Monday, August 15, 2011

Sabbath + Covenant = Relationship

And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it, and hold fast my covenant -- these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.  Thus says the Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, "I will gather others to them besides those already gathered."  -- Isaiah  56:6-8

I love this passage in Isaiah.  It is so inclusive:  "all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it, and hold fast my covenant" are gathered into God's house, are identified as God's people. 

But, what exactly does "keeping sabbath" mean?  It is defined as:  a day of rest and/or time of worship.  Essentially, it is spending time with God without distractions.  I think of the many different ways that people worship.  All around the world people of different religions regularly gather in groups to hear teachings, pray, and make offerings to God.  All around the world devout people of faith set aside time each day to read Holy Scripture and pray or meditate.

So, what does "keeping God's covenant" mean?  It can mean many specific things, of course -- humans are great at making rules, aren't we?.  But what is its most general meaning?  Looking back at Isaiah, keeping covenant seems to mean that we "maintain justice, and do what is right", "refrain from doing any evil", and "serve the Lord."  In return we will be "delivered", "saved", and "made joyful," among other things.

But what is "a covenant"?  Is it like a contract between two parties in which duties are prescribed for a specific length of time, and which can be broken if one party doesn't comply?  I like the way Miroslav Volv describes covenant:  "A covenant is not simply a relationship of mutual utility [like a contract], but of moral commitment ... with certain duties to one another within the framework of a long-lasting relationship.  Precisely because covenant is lasting, the parties themselves cannot be conceived as individuals whose identities are external to one another and who are related to one another only by virtue of their moral will and moral practice.  Rather, the very identity of each is formed through relationship to others; the alterity of the other enters into the very identity of each." ("Exclusion & Embrace, 154) 

This is true of my husband and me.  Our relationship is this kind of covenant.  Our identities have been formed, and continue to be formed over time, by each other, for each others' greater good.  My identity is also formed, and reformed over time, by my understanding of Jesus and my relationship with God.  The more time I spend with God, and the more I listen to what God has to say to me, especially through the words of Jesus, the more I am changed for the better.  Jesus said, "Abide in me, and I in you... I in them and you in me.  (John 15:4, 17:23)  This abiding, this keeping Sabbath and keeping covenant, changes who I am, and identifies me as a child of God.

But, I am curious, does this kind of relationship change God, as well?   Is the "very identity of each" formed in this way, as Volv states?  Yesterday's Gospel reading in Matt. 15:21-28, about the Canaanite woman changing Jesus' mind, makes me think that this is quite possible.  Other biblical passages repeatedly show God truly like the Father whom Jesus identified with, changing his mind on behalf of the children he loves.  Is our relationship truly reciprocal?

Dear God, thank you for living in relationship with me.  The thankfulness I feel is beyond words.  Love always, Pam

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