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Posts tagged ‘temple’

Giving to Receive

Malachi 3:1-3; 10   The Message [MSG]

“Look! I’m sending my messenger on ahead to clear the way for me. Suddenly, out of the blue, the Leader you’ve been looking for will enter his Temple—yes, the Messenger of the Covenant, the one you’ve been waiting for. Look! He’s on his way!” A Message from the mouth of God-of-the-Angel-Armies.

But who will be able to stand up to that coming? Who can survive his appearance? He’ll be like white-hot fire from the smelter’s furnace. He’ll be like the strongest lye soap at the laundry. He’ll take his place as a refiner of silver, as a cleanser of dirty clothes.

Bring your full tithe to the Temple treasury so there will be ample provisions in my Temple. Test me in this and see if I don’t open up heaven itself to you and pour out blessings beyond your wildest dreams. 

giveselfDuring Advent and the Christmas season, it is important for us to be mindful of our Western biases when it comes to the story of the birth of Jesus and also the characters in the drama we think we know so well. Specifically, it is a must for us to accept the fact that the Hebrew prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Malachi were not talking about Jesus of Nazareth, nor were they writing to a Christian audience. Those writings are much more ancient than the NT Gospels, and Jesus of Nazareth was not on anyone’s radar screen, of course. But in all fairness to the casual Bible reader, those who put the Bible together didn’t do us any favors. The order of OT books is set in such a way as to point the Christian reader to “aha” and foreshadowing moments that seem to draw connections for us between OT prophets [and other books] and the NT stories of Jesus.

Malachi is one such example. In the Christian Bible Malachi is the last OT prophet. This is not all the case in the Jewish canon. Obviously, the Christians who put together the order of their Bibles wanted Malachi last so as to draw connections between the OT prophecy and the birth of Jesus.

But I think it’s our responsibility to read the OT [as much as possible] through a Jewish lens, being careful not to jump to Jesus conclusions so easily. Why? First, because it’s honest and truer to the text. Secondly, because by doing so we can glean even more meaning from the text and not settle for cookie-cutter, Christmasy conclusions that limit our understanding of an ancient culture and religion. Okay, I’m off my soapbox.

What’s Malachi, and what’s it all about if it’s not about Jesus?

Malachi, not a name, but the actual Hebrew words “my messenger” is a book about the corruption of religion and the need for change. The priests in the Israelite temple of Jerusalem [the rebuilt one] are apathetic; there is corruption in the temple. Many scholars think that Malachi was written somewhere around 450 B.C.E.

Malachi’s audience, if that date is correct, is pre-Babylonian exile, and post-second-building of the Jerusalem temple. So basically, the people had ample time to get apathetic and lax in their treatment of people and their worship of Adonai. Yes, they had the big temple and their religious rituals, but as people they weren’t all that impressive.

So Adonai [the Lord of Hosts] is coming, and who can stand when Adonai appears? Adonai will be like a refiner’s fire, and a harsh soap [reminds me a bit of Ralphie in A Christmas Story].

Ralphie-SoapAdonai will help the people be the best people they can be, on the inside, and in their worship.

But that is not enough.

The refining and the harsh soap serve to remind people of what is important. Are they talking smack behind people’s backs? Are they ignoring the oppressed workers? Are they looking away from the widows, the orphans, and the refugees? For Malachi, it’s not enough for the priests and the people to be good, religious people, doing the right kinds of rituals in the right way.

Worship of Adonai must be paired with good behavior in the world.

How the Israelites treat people is more important. Otherwise, their worship is false.

Malachi is, as Professor John Holbert states, more than a mere warm-up act for the main stage appearance of Jesus.[1] He is a truth-teller rather than a predictor. And all of us would benefit from hearing this message. What would it be like if instead of focusing on the birth of a little baby boy, we actually focused on how we treat people in our community? What if instead we focused on the refugees, the lonely, the forgotten, the marginalized, and the oppressed? What if our worship was about being kind and compassionate to others?

You see, Adonai, the one who comes as a refining fire and cleansing soap–comes into our lives to help us realize our full potential. We are not limited to rituals or even religious practice itself, thinking that such things please God. Instead, we are refined in order to understand that we are so very capable of healing, caring, empathizing, and giving. The tithe acceptable to God [borrowing from Isaiah], is the giving of ourselves in the world. It’s not just money.

The tithe is our humanity, who we are.

Sometimes we forget that our humanity is such a gift to others if we share it with them.

When we give someone our time without distractions.
When we perform an act of kindness without expecting anything in return.
When share an honest, but difficult feeling we have with someone because we trust him/her.
When we listen intently and compassionately to someone going through hell.

Consider this:

What if God only cared about how much we truly gave of ourselves?
What if we focused more on that and less on everything else?
How would that change things for us as people?

[1] The Lord Is Coming: Look Busy! Reflections on Malachi 3:1-4, John C. Holbert, December 02, 2012.

 

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Rocks

Mark 13:1-8

rocks

Did you ever skip rocks as a kid?

Did you ever collect rocks on the beach or in the forest or near a stream?

Did you ever climb a tall hill or a mountain and stand in awe of it?

