Rembrandt’s Belshazzar’s Feast is a beautiful depiction of the horror of the Babylonian king when a mysterious hand writes a mysterious message on the wall. Read the story as its told in Daniel 5 and note Rembrandt’s attention to realism and detail.
What reactions does this story illicit in you? What do you see in this painting?
One of the most provocative stories in the Hebrew Bible is the story of Job. Job was a man of extravagance. He was surrounded by a large and loving family who lived with him on his huge estate. But unfortunately for him, his entire fortune is taken from him and he’s left with virtually nothing. In fact, even those closest to him–his wife and three friends–turn on him. In other words, Job has simplicity forced upon him.
Sometimes, simplicity is forced. Occasionally, we are blind-sided with unforeseeable circumstances that leaving us reeling. But what would it be like to begin to explore simplicity in the good times? What would Job’s life have been like if he had considered simplicity before it took him by surprise? What lessons might we learn if we value simplicity in every moment?
What does simplicity really look like in our day and age?
In Christianity, ‘sin’ is kind of a buzzword. Much of the time, it is described vaguely, as if everyone already knows what it is. But I’m not so sure. What if our sins are those things we most often overlook? What if sin isn’t so obvious? I can’t help but wonder if attempts to know precisely what sin is, to define it, and to master it aren’t ways to justify the parts of ourselves we are more often than not unwilling to examine.
This emphasis on sin–and subsequently, on forgiveness from sin–reveal a strong emphasis on an exchange of economy. One party has wronged another party, whether that be God or another human being, and some sort of restitution must be made. This has inspired a lot of talk about atonement, explaining the death and resurrection of Jesus as something of an punitive transaction.
And then, we as individual ‘sinners’ are released from our debt.
Certainly this is one metaphor that has been prevalent in the history of Christian thought and even one that has some foundation in the Bible. But it is not the only metaphor. In fact, the biblical text more often describes sin as something beyond the particular short-comings of individuals. Sin is often corporate. And the answer for those sins is not so simple as forgiveness. Instead, the solution to sin is often framed in terms of liberation from exile, freedom from the oppressors, a renewed commitment to justice and equality, and living into a new way of being.
And there we find freedom.
How do you define sin? How do you define freedom?
Take some time this holiday weekend to think and join us on Sunday as we work through these difficult questions together.
The world often seems to operate by a certain set of rules. There is a natural order, a law of nature, that keeps things in check. As human beings, it can be tough to tell where we fit into the whole scheme of things. Certainly nature has its effects on us. But much of the time, we feel free to bend the rules or to outright break them. This has led a number of people to wonder about freedom. What does it mean for us to be free? Does it mean that we understand the order of the world?
Listen to this song as you read these words from Paul:
Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification.
When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death. But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
–Romans 6:12-23 (NRSV)
What does freedom mean to you?
Our community of faith is particularly proud to participate in traditional worship every Sunday. A key component of such worship experiences is liturgy, a public act of worship together. Since I’ve been welcomed into the NACC fold, I’ve been amazed by the sheer poetic love that Pastor Laura has for the crucial liturgical aspect of our worship together. So it’s no surprise that I immediately thought of our church when I read these words this week:
This is why sacramental signs have have for us a heuristic function; they are not just illustrative or metaphorical. They prompt us to new thought and guide us into deeper modes of meditation because they contain a surplus that thought can never fully fathom.
Liturgy is not simply a public duty relating to collective concerns (often today almost excessively expressed in the political focus of petitionary prayers) that stand in contrast to inner spiritual formation. Rather, it is itself the primary way in which the Christian, throughout her life from baptism to extreme unction, is gradually inducted into the mystery of revelation and transformed by it. . . .
Paul implicitly saw the liturgy of the church as genuine making present again, and even a continuation of, the original salvific drama.
And so we are redeemed . . . through participation in the liturgical process; this is at once a speaking, acting, sensorial, and contemplative process. . . .
What this implies for liturgical practice is that in worship we are always making a response of our incarnate souls–a response of the heart–to the incarnate God. This response is immediately inscribed on our bodies and requires no interpretation.
from Christina Pickstock, “Liturgy and the Senses,” in Paul’s New Moment, edited by Creston Davis, John Milbank, and Slavoj Žižek (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos, 2010).
What are your thoughts? What does liturgy mean to you?
In John 14-16, Jesus gave to his disciples some final wisdom. With those words, he offered his friends hope for the coming days; he challenged them to embody love in the world as he had embodied the goodness of God in grace and in truth; he reminded them of the presentness of God in the world.
Goodbyes can be so difficult. At the end of things, reflection can bring warm smiles or heartbroken tears. As we think back on our lives, we are grateful for our fond memories and occasionally haunted by the ghosts of our regrets.
I’m amazed by two types of responses in this video. First, my heart aches for the man who regrets his drinking or the girl who wishes she would have visited her sick grandfather. These regrets are so real, so visceral, so truly regrettable. But I’m also amazed by those who thoughtfully and confidently stated that they simply had no regrets. I’m sure these people have had a whole slew of terrible experiences and have made their own fair share of mistakes. Yet they recognize the beauty and freedom that comes from learning from those mistakes; they see clearly where their paths have led them.
What would it be like to look back on our lives through the lens of Jesus’ greatest commandments? If we spent our lives focusing on loving God with all that we are and loving others as we love ourselves, what would our farewell discourses be like? What hope would we offer the future?
May we be empowered by that love
To weave new patterns of truth and justice
Into a web of life that is strong, beautiful, and everlasting.