Tonight I taught a small group on themes in the Hebrew Scriptures (aka Old Testament, but that doesn't honor the fact that God still speaks through them very well). As I was prepping for the class I read a bunch of the book A Theological Introduction to the Old Testament (Birch, Brueggemann, Fretheim, Petersen), which is very well done, I thought. I got a lot of good information out of it and appreciated their intentionality about looking at the writings on their own terms, not putting 2000 years of Christian thought directly into them, but looking at what the text says and creating an interaction between the text and Christian traditional theology.
Anyway, one of the themes I was working on was the theme of the law, which isn't usually one of my favorite parts of the Bible because a) it's kinda' boring, b) we don't follow most of those laws anymore anyway, and c) some of the laws are even hurtful to women or other groups. But some things about how they talked about the law in this book stood out to me: first, the laws were given to a people who had already been redeemed, i.e. bought out of slavery, by God--they were already in relationship with God. These laws were put in place to help them live the best possible life in community. They were not rewarded when they obeyed, they just received the natural good consequences of living in positive relationship to others. They weren't punished when they disobeyed, except by the natural negative consequences of not living in right relationship with others.
Second, it pointed out that because of Israel's connection to the land (the Promised Land), the consequences of not living according to God's laws were seen played out on their land, and that was a huge thing for them. When they lived in right relationship with God and others, the land could be fruitful and produce as it was supposed to and provide health for them. When they didn't live in right relationship with God and others, the land suffered because of their selfishness and wars. Christians have forgotten this connection between our actions and the land we live in because we aren't a religion connected to a certain place. But I think we definitely need to remember this, and start living with respect for the Earth.
Third, the Levitical law doesn't use substitutionary language. The animals that are sacrificed aren't ever said to be "in place of" ourselves, but they are a sacrifice of God-given life, something that is a sacrifice for us to do without. God gave the life to the animal and accepted that life as a sacrifice showing the intention of the person to be in right relationship with God, even if it wasn't easy. Different people gave different sacrifices based on their level of wealth, so that every person had to give something that would truly be a sacrifice for them--something that was hard to go without. That was the way the Israelites worshiped God, through giving a tangible offering hopefully representing an inward reality.
That last one got me thinking about what it is that I sacrifice in worship. Do I sacrifice anything? Again, going back to the Romans 12:1-2 passage I talked about last week, it says that we are to offer our bodies as living sacrifices, for this is our spiritual worship. So do I truly offer my body for God to use as God wants? Sometimes...but most of the time I want to be in control, and it's hard to sacrifice anything that I find it difficult (read: not comfortable) to live without.
Well, I suppose offering my body as a living sacrifice at this point means I should be in bed sleeping while I have the chance (but don't worry--I think this blog's still on East Coast time but I'm on the West Coast so it's not as bad as it looks! =)