to slip into a sense of cultic complacency. So long as we have the temple and we keep bringing our offerings to God nothing will happen to us. This is the picture of gods that are common in the ancient world, that you bring pleasing offerings to the gods to entreat their favor and to get them fight for you in your battles, allow your crops to prosper, etc. But this is to fundamentally misunderstand the relationship God wants for God’s people. It is not coincidence that the Old Testament prophets frequently rail against the sacrificial system (and Jesus also directly confronts the temple in his own day). The way things are will not continue indefinitely, God is speaking through the prophet. God is taking away the things that people have placed their trust in, and the temple and the priestly sacrificial system is one of these things.

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