Land & Liberty (Denim Faith #4)

. 6 min read

Christ Church, Mountain Top
Faith: The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, The Lunch Pail Crowd, and Leviticus
to Worship, Psalm 146
Children, Mark 4.30-32 (kids, parable of the mustard seed)
Leviticus 25, particularly 25.1-28,
Gritty Dirt Band song, Will the Circle Be Unbroken, Vol II, “And So It Goes”
(John Denver)
unknown and unappreciated passage in the “deathtrap” for through-the-Bible
readers, yet a significant theme in the rest of the Scriptures is developed
here for the first time. Isaiah 61, “year of the LORD’s favor” “proclaim
liberty” … taken up by Jesus in Luke 4.
year (7th) and the Jubilee year (49th or 50th)
      The Sabbath of Sabbaths
      Remember the Sabbath, keep it holy (4th
      The Top Ten begin with “I am the LORD”
reset – once a generation, everyone is given the ability to make a living. In
an agricultural society, you provide for yourself as a free person if you have
      Land reverts to its original ownership
family, who return to their land
      Slaves are given their freedom and return
to their family
this every actually lived? Not really, but it was well known. When the
Babylonians were about to attack Jerusalem, in a fit of desperation, the king
set all the slaves free. But he changed his mind, put them all back in slavery,
and got chewed out by the prophet Jeremiah (34.14; Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume I:
. 1171.)
      Under the leadership of Nehemiah, a
governor of Palestine during the returns from exile, Jews set free all other
Jews whom they had taken as slaves (Nehemiah 5.5).
      First Maccabees reports a city that could
not endure a siege because it was in the Sabbath year, when no crops were sown
(Kaiser, 1170). Archaeologists have found sales contracts that explicitly state
that the sale is in perpetuity and not subject to the Jubilee provisions (Joel
Shuman, conversation).
      “Worldly treasures will all pass away”
(“And So It Goes”). Yet, rather than embracing the truly subversive and counter
cultural call of God, with its concrete economic and ethical implications,
Israel bowed down to “Mammon”, the demon-god of wealth and security. Of course,
they are not alone in doing so. Anyone else willing to be honest?
      “Proclaim liberty throughout the land”
(Leviticus 25.10). Inscription on the Liberty Bell (Kaiser, 1172). It is the
American myth that we are the “land of opportunity”, that any person who works
hard can make her own fortune. And every election cycle we repeat the old
debate about limits to capitalism – whether or not they actually protect and
promote opportunity for all. In our nation, we have many persons trapped in the
cycles of poverty, without land or home to call their own, simply trying to
stave off eviction or foreclosure. And, we have many others who pose as middle
class but are enslaved by debt. Both parties appeal to the hard working people
of our nation for their vote, but as a nation we continue to fail to “proclaim
liberty throughout the land”, at least if that is to be assessed by the promise
of Jubilee.

      As Joel pointed out last week, the
holiness to which we are called is “nitty gritty”. That is, it has to do with
the details of every-day life, with the recognition that our God is LORD of all
and that our obedience to God will have practical consequences for everything
from how we love our spouses to how we punch the clock at work, everything from
how we raise our children to how we care for our yard. The biblical vision of
holiness is holistic, large enough for all of life, the entire human race, the
whole planet. That’s why we hear the refrain, repeated three times in the
pastor and many more times in Leviticus 19 (last week’s focus text): “I am the
LORD”. Holiness for the people of God flows directly out of the wholeness of
the One Lord of heaven and earth. Holiness is not rooted in rules, but in the
person and personality of God.

Sabbath Ecology – not to abuse, over-work the
land, but give it rest. When Israel ignores the Sabbath, whether it is the 7th
day or the 7th year, and wanders from worship of the One LORD, they
are promised (in Leviticus 26) that they will go into exile and that “the land
shall enjoy its Sabbath years as long as it lies desolate” (26.34). If we do
not allow the land to rest, the land, history, the hand of God, may force its
rest upon us.
      Everything needs rest. Rest is required to
worship – for ancient Israel, the day of worship and the day of rest were the
same. Today, without adequate rest, we cannot fully worship. Rest is required
for fun. If we fill our calendars, even with good things, we will soon find
ourselves not enjoying any of it. Rest, unstructured time (not just to sit on
the couch and play video games), allows us to truly enjoy life.
      We “honor the Sabbath and keep it holy”
because God made us and all that is and rested on the Sabbath, and because God
is the God of deliverance and freedom, who set free the slave people of Israel
so that they do not have to serve a cruel task master, so that they can have
true rest. And the Sabbath was not only for Israel the people but also for
their land.
      “If you don’t know where you’re going, it
don’t mean a thing” (from the song) – a perfect description of a busy but
purposeless life.
Land Stewardship – God owns the land, we care
for it. “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity; with me you are but aliens
and tenants” (25.23). It is not a resource for us to “use” but part of the
Creation that God calls “good” (Genesis 1). Not only that, but there is a place
on this earth for every person, even if they lack legal status or economic
power. We are far too tied to legal paperwork that says something is ours.
Palestinian Christians and Muslims are evicted from land that has been in their
families for generations because no one wrote up the legal documents at that
time. European settlers on this continent were quite happy to buy large tracts
of land from the native Americans and then to simply evict them. Over and over,
we have forgotten that God owns the land and we care for it, that it is not a
resource for us to “use” but part of a good Creation, that there is a place on
this earth for every person.
Abolition of slavery – while the Jubilee
legislation recognizes that some people have to sell their labor to make a
living and permits Israelites to own foreigners as slaves, it makes clear that
even foreigners held as slaves are not to be treated as slaves but as human beings
with dignity. “No one shall rule over the other with harshness” (25.46, and see
other legislation protecting slaves form abuse and violence). And it gives
special emphasis to the honor of the “chosen people” who are never to be sold
to one another as slaves, and who – if they sell themselves to a foreigner –
are to be redeemed as soon as possible. This legislation is practical,
recognizing the economic structures of the time, and it contains within itself
the hope for abolition of slavery for all people. “For to me the people of
Israel are [slaves]; they are my [slaves] whom I brought out from the land of
Egypt. I am the LORD your God” (25.55). If we are God’s slaves, then we are
free from everyone and everything else.
Welcome for immigrants – when God declares that
Israel lives as “aliens and tenants”, that implies a certain welcome and
compassion for the alien that lives among them. Despite the genocidal command
to purify the land of Canaan by destroying all the people in it, we find this
amazing command back in chapter 19: “The alien who resides with you shall be to
you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you
were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God” (19.34). Whatever
policies are advocated by our politicians, the policy of the people of God is
crystal clear: all are welcome here.
      We are the “mustard seed” under which the
birds take refuge. The people of God are to be the refuge for the people of the
      “So it goes with everything but love”
(song lyrics)
      Of both land and persons – holistic!
      A Jubilee anticipation, an Exodus replay
            Second coming, resurrection, cross
      By a “kinsman”
            Why Jesus became our “kin”
(incarnation), and made us his

      To be aliens and servants/slaves (just as
the Exodus community)