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Second week of Lent: Solemn Reproach #2

Read Exodus 16: 1-8

 

O my people, O my church, what more could I have done for you?

Answer me.

Forty years I led you through the desert,

feeding you with manna on the way;

I saved you from the time of trial and gave you my body, the bread of heaven,

but you have prepared a cross for your Savior.

Holy God, holy and mighty, holy and immortal,

have mercy on us.

 

 

God provides all of creation with everything we need to survive and flourish, even when we’re unsure of God’s methods.  The stories of the formation of God’s people in the wilderness continue to powerfully shape our understanding of God’s providence. 

 

As we have read in the book of Exodus, the people of God, newly delivered from slavery in Egypt, are free, but unhoused.  They are free, but hungry and thirsty in the wilderness.  The people feel vulnerable and worried—so God provides manna.  Manna is the Hebrew word for “what is it?” because they can’t even describe this bread-like substance.  But it is enough to feed and to sustain them, and they know this manna comes from God. 

 

The people will continue their journey sustained by God’s grace because remember God has a covenant, a promise with these people, beginning with Abraham and Sarah and unfolding through the generations.  The people of God in the wilderness are the first to receive the Law in the Ten Commandments. 

 

And here is a place where we need to highlight some ideas because we can get things confused sometimes.  Lutherans distinguish between Law and Gospel as the way God’s Word comes to us. 

 

Our Christian perspective of the Law is that the Law shows us where we fall short and where we need God.  For us, the Law points out our shortcomings but doesn’t save us. 

 

Christians understand our salvation through the Gospel, the good news of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.  Lutherans set up the Law and Gospel as something like opposing forces, sometimes Law as a frowny face or “makes you feel bad” and Gospel as a happy face that “makes you feel good and loved and whole.” 

 

It's important to notice our perspectives and to know how we understand our own faith concepts, like the Law.  Jewish people use the word Law but mean something very different—for the Jewish people, the Law includes the Ten Commandments and the other associated laws that go along with those, but also the Law is seen as a gift from God, an expression of enduring relationship. 

 

Judaism uses the word “Torah” which means “law” but Torah is also more than the law.  Torah refers to the first five books of the Bible—can you name them?  Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy—and these first five books are attributed to Moses, which is written Torah.  Jews also recognize an Oral Torah, the oral traditions handed down by generations of rabbis, teachers and mystics. 

 

The Torah is a gift of God, not an indictment or something negative.  Jews speak of Torah in a way that reminds me of how Christians speak of Law and Gospel AND God’s Word AND grace, so that’s how I am coming to understand Torah now.  Torah is the Law that is also an expression of God’s love and providence and covenant relationship. 

 

So when Christians oversimplify our ideas of Law and Gospel, we’re missing the point.  And worse, when we associate “Law” with the Old Testament, or associate “Law” with something negative, and then associate “Gospel” with positive things and the New Testament, then it’s not hard to believe theologies that reduce Judaism to a relic of the past, like “too bad y’all don’t know about the Gospel.” 

 

The thing is: Law AND Gospel are themes that run side-by-side, interwoven together throughout the Old Testament AND New Testament.  God is the same God in the Old Testament and the New Testament.  It becomes dangerous to suggest the Old Testament has a different God—not only is this bad for the Jewish people for whom the Old Testament is the primary Scripture, but this also cuts off Christians from understanding our origins or understanding where Jesus comes from. 

 

Christians understand Jesus as redeeming humanity from the power of sin, but sin is not the essential starting point for understanding God’s redemptive, covenantal ways.  This is brought up in this pamphlet, “Preaching and Teaching with Love and Respect for the Jewish People.”  The starting point for understanding relationship with God is not human sin, but God’s own love and grace, which God promised to Abraham would be a blessing to all people. 

 

As Christians, we understand Jesus as the one who fulfills God’s promises to Israel, but it’s important to remember: God’s promises to Israel are still valid.  God will still fulfill these promises to the people of Israel and God may have other ways, but friends: that is God’s business, not ours. 

 

Both Judaism and Christianity value God’s redemption and God’s promises and the subsequent elaboration of what faithful life will look like. 


Pastor Cheryl


 

 



 

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