Sunday, April 13, 2014

Mezuzot: Doorposts (Matthew 21:1-11; Deuteronomy 6:4-9)

During Lent 2014 I am again using chapters from Lauren Winner's Mudhouse Sabbath as a guide to exploring some of the practices and traditions of Judaism as a way of focusing on Jesus in an attempt to follow him more closely. This is the sermon I preached when I first did this three years ago:

During the season of Lent our church is studying some chapters from Lauren Winner's book Mudhouse Sabbath. The sermons during this time will also follow through on some of her writing, but the sermon author claims all mistakes and goofy ideas as his own.

On first glace, a commandment that seems to be an instruction on how to decorate your own home would make you wonder. "Really, Lord? Got all the big stuff taken care of, I guess." But when we look at the foundation of the custom of the mezuzot, we can see something bigger at work.

The scripture scrolls placed over the doorposts in Jewish homes aren't chosen at random. The verses from Deuteronomy represent the most basic understanding of the Hebrew people in their covenant with the Lord: That the Lord is their God, and no other, and that the Lord is the only God who is real. Every time they enter or leave a dwelling or even a bedroom within a dwelling, they can see that container and remind themselves of this basic belief. A mezuzot is the first thing they see when they enter a home and the last thing they see when they look back at the door after they leave. Ideally, a person will remember God's covenant and Lordship coming and going.

In her book Mudhouse Sabbath, Lauren Winner points out that a mezuzot might be different for different people. Children might have scroll boxes with cartoon themes, for example, and a box might represent a person's specific style. When people see the box they chose, they remember God's covenant was with the people as a whole and with each individual person.

We might do ourselves some good to include a mezuzot now and again in our homes too, I suppose, as a reminder that we may be the stewards of a particular place, but the place as well as everything in it actually belong to God. I know I could use that reminder quite often. Of course, we can't put scripture-boxes everywhere we are -- unless we own our own businesses, our workplaces have different people as their stewards in this point of view, and we're not entitled to impose our beliefs on someone else.

But remember what God said to the people through Jeremiah, about the coming day in which God will write his teaching upon the hearts of the people and not rely on inscriptions on stone or other materials. We can carry the theme of the mezuzot with us wherever we might go. That might be harder, though, because we have no physical reminder like a scripture-box to jog our memories. On the other hand, if we developed the habit we could find ourselves reminded of God's love and covenant with us all the time.

There's another side to understanding the custom of the mezuzot, and that's remembering that this is something Jesus knew as a regular part of his life. When he was a boy growing up, he would have seen the mezuzot on the front door of his house and Joseph and Mary would have explained it to him -- even though his divine nature would have known all about it, his human nature learned like any other human being learned.

When he stayed with his friends Lazarus, Mary and Martha in Bethany, he would have entered the house by walking underneath the mezuzot. When he stayed with Peter, there would be a mezuzot. When he ate dinner at the house of Simon the Pharisee, there would have been a mezuzot -- heck, even Zaccheus the tax collector probably had a mezuzot over his front door.

Why is that important? Well, a couple of reasons occur to me as I think about it. They may be right or off-base, but they interest me when I want to think about God. Remember that the mezuzot is a scroll of scripture that recites the Israelite's dedication to his or her God and reminds the reader of God's covenant with and love for the people. And remember too that Jesus said he was "the way, the truth and the life," pointing out more than once that he was the way to God, so to speak. He was the sign that the covenant God began by making with the Hebrew people was expanded to include allpeople. He had become a new doorway to God, if you like.

And on him were inscribed the signs of God's love for all people, the wounds of the nails and the spear. I don't believe that Jesus somehow had to keep the scars of those wounds when he was raised. If after his resurrection he could be unrecognizable to Mary Magdalene until he spoke her name, he could certainly have been raised without any marks at all. But he did keep them -- why? To remember what he had done and why? I'd say yes, except I don't know how he could forget even if he weren't fully divine.

Are they the mezuzim that remind us of God's love when we look at the new doorway to the Kingdom? Did he keep them for us, so that we could remember his great love for us and be shown yet another sign of that love? Well, I don't know if that's the reason he kept them, but it's certainly one effect of keeping them, isn't it?

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