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Day 31- What the Lord Desires: The Circumcised Heart- Read Deuteronomy 10:12-22; James 1:25-27
The Lord makes it clear that he wants the Hebrews to ‘circumcise their hearts’; to remove their hardness by breaking them so that they will be open and responsive to God’s grace and guidance. He wants them to ‘fear the Lord’. The holiness of God can inspire terror as well as obedience but there is also an awe of God which is compatible with delight in Him and love. How are they to show that they fear the Lord and that their hearts are circumcised? They are to love, serve and treat with compassion the aliens, widows and orphans in their land.
It is the same today. We are to treat the disadvantaged with love and compassion. In addition to orphans, widows and aliens, we are to treat society’s lepers with love and compassion; those with AIDS, homosexuals, the pedophile, the Muslim, the woman receiving an abortion, the mentally ill, the homeless, those in prison and all others that society chooses to shun. This will prove that we fear the Lord and are His children.
We must, as a Church, decide if it is more important to upkeep a building or give money to organizations that care for the marginalized. These were precisely those that Jesus called blessed in the Beatitudes because they had no one but God to help them.
James writes of the importance of caring for widows and orphans. In fact, the diaconate was formed for that purpose. This is not only a diaconal ministry, but for the individual believer. How do I care for widows and orphans? Do I pray for them daily? What can I do to help my church honor widows and orphans?
Who are the lepers in my life? How do I still suffer from a hardened heart? How as an individual and as a Church can we support and aid the marginalized in our society and world? How do I think my attitude toward life would be different if I were one of the marginalized?
Day 32- Societal Responsibility to the Needy: The Sabbatical and Jubilee Years- Read Deuteronomy 15:1-11 and Leviticus 25:8-22
Continuing from Day 31, how is society to take care of the poor and dispossessed? Part of the answer in ancient Israel was in laws relating to the Sabbatical and Jubilee Years. These are the seventh and fiftieth years when debts are cancelled, land lies fallow, slaves are set free and land is returned to its original owners. (In addition, usury or the charging of interest on loans to other Israelites was always forbidden by the Mosaic law.) These laws are an ideal code and it is not certain that some of the most idealistic ideas were ever fully put into practice. They stand together, however, as a vision of Israel living completely under the dominion of God and in obedience to the divine will—they are holy as God is holy and all of Israel’s actions are to respect the integrity and purpose of God’s creation.
Today, we have social programs, entitlements and safety nets in addition to charitable organizations that provide for the needy with the help of contributions from individuals. Religious organizations also provide services to meet the needs of others as acts of love and justice. Our donations to the Church satisfy a small part of our obligations to others. In addition to tithing, we should aid organizations that benefit the disadvantaged since these were precisely those with whom the Lord Jesus spent time with and blessed with the Beatitudes.
How do I aid the needy? Am I working toward giving to charitable causes in addition to tithing to the Church? What societal laws are needed to care for the disadvantaged? How can I help promote these laws?
Day 33- Prayer and Praise: The Battle Against Amalek: Read Exodus 17:8-13
The Hebrews engaged in a battle with the Amalekites, a people who harassed them during their desert journey. As long as Moses kept his arms raised in prayer and praise, the Hebrews were winning the battle. When he stopped praying and praising, the Hebrews began to loose the battle. Moses grew tired so he sat on a rock on a mountain overseeing the battle and had two of his servants support his arms so that they would stay raised all day until the Amalekites were defeated.
Today, prayer and praise can still work miracles at the Lord’s hands. Today, however, we are not trying to wipe out a people who harassed us. We are trying to defeat an even worse enemy; our own sinful natures (Pogo was right: We have met the enemy and he is us!) As a Church, the power of prayer and praise can do much more than we can do as individuals. When the power of our joint prayers is combined with praise, we may be able to change the world for Christ’ sake!
How often do I praise God with outstretched arms? What do I need to praise Him for? Do I attend my Church’ prayer and praise services often enough? Write below a short hymn of praise to Jesus for all He has done for you.
Day 34- Prayer and Thanksgiving: First Fruits and Tithes: Read Deuteronomy 26:1-15
When the Hebrews entered the Promised Land they were to tithe from the first fruits of the soil and herds as a thanksgiving to the Lord for all He has done for them. They were to offer these to God for use by the priests and the needy of the land including, among others, aliens, orphans and widows. Thanksgiving and action were to be an integral part of the prayer life of the people. It is true to this day as modern Jews combine the word of God (Torah) with righteous actions (Mitzvos): “For a mitzvah is a candle and the Torah is light.”
