Thursday, September 24, 2020

Why ‘Exodus-and-Passover’?

        Let me say upfront I am not Jewish. I did some research into Passover, and even participated in a traditional Seder meal (wine and all), but I don’t have first hand knowledge. So if any of you are Jewish and feel I need corrected concerning Passover, correct away. I welcome all comments. 

Having said that, let me say this. It seems to me Passover is a remembrance (or celebration); Exodus is the event being remembered (or celebrated). Without the Exodus, Passover looses some significance, (and without resurrection the cross loses-and I don’t say this lightly-all it’s significance as well). While the Seder meal is filled with symbolism and meaning, it is the Exodus event that most concerns us here and to which we now turn. 

Exodus begins the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abram to be a blessing to all nations. Israel leaves Egypt an extended family, more or less, and in the desert God ‘whips them into shape’, so to speak. Israel becomes a nation. A disciplined nation (nation of disciples?), instructed by the very Oracles of God. God’s words for God’s people. By living according to The Law Israel is guaranteed God’s blessing. Israel will bear God’s image and reflect God’s nature-the original vocation given at the dawn of creation. They will be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth with God’s presence (more about this later). 

God’s chosen people, living as God intended all along, being an example-reflecting God’s nature-to the rest of the world; doesn’t get any better than this. God promises God’s new Nation-God’s special, chosen people-blessings beyond belief for their obedience (remember the promise to Abram?). This is the true purpose and promise of the Law, at this point in time-nothing here about going to heaven when one dies. Only bringing God’s presence to earth while one is alive. (Here is an interesting thought exercise-can God ever be separated from God’s Law? Are they one and the same, or no?)

God was indeed present with God’s new people. Actually, visibly present as the pillar of cloud by day and light by night (lots of symbolism to think about with that). Israel will overcome darkness and ruin by bringing God’s presence with them and God will lead the way. No longer slaves to an oppressive master, Israel is now free to serve their-and our-living, loving creator. Free to bring-indeed, to be-a blessing to the world. Their Exodus will be our Exodus. Their liberation will be our liberation. Their example will be for us to imitate. Except it didn’t quite work out that way. Israel, despite God’s best efforts, kept going back to Egypt. 

Exodus and Passover

 The call of Moses and the Exodus story, like Abram’s story, are very well known; I won’t go into details here, either. We are more concerned with what Passover brought about-the Exodus. Passover is one of three major festivals which required pilgrimage to Jerusalem (they are still major agricultural festivals and are still celebrated today). The other two are Weeks (Pentecost) and Booths (Tabernacles). Passover and Pentecost have been fulfilled in Christ. Interesting to note-the Tabernacle was the first place where God came to meet with God’s people after they left Egypt. Will the fulfillment of Tabernacles mean the permanent dwelling of God on earth? Remember this. It will be important later. 

Passover itself will become the celebration-and remembrance-of Israel’s liberation from slavery, the event by which Israel becomes a nation, God’s chosen people. It is hard-impossible, perhaps-to overstate how crucial to Israel’s identity ‘God’s chosen people’ is (again, keep this in mind; we will come back to it when we get to Romans). Israel was not just wandering around in the desert. They were being formed in the desert; formed into the people who would fulfill God’s vocational command to be made in God’s image and reflect God’s nature. This was how the promise to Abram would be fulfilled as well:

“I'll make you famous;

you'll be a blessing.

...All the families of the Earth

will be blessed through you."

Israel will accomplish this by bearing God’s image and demonstrating God’s likeness, by being the place where God comes to dwell with God’s people, which was God’s plan from the beginning. Freed from slavery to become God’s chosen people Israel would show the world the benefits of worshipping the one true living God. Freed from slavery to become what we were created to be all along. Freed from, to become....remember this too. This is important-crucial, in fact-to understanding the cross and resurrection. 

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Abram and the Restoration

I titled this section ‘Redemption’ but ‘Restoration’ is probably closer to the truth. With Abram, God’s plan to restore humanity (and all of creation, for that matter-we’ll get to that) begins in earnest. Or maybe in obviousness. Here is the text:

Genesis 12:1-4

GOD told Abram: "Leave your country, your family, and your father's home for a land that I will show you.

I'll make you a great nation

and bless you.

I'll make you famous;

you'll be a blessing.

I'll bless those who bless you;

those who curse you I'll curse.

All the families of the Earth

will be blessed through you."

So Abram left just as GOD said, and Lot left with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he left Haran. (The Message)

Abram, by making a new beginning, will be a blessing-no, not a blessing, the blessing, to all the families of the earth. By accepting God’s call, Abram enables us to recover our vocation to bear God’s image and reflect God’s nature. That’s the blessing, made possible because one man believed God. What our first parents rejected (or surrendered) through unbelief, Abram recovers through belief. 

