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February 26
Lenten Devotion
Rev. Dr. David Barnhart, Jr.
Saint Junia UMC
Birmingham, AL

"Christ first said, “You don’t want sacrifices and offerings. You are not pleased with animals killed and burned or with sacrifices to take away sin.” (These are all sacrifices that the law commands.) Then he said, “Here I am, God. I have come to do what you want.” So God ends that first system of sacrifices and starts his new way. Jesus Christ did the things God wanted him to do. And because of that, we are made holy through the sacrifice of Christ’s body. Christ made that sacrifice one time—enough for all time." - Hebrews 10:8-10, ERV

A famous Buddhist parable talks about human religious practice as a “finger pointing toward the moon.” My favorite version of this saying is from the movie “Enter the Dragon” when Bruce Lee tells a young martial arts student to connect his true self to his intention. The master has to repeatedly slap the student to keep him from overthinking. “Don’t think—feel!” Lee says. “It is like a finger pointing toward the moon. Don’t concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory.”

The author of Hebrews makes a similar statement about ritual sacrifice. The symbols and rituals of religious life are intended to point us to something deeper, but we often wind up overthinking the symbols—and the rules that go with them. We are supposed to feel God’s intention for the world, uniting our will with God’s will. The author puts the words of Psalm 40 into Jesus’ mouth. “I know you’re not after sacrifices and offerings,” Jesus says to his heavenly parent. “That’s why you’ve given me this body. So I’m offering it to do your will.”

The Jesus who violated the Sabbath commandments by letting his disciples eat some grain, or by healing, was not actually breaking the law but carrying out God’s will. “The Sabbath was made for humans, not humans for the Sabbath,” was his retort to the legalists who tried to frame him. Jesus did not overthink God’s will. He felt it in his bones. He knew religious sacrifices were fingers pointing to something deeper and grander, so he became one. We who follow him know that our salvation isn’t in someone else’s finger but in the heavenly glory of the moon that pulls our eyes upward.