10.29.2008

Twenty Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Joshua 3: 7 - 17
Psalm 107: 1 - 7; 33 - 37
1 Thessalonians 2: 9 - 13
Matthew 23: 1 - 12

It seems like this summer and fall we have been writing a lot about obedience...and this week is no different. Why is the bible full of stories that set meaning, that prescribe how we are to behave and how we are to be in relationship with others and with God. Does anyone think this notion of obedience might be an important theme for us to pay attention to?

We begin this week seeing Joshua receiving his Leadership Orientation from God as the people of Israel are preparing to pass over in to the Promised Land. God continues to be quite directive and detailed about how and what Joshua should do and what he should have those with him do. AND God explains the things God will do. We hope we can say this without too much disrespect: it seems a little like the child's game "Simon Says". God gives them (literally) step by step instructions as to where to stand and when to walk and who should go first and later on God explains who should pick up a stone and where they should stack them and why they are doing all of this. It almost feels as if God did not trust the people to do their own meaning making....it is almost as if God does not trust them to understand what is happening to and around them on their own. Granted, the people have not demonstrated a great grasp of the concept of obedience or meaning-making to this point. Are we nearly at a breakthrough here? At what point does Israel finally begin to understand? (Hmm...we think Isaiah has things to say about this, too.)
And this certainly makes sense as the nation of Israel continues to develop and recall their own history as they live in to the future.

In so many Psalms (including 107 for this week) the writer relives what had happened to the people and how when they had obeyed they found themselves in the loving care of God and when they had disobeyed they found themselves either left out of the favor of God or directly incurring the wrath of God.

This form of believing and following is reinforced in Paul's letter to the Thessalonians in a variety of ways. Paul's letter to the church in Thessalonica is believed to be the oldest of his letters. At this point, the community is only about twenty years past the stunning events of the crucifixion and resurrection. It was probably a largely gentile community. Paul is sort of recounting his visit and the things that he taught, and correcting some misunderstandings while, like any good teacher, reinforcing good behavior on the part of the community. He points out to them that his conduct was blameless....his conduct was obedient to God and therefore should be imitated by newer Christians as the way to live. He also praises this community for hearing God's word through Paul and Timothy and accepting it, not as human word, but as the word of God...somehow different, somehow more profound.

And then in the words of Jesus as recorded by Matthew we see a different view. Jesus makes explicit what everyone always sort of hints around at....he holds the scribes and Pharisees up as examples of excellent teachers of the law and really poor obeyers of the law. It is almost as if they have taken what they were originally given and over-read it and over-manipulated it and over thought it to where it no longer follows the initial intention. Somehow, the scrupulous attention to the law has brought them to a place where they have lost an understanding of why they are doing what they are doing. Perhaps Jesus didn't see in them a true understanding of these laws handed down by God to Moses as part of a deep relationship between God and creation.

Sometimes we lose ourselves in a rational, heady space. And sometimes we resist "direction" that seems too explicit or that we don't fully understand. But there were really important reasons for God helping the Israelites to set meaning. There were reasons that young Christian communities needed to be encouraged and applauded for heeding God's word (c'mon, they were reeling...waiting for Jesus to return and for all the dead to be resurrected..and for the Roman Empire to fall, to boot). In that rational, heady space, we can explain things away, claim a lack of "relevance" to our modern world.

But somehow, we are here, listening and reading and hoping to see meaning for our lives - recognizing that there is more to this than we can know, or we would be on to something else by now. These readings work on us. These ancient traditions and stories and laws and warnings still trigger something within us.

I am the maker of the Heavens
I am the bright and morning star
I am the breath of all Creation
Who always was
And is to come

I am the One who walked on water
I am the One who calmed the seas
I am the miracles and wonders
So come and see
And follow me
You will know

I am the fount of living water
The risen Son of man
The healer of the broken
And when you cry
I am your savior and redeemer
Who bore the sins of man
The author and perfecter
Beginning and the end
I am

I am the spirit deep inside you
I am the word upon your heart
I am the One who even knew you
Before your birth
Before you were

Mark Schultz - I Am

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