Here is my message from last week. Again I tweaked it for HS students, and left the changes in just so you can see what I did:
There is a section of the Bible way in the front of the Old Testament known as the Torah. This is made of the first 5 books of the Bible. This section was made up of the books of law. Now Genesis isn’t truly a book of law it is a historical book, and the way the other books of law are written are more like history as well, but they are all considered books of law. Jewish children would go to school to memorize the Torah. They would memorize the books of law, so that they could always remember the laws that God had given to them.
Now these books of law covered just about everything that you can think of. From relationships, to moral law, to the standard laws we have today like murder, and stealing. It also covered sexual purity and impurity, it talked about how to make one right with God if a law was violated. There was this idea of being ‘ritually clean’ that ran through them.
There are also two other sections to the Old Testament, the Na’avim or the Prophets, and the Katavim or the writtings, which included the historical books and poetic books. Together these books made up the entire Hebrew Bible they called it the TaNaK. The interesting thing about the TaNaK is that even though the books of the law are creating this rigid system in which no man or woman could possibly live with out becoming unclean; it’s all about relationship with God. A lot of the laws were designed for safety and hygienic purposes, they made since.
The Na’avim and the Katavim are full of stories of God reaching down to be in relationship with man, or man reaching up in relationship to God. We almost get this idea that it is almost never about the law or ritual.
Lets think about it this way. Parenting is much like God writing the law for the Hebrews. A good parent is much like God. They don’t punish or ridicule for no reason, they have a purpose for everything they do with their kid. They punish to correct, they set down rules not because they can, but to protect, they teach them how to take care of themselves, not because they don’t want to have to take care of their kid but because that is part of growing up, it’s apart of being in relationship. It’s not about the ritual of being a parents or a kid. It’s not about passing down the ritual and rules of your parents. It’s about freedom of relationship
Now there is this story about Jesus in John 2. It is really before his ministry starts. I mean, he has gathered his 12 disciples and has started to teach them, but there have been no crowds, no miracles no challenges to the religious authority, he is still a relatively unknown Rabbi.
Three days later there was a wedding in the village of Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there. Jesus and his disciples were guests also. When they started running low on wine at the wedding banquet, Jesus’ mother told him, “They’re just about out of wine.” Jesus said, “Is that any of our business, Mother—yours or mine? This isn’t my time. Don’t push me. She went ahead anyway, telling the servants, “Whatever he tells you, do it. Six stoneware water pots were there, used by the Jews for ritual washings. Each held twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus ordered the servants, “Fill the pots with water.” And they filled them to the brim. Now fill your pitchers and take them to the host,” Jesus said, and they did. When the host tasted the water that had become wine (he didn’t know what had just happened but the servants, of course, knew), he called out to the bridegroom, “Everybody I know begins with their finest wines and after the guests have had their fill brings in the cheap stuff. But you’ve saved the best till now!” This act in Cana of Galilee was the first sign Jesus gave, the first glimpse of his glory. And his disciples believed in him.’
So imagine seeing that happen. A man, you don’t know who he is only that he is a Rabbi, makes water turn into wine what do you make of that? Well from our cultural perspective we actually miss what the Jews got. We see a man/God doing his first miracle, and yes that is the surface level truth. What actually happened here was Jesus did something very symbolic.
You see the jars that Jesus used for the wine would be the equivalent to sinks for us, except for they would be used a lot more. Every time someone wanted to stop dancing to eat they would have to go and wash their hands so they would be ‘ritually clean to eat’ then after they ate they would have to wash again to go and dance or do something else. Basically every time something happened that made them ‘ritually unclean’ to eat they would have to wash in these, even a shacking of the hand. Jesus made it so that they couldn’t do it anyway. This would have been a huge shock. They may even have made the connection, hey this guy might be the messiah and he is coming to bring the fullness of the law to us. Who knows.
Today we don’t have rituals like that, but we do have some sort of ritual or expectation that can separate us from God. We may feel like it makes us a better person or a better Christian, but it really is more like the sacred cow of Exodus. We need to be our own Moses and destroy our sacred cow before it destroys our relationship with God. This idea that looking upright, or what a ‘Christian’ is supposed to look like is more of a ritual that gets in the way of our faith. Yes there is a way that Christians are supposed to act, but it should always be motivated by our love for God and others as Christ states in Matthew 22: “When the Pharisees heard how he had bested the Sadducees, they gathered their forces for an assault. One of their religion scholars spoke for them, posing a question they hoped would show him up: “Teacher, which command in God’s Law is the most important?” Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.” I don’t know what your ‘sacred cow’ or mask is that you hide your faith behind. If it’s that only listen to Christian music, if it’s you only hang out with Christian people, you never let your guard down and make yourself to look perfect in front of everyone while behind closed doors you know you are sinful and messy. But tonight I encourage you to give up those things. Destroy your masks or golden calf and just let you be you in front of God and he will make you whole.
Write now I want you all to spread out through out the room. Get away from your friends and neighbors. Sit on the floor in the seats, stand, go kneel before the cross in the back if you feel like it. Close your eyes and imagine Christ is standing in front of you beckoning you to give up your mask, your burden and your golden calf. What do you give him? Are you too hesitant to give up anything, is it a struggle? Is it hard? Or do you give up with ease everything? What do you give?
And now may you find freedom from religious ritual. May you find freedom in God and may you see that our TaNaK or Bible is really about the freedom of relationship.