Saturday, October 23, 2010

Arks & Nazirites

Y'all remember from the last class that all the wandering Israelites lived in ...tents! Yes, and that God dwelled among them. So he also needed...a tent! Yes, it was called the Meeting Tent. It was a very expensive tent which they took down and set up every time they moved. God told Moses, "..make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst...according to all that I show you concerning the pattern of the Tabernacle." God means that the Meeting Tent is patterned after his sanctuary, his temple, in heaven. And Tabernacle is a Latin word which means "little house." Have y'all ever heard of a "tavern"? Yes, people drink beer there.  Mmm, yes they do...well, a tavern is a kind of house, and a tavernacle, or as we say, tabernacle, is a little house. Is there a little house, a tabernacle in church? Yes! Who dwells there? God! More specifically, please. Jesus! Yes. Churches have a lot in common with the Meeting Tent, as we'll see.

God gave Moses very particular instructions to Moses about how to make his Tent and the things that went in it. The Israelites provided "gold, silver, and bronze, blue and purple and scarlet stuff and fine twined linen, goats' hair, tanned rams' skins, goatskins, acacia wood, oil for the lamps, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense." Wow, that's quite a list! Let's look at a plan of this fancy Tent:

Do y'all know how to look at a plan? We're looking down at the Tent, but I took the roof off so we can see inside. Notice over to the left of the Altar, there are two people handing a sacrifice to a priest, we're looking at the tops of their heads....get it? Yes!  OK. First, that line around the outside with the dots is like a big curtain that's held up by poles, which are the dots. That curtain separates the God's dwelling, his holy place, from the people, who pitched their tents all around the outside. Let's imagine I've sinned, and am going to get atonement and forgiveness. I walk in the left side, which is the people's space. I have a lamb. When I come up to the front of altar, I stop. A Levite priest or an assistant comes around to the front, and takes my lamb. Now, what's that behind the altar? A washbasin. Yes, why do the priests wash their hands? So they're clean when they make the sacrifice? Yes, like at Mass.

Now most of the activity at the Meeting Tent is in this outdoor area, it's holy, but not so holy that regular sinners like me can't come in a bit. But the smaller area to the right is roofed over, and called what? Holy Space. Yes. Inside, the incense is burned, and bread is displayed, they are both continuous offerings; and of course being indoors, some light is needed...the candles, yes. Only priests, Aaron's sons get in here. No people, no assistants. See, the further in you go the more holy it gets, and the fewer people have access. Now the back half is even more holy, called...Holy of Holies? Yes. Ony one person can go in here, the high priest. At first he was Aaron; later on he was a descendant of Aaron. This Holy of Holies is where God dwelled. What's a veil? What a woman puts on her face so you can't see her. Yes, good answer. When especially will a woman wear a veil? At her wedding. Yes, why? So you can't see her! Yes, so you can't see her beauty; but why aren't you supposed to see her beauty? OK, after the bride and groom take their vows, what does the groom do? He kisses her!  Yes, what does he do first? He lifts the veil. Yes, that symbolizes that only he has access to all his wife's beauty. The veil on the plan does that, too. It limits access to God to the High Priest, just one person. People were too sinful to just stand around staring at God's dwelling. What's in the Holy of Holies? The ark and cherubim? Yes. Remind me, what's an ark? A container! Yes, in this case, it's a box for which God gave specific instructions [I draw while I read]: "make an ark of acacia wood; two cubits and a half shall be its length, a cubit and a half its breadth, and a cubit and a half its height." A cubit is an Egyptian measure about from my elbow to my fingertips, so it's not all that big; about like a breakfast table. "And you shall overlay it with pure gold, within and without..." This is no ordinary box. "And you shall cast four rings of gold ...two rings on the one side of it, and two rings on the other side of it. You shall make poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold. And you shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark, to carry the ark by them." See, this way men could carry the ark without touching it.  "Then you shall make a mercy seat of pure gold..." The mercy seat goes on top of the ark like so... "And you shall make two cherubim of cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end...The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings...toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be." OK...there we go...isn't that a great picture? Not really. Hey, use your imaginations, pretend it's terrific.

So, where have we already seen a cherub in the Old Testament? Remember I called it a "kerub" guarded Eden? Yes, a kerub, a cherub, is one of God's bodyguards. If God's bodyguards both face inward like the picture, then what's between them? God? Yes, the LORD sits on the mercy seat, although not physically because God has no...body! Right! Exodus says, "There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are upon the ark." Now, the ark is covered! Yes, because they put old magazines in it. What? Well, what would you put in a golden box? Nice things. Like pizza? No, like diamonds or something. Yes, precious, valuable things. The Israelites put Aaron's staff, a pot of manna, and the Commandments in what they called the Ark of the Covenant. They couldn't put God in the box, so they put his stuff in the box instead.

So all this had to be moveable while the Chosen People wandered in the desert. But once they settled down in the Promised Land, the tent stayed in one place called Shiloh.

