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Jan 6 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

January 5, 2020


And God spoke all these words, saying,
I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
You shall have no other gods before me.
You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.
Exodus 20:1-6

Intro: Anyone who knows anything about the Bible, has heard of the
Ten Commandments

Israel had been a slave people before God rescued them
– now they were just beginning to know their God
• they needed to know how to order their lives in his sight
• at their work, in their families, in society, and in the world
– above all, they had to know how to live in relationship with God
• so it is this comes first on the list of commandments

To some Jewish and Christian believers,
– it looks like God prohibits any religious art–paintings or sculptures
You shall not make for yourself . . . any likeness of anything that is in heaven . . . earth . . . or water
• that seems to cover every sphere of their known world
• so there are churches with blank walls,
◦ and homes with plaques and platitudes, but no visual art
(words and actions are the only approved forms of communication)
– notice, this second commandment is tagged onto the first
• in fact, for Jewish interprets they are one commandment
◦ Israel’s exclusive devotion to God eliminated idolatry
• the prohibition is twofold:
◦ any material representation of the invisible God
◦ creating any material object of worship
– now this is an important point
they were not to produce a piece of art as an object of worship
You shall not bow down to them or serve them

The Bible does not exclude sacred art

God instructed Israel to produce specific items of religious art
Sculpture: You shall make a mercy seat of pure gold. Two cubits and a half shall be its length, and a cubit and a half its breadth. And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat. Make one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end. Of one piece with the mercy seat shall you make the cherubim on its two ends. The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, their faces one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be. (Ex. 25:17-20)
Visual art: Moreover, you shall make the tabernacle with ten curtains of fine twined linen and blue and purple and scarlet yarns; you shall make them with cherubim skillfully worked into them. (Ex. 26:1)
(The cherubim were a class of angels whose specific role was to act as guardians of the presence of God—cf. Gen. 3:24. Their representation on what curtained walls of the sanctuary, the entrance to the most holy place, and above the ark of the covenant would be a reminder of their invisible presence. These figures sculpted and woven into the fabric of the sanctuary would certainly qualify as anything that is in heaven above, yet they were not objects of worship.)
Clothing design: And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother for glory and for beauty (Ex. 28:2)
– this artwork would never be seen by most of the people
• and only one person would ever see the sculptured cherubim
• it was made expressly for God, and that tells us:
◦ first, the direction that worship moves is toward God
◦ second, in worship, art is of the essence (it’s not mere decoration)

One other important idea to note in Exodus
– God gifted specific artisans with specific talents—e.g., Ex. 31:1-5
– I believe that art enhances our spiritual development
• enlarging our narrow concepts of faith, hope and love,
• inspiring us to greater faith, hope and love,
• and giving us means to express our faith, hope and love

Our days are filled with repetitive actions

We make up our beds, do the dishes, take out the trash,
drive to work, make calls, walk the dog, and so on
• and because we did it today, doesn’t mean we don’t have to do it all over again tomorrow
• our days pass by without any new or unique experience
Gary Snyder, “. . . don’t let yourself think these things are distracting you from you more serious pursuits. Such a round of chores is not a set of difficulties we hope to escape from so that we may do our [spiritual] ‘practice’ which will put us on a ‘path’—it is our path.”
– even so, there is a danger we will lose sight of this truth
• that boredom will overtake us and we’ll lose each moment
• that the repetition will become so familiar, so habitual,
◦ that we no longer experience what we do
◦ and that means we will not experience ninety percent of our lives

Most of us find ways to break the monotony
– we take vacations — and we have our weekends
• although we can fall into habitual routines with weekends too
– some people give themselves mini-vacations
• they punctuate their day with refreshing diversions
◦ this requires a certain amount of creativity
• this is an impulse we should nurture

A move toward art can become a mini-vacation

The artist notices something in our normal daily experience,
– something worth observing and studying
• then by reproducing what they’ve seen or felt in the moment,
◦ they help us to see and feel what we had missed

In 1860s Jean-Fracois Millet produced sketches of peasants engaged in the normal activities of life. In his work entitled First Steps, he shows us a small home. Next to it is a fenced garden where we can see vegetables growing low to the ground. A father is there on one knee, but he is not working the soil. His wheel barrow is off to one side and shovel lies next to him. He is stretching out both arms toward his wife. The young mother is bent over, holding up her toddler, who is about to take her first step toward the father.

• what Millet (and later, Van Gogh) remind us of is a lived experience
◦ when for a moment the world stops
◦ and we celebrate our child’s early development
– paintings like this cause us to see our lives differently
• to see our world differently
• the emphasis they place on special or even mundane moments in life,
◦ teach us to recognize and appreciate their hidden depths

Fantasy art—e.g., surrealism—helps us imagine other worlds
– or see what our world would look like if the laws of physics were altered
– art feeds our creative impulse
• “inspired art, inspires art”
• when I see a captivating painting, I want to paint it
◦ when I read a meaningful poem, I want to write a poem
◦ I have a friend who is a musician,
and when he hears a tune he enjoys, he learns to play it
– my scribbles are never as good as what inspired them
• and my poetry rarely rises above, “Roses are red . . .”
◦ but that’s not the point
◦ it’s that I spent time engaging my mind and body
in something different, something good, beautiful and true
• the effect is exhilarating and restful at the same time

The original inspiration of all art is the universe

We refer to it as “all creation”
– not only because it was created
• but because we’re made in image of its Creator,
• and in his image, we feel the urge to create

In 1994, three French cave-explorers discovered an underground vault where paintings of extinct animals were drawn on the walls. Archaeologists estimate the paintings to be 30,000 years old. Now my question is “Why?” Given all the challenges for survival—weather, powerful predators, scarcity of food, and so on—why would these ancient people take the trouble to paint animals? Was the cave a sacred place? A museum? Someone’s living room? The question has to do with humankind’s artistic impulse. What trigger motivates a painter when she sees something and says, “I want to paint that”? Or a poet who says, “I want to describe that”? Or a storyteller who says, “I want to communicate that”? Or a musician who says, “I want to play or sing that”?

– I know that Jesus was an artist
• only an artist could tell a short story as rich and revealing as the Prodigal Son (Lk. 15:11-32)
◦ his parables are an art form
◦ and the way his repartee with Pharisees reveals his creativity

Conclusion: In the Bible, art and worship are bound together

Art in the literature of storytelling
Art in the poetry of prayer in the Psalms
Art in the music that accompanied Israel’s rituals
– and in the “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” of the early church

These artistic expressions bring the breath of God close to us
– they call us to look with eyes that see and hear with ears that hear
– they challenge us to take up brushes and begin to paint
• or a pen and begin writing
• or an instrument and begin playing
• or knitting needles, or kitchen utensils, or hammer and saw

Art is food for the spirit

How about this?
– sometime this week, find a painting
or a piece of music
or a poem
Take a moment to be engrossed by it
◦ feel it — taste it — breathe it
And then share it
Beautify your corner of the world

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them (Ep. 2:10)

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