Life in the Blood

Scripture Focus: Leviticus 17.10-12
10 “ ‘I will set my face against any Israelite or any foreigner residing among them who eats blood, and I will cut them off from the people. 11 For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life. g 12 Therefore I say to the Israelites, “None of you may eat blood, nor may any foreigner residing among you eat blood.” 

Genesis 4.10-12

10 The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. 11 Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 

Genesis 9.4-5

4 “But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it. 5 And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being. 

Reflection: Life in the Blood

By John Tillman

It is often the case that a biological fact reveals spiritual truth. Our life really is in our blood. 

We measure life based on brain activity more than any other system of the body. For example, the rapper, DMX, recently died after life support was removed following a coma/vegetative state. However, many of the brain’s commands are carried out by the hormones, proteins, and other chemical signals that travel through the blood.

Everything that makes us alive is circulating in our blood. Life “moves” within us even when we are at rest. When blood stops moving, or is spilled out, life ends. 

The most important and revealing reason for the prohibitions regarding blood was spiritual not physical. Blood is life given for atonement. Since the blood of the first animal, killed by God in the garden to clothe Adam and Eve, animals have given their lives for human sin and creation has groaned for the blood spilled. (Genesis 3.21; Genesis 4.10-12; Romans 8.20-23)

All spilled blood, God says, is precious and holy, not only on its own, but because it points to the blood of Jesus. Christ’s blood is the most precious blood in history, but every drop of blood shed draws precious meaning from his. 

The blood is still life and it should matter to us when blood is spilled. It is the life of our brothers and sisters of every race. It is the life of the unborn. It is the life of those dying of Covid. It is the life of both Christians and non-Christians murdered for their faith. It is the life of those killed in every kind of violence whether in war or on public streets, whether in mass shootings or lone suicides.

So both the life of a police officer given stopping a mass shooting in Colorado and the life of a Black citizen, crushed out of him by a police officer’s knee are united in that their lives point to and plea for Christ’s blood. One is lost in self-sacrifice and one cries out from the ground in a plea for justice.

May we revive a holy respect for blood, no matter where, how, or by whom it is shed. May we not casually “eat” blood by profiting from violence, supporting bloodshed, or indifferently shrugging off bloodshed that doesn’t affect us.

God will require an account. (Genesis 9.5; Isaiah 5.7) When he does, we must plead the blood of Jesus to cover all of our bloodshed. Only in his blood will we find true life. (John 6.53-57)

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons

I will bear witness that the Lord is righteous; I will praise the Name of the Lord Most High. — Psalm 7.18

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Leviticus 17 (Listen – 2:39)
Psalms20-21 (Listen – 2:37)

Read more about  Two Lamechs, One Jesus
There are those who multiply and escalate violence, trusting in and glorying in their strength.

Read more about Peter’s Unfinished Work
Ending racism was a Christian idea from the beginning and we are possessed of the only ideology that can do it—the gospel.

Resisting Cultural Pressure

Scripture Focus: Genesis 50.24-26
24 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” 25 And Joseph made the Israelites swear an oath and said, “God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up from this place.” 

26 So Joseph died at the age of a hundred and ten. And after they embalmed him, he was placed in a coffin in Egypt.

Reflection: Resisting Cultural Pressure
By John Tilman

Joseph assimilated a great degree into Egyptian culture.

It was impossible for Joseph to prevent or resist some assimilation to the culture he was unwillingly trapped in. Rising out of slavery did not make this easier. Greater levels of privilege create greater pressure to assimilate.

Joseph married into a powerful, prominent family. His father-in-law, Potiphera, was high priest of the Egyptian sun god, Re in the city of On, better known by its Greek name Heliopolis, meaning “City of the Sun.”

Joseph adopted Egyptian dress and cultural practices, including Egyptian burial practices for his beloved father and himself. (Genesis 50.2, 26)

However, Joseph maintained faithfulness to God and adapted to maintain his identity in many ways. He affirmed God as the source of his sexual ethic and his skills of interpretation. He named his children referencing his faith. He secured his family a separate area in which to live.

Regardless of his level of cultural assimilation or his comfort and privilege, Joseph recognized that Egypt was not his home, nor that of his descendants, nor that of the descendants of his brothers. Assuring his brothers that God would “come to your aid” (Genesis 50.25) meant assuming that they would need God’s aid.

Did “that dreamer” (Genesis 37.19-20) have another prophetic dream from God? If so, scripture does not report it. However, with or without divine revelation, Joseph saw trouble coming for his family in Egypt.

We also face these cultural pressures. Trouble is coming. Our culture does its best to get inside us and usurp our identity. Culture tells us that we are Americans first (or Indians or Europeans or Australians or South Africans…). Culture wants us to think we are primarily identified by our race or sexuality or gender or political party. (Galatians 3.28) But no cultural identity is our primary identity.

