February 12, 2015

Making a mess?

Growing up on the farm meant doing (or witnessing) some unpleasant chores. One of them was dehorning and branding cattle. The horns had to be removed to prevent injuries and branding to prevent cattle rustling (which happens in real life as well as in the movies).

The other chore, worse in my mind, was butchering chickens. They would go in the freezer to feed us during the winter, but seeing a chicken beheaded and then scalded to remove the feathers didn’t do much for my appetite. Of course, for either chore, our mom told us to put on old clothes, certainly nothing we would wear to school or for finer occasions.

After reading in Exodus of the beautiful garments God wanted His priests to wear, and after reading of the bloody sacrificial rites they performed — in those garments with jewels and fine linen — I’m shaking my head at the scenes I imagine. Blood on their clothes, blood spatter on the altar; it is an unpleasant sight. I don’t understand why they couldn’t wear coveralls, but I do understand the sacrifices. God says without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness for sin.

As my mind imagined details, a couple of verses at the end of this first reading pull me back for the big picture. God said, “I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God.” (Exodus 29:45–46)

As awful as what they were doing seems (at least in my imagination), these sacrifices were continual reminders of the fact that God had delivered them from slavery in Egypt, and reminders of His holiness, and of the awfulness of their sin, and their need for forgiveness.

I couldn’t put the images of fancy clothes and sacrifices out of my mind, but a couple of phrases in the second reading gave me a glimpse into God’s view of these priests and their bloody garments . . . . “Behold, you are beautiful, my love, behold, you are beautiful! Your eyes are doves behind your veil . . . .” (Song of Solomon 4:1)

This refers not just to the priests, but the entire Bride of Christ being praised for her beauty. Does the bride, the church always look good? No, but because God puts us in Christ, He sees us and says, “Behold, you are beautiful, my love, behold, you are beautiful!” How gracious is our God!

Also, as I read about those priests and their glorious clothes, I wondered if they wondered about wearing them instead of coveralls. There is no mention of it. No doubt it was an honor. They probably felt unworthy even as they did their work with a sense of privilege. Their hearts were filled with holy reverence for the One who had delivered them, who gave them this task of intercession.

Then the NT reading makes an echo. In the passage for today, John describes how Jesus is like those priests. Just as they following the instructions of the Lord God, so also did Jesus do as the Lord God told Him. He repeatedly told His listeners that He did the will of God, and included this explanation . . .

“I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.” (John 5:30)

Application is sometimes blatantly simple. Even if God asked me to dig in the mud wearing my best clothes, or asked me to get messy helping someone out of the mud, I’m to behave like a priest and like Jesus, and do exactly what He tells me. I might look less than spiffy in the mirror, but in His sight and because of Jesus, no matter what I’m wearing I am beautiful.

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