Sunday, January 25, 2015

Gone Fishin'

Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Mark 1:14-20

“How would you expect to find [a sense of] community while you intentionally withdraw from [that community] at some point [in some way]? The disobedient cannot believe; only the obedient believe.”  Dietrich Bonhoeffer

You may be aware that Bonhoeffer was a 20th century German theologian and Lutheran clergy who could have chosen to stay safe in the US during the Nazi era – but chose to go home where he felt he was needed, even at great risk to his own life.  He was executed by the Nazis on 9 April 1945.  It is this reality of Bonhoeffer’s obedience in abiding faith which gives his observations credibility in the 21st-century Church because Bonhoeffer was a true “fisherman” for Christ.

So Jesus wants to go fishing, and He invites these fishermen to come and “fish for people” with Him.  They seem to drop everything without question, surely much to Zebedee’s dismay!  I like the idea of fishing, and I love being on boats.  . 

Yet as much as I like boats and being on the water, taking a Caribbean cruise does not appeal to me in the least; and sitting still in a boat while waiting on fish to bite also has no appeal.  I know plenty of folks who love to fish even if they don’t get a bite all day, so it seems clear I don’t care much for fishing – in reality – as much as I might like the idea of fishing.

This may well be the prevalent state of mind and being of the Church as a whole.  We like the idea of Christ and being “saved” and going to heaven, but we don’t really believe it or care enough to completely submit to the life a disciple is called to.

Sadly, however, for too many churches it is not about what The Lord would have us to do, and it is not about those we are called to reach out to, or holding one another accountable.  The life of the Church today seems more about what we feel like doing, what we enjoy doing, what we are willing to make time for -  ostensibly on behalf of our respective churches but not purposefully in the Name of The Lord.  Bottom line is, if it ain’t our thang, it ain’t gonna happen by us – regardless of the need of the Church.  And we seem perfectly ok with this.

This sad reality suggests there is no real thought toward evangelism, reaching out in the Name of The Lord with The Lord’s message, “fishing for people”, the very mission of the Church itself; because we have been conditioned to believe there are those we hire for the task of evangelizing.  By the nature and meaning of the word “evangelize”, however, this cannot be strictly true because such a proposition implies only the evangelist knows of and believes the Gospel; that only the evangelist is justified before The Lord. 

So if Bonhoeffer’s observation is correct – and I think there must be a component of truth to it - the lack of a mind and willful desire toward evangelism and Divine Will may mean we simply do not “believe”.  Maybe we “hope”, but we do not really “believe”.  Not enough to be obedient.

We may care about our individual churches (to the extent that it does not ask “too much” of us, and allows us to do as we please when we please).  And don’t dare hold us accountable.  MYOB.  We may like the idea of a Savior when we are weak or needy, but we still miss the point if we are unwilling to obey The Lord and follow The Lord faithfully.  We don’t really believe – OR CARE.  Maybe we need to stop kidding ourselves. 

Or maybe we need to make some corrections.

Notice Jesus’ ministry does not begin with a call for a few disciples to “fish for people”; it begins with Jesus’ call to all to “repent and believe the Gospel”.  Jesus’ ministry begins not strictly with an admonition to “stop sinning” but with an encouragement to begin something new – within a whole new context, that context being the Gospel itself.  The Good News.  And note Jesus was referring to the Good News long before He was murdered!  Just like fishing, there is much to be done before we can even think about getting in the boat.

In reading this text it is also important to remember Jesus is very likely not talking to a bunch of atheists and agnostics.  This is a largely Jewish audience; they are “believers” in the most general sense much like 90% of Americans claim to be “believers”.  They may even think themselves to be very religious, very devout.  However, the question to be answered may be, ‘What exactly are they devoted to?” 

