This morning’s devotion comes from the one and only Justin Holcomb.
Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the LORD drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. (Exodus 14:21-22, NIV)
This passage is about God showing up in the middle of insecurity and confusion. The Exodus and subsequent journey to the Promised Land are the great moments of deliverance in Jewish history. As it is written in the Psalms, “Come and see what God has done, how awesome his works in man’s behalf! He turned the sea into dry land, they passed through the waters on foot—come, let us rejoice in him” (66:5-6). For thousands of years now, Jews remember and celebrate that God took them from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land. At the last minute, on their way out of Egypt and to the Promised Land, God divided the Red Sea—had God not provided, they would have died.
To Christians, the Exodus foreshadows the ultimate story of deliverance. It points to the cross—the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as “the work of God on our behalf.” The Exodus and the ministry of Jesus both tell us that God provides for those in need, and that God causes life and flourishing where death and destruction try to reign. The Exodus and the cross tell us that God’s operative principle is rescue. God comes near to us—down here in the thick of it—to rescue us.
There is no work we can do in exchange for this rescue: it is undeserved and unearned. As the psalmist highlights the mighty works of God on our behalf, so we see this fulfilled in Christ. Jesus, who came to “fulfill the law,” did the work we couldn’t do, on our behalf. We could never be good enough. We could never fulfill the righteousness required by the Law. God, in the person of Jesus, did the work we couldn’t do for ourselves, and so God attributes Jesus’ work as our work. God exchanges our sin for Jesus’ righteousness. The work of God on our behalf is the best news possible to those in need of rescue.
From the fascinating little volume Joyful Noise: The New Testament Revisited, in which a wide array of American writers offer decidedly non-academic, gut-level interpretations of NT passages. It was edited by Rick Moody (author of The Ice Storm, Right Livelihoods, and most recently my personal fave, On Celestial Music) and Darcy Steinke (Jesus Saves, Suicide Blonde, Easter Everywhere), and published in 1997. This passage from Rick’s introduction stuck out:
My own interpretation of the parable of the hidden treasure (Mark 13:44) is, somewhat ironically, rigidly allegorical…: the treasure at the heart of this story is the message of the kingdom itself, and the fact of grace offered therein — grace in spite of the way you have lived your life, grace in spite of your crimes or your peccadilloes, grace in spite of your religion, grace in spite of mean birth of lofty one, grace in spite of your sexuality or the color of your skin or your creed or anything else, grace simply because grace is what God gives. That’s the message buried in the New Testament, as treasure is buried in a field, the message often overpowered by the fire and brimstone of evangelists going all the way back to the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, through two long millenia of Swaggarts and Robertsons. The Kingdom of Heaven, as opposed to the kingdom of PACs, multinationals, gun lobbyists, tax-exempt charitable organizations, et al., is a place of grace, and this is born out, moreover by the fact that the protagonist of the parable of the hidden treasure is a reprobate. The treasure, after all, is in somebody else’s field when he finds it. The treasure belongs to somebody else. So what kind of guy is this, who has hidden the veritable kingdom of heaven so that he can come back later and swipe it?
He’s like all of us… This hit-and-run, morally dubious miscreant is myself.
Herr Tchividjian’s second talk from Houston, in which he comes clean about the Christian life in no uncertain terms:
The Risk of Grace, part 2 – Tullian Tchividjian from Mockingbird on Vimeo.
Speaking of our man Tullian, just found out that he’ll be with us in NYC in April to lead an on-stage conversation with his good friend Nadia Bolz Weber (on Saturday morning). Should be incredible. And don’t forget: the LIBERATE conference is only a month away!
Hannah Arendt, a non-Christian thinker with a strangely more accurate perception of Christianity than almost anyone, offers some thoughts on the problems with being good:
The one activity taught by Jesus in word and deed is the action of goodness, and goodness obviously harbors a tendency to hide from being seen or heard. Christian hostility toward the public realm, the tendency of at least the early Christians to lead a life as far removed from the public realm as possible, can also be understood as a self-evident consequence of devotion to good works independent of all beliefs and expectations. For it is manifest that the moment a good work becomes known and public, it loses its specific character of goodness, being done for nothing but goodness’ sake. When goodness appears openly, it is no longer goodness, though it may still be useful as organized charity or an act of solidarity. Therefore: ‘Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them.’ Goodness can exist only when it is not perceived, not even by its author; whoever sees himself performing a good work is no longer good, but at best a useful member of society or a dutiful member of a church. Therefore: ‘Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth.’
