It’s a long story but it asks a short question: where should we look to see God? And this drama enacts two answers to that question: there’s an exclusion and an inclusion. And it all comes down to what you think the Sabbath means.
Either the Sabbath serves to separate those who observe it—the good guys—from those who don’t—sinners all—thereby limiting God by the Law. Or the Sabbath stands as an opportunity for God to reveal God’s ever more creative goodness and kindness to us, unfinished creations that we are.
To the religious authorities in the story God has stopped creating and things are the way they are and if you are blind then someone’s broken the law somewhere. But to Jesus creation is open ended and God never rests from creative compassion.
And look what a difference it makes: To what we think of sin. What we think of suffering. What we think of God.
How do you know where God is and God isn’t? To some it is clear because the lines are sharply drawn. Who is in and who is out is black and white—not a grey area in sight. And sinners are easy to spot and easy to exclude.
But Jesus redefines sin. It’s not crossing some line that makes a sinner. What makes a sinner is drawing the line; seeing the differences between us in terms of guilt and fault and failing.
It comes down to this: Is God a little tribal deity, sleeping out his latter years, while his kingdom is administered by religious bureaucrats? Or is God Creator of all and endlessly unstoppable in her ingenuity and fecundity and grace?
That’s a question we all need to answer whether on retreat or a course or on the team. Where do I go looking for God? And where do I not look, never look, because I’ve drawn the line.
How creative will I let God be?
March 5th, 2005
The Law and the Land … that’s the strange link that’s forged all through this part of Deuteronomy. The Law and the Land.
The Law is given for the sake of the Land. So that the people might enter the land of promise and live there. The Land is given for the sake of the Law. So that the all the nations might gaze on Israel and marvel that such a Law—and such a God—lives among them.
You get the feeling that it is no arbitrary Law Moses offers them—not just a book of rules—not just what God thought up that day—you get the feeling the Law comes with the Land. God may be the giver, and it may be human hands that carve the stone, but the law rises up from the soil and blows in the breeze down from the hillsides. The law of God and the law of the Land.
Land given and Law given and, between the two, the one God who burned and thundered on the mountain at Sinai. All that divine energy channelled by Law and making the Land live. And the people with the touch of the land under them and crackle of heaven above them the envy of their neighbours who clamour for such a law for themselves, for such a God—drawn near in the Law, into the Land.
That’s the offer Moses makes. Take up the Law and enter the Land and God will live in the midst of you … not just in tabernacle and sacrifice but in waking and sleeping, in herding and tilling, making a living, loving a friend, baking the bread, wiping the dust from your eyes. Land and Law.
Lent. And the voice of our Land has fallen silent these days and we rarely hear it speak with power. All the mystery is gone. All the holy fear. And the nuclear pulse of God’s presence hardly crackles among us either. Maybe in here we still hear the dying echoes … but the deafening roar of divinity seems to have left our land.
When were you last astonished by the bare soil under your soles? When were you last burned by an electric holiness too powerful to contain?
Personally … it’s been a while … … but I hope and I wonder … What would it take for us, once more, to enter the Land and Live?
March 2nd, 2005