Monthly Archives: September 2013
So I was in my pastors lectionary study and most of our energy this week went into Jesus’ parables of finding the lost in Luke 15. We had quickly gone right by Exodus 32 (I’m an interloper with another friend in a Lutheran study that uses the alternate texts) where God is getting mad about the golden calf and ready to let anger “burn hot” against the Israelites while Moses had to convince the Lord to remember that it was God who found and rescued these – God’s – people. Instead we focused on finding the lost sheep and coin. In our study two of the members really got us thinking about what it meant to be the lost. And how this text was more about rejoicing over being found, the joy of re-uniting than it is about saving the sinners – after all, there really isn’t 99 righteous to be left in search of a single lost one. We are all the lost.
Their thoughts helped me see this idea that the text was about rejoicing in being re-united and thinking about how we become separated from so much in our lives. We become separated from our home… from people… even from ourselves. And we even revel in those separations. Church’s split, not because it’s inevitable or necessary or good, but because for some reason we value our own rightness rather than being together. We foster a competitive spirit in sporting teams, and nation states that is about widening separations between us and them – widening a gap between success and failure – between right and wrong. And to this worldview Jesus offers an upside down vision. Let us rejoice when we realize that very one we separated out is back among us. In the words of my friend Marci Auld Glass looking at the Luke text, “when the complaint ‘he eats with sinners’ becomes the joyous proclamation, ‘he EVEN eats with sinners!’
This continued to sit with me. The text is about all of us being lost and that God’s greatest joy is when we are all gathered back into comm-unity. The text reminds us that when we come together across divides and set aside being right for being together it is worthy of joy – of much rejoicing in heaven and on earth as it is in heaven. At least that appears to be the message the parables are offing the Pharisees who have made a point to creates boundaries that set some people outside of God’s grace. And then I realized that this gets us right back to the Moses’ text we wanted to skip. Moses is God’s way of “finding” the Israelites in slavery in Egypt. Moses finds them. But Moses was also lost. And Moses wasn’t simply found by the burning bush. His journey of becoming found took most of the journey to the Promised Land. These were two groups of lost people that could only become “found” together. They found each other through God, and through journeys good and bad.
But there is yet more to this connection. You see in the encounter in question between God and Moses on the mountain it turns out that God is lost. God has forsaken – forgotten – God’s people. God tells Moses, “Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt…” God has disowned the people and Moses has to remind God this is not God’s way (I know right? What’s up with that – a whole new spin on lost and found and remembering). “Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants…’ And the Lord changed his mind…” Reminded God turns back – is reunited – with God’s people. Moses is found, the people are found, and God is found. And there is much rejoicing. (Well… eventually.)
We are all – always – on a journey of being lost and found. Of losing and finding. Of separating and being united. And God weeps with us when we are lost… and rejoices with us when are found. And God rejoices even more when that is true of us as well, when we are able to find joy in being reunited rather than in separating out.
So in world full of division, of Either/Or, In/Out, Right/Wrong, may we choose to turn the world upside down with Jesus and watch our complaints become our rejoicing. May we seek to bring together, to welcome, include, and rejoice. Not that we are uniform, but that we are united. That we are capable of overcoming hurt, pain, and difference to see that we are all lost and found together. Thanks be to God.
I appreciate the reminders to Never Forget. I remember the day, the shock, and then the worry – we had family in Manhattan and friends at the Pentagon. But the question we must ask ourselves is “what do we remember?” I remember those who gave their lives to save others. I also remember that hate drove people to kill innocent civilians when they felt they had no other way, or that it was the best way, or just because they had become so twisted by hate they didn’t even think about the way they had chosen.
When we Never Forget, what are we remembering? And how does what we remember shape our lives?
In the Biblical vision a time shall come when there will be no more tears. The apocalyptic prophet John has God’s vision unveiled to him and the arc of creation bends to a time when God will, “wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4)
I see a world without tears as well. Only our lack of tears is a gross parody of this vision.
Our country considers yet another military conflict in which we will shed blood in the name of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
A great many of us are convinced the only way to be safe in this world is to pack death in a holster on our hip as if it is a casual thing to sling around destruction in the name of self-preservation.
We adamantly oppose taking steps to improve our health care if we feel it at all impinges on our freedom to play roulette with our own lives… and certain if it means we try to bear some responsibility to care for other people’s lives.
We constantly wish to assert the primacy of our own perspective over our neighbor’s. We are looking for the next opportunity to bite on a good argument like a fish on a hook, but unhappy just debating we move to personal assaults on anyone who holds a different opinion.
We over-work, over-produce, and over-consume to the detriment of the very life, liberty and pursuit of happiness that we are killing to defend. We are a people at war. We are at war with ourselves, our neighbors, and the world. And we don’t have any tears left to shed. No more tears.
… and yet…
Those words ring throughout scripture to me. And yet. God constantly hopes… constantly invests in us despite our constant return to the lowest common denominator of human sin. There may be no better articulation of that impulse in us and in God than from the book of Hosea, chapter 11:
1 When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. 2 The more I called them, the more they went from me; they kept sacrificing to the Baals, and offering incense to idols. 3 Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them. 4 I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them. 5 They shall return to the land of Egypt, and Assyria shall be their king, because they have refused to return to me. 6 The sword rages in their cities, it consumes their oracle-priests, and devours because of their schemes. 7 My people are bent on turning away from me. To the Most High they call, but he does not raise them up at all. 8 How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. 9 I will not execute my fierce anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.
God will not come in wrath… and God didn’t. Jesus was born and lived and died for us. Jesus loved, healed, and taught… but Jesus never killed for us.
And we often feel the world would be a better place if God did kill for us: Kill the vermin, force the “bad” to submit to the “good.” MAKE the world resemble God’s vision of peace. But it wasn’t God’s way… that is our way. And it isn’t working for us.
I do not know the way forward for us. I do not claim great answers to all the problems, or even good ones. I’m not advocating a particular political party’s answer to any of the above challenges, and I certainly do not mean to be anti-American. I love this country, I love my friends and they run the gambit of political and theological ideologies. What I do not wish is to be at war. Not in any meaning of the word war. I do not wish to inhabit a worldview where everyone just goes their own way. I do not wish to succumb to the darkness of believing that an ultra-vigilant and militant society is the only way to secure life. I do not wish to have no tears for the plight of my neighbor… or to cause them.
And I do believe we are capable of better. And that this better I believe in is worth living for – and even being killed for – because I will be in the best of company on the way.
“I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love.” Hosea 11:4
May it be so in my life, in our lives, in the life of the world… at peace. No more tears.