Lord, you are always present and always celebrate when we are present with you. Thank you for your invitation to new life, to new hope, to new patterns, to living with you in this world so that I have a sustaining purpose and transforming presence in your Spirit. Thank you for the freedom you have given me. Teach me how to use this freedom in ways that contribute to the lives of others in my life. Teach me how to do what I should do in every situation. And when I stumble–because I certainly stumble–remind me of your grace, show me the way forward, help me to grow in understanding and in action, so that each day I am shaped more and more like you have called me to be, like you desire me to be. You have opened the door to this new kind of life through your work on the cross. I don’t always believe you’re present, and am sometimes filled with doubts, so be present with me today and help me to see, help me to be who you know I can be. This isn’t my work, this is an invitation you give me through Christ and a power you give me in the Spirit. I need you God. And I’m amazed that you want me and yearn for my best every day. Thank you. Amen.
- Psalm 23-24
- Reading through Exodus 38-40 and Leviticus 1-8
As we begin the readings this week, it occurs to me that this may be the single most important set of readings the whole year. In it we get the core statements of God’s expectations and efforts in the Old and New Testaments, while also getting some of the most recognizable of Psalms. All throughout both is God’s wonderful grace, psychologically and socially and spiritually oriented so that people can learn who God is, what God has done, and who God is calling us to be. We can easily miss the point, becoming callous to the testimony in all the readings. So this is a good week to be reminded and to renew our commitment to God’s work.
One of the curiosities of humanity is that we’re always analyzing, thinking, plotting, planning. We have a sense of time, so we’re caught between the past and the future, which affect our experience of the present. Who are we to be? What are we to do? Where are we to go? Are we doing enough? And when we’re responsible for others, we get caught in their expectations. Are we doing enough? Are we doing too little? Is this helping? Where do I stand? So we do what we can and if we have detailed guidance we can relax, trusting that if we’ve done what we have been asked to do, all is well. That’s not legalism, that’s relationship. We know what others like and don’t like, and if we do what they don’t like, we know ways to say we’re sorry. It’s a social contract that’s really deeply ingrained in how we navigate through life.
Can we trust the other? Can they trust us? How can we know? Trust is a huge element of human life. A context without trust is filled with constant anxiety, and in anxiety we can react in dysfunctional ways. Overdoing it (you know that annoying acquaintance who does too much to try to get into your favor and often the exact wrong things). Or giving up entirely, ditching the uncertainty.
One of my present concerns, to be honest, is my job. I have a one year contract teaching at a major seminary. I’d like a permanent position for all kinds of reasons, but academia has a huge amount of qualified people with a small amount of full-time permanent positions. The trouble is that in academia there’s not a clear set of duties to get a job. I can do very well at all the tasks and it’s still not enough. I could publish a lot, teach well, do all my responsibilities to the utmost, and still not have a job in the future. If I knew what to do, I’d work very hard at that, but in not knowing what the ‘secret’ is, I get filled with anxiety, and spread myself thin, or get depressed about it. Of course, my hope is in God. But even still, the lack of clarity about what I could or should do better in order to succeed keeps poking at me.
Why am I saying all this? Because this is how I understand reading the passages of this week. God has given freedom to a large group of slaves, the descendants of Abraham. But they don’t know God very well. And they don’t really know where they’re going or what they’re supposed to do. God didn’t just free them and then let them work out the rest on their own. He has much bigger plans. They don’t really even know right from wrong in many ways. They lived in Egypt and Egypt had different rules, different gods, different patterns of life. God wasn’t just bringing this group to a new place, he was forming a new people–who would interact with each other and this world in a way that was a testimony to other nations.
So he was very clear about his expectations. He set up patterns of worship so the people could know if they were doing things the way God wanted. He set up rules of interaction so the people could learn how to live together in this wilderness, a place of tension and anxiety. He gave ways to express thanksgiving and ways to say sorry. Because, frankly, we need these things to help us feel free and on track.
What kinds of issues did God address in these chapters? As you read them, think about what God values and who God is wanting the people to be. We can read these as a list of rules, but that’s not really what they’re for. God is not a bureaucrat. God is in the business of saving, freeing, and transforming. The patterns we read about in these OT chapters are God’s way of giving order to a people who have been caught in chaos. Think of practicing drills or chords, ways to shape muscle memory and habits that then translate into being better at playing the game or playing an instrument. I just read a very interesting article about how rote symbolic actions actually help us develop stronger willpower too, as if our wills need to be given set tasks that help us practice commitment.
Who is God shaping the people to be? Who is God shaping you to be? What ways do you have to respond to God or others whether in thanksgiving or guilt?