My guess is they were devoted to much the same things we are devoted to; making a living, taking care of loved ones, raising children, being happy, having “enough”.  They, like us, are completely devoted to the government, completely devoted to the Temple of The Lord – OR – completely devoted to self in trying to make both work somewhere in the safe and mushy middle.  This way they don’t run afoul of the Empire – AND – they can still feel good about their religious devotion ... even if that devotion is, by biblical standards, rather “lukewarm”.

Therefore in order to even be able to “fish for people”, first things must come first.  First there must be an assessment of faith in our level of care and concern for the Church.  By faith I do not mean an intellectual acknowledgement with a mind that has been taught religious principles, practices, and doctrine (i.e., ‘habit’); I mean a total devotion of mind and heart and soul.  It is the difference between the flesh which pursues and loves the things of the flesh, and the spirit which pursues and loves the things of the Spirit.  It is about the Body of Christ being real in the world today.

It occurred to me, however, that sometimes our own bodies do not always function as they should.  Our limbs and our organs, for any number of reasons, do not always function according to what is on our minds.  Even when we sleep or sit in an awkward position and a limb goes to sleep or we get a crick in our necks, things don’t function the way they should. 

You and I know the frustration when all parts do not cooperate, when we are hindered or incapacitated in any way.  Our minds say “Go”, but our limbs and organs sometimes say “No”.  Imagine, then, the frustration of our Lord when His whole Body the Church does not function according to the will of His Mind … His Heart!

The present and future of the Church are not dependent on more or better preachers or “programs”; preachers are a dime-a-dozen as are “programs”.  The present and future of the Church are not dependent on reaching the “right” people; “recruiting” only those whom we believe will properly fit in.  I say to you now that if the Church is not filled to overflowing with “misfits”, the Church is EMPTY!  The “live well” (of the “boat”) has only stagnant water it in and no fish, and the “stringer” is merely floating on the surface according to the will of the cultural current.

The present and future of the Church are entirely dependent on believers, those for whom The Lord has burnt a hole through the heart, those for whom the reality of the Presence of The Lord in the Church in the here-and-now is not simply a doctrinal concept.  And make no mistake: this message is not for “them” (whomever “them” is) – it is for “you” and for “me”.  It is not about what “they” (whomever “they” is) should be doing or not doing; it is entirely about what “you” and “I” must be doing – according to what we claim to be True, what we believe to be The Truth.


It is long past time for the Body of Christ to “go fishin’”.  It is now only a matter of whether we will need a bigger boat.  Amen.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

A Thought for Thursday 22 January 2015

“If you invoke as Father the One who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile.  You know you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish.”  1 Peter 1:17-18 NRSV

“You were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.”  1 Corinthians 6:20 NRSV

“We cannot express what we have never experienced ourselves.”  Me

Praying for the gift of the Holy Spirit in this week’s prayer service at our church, it occurred to me in the devotion that we often cannot grasp the reality of our redemption because we have never experienced real persecution or bondage.  It is impossible to fully understand what it means to have been set free if we have never been physically bound or restrained.

Before there was official Church doctrine or dogma about what prayers to say and what things to do before being baptized into the Church, Peter and Paul were both speaking to people who likely had no idea about Jesus.  Maybe they had heard some things, but they did not really know about being set free if their personal circumstances had not really changed.

Yet the apostles are speaking to a reality that had taken place even as the people were not aware.  Taking it further, it can be said there were likely skeptics among the crowds who would simply not believe what these crazy men were saying!  Believe or not, however, and know it or not, “you were bought with a  price”.  That is, before we’ve even had a chance to learn more about it, this remarkable act of Divine Love took place whether we know it or believe it, whether we want it or choose to deny it.

Word of mouth is a powerful means of communication when a story comes from someone who actually witnessed something.  St. Paul saw none of what Peter had seen, and yet he put his life on the line to convey what he knew to be true!  That is the Spirit working within Paul, so Paul could preach not merely what he might believe but what he discovered to be true.

This is why praying for the gift of the Holy Spirit may probably be the single, most important petition we can lift up to The Lord.  We cannot appreciate nor feel nor express that which we know nothing about – and we need to know!  For the sake of the Church today and our immortal souls tomorrow, we need to know!

