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Weirdo Fixations and the Heart of True Religion

antique timepieceDuring my recent convalescence after surgery I received a disturbing letter from an earnest young man who was understandably distraught over his shunning from a congregation for whom he felt deep familial attachments.

I know I joke around a lot, but I intend no jest here. His church believes that the proper way to measure days is from sunset to sunset, as many Jewish religious calendar keepers do to this day, and which Jesus (being part of such a culture) appears to have done in the gospel stories. See Mark 1:32, where those desperate for healing and deliverance do not even attempt a move toward Jesus until the setting of the sun.

This young man became secretly convinced that days should be measured morning to morning, light to darkness based on his reading of Genesis 1 and by the impress of another soul who sought to turn him to the “dark side” with logical arguments of grammar from there.

I’ve encountered some seventh day Sabbath keepers for whom this is a big deal, seeking as they do to have Jesus resurrect on the regular Saturday Sabbath as opposed to what some Christian theologians have regarded as a type of super Sabbath (in the vein of the year of Jubilee) rising from the dead on the first day of the week, leading to a Sunday Sabbath for Jesus’ followers going forward… and an awesomely long two day weekend for Americans thousands of years later.

The problem is that his church leaders discovered that he harbored these secret leanings, though it didn’t make a big enough difference to him that he chose to make an issue of it. In the face of his “heresy” they decided to shun him, and he wanted advice about what to do about it… about how to think about days and time keeping.

It was a difficult letter to address. On the one hand, it appears to me that days are measured evening to evening in Genesis and definitely among religious observers in the first century, and more definitely among religious observers in Judaism today. So, this young man’s church has that little ditty going for them.

In truth, as evidenced throughout scripture, people used different calendars to confront their year. Farmers worked with modern like solar calendars. Governments often used Egyptian calendars where the months were an even 30 days with a dead week to catch up to solar calendars. Religious observers, however, usually ordered their religious life according to rather fluid lunar calendars that shifted radically in their alignment with solar calendar. In daily life, all these overlapped; there was no “right” or “wrong” measure, as if God was up in heaven in a fury over clocks and calendars.

Thus, this issue is so irrelevant to the living out of the Christian life, so irrelevant to issues of discipleship that having that little ditty on their side is worthless.

In response to this young man, do I write, “They are right,” when they have little more than a check in the got a fact about history right column? For, in truth, they get an even bigger check in the “we have no idea what true faith is about” column.

In the scheme of Christian faith, are calendar, clothes and clocks the substance of true worship? NO!!!

As an interpreter who is always interested in understanding the hows and whats of ancient texts, I must also separate what the text meant in its original context from what it means practically for those seeking to worship in spirit and in truth in the modern age. Symbols are important because they preach, but the message is more important than the medium. Do some really imagine that the stuff of truest worship is found in these types of things?

Modesty aside, does it really matter what kind of clothes you wear? Is there an official “right” vs. “wrong” garment rule?

If our whole society marks our days from midnight to midnight are we in violation of some divine edict endangering our souls and raising serious questions about our salvation?

Given the struggles regarding time measurement in the ancient world and the impossibly opaque vision we have of the pre-David years, do we really imagine that there is some “right” Sabbath that we can calculate from creation so as to keep it? Might what Jews celebrate as the seventh day actually be the 4th or 5th or 6th in God’s perfect sense of timing… He actually does penetrate the darkness of the primordial time. Is he watching from heaven saying, “Just wait ‘til I get those servants of mine in eternity; those rats have missed every Sabbath since 2354 BC (The real BC, since only he knows exactly when Jesus was born.)

Paul warns us quite specifically about this notion when he says:

Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Colossians 2:16-17

He also says in Romans 14:5 “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind… AND in Galatians 4:9-10  But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe days and months and seasons and years!

If someone wants to keep a 7th day Sabbath, more power to them, so long as they understand that this is not the stuff of truest worship… so long as they don’t take pride in being “right” while everyone else is “wrong” “lesser.”

Indeed, the stricter more anal retentive, more bound-to-ritual-minutia worshiper is regarded by Paul as WEAKER in faith… frail souls in need of special kid glove treatment… and I regard those who imagine that these things are truest discipleship, shunning those who think otherwise, as seriously confused souls.

Our worship of Christ is best expressed in our treatment of others, in the love that we express, curbing our wanton selfish inclinations for the good of others.

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