Y'all may remember when Abraham arrived in the Promised Land, it was already occupied by pagans who sacrificed....their firstborn babies! Yes, and Abraham fought them for the land. And now that the Israelites have returned, they have to fight, too. Now, in ancient times who ran a country? Who was in charge? A golden monkey? Ha, no a king!Yes, all the pagan countries had kings. The Israelites wanted a king, too, but God said no, I'm your king, you don't need an earthly king. God gave them judges instead. A judge could make decisions and run things, but couldn't raise taxes to pay for, oh, a golden toilet for himself. For about 100 years there were judges; one of them, Deborah, was a woman. This Old Testament book about the judges is called...umm, Judges? Yes...that was a gimme.

In the book of Judges there's a married couple: a man named Manoah, and his wife. They were unhappy just like Abraham & Sarah...? They didn't have any kids. Right. Judges 13 says "And the angel of the LORD appeared to the woman and said to her, "Behold, you are barren and have no children; but you shall conceive and bear a son. Therefore beware, and drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean... No razor shall come upon his head, for the boy shall be a Nazirite to God from birth; and he shall begin to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines."

What's that mean: "No razor shall come upon his head"? Don't shave his head? Yes, don't cut his hair. And he's going to be a Nazirite [on the board]. This doesn't mean he's from Nazareth, it's the Hebrew word for "separated." It means he will devote his life to God's service. His long hair will be a sign of that devotion. And he would be strong, and fight the Philistines who were pagan enemies of Israel. The Philistines lived in Philistia, what we call Palestine, although Palestinians aren't pagan anymore.

So she tells her husband the news. Later, the angel visits them both, still looking like a man. "Manoah said to the angel of the LORD, "Pray, let us detain you, and prepare a kid for you." And the angel of the LORD said to Manoah, "If you detain me, I will not eat of your food; but if you make ready a burnt offering, then offer it to the LORD." (For Manoah did not know that he was the angel of the LORD.)" After all, who should they thank for their son? God? Yes, the LORD. "So Manoah took the kid with the cereal offering, and offered it upon the rock to the LORD, to him who works wonders. And when the flame went up toward heaven from the altar, the angel of the LORD ascended in the flame of the altar while Manoah and his wife looked on; and they fell on their faces to the ground."

Wow, they didn't know he was an angel 'til he took off!

Tell me, what's the deal with the flame going up to heaven? Huh? Why does it matter which way the fire goes? Well, it's going to heaven. Yes...what's going to heaven, exactly...not the flame...oh, the offering is going up! Yes...all by itself I suppose, a burned-up goat....why is the messenger going up? He's going back to heaven, too. Yes, so the angel and the offering are just going up separately, but at the same time to heaven, right? It's just a coincidence? Well...maybe the angel is taking the offering up. Yes, I think so. The messenger takes the offering up. The angel connects earth and heaven. And where's the offering starting from? Earth. Yes, be more specific please, listen: "when the flame went up toward heaven from the altar." Oh, from the altar! Yes. So the angel carries the offering from the altar up to heaven. Something like that happens in church. At Mass, have you ever heard, "may your angel carry this sacrifice to your altar in heaven"? Yeees... OK, when? When you're sitting? No, kneeling. Yes. Remember Manoah's sacrifice when we discuss the Mass later this year.

So Manoah's son grew up to be one of Israel's judges, and a strong, long-haired warrior...what's his name? Oh, Saul! No, good guess! Samuel! No again, but y'all are right about starting with an 'S'....Samson! Yes, good. And part of being a Nazirite, being dedicated to God's service was living apart, not getting married. Can you think of anyone today who's like that? Huh? Forget the hair for a second; someone who isn't married and is dedicated to God's service. Oh...Father Newman? Yes, good. And who is someone in the New Testament who also lived apart like a hermit, had long hair, and wasn't married? Oh, oh, John the Baptist! Wow honorary son, you nailed that one! Yes, John the Baptist!

Back to Samson, why was he so strong? Cause his hair was long! Yes, and the long hair meant...he... was....dedi...oh, dedicated to God! Yes, his dedication made him strong, not so much his hair. But he got involved with a woman he wasn't married to named Delilah, somebody tell the story...yes, go ahead. She tricked him into telling her how his hair made him strong, and she cut it off, and he was weak. Yes, someone tell more. Some bad people blinded him, but then he pushed their building down and killed them all. Yes.

Now there's one more Nazirite to learn about tonight. By now I bet you can guess why his parents were unhappy. No kids! Yes! Y'all are fast learners! This couple was Hannah and her husband Elkanah. Poor Hannah wanted a baby so bad. One day they took a trip to offer a sacrifice to the LORD at the Meeting Tent...where was it? S-h-i...Shiloh! Yes, Shiloh. While they were there, Hannah prayed, "O LORD of hosts, if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thy maidservant, and remember me, and not forget thy maidservant, but wilt give to thy maidservant a son, then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head." So she's doing the same deal as Manoah and his wife: give me a son and...he'll be a N-naz...look it's right there on the board...Nazirite! Yes, dedicated and separated. His name starts with an 'S' too, y'all already said it tonight. Samuel? Yes, good. This book I'm reading from is about name of the book is Samuel!  Oh dear, another gimme. OK, let's stop there, we'll learn more about Samuel next week.

Class over!