Today, we don’t generally have crops and cattle to offer as our first fruit tithes. We are to give money and services for the use of the Church and to aid those in need. Our tithing is an act of faith. If we don’t tithe, we can’t expect God to bless us as He would like since faith is to be such an important part of our lives. In many ways a Church that has a large endowment is at a real and severe spiritual disadvantage since parishioners may be tempted not to tithe and thus not exercise their faith. An endowment can easily be used as one of the greatest devices of the devil to defeat the work of the Church of Christ!
Do I see the possessions I have as mine or as His? Do I tithe? If not, am I moving in the direction of tithing, giving 10% of my income? If not, why is my faith so weak? Do I really expect the Lord to act on my behalf and behalf of the Church if I don’t express my faith in a way that He wants? What must we do as individuals and Church to increase our faith and express it in very tangible ways?
Day 35-The Mystery of Change: Mercy for Repentance-Read Deuteronomy 30:1-14
God promised Moses that the people could always return to His good graces by repentance. This is more than being sorry. (It appears that many of those committing the improprieties on Wall Street and Washington are only sorry for being caught!) Repentance means changing; something that most people are incapable of doing on their own. This is where the beauty and wisdom of the 12-Step programs (developed by Episcopalians, imagine that!) come to the rescue. The heart of the program, steps four through nine, is the mysterious process of change that results in freedom for those that were the most hopeless.
Step 4- Made a searching moral inventory of ourselves (examination of conscience)
Step 5- Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs (confession)
Step 6- We were entirely ready to have God remove all of these defects of character (circumcision of the heart)
Step 7- Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings (prayer)
Step 8- Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all (preparing to make amends)
Step 9- Made direct amends to such people whenever possible except when to do so would injure them or others (making amends)
I recognize from experience that steps 6 and 7 are the most mysterious. It may take a lot of work to want to change (As St. Augustine said: “Lord, make me chaste; but not yet!) Asking God through prayer to remove my shortcomings when I’ve finally accepted the fact that I want to change leaves God free to remove them in His own time and way. In my impatience and frustration I’ve often got angry at God for not keeping His promise to help me change. Then, when I least expected, I’ll discover that I had changed and that others noticed it first! While I must do the foot work of change, ultimately it is all grace (amazing!)
Look at your examination of conscious conducted during the course of the last forty days (see especially days 1, 27, 28 and 29) and work through the above steps.
Day 36- The Power of Free Will: The Choice of Life or Death: Read Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Moses lays down the stark choice: life or death, fire or water, loyalty or disloyalty, freedom or slavery yet again, submitting their wills to the Lord or their own egos and other false gods. His people can choose either and will reap the consequences of their choice. How will they choose? The answer is contained in the next six books of the Bible: the book of Judges, the book of Joshua, the two books of Samuel and the two books of Kings. These give the history of the Hebrew people over the next five centuries. Based on this testimony, there were very few periods (and very few Kings) where the people and rulers choose life. The final result of the Deuteronomic History is that the northern kingdom of Israel gets destroyed by the Assyrians in the 8th century BC and never again exists as a people. The kingdom of Judah is destroyed by the Babylonians in the 6th century BC and are exiled to Babylon to be purified. Only those who go through this purifying experience of exile will continue to be the people of God.
The experience of 2,000 years of Christianity is also mixed. There were many periods where it appears that the Church leaders went astray by following power, pleasure and possessions instead of following the still, small voice and humbly obeying it. Earthly power became more important than spiritual power. Today, the choice is still ours to make. Will the Church follow a living God that challenges us to growth and holiness or a dead God that pacifies us and allows us to be comfortable in our middle class lifestyle and unchanging? The choice is yours, and ours!
Read Psalm 1. Which path do I normally take? How do I choose life? How do I choose death? In what areas does our Church need to grow and choose life?
Day 37- Remembering From the Heart: The Song of Moses: Read Deuteronomy 31:30- 32:44
Moses, in his role as a great prophet and teacher, sings this song, a poetic sermon, to the Hebrews as they are about to enter the Promised Land. It will be remembered and sung at the campfires to teach of God’s love and benefits to His people and the ingratitude of His people by turning to idolatry with the gods of the surrounding pagan nations. God will use the pagan nations themselves to punish His people. The foolish pride of the pagan nations (who think that they have conquered Israel by their own power) will then be punished and the Lord’s honor will be vindicated. This song talks of the future and what will happen when Israel is conquered by Assyria and Babylon but will return to their homeland after they have been purified by exile and suffering.