I encourage us all to make this specific petition central to our devotions because no book, no Bible, no preacher, no priest can make this real for us.  This is the unique and sole task of the Holy Spirit, the essence of the Eternal God; to show us, to teach us, and to comfort us in this reality.  Once we become aware, then a response is required.  The Holy God desires that all be saved on The Day of The Lord.  What will our answer be?

Come, Holy Spirit, come!

Michael

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A Thought for Wednesday 21 January 2015

“None of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself.  If we live, we live to The Lord; and if we die, we die to The Lord … So then each of us shall give account of himself to The Lord.  Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this; not to be a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way … if your brother is grieved because of your food [action], you are no longer walking in love.  Do not destroy with your food [actions] the one for whom Christ [also] died … for the Kingdom of God is not eating or drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”  Romans 14:7, 12-13, 15, 17

I know there is a lot of skipping around, but I wanted to get to the main point of Paul’s discourse.  A literal reading of this passage, actually the entire chapter, reduces the point to whether or not food is clean or unclean (fit to eat according to the Law of Moses).  Food, of course, is not the point in itself just as St. Paul states pointedly: “The Kingdom of God is not eating or drinking …”

So rather than read the passage in terms of “food”, look instead at one’s [actions].  It is especially important to remember Paul is writing to a particular audience for their own correction.  He is not teaching the Romans (or us) how to straighten out someone else.  He is requiring that we first take a look at our own actions before we concern ourselves with the actions of others.

What stirred me about this passage were news reports yesterday about the persons killed and hurt, the buildings, churches, and homes destroyed by protesters responding to the French parody magazine’s (Charlie Hebdo) intentional “finger in the eye” of Muslims by deliberately (and with malice aforethought!) publishing a caricature of the prophet Muhammad on the cover of its magazine.  We Americans may not have had a problem with it (free speech and all), but Christians from countries around the world lost loved ones, businesses, churches, and homes because someone in France thought it might be a good idea to show terrorists they will not give in.

There are, even in a secular civil society, limits to free speech as it is often expressed, ‘Your rights end at the tip of my nose’.  And even though there is no love lost between the Western World and terrorists who act ostensibly in the name if Islam, unnecessarily provoking anyone to the point that innocent bystanders far removed are harmed is a direct violation of all St. Paul holds up as good.  And remember, St. Paul’s words have no meaning to Islam.  Then again, Paul was not writing to Muslims; he was (and still is) writing to ‘infant’ Christians.

“Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify (build up) another.  Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of [your rights] … [for] it is evil for one who [acts] with offense” (Romans 14:19-20).  It is not about laying down for or giving in to radical terrorists nor is it about those who so easily turn to violence.  It is about those who are harmed only because they were caught in the middle.  The magazine was published in France; those who died (there were ten confirmed deaths as of yesterday) as a result of the violence stirred by the publication were in Niger (Africa).  Our actions have far-reaching consequences, whether we intend it or not.

The people of the Church are compelled by the Spirit of The Lord and the Written Word to be agents of peace and faithfulness.  Terrorists (at home and abroad) will do what they will do for any reason or no reason.  This does not mean we have to roll in the feces with them. 

Grace and peace,

Michael

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Prayer? Why bother?

John 14:12-14

It has been said it is essential that those on staff and in leadership positions of the Church, paid or not, must be a people of continual prayer.  If they are unwilling to pray, they are unable to lead.

While it is true that leadership positions in the Church require a special brand of devotion, it occurred to me there is no one who claims the name of Christian who is not in some position of leadership on some level – for what is leadership if not a measure of influence?  What do we do with our devoted lives if not try to influence others to follow Christ with us?   It happens when we freely choose to hitch our wagons to Jesus.  It is not true that we were ever guaranteed a smooth ride all the way to Glory Land with Jesus doing all the work!

