Week 9: Becoming a People

Readings for the week: Psalms 29-30, Leviticus 22-27, Numbers 1-5, Romans 6-9, Psalm 31Listen to these passages

Opening Prayer:

Dear Lord, thank you for your presence, for your invitation, for your guidance. Thank you that you are more committed to me than I can ever realize.  Life can be very distracting and I know I get caught up in a lot of busyness, some of which is good, but some of which is me trying to do too much or me getting caught up in the patterns of the world’s expectations. Forgive me for where I fall off to the right or the left on the road to knowing you better.  Give me peace, I need that so much. Show me how I’m supposed to use my time and energy, and remind me when I’m forgetful to do what I should or mindless to keep doing what I shouldn’t.  I want to be in tune with you, dance according to your rhythm and be someone who shares real life with others, not the fake poses that can be very tempting.  Thank you for your guidance and even more thank you for your grace, you keep on walking with me, you carry me, and you are with me.  May I experience your presence this week.  Amen

  1. Psalm 29-30
  2. Reading through Leviticus 22-27 and Numbers 1-5

I know, I know, I’ve been writing a lot in these so-called “brief” commentaries. When we get into the Bible, there’s a lot to say, as there’s so much going on, especially in the early chapters of the Old and New Testaments. The more we press on, though, the less I’ll likely be writing as we go from instructions to reminders about instructions.  We’ve encountered the basics of who God is, who we are as people, and what Jesus did in his life and mission.  It’s a core framework, and now we’re filling everything else in.  It’s not extra, optional, bits though.  We’re still digging into the heart of God’s promise, not only what he’s going to do and what he has done, but also what he expects people to do.

This isn’t rule-keeping because God wants life to be hard. Not at all!  All throughout these passages we see a lot of details but, like last week, the details are intended to help Israel. We see again that God is answering questions and giving guidance, because if you’ve ever taught anyone you know they can ask a lot of questions so you learn to give them a more and more descriptive “syllabus” from the beginning.

While there’s a lot to highlight, I want to especially note the chapters on the Sabbath in our reading this week. It’s not just a weekly thing, its scaled across time. One day in seven, one year in seven, every 7th set of seven years, there’s a stopping and a reset.  People get to rest once a week, the land gets to rest once every seven years, and once every 50 years the whole social situation gets rebooted.

What a wonderful vision of human need. It’s not a burden for the people, its a way of making sure that obligations and expectations don’t begin to dehumanize people. And if it starts, there’s a reminder, giving everyone a chance to consider God again and consider the value God has for the people. Of course, as we learn in the New Testament, the rules became their own goal, rather than a way to lead toward the bigger goal of communion with God and each other.

It’s a great reminder for us, both to not get caught up in the rules for their own sake and to recognize that God has made the world with a rhythm of activity/rest. Like music, there are notes and there are rests. Without rests, it’s just a lot of sound all at once.  No rhythm, no beat. That makes dancing hard!

With this, remember that a key goal in these books is to form Israel as a people, forming them into understanding how to live with God and how to live with each other. Remember, love God and love neighbor? What does love look like in action? What about conflicts or uncertainties. God gives Israel guidance.

The book of Numbers opens very fittingly.  A lot of numbers about this and that group within the broader people of Israel. While this may not have immediate application for our lives, consider how helpful it is to know where people fit in their gifts and callings, to recognize them and honor them, to give them a place of participation.  Try to imagine each tribe and group, where they stand, what they are to do, how they are organized within their sections.

It’s very orderly. If you’ve ever traveled long distances, you know how nice it is for everything and everyone to have a place, minimizing the confusion. Continue to notice God’s goal in organization and making sure that even in uncertainties there’s some clear understanding of how to respond. It gives Israel an understanding of order and governance.  When trying to exist in tight community, all sorts of sparks can cause major problems. Fights can break out, jealousy can erupt over slightest provocations.

What do you see as God’s priority in all this? What stood out to you as you read these passages of the Law?

  1. Reading through Romans 6-9

If you have, or know, children, it is  always an adventure in discovering what they know and can do, as well as what they don’t know and can’t do, as well as what they know to do but won’t do.  That means setting up a lot of rules and expectations, hoping they’ll follow them, but knowing there’s going to be problems. A lot of these rules are for their safety, and some of the rules are for our sanity (banging drums while yelling in the house won’t hurt them, but it certainly isn’t something we encourage!).

The Law–the stuff we’re reading in Leviticus and Numbers this week–isn’t itself bad or wrong. There’s grace all the way through it. Notice how much grace God has in our Old Testament readings in past weeks and keep noticing in the future. God shows his grace, shows his love, shows his commitment.

As people, we’ve gotten to know God more and more, and in many ways the lessons God taught became part of our own cultural narrative. But, like kids growing older, we’re still not quite right. It’s not enough to have rules for their own sake, but to give us space to find our way within expanding freedoms.  God works throughout this, making space and giving us a new freedom, new possibilities. But we can’t steal the car, go partying all night, and think God is looking the other way. By no means!

Grace abounds in the work of Christ so that we can become mature, real persons as part of a maturing people.  We’re not left on our own to figure things out, we’re not stuck as sinners, confronted with a brokenness that can’t be fixed. The work of Christ brings freedom and opportunity to live in a new way. Who will save us from this body of death? Jesus is!  Who empowers us to live in a new way, no longer caught in the traps and bondages of the past? The Spirit!

Notice how this isn’t a message to some sort of elites or pastors or saints.  It’s a message to Christians, that we who are alive in Christ are really alive even now. We’re free!

How do we use our freedom?

It’s a relationship, and God gives us new freedom in the living space of protection, defense, and opportunity. He’s inviting us to live in a new way for the sake of others, not against others, and works in this complicated world to help us.

In chapter nine we see the value of reading the Old Testament, learning how God worked feeds into how God continues to work, and while it’s easy for us to say, “Aha!” and criticize their lack of faith, it’s much better to realize how we do the exact same things in our own ways in our contexts.

Notice in these chapters the way Paul emphasizes God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit.  Not as separate figures. They’re unified–God is one essence–yet distinct–in Three Persons. Notice how each Person is seen in the work of salvation. Remember that the Old Testament establishes, and the New Testament writers continue to affirm, there is one God.

God is showing us who to be, as individuals and as a community. This is about becoming truly human, a way of life and hope that is empowering and enlivening. Why would we not seek this out? In cheapening the Gospel message, in reducing it to cheap slogans or simplistic issues of being in or out of heaven, we in the Church have often lost how powerful a message this all is.  It’s about a fullness of life that begins even now!  God is with us and God is more amazing, more inviting, more wonderful than we’ve often realized.

This is a very Trinitarian book as a wholeand really these chapters are some of the most profound bits of theology about God and people we can find.

So much so, try reading through these passages twice!

5. Psalm 28

6. Respond

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.