The Bible Challenge 2015 – Day 45

Leviticus 22-24, Psalm 37:19-42, Mark 11
Invincible with God at our side

Leviticus 22-24
Psalm 37:19-42
Mark 11
Key Verses
Questions
Prayer

Leviticus 22 – 24

When I lived in Paris after college, I made several trips to Leuven, Belgium, where a friend of a friend was the Dean of the American College, one of the finest Roman Catholic seminaries in the world. I was living on $3 a day in Paris and was given free room at board at the seminary, which I greatly enjoyed. I would also a local monastery, where I lived with the monks, worked, prayed and ate with the monks.

Once while staying at the American College, we traveled across the border to Cologne, Germany, where we toured the magnificent cathedral and visited an artisan’s shop, which produced some of the most beautiful religious artwork that I have ever seen. The owner had lost an arm in World War II, while serving in the German army. He felt called to ordination and to serve as a priest after the war, but the Roman Catholic Church turned him down for he only had one arm. They said that he could not serve as a “Christus altar” (other Christ) at the altar before the people of God for he was maimed or blemished.

Leviticus 21:17 tell us that “No one of your offspring throughout their generations who has a blemish may approach to offer the food of his God.” Denied an opportunity to serve as a priest, the one-armed veteran became an artisan. Today, the religious art that he has produced can be purchased around the world. God works in mysterious ways.

In today’s readings we read a lot about presenting as sacrifices only animals that are free of any blemish. (Lev. 22:17-30) What is clear is that God wants our best, not our leftovers. God wants us to offer what we would prefer to keep for ourselves. We must, however, read Leviticus and other parts of the Bible wisely, sifting for what we are called to live and practice today and discarding other parts that are human-made rules that no longer define our lives today.

One thread which passes through today’s readings from Leviticus is the need to honor the Sabbath. “Six days shall work be done; but the seventh day is a Sabbath of complete rest, a holy convocation; you shall do not work: it is a Sabbath to the Lord throughout your settlements.” (Lev. 23:3) The author stresses the Sabbath, noting that no work is to be done on it. (Lev. 23:8, 21, 29, 32 and 39)

When I lived in Richmond, Virginia, I knew many lawyers, lots of whom went to the office on Saturday and some on Sunday. One of them explained to me that he went only when he had great amounts of work to do, but some colleagues went to the office to escape a bad marriage, to get away from noisy children at home or to read the newspaper in peace and quiet. Many of us can use our work as an escape. Sometimes, we become addicted to our work. Some have no luxury but to work every day.

God, however, is offering us wisdom for healthy living. As we consider what to discard and what to keep among the teachings of Leviticus, honoring the Sabbath as a day of rest without work is a wise admonition to follow. If we work seven days a week, we will work at our own peril. Something must be sacrificed – our happiness, sense of balance, relationships or our health. Something will metaphorically be placed on the altar and incinerated like a burnt offering wafting up to God.

Moses was given Ten Commandments by God. The Israelites embellished this with 27 chapters of laws and regulations found in Leviticus and 34 more chapters of laws in Deuteronomy. As if that were not enough, the Jews composed 6,200 pages of Talmudic law covering every conceivable code of conduct and behavior for daily living. Our task is to live a life of love and to take those teachings from the Bible that facilitate this and to discard the rest.

Chapter 24 closes with a focus on lex talionis or the Jewish practice of restitution based on an eye for an eye. Fortunately, Jesus counters this with more effective ethical teaching that does not call for maiming those who have harmed us. This chapter lifts up a painful story where a blasphemer is stoned to death for cursing God. Religion has come a long way in most parts of the world, but sadly there are places where this still occurs. All religions are not equal nor are all religions good. We must challenge wrong religious practices in our own tradition and in others, not dismissing religion altogether but demanding of ourselves and others to take what is good and to discard practices that are not life-giving.

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Psalm 37:19-42

At 36, Bode Miller became the oldest Alpine skier to win an Olympic medal. It was his sixth Olympic medal and quite a feat. Bode won a bronze medal, but may have earned gold or silver had he not skied so aggressively. After the race when a reporter questioned whether his aggressive skiing technique had perhaps kept him from earning a higher medal, Bode responded, “I won’t ski that way…If you ski like you’re invincible, a lot of times you stay invincible. In skiing, if you back off and ski a little more tentative, you’re almost more likely to get hurt. Having succumbed to injuries but having rebounded, Bode spoke with authority gleaned from experience.

