January 4, 2018- The Nazirite Vow and Dedication to God- Numbers 6:1-8, Galatians 5:16-25

nazirite

 

The Lord said to Moses,  “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘If a man or woman wants to make a special vow, a vow of dedication to the Lord as a Nazirite, they must abstain from wine and other fermented drink and must not drink vinegar made from wine or other fermented drink. They must not drink grape juice or eat grapes or raisins. As long as they remain under their Nazirite vow, they must not eat anything that comes from the grapevine, not even the seeds or skins.

 “‘During the entire period of their Nazirite vow, no razor may be used on their head. They must be holy until the period of their dedication to the Lord is over; they must let their hair grow long.

 “‘Throughout the period of their dedication to the Lord, the Nazirite must not go near a dead body. Even if their own father or mother or brother or sister dies, they must not make themselves ceremonially unclean on account of them, because the symbol of their dedication to God is on their head.  Throughout the period of their dedication, they are consecrated to the Lord. Numbers 6:1-8 (NIV)

There are three important people in the Bible who we know observed the Nazirite vow. All three of these people were set aside (consecrated, if you will) before their births.  All three of these men were born to women who had experienced barrenness and the heartbreak and shame of infertility. All three of these men had high profile and game-changing missions for God in their lifetimes.

Samson was the first of these notable men to appear in Scripture (Judges 13:4-5). He became one of the Judges of Israel.  We know Samson primarily from the story of Samson and Delilah, but he was central in defeating the Israelites’ enemy, the Philistines.

Samuel was dedicated to the service of the temple when he was only four years old, and was also set aside as a Nazirite before he was born. (1 Samuel 1:11)  Samuel was the priest who anointed the first and second kings of Israel (Saul and David.)

John the Baptist was also a Nazirite from before his birth. (Luke 1:15) John was the voice in the wilderness paving the way for Jesus. John was also the one who would also baptize Jesus.

While the spiritual discipline of the Nazirite vow could prove to be a process that would draw one closer to God, the important aspect of the vow was obedience.

It is good at times to forgo certain things for a time to dedicate more time and effort to prayer and meditation, much as people in liturgical traditions- including Lutherans- do when we observe the season of Lent. The Nazirite vow was in most cases supposed to be a temporary observance.  These three men were notable exceptions in that they were set up by God for this observance from before their births, and for them the vow was intended to be permanent.

The bad thing about obedience is that human beings are not able to be 100% obedient, nor are we capable of perfectly observing the law.  Jesus came to be the fulfillment of the law for us, so that we are free to live by His grace.

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.  But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.  Galatians 5:16-25 (NIV)

The difference between the Old Testament Nazirite vow and the freedom we have in Christ is that instead of rules that say no (such as no alcohol, no shaving, no grape products, no dancing, no short skirts, no, no, no…) we have rules that say YES. In Christ, our rules say YES to joy, to peace, to kindness, to patience, to goodness, and self-control.

Because Jesus came to live with us, we have the freedom to say YES to God-life, abundant and good life. Jesus has set us aside for those good things, both here in the world of not-yet, and in the world to come.

December 20, 2016- Consecrated to God- Exodus 13:1-2, Luke 2:22-24

presentation-in-the-temple

The Lord said to Moses:  Consecrate to me all the firstborn; whatever is the first to open the womb among the Israelites, of human beings and animals, is mine.  Exodus 13:1-2 (NRSV)

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him  (Jesus) up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord  (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”),  and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.” Luke 2:22-24 (NRSV)

The theme of giving one’s first fruits to God is not a new one.  Today at times we find it difficult to give back to God what He has first given us, but imagine dedicating your first born to God.  1 Samuel 1 tells the story of Hannah, a woman who prayed for a son , who she named Samuel, and she dedicated him to God.  As soon as he was weaned (at that time Samuel was probably a three or four year old) Hannah left her son at the temple to become a priest of God.

Jesus is God’s Only Child, yet God surrendered Him to a life of service and ultimately sacrifice for the salvation of humanity.

It would be hard to imagine as a parent – and I am the mother of an only son- to simply leave a small child at a tender age to a life of service. What about the child’s choice of vocation?  What about a mother’s longing for her child, who arguably still needs a mother at such a young age?  My son is an adult, and at times I find it hard as a mother to let go and surrender him to the grace and mercy of God just in him living his daily life.  A mother’s instinct is to hang on, to protect, to shield her offspring from pain or hurt.

I can’t imagine the emotions that Hannah and later, Mary, must have felt knowing that their sons were going to be forever dedicated to God’s service, and that they could not keep them from the hardships and sacrifice that a life in service ultimately bring.

Did Mary know the way Jesus’ earthly life would end?

Would that knowledge have changed her mind?