Is it possible that the United States, because of its great power, pride and secularism, is being taught lessons by both our enemies and the collapsing world economy? Perhaps God will use our idols of power, pleasure and possessions to teach us lessons we could not learn otherwise.
Thoughtfully reflect on how the Lord could teach us lessons through nature and events and write below a brief song or psalm expressing these thoughts.
Day 38- The Quest for Relics: The Death and Burial of Moses: Read Deuteronomy 32:48-52 and 34:1-12
God allowed Moses to feast his eyes on the Promised Land from Mount Nebo. After that, he died at the age of 120 and was buried in the land of Moab. The people mourned him for thirty days after which Joshua led the people into Canaan. By the time the book of Deuteronomy was written, no one knew where the grave was located.
Perhaps it is good that the grave of Moses remains unknown. If it was definitely known where his bones were laid, I am sure that “relics” of his would have circulated across the country and perhaps even worshiped or assumed to have magical powers as happened with the bronze serpent in Old Testament times and as the bones of Christian saints have been honored during the Middle Ages. Today, the Shroud of Turin, the supposed burial cloth of Jesus, is probably the most famous relic of the Christian Church. I suspect that no matter how good the science gets, God will never allow hard, irrefutable evidence of His existence and works to be discovered. Where would the need for faith be if science were allowed to prove such things?
How much and what kinds of evidence do I require to augment my faith? Do I have any superstitious beliefs? Do I hold any items (crucifix’s, scapulas, bones of saints for example) to be nearly magical in their power to protect me? Do I believe in horoscopes and other astrological practices?
Day 39- Legacy of Moses 1: Old Testament Legacy- Read Psalm 78, Sirach 45:1-5, Wisdom 10:15-11:3
The memory of Moses, friend of God and master law giver, lived on after his death in the 12th century BC. The story of Moses and the Exodus was transmitted by mouth from father to son at the campfires of Israel and started being put into writing around the time of Solomon and later (9th century BC). The Five Books of Moses (the Pentateuch, the Torah) were put into final written form while the Jews were exiled in Babylon in the 5th century BC. Readings from Sirach and Wisdom (both in the Apocrypha of protestant Bibles) show that Moses and the Exodus memory were still at the heart of Jewish faith in the 1st and 2nd centuries BC. Today, 33 centuries after his time, Moses and the Exodus are read during Passover, as sacred to Jews as Easter is to Christians.
Contemplate what you have learned about Moses and the Exodus. Read Deuteronomy 16:1-8. Can you understand why he is the pinnacle of the Jewish faith? Can you understand why the Law is so important to the Jewish faith?
Day 40- Legacy of Moses 2:New Testament Legacy- Read Matthew 17:1-8, John 3:13-15, Acts 7:20-44, Hebrews 11:23-29, Revelations 15:1-4
The legacy of Moses continues in the New Testament. Moses, representing the Law appears with Elijah, representing the Prophets, at the Transfiguration of Jesus on the holy mountain (symbolic of Mt. Sinai) and they talk about Jesus’ mission in Jerusalem. The bronze serpent of Moses is used as a prefigurement of the Cross of Christ. He is preached as one of the great heroes of the faith and, in the last book of the Bible, Revelations, his hymn (from Exodus 15) is sung by the angels. On a more subtle level, the early life of Jesus in the Gospels of Mathew and Luke are patterned on the life of Moses and the Exodus journey. To this day he is one of the great fathers of the faith in the Christian Church.
How has your life been like the Exodus journey? How has the life of the Church been like the Exodus journey? What does our entry into the Promised Land mean? Have our own weaknesses and laziness kept us in the wilderness? What can I, as an individual, and the Church do to hasten the entry into the Promised Land or the Kingdom of God?
We have now reached the end of our Lenten journey. The Hebrews are entering the Promised Land, a pinnacle of the Jewish faith while we are celebrating Easter, the pinnacle of the Christian faith. The Hebrew journey is also our journey as the Old Testament prefigures the Christian faith contained in the New Testament. Jesus is the new Moses, leading us to freedom. Jesus’ story and the story of the Christian Church is, at many points, paralleled in the Exodus story. The story continues to this day. May the next chapters in your life and in the life of the Church be one of glorious growth as the Lord leads us to the next stop on our journey of faith. Amen.
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