Have you ever been drawn to rocks?

As a kid, I loved finding strange and interesting rocks. My parents used to take us to places like Colorado where I could find all kinds of beautiful and mysterious rocks in caves and around mountains. Geodes were my favorite.

geode

Geodes are geological rock formations which occur in sedimentary and certain volcanic rocks. The exterior is generally limestone while the interior contains quartz crystals and/or chalcedony deposits.[1]

There many types of geodes. First Nation groups in Oregon called one geode type “Thunder Egg.”

thundereggFire agates come from Mexico and Arizona. Commercial deposits exist in China, Mexico, India, Madagascar, and the U.S. along the shores of Lake Superior.

The outer surface of an agate is rough, pitted and ugly. It masks the beauty of the crystal inside. However, the crust is weak and somewhat fragile and over centuries it is washed away allowing the gemstone to be discovered along rivers and streams.

Geodes look cool and they’re beautifully complex. But it’s more than just their surface appearance that attracts people.

Many, many people, across the globe, are drawn to rocks.

Psychologist Carl Jung believed that rocks were one of the primordial symbols of eternity. He wrote:

Many people cannot refrain from picking up stones of a slightly unusual color or shape and keeping them…without knowing why they do. It is as if the stone held a mystery in it that fascinates them.[2]

Jung said that each of us has inherited this ancient human tendency toward seeing–or rather, feeling–the sacredness in rocks. It is true that long ago, our ancestors around the world believed that rocks were filled with gods and spirits. It is for this reason that today we pile rocks on graves or create tombstones—because our ancestors believed that rocks could hold or release a person’s spirit.

sandlwanamassgrave

Most religions and spiritual movements of the world consider rocks in some way as symbols of faith, spirituality, energy, healing, foundation, or strength. In Buddhism, rocks are considered, in their essence, collections of vibrant energy rather than just inert lumps of matter.

Quantum physics agrees.

So what see with rocks is both modern science and ancient spiritual practices coming together. Rocks are energy; we have been and are drawn to them.

Rocks frequently take center stage in the New Testament’s Gospel stories.

In this Mark story, Jesus’ disciples are marveling at the great temple in Jerusalem, the one built by King Herod in possibly around 19 BCE. It was marble and gold and about five football fields long. It was awesome.

HerodsTempleSo it’s no surprise that the disciples gawk at the thing:
“Dang…look at those massive stones!”

Of course, Jesus is not in awe as the disciples are. Keep in mind here that Mark’s gospel writer has the luxury of writing this story after Jesus’ death and during or shortly after this Jerusalem temple was actually torn down and destroyed. So this story is contrasting the awe of the disciples with Jesus’ disdain at the corruption and oppression that happened within the temple during King Herod’s reign.

When Mark’s Gospel was written, it was a tumultuous time. War, violence, upheaval, etc.

The story then shifts to the Mount of Olives, positioned opposite the temple for dramatic effect.

MountOlivesSome of the disciples ask Jesus what will happen and how will they know? They are worried about the future and they’re scared.

Jesus’ response is to be wary of those who provide easy answers or try to lead them astray—people who claim to be great rulers or leaders. Jesus does not ignore that there will wars and upheaval and even famines. But this is just the beginning, meaning that all this craziness and uncertainty is not the end.

Something good is actually here AND on its way.

You see, Mark’s apocalyptic/end of world sayings are meant to be good news and not depressing.

How? Because the things that societies and nations and people often exalt and glorify like empires, kingdoms, and beautiful buildings don’t last forever.

Which brings me back to rocks.

A rock can keep energy from the sun’s rays even after other things give way to the dark and cool. Pick up a rock in the sun; it’s warm. And it stays that way. Rocks, unlike kingdoms and empires and wars and upheaval—they are forever present in the world, remaining long after we are gone.

So yes, a rock can actually be a comfort. Jesus of Nazareth was called the cornerstone of a whole new world. He wasn’t a king, a religious ruler, or even a political leader. He certainly did not represent the great temple and what it stood for. Instead, he was a different kind of rock—one who encouraged those left on the outside of society to cry out, to make themselves heard. He welcomed children, widows, lepers, the poor, the marginalized. And if anyone tried to silence them, the rocks themselves in all of nature’s beauty and mystery would cry out.

The rocks themselves would cry out.

So I’m thinking that we could all use a little time with rocks.

We should be children. We should pick them up and curiously look at the strange and odd ones. We should feel them—all their smoothness and roughness. And in the midst of a chaotic and often violent world, we ought to remember what really lasts.

We shouldn’t stand in awe of great empires and governments, marveling at their reach and grand towers and temples. Instead, we should remember that they won’t last forever. Eventually, they will fall down or be torn down. And yet, in midst of all this, the rocks all around us remain constant.

They comfort; they heal; the revitalize.
This is more than just hope; rocks are tangible.

They can be a sign to remember the tangible presence of the Divine in all living things, and even the seemingly unmoving things like rocks.

God’s constant love and presence in the lives of all people everywhere.

[1] Gerard V. Middleton: Encyclopedia of Sediments and Sedimentary Rocks. Springer 2003

[2] Man and his Symbols, Carl Jung

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