We are children of Abraham’s promise and carriers of his blessing to the world. That is our gospel identity. Anything else must submit to that or be swept away before it. We must adapt or avoid cultural mandates that conflict with our God-given identity.

Just as Israel claimed Joseph’s children as his, God lays his claim on us. We are not at home in this world or in our “home” culture. Let us not expect comfort but struggle, knowing that God will come to our aid and take us home.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Cry of the Church
O God, come to my assistance! O Lord, make haste to help me!

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Genesis 50 (Listen – 4:07) 
Luke 3 (Listen – 5:24)

Read more about Jesus with Axe and Fire
Ancient idols of silver and gold seem so simple, pagan, and foolish. How could people have fallen for them?

Read more about Public, Prayerful, Persistent Protest
Those who wish to regulate protests often say to protesters, “Not here. Not now. Not like this.”

Rulers with Borrowed Scepters

Scripture Focus: Genesis 49.10
10 The scepter will not depart from Judah, 
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, 
until he to whom it belongs shall come 
and the obedience of the nations shall be his. 

Luke 2.30-32
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation, 
31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: 
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, 
and the glory of your people Israel.”

Reflection: Rulers with Borrowed Scepters
By John Tillman

Most of what Israel says to Judah has little to do with the son in front of him, but the Son who was to come through him.

The ruler prophesied would eventually come to Judah. The staff of rulership that Israel saw, resting between the feet of Judah’s descendants, would one day be claimed and taken up. 

Ten tribes broke away from the Davidic kings’ after Solomon’s death. The Northern secessionists kept the name, Israel, and the Southern kingdom, composed of Judah and Benjamin, was called Judah after the tribe of its rulers.

Judah and Benjamin managed to preserve their identities and heritage through Babylonian captivity and, eventually, were returned to their capital of Jerusalem to rebuild. The northern tribes were less successful, if at all, in holding on to their unique identity. This is perhaps due to how muddled and corrupted their identity was even before captivity. 

The Northern kingdom never had a ruler who could be classified as “good.” In fact, King Ahab, whose name is synonymous with poor leadership and corruption, might be considered one of the better kings Israel ever had. He set quite a low bar, but most who came after him were even worse. Almost half of the kings of Israel took the throne by insurrection or assassination.

The rulers of Judah fared better but still suffered political swings from evil and idolatrous rulers to pious and faithful reformers. However, none of them were the one foreseen. That is Jesus alone.

Jesus is the king we are waiting for—every other ruler is using a borrowed scepter. 

From Joseph’s beneficent Pharaoh to Moses’s genocidal Pharaoh, rulers are highly variable. But no ruler, not the best of Pharaohs or of Judah’s kings, not any emperor or empire past, present, or future, is worthy of our unswerving loyalty. Any of them will betray our hopes. None of them can be trusted to deliver us. The best human rulers are but poor stand-ins for Christ and the worst of them are anti-Christs.

No matter if we live under Pharaohs or Sauls, under Davids or under Ahabs, under Hezekiah’s or under Nebuchadnezzars, they are only shadows that will pass and grass that will dry up and blow away. 

We, like Simeon, (Luke 2.25) are waiting for our true king, Jesus, the root of Jesse, the “glory of Israel.” (Luke 2.29-32) Our king and kingdom are from another place. (John 18.36

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Out of Zion, perfect in its beauty, God reveals himself in glory.
Let the heavens declare the rightness of his cause; for God himself is judge. — Psalm 108.2

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Genesis 49 (Listen – 4:54) 
Luke 2 (Listen – 6:11)

Read more about To Wicked Kings, Foreign and Domestic
Jonah took God’s messages to wicked kings, foreign and domestic.

Read more about The Thriving Tree
Zedekiah didn’t make his bad decisions alone. A host of religious leaders and yes-men helped.

Becoming a Blessing

Scripture Focus: Genesis 48.14, 17-20
14 But Israel reached out his right hand and put it on Ephraim’s head, though he was the younger, and crossing his arms, he put his left hand on Manasseh’s head, even though Manasseh was the firstborn…

17 When Joseph saw his father placing his right hand on Ephraim’s head he was displeased; so he took hold of his father’s hand to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. 18 Joseph said to him, “No, my father, this one is the firstborn; put your right hand on his head.” 

19 But his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know. He too will become a people, and he too will become great. Nevertheless, his younger brother will be greater than he, and his descendants will become a group of nations.” 20 He blessed them that day…

Luke 1.46-47
46 My soul glorifies the Lord 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.

Reflection: Becoming a Blessing
By John Tillman

It took generations for the blessing God promised to grow and come to pass but we see glimpses of it in the process, such as the way, through Joseph, Egypt and the surrounding countries were blessed.

God’s blessing that he promised would come through Abram continued to grow more detailed and more defined as time went on. He changed his people as he went.

In Israel’s crossed arms, we see God subtly pushing to overturn unfair practices. Even though Israel sets Ephraim first, he provides an equivalent blessing to them both rather than a blessing similar to the one Jacob had stolen from Esau.

