6.03.2008

The Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Hands

Genesis 12:1-9 or Hosea 5:15-6:6

Psalm 33:1-12 or Psalm 50:7-15
Romans 4:13-25
Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26



Imagine these two responses.....

"I hate you. You never listen to me. You always think you are right. I cannot go on like this."
and....

"I am hurting. I feel like when I offer suggestions they are always rebuffed. It feels like in our relationship, my ideas / intentions / actions / etc are not appreciated. When those things happen it makes me feel like you don't love me. And when I don’t feel loved I don’t feel like continuing to risk loving."

Imagine if the prophets of the Hebrew bible had taken classes in active listening or loving communication. Imagine if the words of God had all included "I feel" statements.

This week's lectionary selections give us some examples of how the relationship is built (and exists) between us and God. It is often easy for us to assume that the way God is portrayed in the Hebrew scriptures is as a really angry, dictatorial, punitive, non-relational God. God the Conqueror...God the Destroyer...God the Rulemaker (now we are not saying that the scriptures are devoid of this!). But really, we see time and time again the ways that God and humans interacted to both build and destroy Trust. Reading these scriptures we get to observe the relationship being built between humans and God.

At the same time, a person can read the New Testament and come away with a sense that all is well as long as You confess Jesus (Your Personal Lord And Savior) died for Your sins – that All was Set Right with Christ’s Atoning Sacrifice (what do all those words mean?). It is also easy for us to create a scene where it is not much of a relationship because we enter the relationship primarily out of fear or guilt. But the truth is we see Jesus and those around him interacting in really meaningful ways and in really intimate relationship with one another.

Somewhere in the extremes of relationship and in the space between those extremes, we find our own relationship with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

In Genesis we meet a guy named Abram. For some reason (that we do not have in the text) God chose that it would be through Abram that a great nation would grow. Beginning from this place a series of events unfolds through which God asked / told Abram to do something and Abram chose to either follow or not to follow. And really, God opens his relationship with Abram with a shower of gifts. God is building Trust and Love from the beginning by giving and giving and giving. God promises Abram, a man resigned to having no children, the birth of a great nation of descendents. Can you imagine the shock and awe that results from being so wooed?

Psalm 33 is a love song from a Human to God. This writer talks about the things that God loves, the things that please God, he talks about the Might and the Power of God.....this is similar to a description someone in a newly-in-love couple might write to one another to attempt to express all of the things that are inside of him or her. It is honest and genuine acknowledgment from one member of a relationship to the other that builds the strength and depth of a relationship.

The prophet Hosea channels God as if God is a lover scorned. "I will return again to my place until they acknowledge their guilt and seek my face. In their distress they will beg my favor." Now certainly, this might sound a little adolescent of a response by God, but think about it....I am sure you have had a moment in a relationship of your own when you felt hurt and took the "I am taking my toys home" approach. Based on experience, we know these approaches sometimes get the attention of the other party. Later on God even talks about understanding that Ephraim and Judah were consistently unfaithful lovers...."What shall I do with you? Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes away early.....I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings." Can you see hands tossed up in despair?

In Paul's letter to the followers of Jesus in Rome, we see again that it is not requirements that build the relationship stronger. Rather, it is an individual's freely entering in to the relationship with God through her or his own faith that creates depth of the relationship. Paul is reaching back into his own Jewish tradition, using Abram’s call and answer as an example of God’s extending a hand in relationship and a freely willed human hand reaching back in faith. Righteousness is granted to Abram not because of a specific set of deeds or actions or obediences, but because he agreed to be in relationship with Yahweh.

The reading from Matthew provides quick descriptions of a series of Miracles performed by Jesus. Each of the miracles occurs, and Jesus enters a relationship. These are relationships built on hope and faith. Those seeking the miracle have a desperate need and are willing to risk their own tradition in order to find what they are seeking. And in return, Jesus reaches out and meets their desperate need – with a compassionate response, not with flashes of lightening or fanfare. He affirms that their seeking him out, that their placing their trust in him, provided a groundwork for a relationship to exist.

Jesus took this notion of being in relationship and walked it and talked it as he sat with sinners and tax collectors and the under classes and the diseased. Even with his favored disciple Peter we see so much push and pull…turning toward one another and turning away, but always drawing toward the other.

The concept of being in relationship with God is not a new idea…and it is not just a New Testament idea. In relationship, we turn toward another. We extend ourselves even as the other extends to reach out toward us. Both parties must be willing to put something of themselves in to it…both individuals must be willing to share themselves and both must be willing to love and respect and care for what is shared with them.

There is no such thing as a “one way” relationship.

  • How are relationships with others in your life similar to your relationship with God? How are they dissimilar? What would you change?
  • How do you reach out to a person with whom you want to be in relationship?
  • How has God reached out to be in relationship with you?
  • Do you trust that God is interested in being in relationship with you?

Almighty God, and most merciful Father (and Mother);
you have given us a new commandment that we
should love one another;
give us also grace that we may fulfill it.
Make us gentle, courteous and forebearing.
Direct our lives so that we may look each to the
good of the other in word and deed.
And hallow all our friendships by the blessing of your Spirit,
for his sake who loved us and gave himself for us,
Jesus Christ our Lord.

-Brooke Foss Westcott

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