Jubilee, compassion and hospitality...

NOTE: Here are my notes for this week's message on Sunday, January 24, 2010. The key text is Luke 4 where Jesus speaks of embracing and living into the promises of Jubilee. We will also be sharing the song "Hands" by Jewel as well as the South African "Siyahamba."
One of the most offensive, untrue and genuinely ugly lies that some Christians tell about Jews goes something like this: you know, there is really a huge difference between the god of the Old Testament and the New? Have you heard that lie before: that there is a massive and marked difference between the god of the Old and New Testament?

+ Sometimes it’s put like this: the god of the Old Testament is always telling the people of Israel to kill off this or that group – he’s really very violent – and what about all those rules, laws and regulations? The god of Jesus, however, is all about love – and grace – and is ultimately grounded in peace.

+ Do you know what I’m talking about? Have you heard that lie before – or maybe even repeated it out loud? I know that I have – I’ve heard it and mostly likely said it – and actually even believed it at one point in my ever changing and always wild journey into faith.

But I don’t any more: in fact, while there are very clear differences between Christians and Jews – to say nothing of the differences between Christians and Christians – what I now believe is that the god that takes up shape and form in Jesus is no different from the god of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob let alone Sarah, Rebeca and Rachel.

+ We are talking about the God of the psalms: the Lord is my shepherd I shall not want? Create in my a clean heart, O God, and restore a right spirit within me?

+ We’re talking about the God of the prophets: what does the Lord require of you, O Israel, but to do justice, love mercy and walk with humility with your God?

+ We’re talking about the God of the exodus: who hears the cries of her people in bondage and acts in history to set them free. Remember how the old gospel hymn puts it? Go down, Moses, way down to Egypt land and tell old Pharaoh: let my people go!

We who have been called into the new covenant – not the first covenant God made with Israel – and NEVER revoked – but the second covenant born of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus – we need to regularly remind ourselves of this fact. Because, Christian friends, we cannot grasp what Christ was talking about if we separate him from his Jewish roots and faith.

+ I know that you’ve heard this before – and essentially believe it, too – but it bears repeating over and over again because the lie is so deeply ingrained in our heritage.
+ We, like Jesus, worship, honor and celebrate in awe the God first revealed to the world through Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebeca, Jacob along with Rachel.
Remember: Jesus learned to pray using the psalms, he probably learned to read using Genesis, his momma sang him to sleep and told him bedtime stories of the patriarchs and matriarchs of Israel. He was circumcised, dedicated to God at the temple in Jerusalem and bar mitzvahed.

So it should come as no surprise to us that shortly after starting his public ministry of preaching, teaching and healing, upon returning to his home faith community – the synagogue in Nazareth – he was asked to read one of the morning lessons. According to tradition, he stood up to read –reminding us that Jesus was literate – and was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah.

Searching for the 61st chapter, Jesus read these words: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Then he rolled the scroll back up, handed it to the attendant and said: today this scripture has been filled full in your hearing.
Do you know what he was he talking about? What was filled full – or fulfilled – when he read from the prophet Isaiah? Do you know what Isaiah was talking about and why it could matter to you and me 2,000 years later? Any ideas? What strikes you about this lesson?

I think that there are three broad insights that were important once upon a time in first century Palestine – and continue to have relevance to us in the 21st century –if we’re willing to listen first to what Jesus the Jewish mystical poet was trying to communicate to those in that little Palestinian synagogue.

In fact there are three words – jubilee, compassion and hospitality – and those three words are at the heart of our new mission statement. What’s more, they help give shape and form to what it means to serve, honor, worship and celebrate the God of Israel. Three words:

+ Jubilee or yobel in Hebrew – compassion or mercy which is hesed in Hebrew
+ And hospitality – hakhnasat-orh.im – which literally means welcoming or taking in the guest

These three words are critical to us: for you see, when we put them together – when we covenant with one another to gather with God and each other to worship, to reflect on our Christian faith, to do justice and share compassion – we are embracing the heart of religion as first taught by the prophet Micah 800 years before Jesus. “What does the Lord require” asked the prophet, “but to do justice, to love compassion and walk together with God in humility.” (Micah 6:8)

So this morning I want to briefly review these words with you – jubilee, compassion and hospitality – so that we might better understand what Jesus meant to those who first heard him in the synagogue. And then consider what he might be saying to those who are gathered together in this faith community in 2010. And to help you open your head and heart to this study I’m going to ask my band mates to share with you the song “Hands” by Jewel.

This song not only captures a nuanced sense of awe and loving commitment – the marriage of head and heart/mercy and justice – it does so in a beautiful way. And as one of my favorite theologians, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, has said: The surest way to suppress our ability to understand the meaning of God and the importance of worship is to take things for granted. Indifference to the sublime wonder of living is the root of sin… and radical awe the antidote. So take a moment to rest in the awe of poetry, beauty and music…

She gets that so right: in the end only kindness matters. Not being right – not being the strongest or the best – or number one or any of what usually passes for wisdom in our bottom line existence. No, in the end, only kindness, mercy and compassion matters.

Jubilee – the acceptable year of the Lord as both Isaiah and Jesus call it – is about uniting holy and human kindness together. Jubilee comes from the Hebrew word yobel meaning “ram’s horn.” It was a trumpet like blast welcoming in a year of Sabbath living and is associated with the Latin word jubilo – to shout – in celebration. But shouting and trumpet blasts are not at the heart of jubilee – the Sabbath is – and there are some very clear Hebrew teaching about Sabbath living and jubilee celebrations.

What do you know about the Sabbath? What does it mean and how is it celebrated?

