The Seat of Mercy

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 92; 149, Exodus 25:1-22, Colossians 3:1-17, Matthew 4:18-25

The LORD said to Moses: Tell the Israelites to take for me an offering; from all whose hearts prompt them to give you shall receive the offering for me.
– Exodus 25:1-2

The Ark of the Covenant was a container built to hold the tablets of the Ten Commandments, God’s first laws for Israel. Its golden cover, with grand cherubim sculpted into either end, was called the Mercy Seat. The Mercy Seat was where God was present in the center of his people, and where sacrifices were offered for atonement of the sins of the people. All the gold for the Ark, as well as materials for the tabernacle (portable temple) which housed it – other precious metals, fine fabrics, gems, leather, spices, etc. – were collected voluntarily from people whose hearts were moved to give. This was a special kind of generosity since the people of the nation of Israel had only the possessions they had taken with them when they fled Egypt, and were a wandering, exiled people without other resources or trading partners. Each contribution was a meaningful sacrifice. What a wonderful metaphor: God’s dwelling place is created by the generosity of the community.

The Ark was secured in the innermost part of the tabernacle, and later in the temple at Jersualem, called the Holy of Holies. Only high priests were permitted to be in the presence of the Ark, and each year on the Day of Atonement they would sprinkle sacrificial blood on the Mercy Seat. Flash Forward a few centuries and in the outermost part of the temple we would find the money-changers whose presence offended Jesus so much that he drove them out with a whip. What started with the generosity of the people had become a place for the powerful to exploit the poor.

Offering himself as the ultimate sacrifice, Christ fulfilled the law and made the Mercy Seat obsolete. His was the blood of the new covenant, shed for all. We are no longer separated from God by law, but redeemed to him by love. As Paul taught the Colossians, in Christ there is no male or female, Greek or Jew, slave or free … inside the Holy of Holies or outside; all are equal members of the Body of Christ. Together, through our generosity and love, we are tasked with building a holy place, more precious than gold, with this new covenant at its center.

Comfort: God dwells among us.

Challenge:  When you can, work toward reconciliation.

Prayer: Loving God, I thank you for the sacrifice of Jesus the Christ. Make me a worthy bearer of his covenant. Amen.

Discussion: What divisions do you observe among the body of Christ? Conservative or liberal? Catholic or Protestant? Others?

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Keep It Simple

complicated simple

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 96; 148, Exodus 24:1-16, Colossians 2:8-23, Matthew 4:12-17

Religion is painfully easy to exploit. We all want answers, and when someone confidently claims to have them, many people will listen. That’s why trends like the prosperity gospel, which teaches wealth is God’s will for us, are so appealing. They describe a formula for us to follow – the rights prayers, words, and (most importantly) tithes – and tell us it will resolve into the answers we seek. Whether it’s The Secret, Bible codes, or calculating the day of the rapture, answers – even false ones – are more reassuring than questions.

In Paul’s day the trends among the faithful included angel worship, following visions, and mortification of the flesh (self-inflicted denial and abuse of one’s body). He warned the Colossians to avoid such distractions, as they were human creations which did not serve God. Many of the faithful – who had given up physical idols – made spiritual idols of Sabbath rituals, dietary restrictions, etc. and spent more energy fretting over them than on the love and salvation of Christ. Paul declared these practices “of no value in checking self-indulgence;” to the contrary, they were self-indulgent displays of insincere piety.

Faith is not a magic decoder ring unlocking the secrets of the universe. Any religion or denomination that claims to teach us the secret spiritual handshake to get into Club Jesus does not serve God. Certainly we need to know to love God with our whole beings, and our neighbors as ourselves, but this information is handed out freely on Sunday mornings and in hotel nightstands across the country. Prayers, no matter how powerful or specific, are not magic spells and there are no get-blessed-quick schemes. Faith is trusting God to see us through every situation, good or bad.

Let’s keep our faith simple, while remembering even simplicity can become an idol. When Christ died the curtain in the Temple was torn in half, so all might know God is not contained only in hidden places where others can permit or deny us access. God is most available to us when we stop telling Him – and others – where He should be found.

Comfort: God is not hidden in secret places; God dwells all around and within us.

Challenge:  Avoid the temptation to treat faith as a means to an end.

Prayer: Creator, Redeemer, Counselor … thank you for your abiding presence. Teach me to turn to you above all others. Amen.

Discussion: Do you have any religious practices which might not exactly serve God?

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Dress for Spiritual Success


Today’s readings (click below to open in new window/tab):
Psalms 111; 150, 1 Kings 3:5-14, Colossians 3:12-17, John 6:41-47

Whether you leave your house dressed in a bathrobe, a suit and tie, or a wedding dress, it’s the same you underneath. Despite employer dress codes, you are no less competent on casual Friday than you are when dressed for a board meeting at 8:00 a.m. on Tuesday. However there are times when what you wear is crucial. A nurse treating infectious patients must wear protective clothing. Hikers need footwear to provide both comfort and stability. Dancers are hindered if their clothes do not allow freedom of movement.

In his letter to the Colossians, Paul says they should clothe themselves “with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” and “love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” Some clothes communicate how we intend to interact with the world. Opposing teams and referees all wear different uniforms for a reason. Someone can say “I’m a professional football player” but until they’re suited up and on the field, they’re not playing professional ball. We can quote scripture and doctrine all day long, but if we haven’t put on a Christian attitude, why would anyone believe us?  Sure, meekness might itch a little and sometimes we can’t wait to slip out of that patience at the end of the day, but they are part of the dress code for the best job in the world.

The good news is, once you’ve broken them in, they are pretty comfortable. Kindness feels less like a tie choking off your breathing and more like a scarf keeping you warm. Humility changes from a girdle squeezing in your less virtuous bulges to a support that helps you keep your back straight and head high. None of us are able to display Paul’s list of virtues all the time, but the more conscious we are about putting them on, the more they become part of us, and the more prepared we feel.

These garments will protect you. They will provide comfort and stability. They will give you confidence to move freely in a world that doesn’t always understand what you’re doing. Dressing for success doesn’t have to cost a dime.

Comfort: Love of God and neighbor is the most beautiful thing you can wear.

Challenge: As you are getting dressed for the day, be intentional about putting on your garments of faith as well.

Prayer: Loving God, I will clothe myself in faith to please you and serve your world. Amen.

Discussion: What’s your favorite item of clothing and why?

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