7.23.2010

Ninth Sunday After Pentecost (Proper 12)

So this feels dangerous to ask. In fact, we do not really want to either ask the question or think about the possible answers.....but, unfortunately, we have to bring it up: does God hold an entire group (i.e. nation, state, denomination, church, community, family) on the basis of the actions of it's individual members?

[See? We told you this might be uncomfortable]

This week we get some really charged passages from the Hebrew scriptures. The passage from Hosea offers an awful and definite condemnation on the people of Israel because of their actions...more specifically, "for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD." Now, when we read this passage (which isn't long) we see that this message of punishment is couched in a continued promise of continuance. In the last verse we have here we God saying the people of Israel will still be like the sand of the sea and children of the living God, etc. But that comes after some threats of ALL of the people of Israel being punished.

This question is similarly pursued in the passage from Genesis. It is the story of God planning to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah and Abraham trying to negotiate with God on behalf of the few righteous men that might be present in those towns. It appears that in this instance, two entire towns / cities are going to be destroyed because of their "grave sin." Notice, it does not say that the people of those towns will "get theirs in the end" or that they will have to face their actions on "judgment day". This story shows some people that will be destroyed fairly quickly as a result of their behavior. But then, with Abraham's probing questions, God does seem to relent. If there can be found a "critical mass" of righteousness, the community will be spared.

Were the circumstances different for them since Israel is God's Chosen People? Or might these same circumstances apply to us?

Psalm 85 continues to tell this story in a slightly different way. It remembers how their people were restored and forgiven and pardoned before, but that God is currently "angry" with them right now. There is a lot of faith that God will preserve them again in the future, but that in their current situation all of their people are suffering punishment.

Something interesting happens when we make the shift to the scriptures of the New Testament. Both Paul and Jesus continue to talk to groups of people about their behavior, but a couple of things are different: first, there is not as much emphasis on how all of the people will be destroyed or punished because of the actions of a few, and connected to that idea there seems to be a lot more emphasis on individual responsibility to the message they have received.

For example, Paul continues with his message to the Colossians where he is lining out what it means to live as a follower of Jesus....he offers details on personal conduct and also some greater (more philosophical) instruction of how they should think of themselves and their relationship with God.

And Jesus also points people toward thinking of their individual responsibilities for their relationships to God. This is one of the passages where Jesus teaches the disciples how to pray. We have come today to call this The Lord's Prayer. It was a big deal for him to teach this prayer because it is an unusually personal and direct way for the average person to communicate with God.

And so, what do we do with all of this? Are these stories different? Can we all be individually responsible and also still be corporately responsible? If we are corporately responsible for our actions, what do we do to make sure our entire city is not wiped away because of the actions of others? If we are all individually responsible, to what extent do we need to bother ourselves with the behaviors of others? Even absent God's action, is it possible that the way we live, the choices we make, the lives we live affect those around us in life-altering ways? Good and bad life-altering ways?

God,
we give thanks for our created uniqueness
and as for the wisdom and patience
and grace and mercy
to add our one-ness to the whole
in ways that move your Kingdom
forward, not back.
Amen


© matt & laura norvell 2010 www.settingourstones.org
we want to share this with you and hope you'll share with the world;
we simply ask that you let people know where you found these words.
May Grace & Peace be with you

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