Something similar occurs in the mind of spiritual athletes. When we have trained hard, disciplined ourselves through daily spiritual practices by engaging God’s Word and God on a daily basis, receiving the sacraments and serving others, we live the Christian life humbly, but boldly. We develop a fearless nature. We know that if God is with us, nothing can be against us. God’s power surges through us. We live in God’s spirit and can feel it. The psalmist tells us,

Our steps are made firm by the Lord,
when he delights in our way;
though we stumble, we shall not fall headlong,
for the Lord holds us by the hand. (Ps. 37:23-24)

Psalm 37 mirrors Psalm 1. We are admonished to “Depart from evil, and do good…” (Ps. 37:27) In doing so, we shall “abide forever.” The psalmist adds,

The mouths of the righteous utter wisdom,
and their tongues speak justice.
The law of their God is in their hearts;
Their steps do not slip.” (Ps. 37:30-31)

Like an Olympic athlete who exudes confidence from years of training, we exude confidence for Christian living after years of disciplined time spent with God each day. We do not become cocky or arrogant, but rather humble and selfless, trusting that whatever we face and do, we are never doing it alone. God is walking with us and working through us. Even if we die, we shall live. We are invincible, because God’s Spirit has enlivened our spirit forever.

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Mark 11

Palm Sunday arrives early in Mark’s Gospel. Matthew does not arrive at Palm Sunday until chapter 21 and Luke until chapter 19. More than a third of Mark’s Gospel is dedicated to the last week in Jesus’s life. For this reason, scholars do not describe Mark’s Gospel as a true biography. What biography, after all, would focus one third of the book on one week in a person’s life?

Please note three things. First, Jesus tells us, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations.” (Mark 11:17) This quote hearkens back to Isaiah 56.7. Today, this biblical verse is lived out by the National Cathedral or the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul, which sits atop Mount St. Alban in Washington, D.C. While there are less than two million Episcopalians in the United States, Episcopalians have been great leaders in our nation, producing more presidents, senators and congressman than any other denomination until the last two decades. It was the national Episcopal Church, which accepted the challenge of building a national cathedral to serve as a house of prayer for all nations. It is one of our national treasures and one of the glories of the Episcopal Church.

Second, we are told that the chief priests and scribes were afraid to arrest Jesus, because “the whole crowd was spellbound by [Jesus’s] teaching.” (Mark 11:18) When clergy and laity engage the Bible regularly, we become marinated in God’s Word, which quickens our will, warms our heart, stimulates our mind and allows the Holy Spirit to guide our actions throughout each day. Our teaching becomes spellbinding, because it is not we who speak, but God who speaks through us. The Church needs more men and women, teenagers and children devoted to the Word so the Word can work through them and overflow in to the lives of others.

Third, when we live in God’s love, renewing ourselves each day through pray and engaging the Word, power surges through us, cleansing, healing, renewing, calming, restoring, revitalizing, strengthening and invigorating us for loving service and blessing others. Jesus tells us,

Have faith in God. Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, “Be taken up and thrown into the sea,” and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you. So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. (Mark 11:22-24)

Christians have a right to live with confidence, because it is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives within us. One important element of this, is to forgive those who have hurt us. This is like cleaning the air filters in our house. Each month I examine the air filter in our heating and cooling system. If I fail to do this, the filter will get clogged and the heat or air conditioning will be ineffective. We must continue to offer forgiveness to others so that God’s forgiving love may flow freely through us and into the lives of others. Otherwise, our forgiveness system will become clogged and no longer function. We will not experience God’s forgiveness, because we have failed to allow God’s gift to flow through us and into the lives of others. Neither we nor others will benefit. Jesus says,

Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. (Mark 11:25)

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Key Verses

Our steps are made firm by the Lord, when he delights in our way; though we stumble, we shall not fall headlong, for the Lord holds us by the hand. (Ps. 37:23-24)

Have faith in God. Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you. So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. (Mark 11:22-24)

Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. (Mark 11:25)

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Questions

How are you at Sabbath-keeping? What are your spiritual practices that day? Do you worship on every Sabbath? Do you take time to read a devotional book or pray more than usual? Do you visit friends, connect with those who might be lonely and do any service work? Do you feel God’s power and spirit surging through you? Do you ever feel God’s Spirit enlivening your spirit? Are you changing your internal forgiveness filters regularly so that God’s love and forgiveness might pass through you and into the lives of others, or are you allowing them to become clogged?

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Prayer

Holy, holy, holy God, in your light we see light. Let us live this day simply in your grace and goodness, allowing each moment of this day to be what you intended it to be – a gift! If we cannot do that, let us examine our life carefully to see what must be changed in order for us to live with a sense of grace at all times so that our life might be a reflection of your life and our cup might overflow with love. In Jesus’s name we pray. Amen.

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© The Rev. Marek P. Zabriskie
Rector of St. Thomas Episcopal Church
Fort Washington, Pennsylvania