Friday, October 30, 2009

Yeshua's Shabbat

Among Christians, there's occasionally some debate around how we are to "do" the Sabbath. Is it Saturday? Is it Sunday? Is it imperative that we rest on that day? That we worship at a church building? Do those Old Testament laws apply to us?

Oh the dilemma. What's a 21st century Jesus follower to do?

Numerous New Testament scriptures point out how Christians are now "grafted in" with God's chosen people. Peter and Paul also seem to point out that it isn't imperative that Gentile Christians follow every law within the Torah, and that one day isn't any different from another. Jesus, of course, was occasionally chastised by leaders for things like healing on the Sabbath, or picking a piece or two of grain to eat on the Sabbath.

However, we also believe that Jesus came to FULFILL the teachings and covenant of the Old Testament, not to do away with them. There is a lot to learn and to understand from the Old Testament laws and from Jewish culture of the first century.

Keren Hannah Pryor, as a part of her "Appointments With God" series for the Center of Judaic-Christian Studies, has written a very insightful piece on The Sabbath Day. Insightful, and long. Too long to copy in here, in fact, and too long for me to expect many of our delightful unChurch blog readers to actually click on that link and take in the entire thing.

But I do encourage you to try. Go ahead, give it a shot.

For those of you that cheated and didn't go read the entire thing (eh, I had a tough time reading the whole thing myself), I'll here is a slightly abridged version, where I cut out about 70% of the stuff in the middle:
    The original concept of a Sabbath day was instituted by God Himself at Creation when He saw that all He had made was good and He ‘rested.’ The Hebrew word used in the Genesis account, shin-bet-tav, which also reads Shabbat, literally means ‘to cease.’ He ceased from His work of creation. This unique seventh day, marked by the setting of the sun on the sixth day, yom ha’shishi, was designated by God as kadosh – holy.

    He appointed this day of Shabbat as a time that was to be set apart for His holy purposes. This informs us that this seventh day of rest is the Creator’s intention for His entire universe, particularly for those “made in His image” whom He loves with a perfect love.

    The Christian observance of ‘The Lord’s Day’ on Sunday has much in common with Shabbat. The first disciples and followers of Yeshua attended synagogues on Shabbat (e.g., Paul, Acts 18:4). Gentiles who had come to know the God of Israel through the “good news” - the evangelion (Gr.) – and were thereby “grafted in” to the olive tree of Israel (Romans 11:24), were exhorted to attend the communal services on Shabbat, “where Moses [the Torah] is read every Sabbath” (Acts 15:20) in order to learn more of God’s Word and His ways.

    We know that the first disciples, the “early Church”, adhered to Shabbat and the biblical calendar. The question is raised, “When was the present day Christian ‘Sunday’ instituted as the day of worship?” The first law commanding Sunday rest was issued by the Emperor Constantine in March, 321A.D. His decree was worded: “On the venerable Day of the Sun let the magistrates and people residing in the cities rest, and let all workshops be closed.”

    In the year 386 A.D. under the auspices of the Roman Catholic Church, Theodosius I forbade litigation on Sunday and established the practice: “No person shall demand payment of either a public or private debt [on Sunday].”

    Theodosius II, in the year 425 A.D., forbade all amusements, both circuses and theaters on Sunday. Gradually all quarters of Christianity transferred observance of the day of rest from the seventh day to the first day. Today most Christians are of the attitude, “What difference does it make? A day is a day.” The answer to that lies in the heart of each individual in the framework of their communion with God.

    Following the removal of the followers of Jesus from the Jewish community and the Hebraic framework of worship, a schism was created that would prove to be ever-widening through the centuries that followed. However, certain elements of the “day of rest” would endure and the central goals have remained similar for Christians and Jews alike. The Sabbath is a day to focus on the Almighty, to seek His face and purposes; also to set aside the regular activities and concerns of the week and to find refreshment and, if possible, to spend time with family and friends.

    This was a day that was observed nationally in Western Christian culture, just as the Shabbat is in Israel today. It saddens one to observe that the modern popular culture, with its focus and emphasis on materialism and the physical dimension of life, and 24/7 commercialism, has forfeited and ignored the gift that God has provided for both spiritual and physical health – the Shalom of Shabbat.

    Let our prayer be: "Father we call the Sabbath a delight, and the holy day of the Lord honorable. We look to You in love and gratitude for Your blessing and and provision, and for Your grace, peace and light bestowed upon us in the Prince of Peace, the Sar Shalom, Yeshua ha'Mashiach, Jesus our Messiah. Amen.
My "Sabbath" often involves getting up much earlier than what I'd like, spending 5+ hours in a church building, going out to eat with friends and family, watching football, taking a nap, and then going back to church for a couple more hours. All of this, of course, begs the question -- Am I really "delighting" in the Lord's Sabbath?

Monday, October 19, 2009

For the Price of a Cup of Coffee...

There are basically two kinds of people in this world:

(1.) The ones who think this magazine ad is hilarious, and

(2.) the kind who are offended by those who think it's hilarious.

