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Week 5 Day 2 – Sfumato!

We are starting a new book today.  You may want to read the introduction to Leviticus

Leviticus 1:1-17

It is a very rare and wonderful occasion when my wife and I are able to take an actual overnight get away alone, without the kids. On one such occasion we were slowly browsing through the quaint shops of a little lakeside village in Minnesota and we happened into a little book store. As soon as I entered the shop the book began to call my name. It sounds strange, I know, but it was as if I was drawn directly to this book from across the shop. I followed this urge and walked right to the lonely white book on the bottom shelf, picked it up, and read the title, How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci. Without hesitation I knew I had to have this book, so I purchased it and began reading.

Being an artist and a lover of learning, Leonardo has always been one of my heroes. This book was marvelous. The author was also a Leonardo fan and had spent much of his life in the study of this great Renaissance thinker. Through the study of Leonardo’s life and writings, the author observed seven principles by which Leonardo lived, and through which he was able to unlock his creative genius.

So, what does that have to do with Leviticus 1? One of the principles that Leonardo lived by was what he called Sfumato! This is an Italian word that means “up in smoke.” Say the word out loud in the best, expressive Italian accent you can muster…it’s just fun to say…Sfumato! The principle is based upon the realization that nothing in life is permanent. Things constantly change. Even the best and most wonderful things will eventually come to an end. You could be in the most wonderful, mutually edifying marriage relationship. You could even be married for 75 years. Yet, even that, as truly good as it was, will eventually end when one partner dies. Leonardo observed that most people spend their lives clinging on to things that won’t last. They believe that things like money, power, position, and pleasure will bring them great happiness. This observation makes great sense when we realize that Leonardo was living in Northern Italy during the time when the Medici family was ruling the financial and political climate. Even then, in the late 15th century people were chasing after and holding onto temporary things in an attempt to fill an eternal hole.

In light of this observation, Leonardo said that the only way to experience true freedom, peace, and creativity is to realize that everything in life is Sfumato! it will go “up in smoke.” You think you have a sure thing and then, poof! it’s gone. Most people experience depression and despair because they have placed their assurances on these smoky shadows and have watched everything disappear in the puff.

So, if everything will go up in smoke, then where is the hope? Why should we put any effort into living at all? The answer to this is found in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. If we cling to the eternal Kingdom of God, and build our lives on the things that will not pass away, then we will know true peace. Leonardo’s practical principle was that we should do everything we do in life with the intensity of believing it is the most important thing in the world, but then step back and say, Sfumato! it doesn’t really matter. What was important about the project was the creative process of working on it, not the product itself. It was in the creative process itself that the image of God was being realized and the intersection between God and Man could take place.

So, the question still remains. What does this have to do with Leviticus chapter 1? The first half of Leviticus is all about burnt offerings. Why did God require burnt offerings from His people? Why did He ask each family to take their most prized bull, a real cash cow (literally), bring it to the altar, and then watch the entire thing be burned into a puff of smoke and ashes? I believe God was trying to connect His people, and us, to the principle of Sfumato! That bull, that thing that you think is so important, that thing that you think will provide for your family and bring security to your life, that thing is nothing more than a puff of smoke in light of eternity. As Christians we need to be willing to take all the things that we hold on to in this life — our financial, relational, and emotional security — and light them on fire. Yes, those things are necessary for living in the physical world. Yes, we need to be good stewards of them and work hard at them. But we also need to be able to authentically step back and say “Sfumato! God, I lay all these things on the altar. They came from you and they are for you. Take my stuff and burn it up if you want to. All I want to do is be obedient to you.”

What are your “sacred cows” that you cling to; those things that you are just not willing to give up out of fear of being without them? God looks at you and says, “Do you trust me enough to lay that thing on the altar and strike the match?” Poof…Sfumato!

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