Monthly Archives: January 2014
Having questions is OK. In fact you will always have questions. If you ever hit a point where you run out of questions about the important things in your life you have either achieved the perfect enlightenment of the Buddha or sustained some kind of traumatic brain injury. Questions will keep happening. The world is big and dark and broken and beautiful and strange. And God is sometimes distant, sometimes closer than we’d like, sometimes powerless, sometimes terribly powerful. So how do we answer the big questions about our faith and our lives? What sorts of resources can we turn to? What do we need to keep in mind?
There are several things that provoke these kinds of big questions. A lot of time it’s a specific conflict. Something has blown up in our face and now we have to decide how we’re going to understand it and deal with it. Sometimes its something we see in people around us. Maybe a struggle friends or family are going through. Or maybe its encountering a different worldview of another person.
In Scripture we see these sorts of questions arising all the time. Who am I? What am I called to do? How do I understand what I’m going through? Where is God in this? How do I respond to this problem? Scriptures often show people in moments of great victory and great distress, the times when these questions become live and important. In the scriptures we see these people turning to several places for answers. Most often they begin with prayer, going to God for answers and blessings on their searching. Oftentimes they go to great prophets or the priests in the temple, looking for answers from their place of worship. Later in Scripture we find them going back to earlier texts, looking for answers or comfort in the Law or the Psalms or the stories of the prophets. The disciples and the crowds asked Jesus and the early churches sent their questions to their early leaders like Peter, Paul and James and later their Bishops.
So where can we go for answers? Well Scripture is one of our first sources as people of faith. We hear our other sources in light of this first one. We look through the bible stories for others who have struggled with similar questions. We look for God’s word in controversy and conflict. We might also turn to other Christian teachings or sources of information, books, articles or even internet sources. These give us a wider variety of voices that incorporate Scripture and theology from someone else’s point of view. We often consult our own experience and reasoning, basing our new understanding off of the things that have happened to us before. We also look for previous knowledge in past teachings, sermons, bible studies, lessons. Relationship is an odd category but an important one, we should try to remember to think of these big questions in the specific, remembering that big abstract questions often have specific effects on people around us. If your answer can’t mesh with real people you know it still needs more work.
These sources all have their pro’s and con’s. Scripture is the our first source but Scripture can often be difficult to process alone, and sometimes its difficult to find relevant passages or stories. When we go to books or especially when we go to the internet, we get a wider array of answers but we run the risk of false information and bad teaching. Past lessons are only as good as our past teachers filtered through our own sometimes faulty memories. And finally our reason and experience can be skewed by prejudices, false assumptions and past hurt. Our broken sinfulness trickles through into our intuition and reasoning just as much as our behavior. This is how we arrive at something like racism, a broken damaging way of thinking about the world that is just as much intuition and reasoning as another more positive worldview.
We also have people in our lives to help us process big questions. Friends, while often having similar life experience and limitations as ourselves, know us well and are often dealing with the same types of conflicts in a fresh recent way. Our parents have more experience and the benefit of hindsight (though this can also mean they’re a little while removed from the same issues) and they also know us as well or better than our friends. Our teachers and pastors can also be a great source of help, especially when it comes down to questions of Scripture, theology and Christian teaching.
So how do we move from someone else’s answer to our own? How do I decide that I believe it and not just that I’ve been told it? There are a couple of ways. Sometimes its through a slow osmosis. We absorb the perspectives of those around us, good and bad, over time. Without a conscious filter we will often find ourselves sharing viewpoints with those around us. This can be good, like when we learn to be like a loving or holy church member we see week after week. It can also be bad when we find ourselves imitating the bad worldview of people around us. Another way I would call digestion, slowly incorporating all the things we have heard and learned and read and experienced and making them a part of us. This can be good because we thoroughly own an idea. But we also have to remember to keep an eye on a process like this so we’re not coming up with bad ideas. We also don’t always have time for the long slow road, sometimes problems are RIGHT NOW. Sometimes we intentionally reflect on a problem, sitting down and thinking and talking and reading about one specific issue a lot until we have come to a conclusion. This is helpful because it means we have consciously considered an idea thoroughly before we take it on.