Okay, there is another kind:

(3.) The ones who find it ridiculous, but are crushed by the tragedy of it.

There are a million things I could say about it. Can you guess any of them?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Camels and Needles and Good News

Jesus told us we'd always have the poor with us. But we sure do try to avoid them, don't we? We aim to move to suburbia so we can be isolated from them, so we don't have to intermingle. Then we get upset or annoyed on the rare occasion someone tries to ask us for some spare change.

I had the opportunity to do a lot of walking around downtown Chicago last weekend. In addition to the miles and miles of walking, I also used public transportation the whole time. The huge breadth of people, the diversity of faces and colors and tax-brackets... It's a jarring reminder of the sheer number of PEOPLE God has placed on this planet. All of them deserving love and compassion, all of them under God's dominion. Each of them loved by Jesus enough to die on the cross.
"He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

'The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.' Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, 'Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.'" (Luke 4:16-20)
Really, if you want to see the diversity of people and colors and tax-brackets in a smaller city, you can just head over to Wal-Mart. It's the great equalizer. I suppose some might avoid Wal-Mart because of the very fact that it's filled with the people we try to avoid in suburbia.
"Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God." (Luke 6:20)
I've heard some say that Sunday mornings are the most segregated day of the week, because of the lack of diversity within our local churches. I'd say the same holds true for the rich and the poor. There's just not much income diversity in most churches. In fact, it seems like the rich tend to huddle together in churches. That's not entirely the fault of the churches, I suppose (although I'll definitely give them some of the blame). Local churches serve local areas, and our society continues to draw broader geographical lines between the gated community and the trailer court.
"Go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then, come follow me... I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." (Matthew 19:16-26)
For some reason, though, we've turned the gospel around into something "for the wealthy." The rich go to church, and they try to help the poor heathens through various ministries. Sermons occasionally touch on money, but it's generally about tithing -- I've seldom seen anyone mention the Matthew 19 passage without adding, "but that doesn't mean you have to do that!" I've heard countless preachers say that it's "okay to have nice things" and that it's okay to have lots of money... You just can't LOVE IT too much.
"The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor." (Luke 7:22)
What, exactly, is the "good news" then? What are we preaching to the poor? To buck up and get a job? That maybe they can join our church, provided they don't have too many tattoos, and provided they take a shower and put on some clean church clothes? That if they become a Christian, maybe God will reward them with wealth?
"The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want." (Mark 14:7)
I saw a wide variety of people over the weekend. I had a friendly conversation about Notre Dame football with a homeless man in a wheelchair. My daughter asked for some money to give to a woman who "looked like she needed some."

But these aren't the type of people I see around me at church, or in suburbia. Jesus talked about releasing the oppressed, the forgiveness of debts, and good news for the poor. He surrounded himself with these people. Have we done the opposite? If it's so hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, why are our churches filled with rich people?

Have the camels all gotten smaller, or have the needles gotten bigger?

Friday, October 2, 2009

Literary Friday

What is beauty? Why does one thing attract us while another repulses? What is it we feel when beauty's mysterious power strikes our senses? Our buddy Marty dragged me into the deep waters of this mystery when he posed me this question: "Why is it that beauty and neatness and order surround good people, but where those things are scarce you usually find an abundance of bad people?"

I was intrigued, so I invited Marty to summon the gentle monks of unChurch Abbey for a Boston Barstool Council where, with the help of our enlightened Theology Waitress, we plumbed the depths of the question: "How God is revealed in creation (Romans 1:19-20), and how does man either participate in God's creative work, or trash it by exploitation and neglect?"

Sometimes pop culture produces something not only sublime in beauty, but profound in meaning.

A tip of the hat to K.T. Tunstall's "Suddenly I See" that tackles the question of beauty head on, while injecting 10cc's of beauty, uncut, straight into your arm. Go ahead, indulge yourself with this tight-woven satin of sound, lyrics, and pictures: Video with Lyrics (scroll down to the YouTube player).

The song, of course is about her own experience of beauty upon encountering the "beautiful girl", which I'd say is the universal norm of God's highest created beauty. She describes its impact: "I see this is what I want to be", and "I see why this means so much to me." It is not envy, and it is not lust that beauty evokes. It doesn't matter whether the beauty is the iconic beatiful girl in the photo, or whether it is the running back's cleated ballet, or the glistening of a spider's web. What is this power?

The beauty of creation inspires us with hope that we embody our Creator's power. And it reminds of that certain extent to which we already do. Mostly, it leaves us with the question, will we tend to our own little endowment of beauty or will we waste and exploit it?

Theologians and other God-thinkers have returned their gaze to the issue of "beauty" after centuries of neglect. Maybe the best discussions on the subject are "A Meaningful World" by Wiker & Witt (on the scientific side of the coin) and "Simply Christian" by N.T. Wright (on the relational side.)

But a picture is worth a thousand words, so my thanks to my friend Ray who sent me the photo at the top of the article. Wherever it's from, it makes the point, and surrounds us in that "silver pool of light."
[Joe B]