+ It is recorded in the Old Testament – in the 10 Commandments of Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 as well as Genesis 2 – that creation was completed by God in six days and upon the seventh the Lord rested. So the Sabbath is a time for consciously savoring the beauty of creation.

+ In time it also became a religious labor law that prohibited work for all people so that every person – believer or not – and all of God’s creation – animals, the plants in the field as well as the earth itself – might be refreshed.

And Jubilee became a way of embracing the blessings of Sabbath rest in a social and even political manner. Every seventh year the land was to lie fallow so that it could rest and be refreshed – Israel was “green” long before it was popular or even necessary. It has been suggested that the Jubilee year started on the first day of the seventh month – on the festival or Rosh-ha-shannah or New Year – with a trumpet blast that invited all of creation into Sabbath.

And this idea of rest and renewal built upon the perfect number seven – the day of the Lord’s rest – was a gift that kept on giving. If the land was allowed to rest, so, too the workforce.

And if the workforce was allowed rest, so, too the debts that so often plagued the working and peasant class; that’s part of what we mean when we pray the Lord’s Prayer. Forgive us our debts as we forgive one another – not just sins and failures – but financial bondage was forgiven. So land was restored to its earlier owners – the goal was to forgive all debts – and encourage the totality of society to be refreshed by a Sabbath rest.

When there had been seven cycles of seven years – 49 years – a whole year of Sabbath rest was to begin with… a trumpet blast: Jubilee. And while it is not clear how much of this Jubilee spirituality was put into practice throughout the history of Israel, not only did it always remain the goal or promise, but it is what Jesus was talking about when he read from Isaiah.

+ Isaiah 61 is all about the acceptable year of the Lord – the Jubilee year – the crown of Sabbath rest and renewal.
+ Isn’t that what he says? I have been called by God to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord’s favor – one of the ways to speak of Jubilee – and now that scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.

This way of living – this type of Christian spirituality – has NOTHING to do with “accepting Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior,” does it? No, this is about living in ways that are in harmony with others and the very land and creation itself.

St. Paul understood the Jubilee connection: that’s why he speaks to us living as one body. We are all connected – whatever happens to the weakest impacts us all. Whatever happens to Haiti – touches us all. Whatever happens in Afghanistan – or Iraq – or the homeless shelter or the home for abused children touches us all. Remember where Jesus told his disciples they would find God? Not in the temple or synagogue or prayer book or bible: wherever you care for one of the least of these, my sisters and brothers, there you will find the Lord.

And just so that we don’t miss how the Sabbath rest, forgiveness and social renewal of the Jubilee saturate Christ’s teaching, Jesus speaks specifically about compassion and hospitality: Hesed and hakhnasat-orh.im: you can’t make Jubilee flesh without these two ingredients.

+ Compassion – an English word borrowed from two French words – com (meaning with) and pati (meaning to suffer.) In English, compassion has to do with our willingness to suffer with another; to help them carry their load or burden or even their Cross. In Hebrew, hesed, is a reciprocal relationship – a love between God and humanity as well as between people – where the well-being of the other is just as important as our own survival.

+ And hospitality – radical hospitality – hakhnasat-orh.im – not only has to do with finding a place at the table for the unexpected guest and caring for him or her as you would your family. It is also means discovering the divinity within the other – seeing God in the face of the stranger – like the Hindus say in Sanskrit: Namaste. Literally, “the sacred in me recognizes the holy in you and bows in reverence.” Namaste – let me welcome you who are tired and hungry, cold and alone, poor and afraid – because the holy in my humanity recognizes the God within you and honors the Lord by caring for you.

These are radical and life-giving insights – this is a way of living 180 opposite the status quo – and it is all grounded in Sabbath. And unless we live and experience and share and celebrate Sabbath, beloved, we are unable to live into our calling of jubilee and compassion and hospitality. So what do we need to do to help us reclaim – and honor – a sense of Sabbath celebration within and among us?

What one act – or commitment – could you make that would allow you to be better rested, and, simultaneously more willing to express gratitude to God with your life?

+ Any ideas? What is going through your head or heart?

+ Let me offer one that is simple – and at the heart of Sabbath and Jubilee living: listening – listening to another, listening for God, being still without having to be the center of the universe.

The poet John Fox put it like this in his book Finding What You Didn’t Lose:

When someone deeply listens to you
It is like holding out a dented cup
You’ve had since childhood
And watching it fill up with
Cold, fresh water.
When it balances on top of the brim,
You are understood.
When it overflows and touches your skin,
You are loved.

When someone deeply listens to you,
The room where you stay
Starts a new life
And the place where you wrote
Your first poem
Begins to glow in your mind’s eye.
It is as if gold had been discovered.

When someone deeply listens to you,
Your bare feet are on the earth
And a beloved land that seemed distant
Is now at home within you.
Somewhere in the Bible we are told: be still and know that I am God. Such is the good news for those with ears to hear.


Black Pete said…
Invariably, I go back to the Hebrew Bible ("Old" testament) for the stories, the wonder, the journey. No, I can't read Hebrew and wish i could, but enough of the power has survived to mine great amounts of gold from it. And always remembering that Jesus was firmly rooted in the rabbinical tradition helps balance a lot of theological wackiness.

I found Rabbi Nilton Bonder's book The Kaballa of Money, to be very helpful in working out spiritual matters in an earthy way. I plan to read his other books as well. Bruce Feiler's many and varied journeys into the Hebrew Bible geography and people's lives are also a powerful antidote to the negativity you've mentioned.
RJ said…
I really like Feiler's stuff, too. And have a new journey re: Rabbi Bonder. Thanks. You always bring me insights, my man, and I am grateful.

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