Monday, February 18, 2013

The Challenge Continues, Day 43: Leviticus 16-18; Psalm 36; Mark 9

THAT Chapter, Transfiguration and living down to expectations...
OK, we are here...chapter 18 of Leviticus. If you hadn't struggled with the previous chapters, then perhaps our selections today will accomplish that task. If has been difficult to absorb the apparent, demanding particularity of God's demands for sacrifice in the first part of this Book...and now the slope becomes steeper in our climb to finding some degree of understanding of the what, and why of God's proscriptions for Israel as they journeyed into the wilderness. Aside from animal cruelty, in driving the scapegoat into the wilderness, there are incredible demands placed both on the priesthood and on the people if they wish to live within the bounds of the economy of sacrifice that God sets up and that can only take place in front of the tent of meeting. You can top that off with the directions on sexual behaviors. Prohibitions on incestuous sexual relationships make sense in a biological and (present-day) societal context. The same can apply to bestiality; but I struggle with the one-line tossed into the mix regarding homosexual contact. It is an understatement to observe that these commandments go well beyond God telling us how many times we are to wash our hands before and after meals.

As I sit and meditate on these scriptures, I come back to something that God offers as a way for Israel to understand what is being asked of them as they commit to being the people who live in covenant with God: The reason they are being asked to do (or not do) these things is in order that the be seen as not like the Egyptians, from whence they came, or the Canaanites, toward whom they are journeying. It is less about "right and wrong" as it is about "the other people and you." God is ordering a relationship with Israel that will clarify their being set apart as a people making witness to God's being and doing in the world. Israel, as God's chosen vessel, is going to need to look, act, sound and be different from other nations. On top of that, the land that they are journeying toward is already inhabited. Their faith will be practiced in a cosmopolitan context. They will be one of many, and as they have already learned, assimilation means that they will cease to be that distinct people, consecrated to the God of their ancestors.

This is not to dodge the question of just what sort of sexuality God accepts or rejects. It is an attempt to place a context on the commandments.

We have heard from God what Israel is to eat, and not eat. We have heard from God how Israel is to worship, and how they are NOT to worship. We have heard from God on all number of levels on how Israel is to behave, now that they are being chosen and prepared to live in covenant with the Holy One....and yet our society chooses to spend its time debating the question of sexuality. Worse, many choose to see the question as one based for individuals as a choice of behavior versus a state of human being. I would have to unpack years of theological and pastoral reflection on this question in order to give it justice, and a simple morning reflection does not give me the space and time needed.

Rublev's Transfiguration
What we can do this morning is allow the 9th chapter of Mark into the mix. Jesus takes Peter, James and John up the mountain. While there, they experience Jesus' transfiguration. Peter wants to build three tabernacles for Jesus, Moses and Elijah...and for them all to simply stay up on this mountaintop. The result of the request? A direction for them all to listen to Jesus, the Son and Beloved...and that means going back down the mountain to the world. Jesus' leadership in the following moments illustrates that above all else, we as his followers are called to radical and intentional prayer, and into radical and intense relationship with each other and the people around them. Jesus embodies this example by connecting with the father of an epileptic boy. The only demand placed on us? To have faith, in Jesus and in each other. The result? The boy is healed and restored to his father. The lesson for the disciples? The Kingdom of God is found here and now in our midst, as we live in relationship with each other and with God as our center, and prayer as our way to focus in on that way of being.

As it stands, I am not sure which journey is the more difficult to undertake: to be one who submits to the Law and thus responsible to set ourselves apart; or to be one who embraces the sort of radical inclusion that Jesus holds up to us. While both proffer a primary relationship with God, in Christ I see a path that is always challenging us, and opening us, to see the God-given humanity and grace in our neighbors and to seek and serve God in them. Today, that is the climb I choose to undertake....

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