Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Last Day of the Leviticus Experiment

by Daniel Harrell

January has been a fascinating month. When I got the idea to try and live by the book of Leviticus (from AJ Jacobs), I wasn't sure whether a] I could get anyone to join me, or b] it would end up as a silly attempt to abide by a portion of the Bible that we Christians typically ignore. As hopefully you've read both here and on the Facebook page, this experiment has been anything but silly. True, there have been silly moments (most of the posted videos will testify to that), but overall it has been alternately enlightening and convicting, inspiring and depressing, hopeful and frustrating. Some of the participants dove into it whole heartedly (and whole-stomachly and whole-facially) while others found the demands of Old Testament law, even when tempered by grace, simply too hard or too tedious to bother with. It's probably too soon to tell whether anybody ever reached the Psalm 119:97 exclamation "How I love your law!," but I think everybody realized the depth of God's holiness and the power of the law to pound a person into God's righteous image. And also that grace, while granting forgiveness, is for the Christian as much about granting enablement to follow that which God demands his people do.

Admittedly, much of Leviticus makes little sense to the modern read. Interpretation is not easy--whether reading it through a gospel grid and trying to make it fit contemporary categories. Most of our interpretation has come through simply doing it, which I think was always the intention. Eating kosher seems odd until you try it and realize that food is a huge part of our life and that it falls under God's purview. What we put into our mouths mirrors what we put into our souls. Likewise the clothes we wear, our health and hygiene, our relationships and our behaviors, God wants a piece of all of it. Our practice of compartmentalizing faith and "real life" gets exposed as a sham.

Where do we go from here? It seems disingenuous as believers to say "well, it's February, I'm done living by the Bible." Nevertheless, the men will shave. Ian and Paul will eat their bacon. Brandy will get her lobster. Thomas will wear blue jeans again. Sundays will likely go back to being days where some work happens. Mary Frances will disassemble her tabernacle. Yet somehow something will be different. To have tasted the law is to have tasted God's will in its most distilled form. And while we haven't completely understood it, we have come in contact with holiness--peculiarity and distinctness that is a crucial part of what it means to be God's counter-cultural people on earth. I hope that means we'll strive to love our neighbors better and be concerned for the poor more and respect the aged and live sexually pure lives and worship with deeper reverence and embrace our identity as a peculiar priesthood, things that do make us different and do manifest God's holiness, all in dependence on the Holy Spirit to help us.

Just because the experiment part is over doesn't mean that the Leviticus project has ended. My sermons on Leviticus continue through Easter (when we plan to roll out a scapegoat). Reflections on the month will appear here and on the Facebbok site as will hopefully your interactions. We still have a lot to learn. Maybe even more than when we started.

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