You know the story so I won’t go into too much detail. God promises Abram’s barren wife a son (an unconditional, unilateral promise, by the way) through whom Abram will have more descendants than the stars in the sky. This son-Isaac-has twins, Esau and Jacob. Jacob has twelve sons who will become the twelve tribes of Israel. Joseph, one of Jacob’s sons, ends up a slave in Egypt, goes to jail for something he did not do and eventually becomes the second most powerful man in the country. Only Pharaoh will have more power, more authority. Because of a famine throughout the land Joseph’s father and brothers arrive. Pharaoh declares “...a reunion! Egypt welcomes them. Settle your father and brothers on the choicest land—yes, give them Goshen” (Genesis 47:5-6; The Message). And so “Israel settled down in Egypt in the region of Goshen. They acquired property and flourished. They became a large company of people.” (Genesis 47:27; The Message). For nearly five hundred years Jacob’s family grows. And grows. And grows some more. 

Eventually “A new king came to power in Egypt who didn't know Joseph. He spoke to his people in alarm, "There are way too many of these Israelites for us to handle. We've got to do something: Let's devise a plan to contain them, lest if there's a war they should join our enemies, or just walk off and leave us." (Exodus 1:8-10; The Message). Which leads us directly to Passover, and the Exodus. 

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Gods First Idea

           Before we leave the garden let me call your attention to a few things. First, God comes calling. Second, when God doesn’t see the couple God asks ‘where are you?’. Third, the couple responds “we are naked, afraid, hiding”. Let’s take them one at a time. 

            First, God comes walking about in the cool evening breeze. God enjoys God’s creation and invites creation to enjoy God as well. Second, God calls. God respects the couples fear (and shame), drawing them out rather than barging in. Third, ‘becoming like God’ turns out not to be like God at all. 

            God’s response may seem a little surprising-God covers their shame with animal skins. This was God’s free gift. Some sacrifice must have been involved-where else would the skins have come from-nevertheless this was a compassionate, merciful act. However, lest humankind live forever in this broken state, God banishes them from the garden (but not from God’s presence). Humanity will eventually return to the dust from which we were created. This too is an act of compassion and mercy. We will die so that we may be reborn-the perishable becoming imperishable, mortality putting on immortality (1 Corinthians 15:51-53). The whole event points ahead to the cross. 

            Which brings me to my final garden thought. Hidden in the garden story is the idea that God’s purpose all along-God’s ‘first idea’-was Jesus’ incarnation. Jesus’ coming was not a response, it was the plan from the beginning. Remember this-we will come back to it later when we consider Paul and the cross. For now, let me finish with this quote from Fr. Richard Rohr: “In other words, God’s “first idea” and priority was to make the Godself both visible and shareable.” (Richard Rohr; The Universal Christ). Next up-Abram.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

The rebellion ends. Redemption begins.

 We know the story well. The couple figures they will be better off deciding for themselves what is good and what is evil-who needs God for that? “ When the Woman saw that the tree looked like good eating and realized what she would get out of it—she'd know everything!—she took and ate the fruit and then gave some to her husband, and he ate.

7 Immediately the two of them did "see what's really going on"—saw themselves naked!” Genesis 3:6-7 (The Message). And so to Satan’s real question-can God be trusted-we have the first human response, a resounding ‘no!’. 


Part Three: Redemption


            Normally I would begin redemption with God’s call of Abram, but lately I’m thinking redemption actually begins with God’s response to the garden episode. Remember God’s warning: “GOD commanded the Man, "You can eat from any tree in the garden, except from the Tree-of-Knowledge-of-Good-and-Evil. Don't eat from it. The moment you eat from that tree, you're dead." Genesis 2:16-17 (The Message). Satan was correct in saying they would not die; at least not physically. Not right away. Here’s what happens. 

God curses the serpent. God curses the ground because of the man. God tells the woman she will have her babies in pain. For the woman, this is not a curse (easy for me to say, being a man), this is a promise of life. Generation after generation of life. The man understands and names his wife ‘the mother of all the living’ The “in our image reflecting our nature” part will be problematic but God has a plan for that as well. He tells the serpent “I'm declaring war between you and the Woman,

between your offspring and hers.

He'll wound your head,

you'll wound his heel." Genesis 3:15 (The Message).


Humanity may lose faith in their creator, but God does not lose faith in  God’s creation. 


Saturday, August 29, 2020

The Rebellion Begins

           Things so far are going well. God creates a perfect environment within an already perfect environment-a special place, if you will-and places God’s beloved creation in it. They have total free reign with one stipulation: God alone gets to decide what is good and what is evil (which sort of implies evil may already exist, but we don’t like to talk about that). Now the stage is set for the final event-or first event, depending on your point of view (or both-I told you there were ambiguities) that sets our story in motion. By the way, at this point, if you believe in an all-knowing God, you have to wonder what God had in mind here. Paul certainly did. 