- Reading through Matthew 24-28
These chapters are the center of the whole Bible. Not the “middle” but the center, around which everything else orients. Indeed, these chapters define Christianity. Judaism speaks of God, and embraces the testimony of what we call the Old Testament. Islam embraces much of that narrative too and indeed sees Jesus as a great prophet. In these four chapters, however, we see the stark claims of Christianity. Jesus is the messiah. Jesus is Lord. Jesus speaks for the world. Jesus speaks as God. Jesus is in charge of all things.
Do you believe that? If so, then everything we’ve read so far and everything we’re going to read is immensely important. It’s not messing around or a nice set of religious opinions that can fit around whatever else we want to do, as if it was only a belief about religious topics.
These chapters make this absolutely clear. Jesus is lord of everything or nothing. The whole section is one of confrontations.
The question, the most important question we can ask, is “Do we trust Jesus?”
There’s a line in the sand. Do you trust Jesus?
Well, what about bad things that are happening in the world? Wouldn’t God put those right? Wouldn’t Jesus fix those if he was God?
He confronts that, by saying clearly that bad things are going to happen. He doesn’t say why. He doesn’t give an excuse. But it’s not unexpected. It’s not, this is the crazy thing, outside of God’s overall plan. God isn’t dependent on history happening just so. Getting the right people elected and putting all the pieces in place. No. God intervenes when it seems all is lost.
So should we panic? Not if we believe Jesus. Do you believe Jesus?
But he’s taken so long to work it all out. That’s not unexpected, he says we won’t know when everything will be made clear. Should we fret? Should we hide in a bunker? What should we do?
Be obedient. Wait with hope. Wait with patience. Do what he calls us to do. Help those in need. Show we trust him by living in the way that commits to his truth. Everyone has “their” truth these days, everyone has a word to live by, a value to highlight, a goal to pursue. If we follow Christ we orient ourselves to his truth. And commit to it, no matter what happens, or doesn’t happen. We live in a way that reflects we believe him. Because faith isn’t about simply acknowledging a truth–the demons do that. Faith is saying I believe it so much I’m going to live as if it already has been absolutely confirmed. It’s a risk. It’s the biggest risk.
Do you believe Jesus?
Many of those around him didn’t believe. They thought he was lying or crazy. So they decided to get rid of him. And here’s another crazy thing: Jesus didn’t defend himself. He didn’t defend himself because to defend himself would have been to validate the kingdoms of this world. Who has the right to judge Jesus? The religious leaders judged him and said God was against him. Jesus said he was on the side of God, speaking the truth of God. Who is right? It’s one or the other.
The Roman leaders thought they could judge legal right and wrong, because they had all the earthly power. Jesus said he had all the power. Who is right? It’s one or the other. That’s why this story isn’t just about our personal salvation or what Jesus did for me. It’s bigger. It’s a confrontation with the powers of the world about what is truth and what is power and who is God and who we are to be and how we are to live.
They crucified Jesus. They thought they won. In the patterns of the world they did.
Who do you believe? Which side are you on? There’s no middle ground. Either Jesus is right or Jesus is wrong and the crucifixion suggests he was horribly wrong.
Unless… Unless he’s not wrong at all.
How would we know? If something happened that so completely changed the natural order of things, that so completely overthrew the truth and power of those who crucified him, that so entirely declared who is really in charge.
Does Jesus speak for God? Does Jesus speak for this world? What is truth?
Here is the moment of faith. Do you believe? Do you trust Jesus? Do you really trust, so much that you’re willing to let go everything else, to drop the pretense and live in light of this radical revelation that is a revolution of life and hope and promise?
Matthew ends with a declaration of why we should in fact believe Jesus. He died, was wholly and completely dead, then he rose again, alive, walking around, talking, commissioning.
He is risen. That’s a revolution. All Rome can do is kill. Jesus took away that power. The religious leaders thought they spoke for God. The resurrection says that God is on the side of Jesus.
Everything leads up to that moment, God’s momentous act of sacrifice, confrontation, renewal, invitation. He takes on the principalities and the powers, he takes on the sins of the world. He is broken on our behalf. And he lives.
Do you believe that? If so, stay ready, keep the faith, live in a way that shares life with others whatever their need.
That is how we show we really do trust. We go with Christ and we too will live.
Do you believe? Then stand with Jesus, stand for Jesus, even when things get out of control, keep standing, keep sharing, keep hoping. Life awaits, and this eternal life begins right now.
Jesus is risen. We can trust him.
5. Psalm 25-26
Share your thoughts in the comment section. This is a very important part of the reading goal, as writing out our thoughts can help us remember what we read and keep our minds on the passage. It also is very helpful to share as we learn from each other. Even our questions or confusion can bring us together, as we highlight what others may have missed or address what a lot of us are also wondering. Don’t feel like you have to write a lot, or feel pressure to be profound. Respond with honesty and openness. Just jump right in where you’re at, knowing that Christ invites you to respond without pressure or anxiety.