Sometimes we can’t find a good enough answer. And this is ok. God doesn’t expect us to understand everything. We try our hardest to live faithfully as best we can and know that God is with us and for us and ultimately working things for our good. Job is a very long book that is essentially one long big question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” And in the end he doesn’t get a simple answer but encounters God in a strange and scary and powerful way. The Psalms are full of lament were people struggle without understanding and even grow angry with God when there doesn’t seem to be answer.
And finally, changing our big answers is hard but it’s also unavoidable. We’re changing every day. We’re growing and transforming and encountering strange new things. To not change would be impossible. But our charge is to change in holy and beautiful and powerful ways, working in the presence of God to be transformed into someone more like Christ.
So if you are ready to set out a question for us to work through together you can post it here in the comments, tweet it to @ColbyHVBC or FB or text it to me. I’ll announce our first question soon and we’ll put these processes into practice, helping each other to answer big questions together.
Eating with people means something. Maybe not as much as it used to but somehow we still recognize from a very young age that when we get the chance to choose where we sit and who we eat with, that decision says something important. It’s a way we show who our friends are. And who we don’t sit with is a quick way to show who we are uncomfortable with or maybe even dislike.
This was especially true in Jesus’ day. In first century Israel and the wider Greco-Roman world meals were a big deal. There were daily meals at home which were mostly about eating and maybe spending time with family. But then there were the big events. Capital M Meals. Weddings, funerals, holidays, celebrations.
What did eating with someone mean?
It meant you were respecting them. Greco-Roman culture was status obsessed. The whole Roman Empire from top to bottom knew where it sat in an elaborate social and wealth hierarchy. The gods were at the top and they gave wealth and prestige to the emperor, who doled it out to the elite, they passed on shares of it to administrators and governors and they told the local people where they stood.
When you ate with someone you were acknowledging their place in the hierarchy. If someone was particularly honored they would sit at the head of the table, closest to the hosts. If someone just barely made the cut they would sit towards the back or maybe even be forced to stand while others sat. You would eat with people fairly close to your status and you would treat the higher ranking ones better and the lower ranking ones worse. And so they reinforced where everyone stood.
This carried over into Jewish culture in a strong way. On top of this whole respect/status thing you start to add in ideas like cleanliness and holiness. So good people were holy, Jewish, well respected, wealthy, followed Jewish law and were ritually clean. Bad people were unholy, Gentile, disreputable, poor and unclean. The problem is that when you put these together holiness and unholiness, cleanness and uncleanness are communicable. They’re like a disease or a residue, they can rub off on someone else. Holiness or God’s favor can rub off on people. Or usually they talked about the other side, being unholy or abandoned by God could infect the people around you.
So now in addition to the status obsession that the rest of the Empire is working in, the first century Jews are also worrying about holiness and ritual cleanliness and Jewish identity. These are the blocks they use to build a separated and divided world. Status and holiness and wealth all tangled up. To rub shoulders with someone would mean literally sharing your status in the community and in front of God.
We’ve not changed that much since then. We still tend to show our perceptions of others through things like sharing meals and spending time together. When I sit with my group of friends at lunch over and over I solidify the perception that I approve of these people and want to be considered like them. When I have the recurring option to eat with someone else and I choose not to, again and again, I’m also making a clear statement in the other direction.
Table Fellowship still happens every day. Especially when you’re a student. Who you sit with at lunch, who you go out to eat with, who you sit with in class, who you talk to, whenever you make choices you’re building up a social world around you and telling people what you think of them.
1.) What does it mean to eat together?
2.) Who do you most often share meals with?
3.) What are other activities we do that are similar to this?
4.) What are ways we create community?
5.) What communities are you a part of? How do you know? How do you show that?
Abuses at the Lord’s Supper
17 Now in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. 18For, to begin with, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you; and to some extent I believe it. 19Indeed, there have to be factions among you, for only so will it become clear who among you are genuine. 20When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord’s supper. 21For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk. 22What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What should I say to you? Should I commend you? In this matter I do not commend you!