It may be this curious negative quality of goodness, the lack of outward phenomenal manifestation, that makes Jesus of Nazareth’s appearance in history such a profoundly paradoxical event; and it certainly seems to be the reason that he thought and taught that no man could be good: ‘Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God.’ The same conviction finds its expression in the talmudic story of the thirty-six righteous men, for the sake of whom God saves the world and who also are known to nobody, least of all to themselves. We are reminded of Socrates’ great insight that no man can be wise, out of which love for wisdom, or philo-sophy, was born; the whole life story of Jesus seems to testify how love for goodness arises out of the insight that no man can be good.
(The Human Condition, pp 74-75)
Here it comes, ladies and gents, Dr. Richardson’s wonderful session from Houston. No more missing out!
Like spaghetti and meatballs, comfort and rest go well together; unlike spaghetti and meatballs, however, comfort and rest can’t often be served on a nice dinner plate. More fleeting and mysterious in nature, comfort and rest resist definition and therefore law. (For more details on the Sabbath/Law fiasco, see Mark 2.) Even in contemporary churches, Sabbath (and therefore rest) remains touchy. Given that rest is good (Gen 2, Mark 6) and that comfort lends to rest, it’s worth prying deeper into the nature of comfort.
We’re all familiar with discomfort: We often define ourselves by the amount of discomfort…
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“What are my initials?” my friend Billy asked in response to my ludicrous comment. The obvious answer—apparent to anyone who knows him—is: “BS!” It’s not that I was spewing lies, though they most certainly weren’t truthful. It’s just that it carried no concern for the truth whatsoever because the statements were given for a different purpose: I said them only to get a rise out of him. And Billy saw right through it.
So at the risk of oversimplification, one might say there’s truth, lies, and the ambiguous middle known as bullsh*t. This is what philosopher Harry Frankfurt’s little book On Bullsh*t explores. He…
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A few items were added to my New Year’s to-do list in a Bible study last week:
‘But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
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A resolution-savvy devotion is yesterday’s by Ethan Richardson from The Mockingbird Devotional.
And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. (Genesis 2:7, KJV)
At the foundation of human life lies neediness. A Golden Smog song called “Think About Yourself” (from Another Fine Day) goes:
Every night you close your eyes / Your head is filled with alibis and rules to play,
Everywhere I turn I see the bridges / That you’ve burned just to be free again.
This is so obviously a bitter-love breakup…
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Housekeeping thing: a few copies of A Mess of Help sent out had lots of 5s in their tables of contents. Let us know if you got one of those, and we’ll send a new one.
1. As we’re getting into the Christmas spirit, The Economist makes a surprising contribution with a survey of the Magi’s reception history. Apparently the men were likely astrologers/sages of some sort, but people found kings more appealing. In medieval times, some strange theologians talk about massive royal retinues encamped outside Bethlehem, etc. And in other strains of the tradition, they were bumbling traveler types, something in between the…
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The Advent reading this morning in the Daily Office Lectionary is a zinger, the way it’s laid out. (Don’t get any ideas—this isn’t something I do with any regularity.) First off, we’re given the Old Testament reading, the Lord’s promise through the prophet Isaiah, that a child will come, and that through him the heavy burdens of the “people in darkness” will finally see light: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light…
A yearly Christmas pleasure is King’s College at Cambridge’s famous Festival of Lessons and Carols on Christmas Eve, nine lessons and nine carols with a beautiful choir and traditional music. For those who just can’t wait, here’s a bit of the rationale of the King’s College service, followed by an Mbird-friendly, fresh and down-to-earth spinoff to tide you over:
The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols was first held on Christmas Eve 1918. It was planned by Eric Milner-White, who, at the age of thirty-four, had just been appointed Dean of King’s after experience as an army chaplain which had convinced him that…
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