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Oct 11, 2020

Removing Roadblocks - From Silly to Sacred

Removing Roadblocks - From Silly to Sacred

Speaker: Rob McClellan

Series: October 2020

Category: Faith

Our series of removing biblical roadblocks to faith continues with a treatment of what feels like archaic food laws. We learn about some of the underlying reasons for these rules and the ways in which we can bodily tend our relationship with you. Moreover, we consider other ritual ways in which we can recognize as sacred this life and its important moments.
Today's Scripture

Acts 10:9-16

9 About noon the next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10He became hungry and wanted something to eat; and while it was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. 12In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. 13Then he heard a voice saying, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ 14But Peter said, ‘By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.’ 15The voice said to him again, a second time, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ 16This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven. THIS IS HOLY WISDOM, HOLY WORD. THANKS BE TO GOD.

Today's Teaching       

From Silly to Sacred

Could you summarize your understanding of the Christian path in 1 phrase? To me, it is the following: to recognize the sacredness of all things and responding accordingly. Here, I draw heavily from the teachings of the Celtic teacher John Philip Newell with that language. One could ask, “Where is Jesus Christ in this definition?” This is precisely what I understand Jesus was trying to get us to do, recognize the sacredness of all things and responding accordingly. If we think something is sacred, we have to treat it differently. We will not objectify it, treat it as disposable or certainly profane. We will protect, honor and take care of it.

In our ongoing series on troubling or confounding Scripture passages we have texts today that a Salon.com article labels as silly food rules. I can understand how someone might mistakenly describe these Older Testament passages about only eating creatures in the water with fins and scales (but not lobster or crab) or not boiling a kid, a baby goat, in its mother’s milk as silly. Interestingly, though, a year or so ago my spouse was reading about nutrition and there was something about cooking meat in milk that decreases its nutritional value. As we’ve seen in previous weeks, often these laws have benefits on a number of levels, including basic health, though we wouldn’t reduce them to this. We recognize the various ways these laws can hold a community together, even if we do not fully understand them. Moreover, we should be self-aware when critiquing practices as arbitrary, we who have many practices others might describe as arbitrary – using silverware for some food, fingers fine for others. I still take off my hat when I’m indoors. Once upon a time we engaged in this strange ritual of clasping hands when greeting someone.

There’s a particularly Christian mistake people make with these passages, positioning the Acts passage I just read to you as somehow “fixing” the Old Testament food laws. We have to remember the early Christian community of Acts is dealing with an entirely different question and challenge than the Israelites who came before them. This community had the particular question of how to include Gentiles, who didn’t grow up following Jewish laws, into this budding religious movement. The vision given to Peter signals to them that maintaining universal adherence to these laws is not central to their community, elevating the importance of including of non-Jews in the movement. It’s a different answer because it’s a different question.

In Peter’s vision we hear, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” What God has made sacred, you shall not treat as profane. I don’t believe the lesson here is to throw out all rules of decorum, manners, or shared practice. That’s too simple. In fact, I think we can recognize how these things can actually help elevate our conduct. We could easily see how many of our manners today are fairly arbitrary, but that doesn’t mean they are without their place. They are a way of showing and reinforcing respect, not just for the individuals who engage in them in any given moment, but they are reinforcement for the whole notion of a community. This is why the displays of crassness, crudeness, mean-spiritedness, much stoked by disinformation and deceit, are the sign of a collective sickness far more serious than manners. When someone is nasty, they’re not only not respecting you, they are not respecting the whole notion that there is a “we”.

Peter’s vision says the upholding of certain practices is no longer serving the notion of the “we”. In fact, they have begun to get in the way of the “we” and so they are to change. Interestingly, in the end we recognize that both these ancient religious laws and their reformation or reinterpretation are attempts at accomplishing the same thing. Namely, they both aim to help us to be more attentive and intentional about how to build up and sustain the community. Both attempt to cultivate reverence. Both point to the sacredness of reality, with God pushing in Peter’s vision for us to recognize the sacredness of all things. Both are meant to lead us to the hallowed ground we call reverence, something which feels utterly forsaken in today’s culture. Could there be anything more important? It is no longer hyperbole to say the world as we know it will not survive if we cannot reclaim a sense of reverence, and the behavior that naturally results? We are called to recognize the sacredness of things and respond accordingly. That’s my answer.
Amen.

 

Quotes, Questions & Prompts for Reflection, Discussion, and Prayer
“You have to trust someone before you can have rituals with them.”
-Rachel Klein, The Moth Diaries

1. We may easily think of ideas of hollow ritual, but what value might there be in certain ritual acts or practices?
2. What are some of the most meaningful rituals and practices in your or your family’s life?
3. What taken for granted rituals do we have in the wider society that support beliefs or values that you actually do not agree with?
4. What are other ways we can ritualize the affirmation of life (and not just human life)?