Thanks to a new-fangled thing called the “internet,” I can continue to listen to Preacher Mike’s sermons, even though our family has now made the move to St. Paul UMC.
Last Sunday’s sermon – which focused on two Sabbath healings that took place during the ministry of Jesus – included a fascinating detour into a text that I have either never read or never given much attention.
The text is 2 Chronicles 30, which details King Hezekiah’s decision to celebrate the Passover upon the restoration of the temple. The catch is that – as the text opens – it is one month too late to celebrate the Passover (which takes place in the first month of each year), and very few people are ceremonially clean.
Here is the text, with my highlights:
Hezekiah sent word to all Israel and Judah and also wrote letters to Ephraim and Manasseh, inviting them to come to the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem and celebrate the Passover to the LORD, the God of Israel. The king and his officials and the whole assembly in Jerusalem decided to celebrate the Passover in the second month. They had not been able to celebrate it at the regular time because not enough priests had consecrated themselves and the people had not assembled in Jerusalem. The plan seemed right both to the king and to the whole assembly.
* * *
They slaughtered the Passover lamb on the fourteenth day of the second month. The priests and the Levites were ashamed and consecrated themselves and brought burnt offerings to the temple of the LORD. Then they took up their regular positions as prescribed in the Law of Moses the man of God. The priests sprinkled the blood handed to them by the Levites. Since many in the crowd had not consecrated themselves, the Levites had to kill the Passover lambs for all those who were not ceremonially clean and could not consecrate their lambs to the LORD. Although most of the many people who came from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar and Zebulun had not purified themselves, yet they ate the Passover, contrary to what was written. But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, “May the LORD, who is good, pardon everyone who sets his heart on seeking God—the LORD, the God of his fathers—even if he is not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary.” And the LORD heard Hezekiah and healed the people.
For me, this text has profound implications on the concept of scriptural authority, the decline of which was the subject of discussion here and here. What is the plan here? Obviously, to honor God and remember the deliverance of Israel from the hands of Egypt. But…it can’t be done in a manner that is consistent with the law that was given by Moses. So what happens?
There is a process of communal discernment as to whether it is acceptable to proceed in a manner that is inconsistent with what is written in the Mosaic law. Everyone agrees that it should be so. Then, they proceed to act “contrary to what was written,” and God blesses what they do.
Where does the authority lie here? Clearly, not in the text of the Mosaic law. Rather, it lies in God and his purposes in the celebration of the Passover. Those purposes are discerned by the people of God themselves, and such purposes are served even though their actions are contrary to scripture.
Notice also the way God’s people make use of their own will and intellect in this decision: they propose a certain course of action, and then – upon finding it to be good and right – ask for God’s blessing, which is readily and cheerfully given.
This text seems like a great model for a process by which “authority” is exercised through communal discernment in emerging Christian communities.