The story is structured in a way that implies the couple had a choice. Two specific trees are mentioned -the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This second tree is the one off limits. It is also the one Satan zeroes in on. He is subtly deceptive-“Do I understand that God told you not to eat from any tree in the garden?". He disputes, accuses-“You won't die. God knows that the moment you eat from that tree, you'll see what's really going on. You'll be just like God, knowing everything, ranging all the way from good to evil." (Genesis 3:1;5; italics mine). From our vantage point the choice is clear: life with God on God’s terms or life without God on our terms. It’s a choice we all face, all day, every day, in countless decisions we make. I bet you never looked at life that way. 

Thursday, August 27, 2020

The World According to Me Pt.1

The undying support one current president enjoys from the evangelical community is difficult to understand at best. This series of blogs are me response. My intention is not to tell anyone what to think but, rather, to show another way to see.

“The Books of Moses are made up mostly of stories and signposts. The stories show us God working with and speaking to men and women in a rich variety of circumstances. God is presented to us not in ideas and arguments but in events and actions that involve each of us personally. The signposts provide immediate and practical directions to guide us into behavior that is appropriate to our humanity and honoring to God-Eugene Peterson; The Message


              I do not believe the Bible is a book of facts. That is, it is not a history textbook, although it contains historical events. It is not a scientific textbook either. Science and mathematics, being the operating principles and systems God put in place at creation, are important and discoverable. But you won’t find them in the Bible. I’m not even sure the Bible is a book of absolutes. It contains many ambiguities and apparent contradictions. At the risk of sounding like a post-modernist let me say life also consists of many ambiguities and contradictions. So what is the Bible? It is a book of life, and truth.  

For example, consider this. In Genesis we read God created the earth and everything in it in seven days. Fact interprets this to mean a literal seven days and is responsible for all manor of old earth/young earth debates. Truth, however, says everything that exists, exists because God created it; how long God took to do it is irrelevant (we’ll come back to this in a bit). Do you see the difference? Or this: In John’s Gospel Jesus says “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” Flip that around and you have “The way I am (or ‘is me’); the truth I am (‘is me’); the life I am (‘or is me’); which allows for a subtle but significant difference in interpretation. Can you see it? Facts are neat, organizable. Truth, like life, is messy.

The Bible is also literature, and ancient literature at that, and communicates its truth in several ways; historical narrative, poetry, letters (or epistles), apocrypha-entire disciplines have grown up around the critical study of the Bible as literature. Those studies are important and provide valuable insight, but there are times when a more basic approach is beneficial. The Bible as a love story, for example. A love story replete with a jilted but faithful creator/husband (God), an unfaithful creation/spouse (us) and a shameless (also created) antagonist (Satan) intent on deconstructing and destroying everything God does. And so the stage is set. 

In the beginning God creates something from nothing, bringing order out of chaos. A Wind or Spirit or Breath (one word, three meanings- remember this.) brooding over the formless void. God creates and pronounces it all good. Everything thing that exists, exists because God willed it into existence. That means everything has Gods fingerprints on it, God’s DNA within it. Everything is a revelation of God. Paul puts it this way: 

“But the basic reality of God is plain enough. Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can't see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being.” 

(Romans 1:19,20)


Now comes the good part. When everything was ready, God spoke: "Let us make human beings in our image, make them

reflecting our nature…

 God created human beings;

he created them godlike,

Reflecting God's nature.

He created them male and female.

God blessed them:

"Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge!

Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air,

for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth."

(Genesis 1:26-28). 

            Or, to tell the story another way, “At the time GOD made Earth and Heaven, before any grasses or shrubs had sprouted from the ground—GOD hadn't yet sent rain on Earth, nor was there anyone around to work the ground (the whole Earth was watered by underground springs) — GOD formed Man out of dirt from the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life. The Man came alive—a living soul!” 

Genesis 2:5-7(I warned you there would be apparent contradictions).

We are made in God’s image so that we may reflect God’s nature-the Imago Dei-the image and likeness of God. That would be our vocation. So far so good, right?     

            Here are a couple parts to the story that sometimes get missed. First, God created human beings (us). That means we also have God’s DNA (remember image-and-likeness?). But it also means we belong to God. The Psalmist puts it this way: 

“Know that the LORD is God!

It is he that made us, and not we ourselves;

we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.”

Psalm 100:3.

            Second, and this is important, we live because God blew into our nostrils the breath of lifeThere is only one life-one source of life-ever mentioned in the Bible. Every living thing somehow shares its life with God. God’s life connects us all. Remember Jesus’ “I am the life”? This is that (and is affirmed in John’s Gospel, 1:1-18). And so while everything is not God, we can say God is in every thing.

 So, to wrap things up thus far: first, because God is the sole creating agent everything that exists belongs to God. God has exclusive rights of ownership. Second, because God is the sole source of life, every living thing is somehow connected to God. I hope all this doesn’t frighten or offend you because it’s all really great news.