Eventually, a young girl descended from Judah would pronounce the fulfillment of and growth of the promise of blessing. The good news Mary proclaimed was also an overturning of blessings. The poor would be filled. The rich would go away empty. (In The Face of Wonder)

Today we will pray a prayer based on the blessing spoken to Abram, the blessing spoken over Ephraim and Manassah, and the blessing spoken by Mary to all people.

Becoming a Blessing
From Abram, you made a great nation
Through Abram, you promised to bless the nations
Make us, O Lord, a blessing in our nations

You blessed Jacob, renaming him Israel
Israel gave the blessing of being called by his name
To his children and his children’s children
Rename us, O Lord
Remake us, O Lord, worthy to be called by your name

May our pursuit of holiness increase in your name
May our ways of righteousness increase in your name
May our working of justice increase in your name

Through Mary, you helped your servant, Israel
You remembered to be merciful
You did great things for the small
Your powerful arm worked mightily for the weak
Your rich blessings poured out to satisfy the hungry
Yet, those who considered themselves full and rich went away empty

Our broken world seeks righteousness.
Bring it through us.
Our lost world seeks truth.
Speak it through us.
Our hurting world seeks justice.
Work it through us.
Our sickened world seeks healing.
Heal it through us.

May no king gain our fealty.
May no prince dominate our praise.
May our soul glorify only you, our Savior.
May our spirit rejoice only in the true and only God.

Make and remake us, Lord, into a blessing.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
The Lord is King; let the earth rejoice; let the multitude of the isles be glad. — Psalm 97.1

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Genesis 48 (Listen – 3:43) 
Luke 1.39-80 (Listen – 5:16)

Read more about In The Face of Wonder
Your glory, Lord, overcoming and transforming our weaknesses is cause for our souls to sing.

Read more about Identity Lost, Identity Gained
God, our father, longs to bless us with every spiritual blessing. No one who comes to him will need cry, “Do you have only one blessing, my father?”

In the Face of Betrayal

Scripture Focus: Mark 14.18-19
18 While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me—one who is eating with me.”

19 They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, “Surely you don’t mean me?”

Genesis 44.33
33 “Now then, please let your servant remain here as my lord’s slave in place of the boy, and let the boy return with his brothers.

From John: In 2019, when I first wrote this post, I missed that it also applied so well to what is happening in the Old Testament passage. After Judah’s impassioned plea, Joseph meets his betrayers with a preview of the forgiveness offered to the repentant by Jesus. We all need a reminder from time to time that when we inevitably betray Christ, he will receive us back.

Reflection: In the Face of Betrayal
By John Tillman

Jesus was familiar with the entire spectrum of betrayal. 

He was betrayed on a national level.

Jesus was the rightful king. The Messiah. But he was never accepted by those in power. He was the rejected king, the rejected cornerstone. In some ways, he was never truly allowed to return from exile in Egypt, being forced to live his entire life in obscurity. Even at the height of his popularity he stayed in out of the way places to avoid those who wanted to kill him. He only returned to Jerusalem at the end of his ministry for the purpose of being rejected and killed.

He was betrayed on a broad, societal level.

Jesus experienced Twitter-storm levels of betrayal. The religious leaders, just a few days prior, wanted to arrest and kill Jesus but refrained for fear of the great crowd that supported him. In a matter of hours, the crowd that was his protection, became the engine that drove the wheels of government to crush him.

He was betrayed on an intimate and personal level.

Even though Jesus knew betrayal by Judas was coming, the intimacy of it—the sign of the kiss—still shocked him. And Peter’s betrayal, cursing and denying Christ after so boldly claiming that all could fall away and he would still not, is one of the most heart-wrenching moments of the New Testament. The account in Luke contains the cinematic detail of Christ, in the midst of being beaten and accused, hearing the cock crow and turning to catch Peter’s eye just after what Peter had done.

Pause right now and film this scene in your own mind. Imagine Christ’s face looking at Peter in that moment.

Imagine his face looking at Judas.
Imagine his face looking at Jerusalem.
Imagine his face looking at the crowds berating him and calling for his death.

The look you imagine on Christ’s face in these moments says a lot about what you believe about who Jesus is and what his character is like.

Imagine his face looking at you.

Our sins are an intimate betrayal. Yet still Jesus looks at us with longing. He weeps for our mistakes and sins, but longs for our repentance and return.

Look full in his wonderful face this week. Do not despair over your betrayal as Judas did. Weep over it as Peter did. And wait. Jesus will lovingly come to you.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Save us, O Lord our God, and gather us from among the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy Name and glory in your praise. — Psalm 106.47

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Genesis 44 (Listen – 4:38) 
Mark 14 (Listen – 8:37)

Read more about Praising Christ’s Righteousness
Praise God we are free from the delusion that humans and human institutions are infallible.

Read more about The Naked Emotion of God
Hosea…shows us a God unashamed of shame, nakedly confessing his love for the unlovable.

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