The Institution of the Lord’s Supper
23 For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, 24and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ 25In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ 26For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
Partaking of the Supper Unworthily
27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. 28Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgement against themselves. 30For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 31But if we judged ourselves, we would not be judged. 32But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.
33 So then, my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. 34If you are hungry, eat at home, so that when you come together, it will not be for your condemnation. About the other things I will give instructions when I come.
This passage brings together both patronage and table fellowship in one passage. The early churches which were supposed to be doing away with the inequality and shame of patronage were falling back into bad habits. The shared meal of the community had become another time to put others in their place and reinforce your superiority. Those who arrived early weren’t just anyone but the rich who had leisure and resources. The poorer workers would labor in the field until dark before they could join the church in worship. Only to find that the rich had started without them, shaming and devaluing them.
We need to understand the social world around us because we’re already living in it every day. Next post we’ll talk about Fellowship with God and how the image of Table Fellowship helps us understand a relationship with God in a different way.
31God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
2Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. 2And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. 3So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth and the seas and skies and everything that creeps, crawls, lopes, swims and soars upon them. For six days God engages in the greatest work that has ever been, shaping the formless swirling nothingness into the living Creation. For six days great walls of water are shoved aside, mountains rise, stars move, life is breathed into dust and the living plants and animals spring up from the ground.
And then. God rests. After six days of noise and movement and effort, the Creation goes silent as God rests.
8 Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9For six days you shall labour and do all your work. 10But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.
12 Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. 13For six days you shall labour and do all your work. 14But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. 15Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.
I was not a great student. I would often, through laziness, trap myself in cycles of exhaustion and anxiety. I’d procrastinate instead of doing work, being conscious the whole time that I had something important hanging over my head. So I’d go out with friends, watch TV, play games etc. but never really enjoy them like I wanted to because my to-do list hung over my head. Then when something absolutely had to be done I had to work on it 24/7 as hard as I could because otherwise it wouldn’t get finished. It was not fun. And it was exhausting. I found myself napping all the time because I was always either stressed or sleep deprived. I was going week after week with no structure.
Life without structure starts to fray and come apart at the edges. This is why we often talk about Sabbath as a rhythm. It’s not just a day for rest but a way of organizing time every day, all week. We have a time for rest because we also have time for work. So when we work we truly work and when we rest we truly rest. God separated land and sky and sea. God separated day and night. And finally God separated work from rest. Even Jesus who critiqued the Pharisees for their corruption of Sabbath, affirmed the importance of it and often rested away from the crowds (and if you think you’ve got something so important to do you can’t rest ask if it’s more important than the ministry of Jesus).
Though it might not seem like it when you look at it now, life is only going to get harder to keep organized. There will always be more to do. There will always be one more thing. One more assignment. One more project. You can bury yourself in a pile of just one more. But unlike Egypt which forced endless toil on its people and its foreigners God gives His people rest. Doesn’t just give it but demands it.
And that’s important. It reminds us that God is bigger than all the works we can pile up. There are greater things in the world than stuff, grades, jobs and evaluations. God reminds us that we have other priorities. It’s no coincidence that God immediately moves from you keep the Sabbath to also all those around you. When we are willing to exploit ourselves with endless work we lose sight of the damage we can do to other people when we demand the same.
So how do you integrate Sabbath in your life? Does it mean worship? Does it mean rest? Or silence? Or stillness? Well it means all of those things. When we try and order our disordered lives there isn’t a simple one size fits all. But we are called to begin.
Find a little way that to live Sabbath every week.
Designate a homework free day. (But get it done the rest of the week!)
Or take a few hours one day a week to read a good book.
Set aside a few moments each day to do a devotional or read your bible.
Start to stake out some Sabbath in your world. Show priorities. Find a rhythm for your life.
We’ll come back to Sabbath in a couple of months and hit it again in a big way. So between now and then try to start finding little places for Sabbath in your life.