Prayer is probably one of the most neglected of the disciplines of the Church, and I’ve often wondered why.  I have no doubt there are many individuals who pray in their own time and in their own devotions and according to their own needs, but the neglect of the Church is that prayer is not an intentional focus of the corporate structure; that is, a practice of The Church as a whole.

There are moments in the order of worship when there is prayer.  There is the opening prayer, the prayer of the offertory, the prayer of petition, and often a recitation of The Lord’s Prayer which we probably know by heart but understand only with our heads.  As a practice of the greater whole, however, The Church may have lost its prayer footing.  We need only to take note of the many denominations of Christianity which proves we cannot – will not – gather at a Common Table.

Growing up in the Roman Catholic Church, I was taught a “form” of prayer.  It was not only the written prayers as part of the Rosary; the “form” was as much a way of kneeling or standing (never sitting), the way we held our hands clasped together, and an appropriate environment (“closing the door” for the sake of quiet) as it was a way of expression.

Over the years we’ve made prayer to be so casual a thing to the point of taking it for granted.  Perhaps too casual to the point that we do not put too much effort or thought into it.  For instance I know many who claim to pray while driving a car.  To me, however, that is as dangerous as talking on a cell phone while driving – that is, IF we are praying properly.  “Properly” as in “closing the door” to the outside world, shutting out all distractions, and giving The Lord our total, undivided, and uninterrupted attention.  We cannot do this while we are otherwise occupied.

We also do not consider that when we pray, we are calling upon Heaven itself (or should be) to grant to us not merely our petitions but to also give us undivided attention (even as we often do not offer that same courtesy!).  This is to say, of course, that in prayer we expect to be in the Divine Presence of the Almighty, the Eternal God and Father of all creation, and the center of His attention in this profoundly intimate moment in Eternity.

If this is all true, then, what should our prayer posture be?  Should we stand?  Must we kneel?  May we sit?  Should our hands be folded together, or should we open our hands and lift our palms to Heaven?  Can we pray while driving or doing anything that requires our attention?  Finally, can prayer be as casual as a conversation we would have with a loved one?

The common answer to these and many more questions hinges on our state of mind, especially when we get hung up on praying “in Jesus’ name”.  Even that “sign off” has become as habitual as The Lord’s Prayer itself – just something we say to perhaps make it “official”, something we say but give very little thought to.

The reason and need for prayer can be summed up in the Scripture reading (John 14:12-13): “that the Father may be glorified in the Son”.  By what means?  “Whatever you ask in My Name, that I will do … so that the Father may be glorified in the [WORD]”.

So prayer is not strictly a matter of form or even content.  Prayer is an intent.  Prayer has been given to us and taught to us through the ages for one reason and one reason only: “that in the Name of Messiah, the Father may be glorified.”

We must re-embrace prayer, therefore, the way in which it was entrusted to The Church.  Rather than to think strictly in terms of personal petitions and hoping The Lord will find glory in submitting to our will, we would do well to first consider that if we are going to pray “in Jesus’ name”, we must do so with the primary intention of glorifying the Father – just as Jesus sought to do with every step, every healing, and every blessing.


When we do this, when we learn to do this, I suspect our lives and the life of the Church will change … and for the better!  So let us pray, so let us do.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

A Thought for Tuesday 20 January 2015

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’  For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”  Matthew 9:12-13 NKJV

The Pharisees had just challenged Jesus after He had called Matthew to join them, and they were all seated together.  The Pharisees wanted to know why Jesus would deliberately choose to “eat with tax collectors and sinners” (vs 11). 

It is an honest question given that the Jews had strict rules about who should be allowed to mix and mingle with them.  Moses had warned the Israelites repeatedly, before they were to enter the Promised Land, that they could be easily enticed to turn their backs on The Lord and follow other gods. 

It is also a question Christians are compelled to ask as well.  We do have a commission to “teach” and we do have an obligation to introduce our Lord to the wider world outside of our own.  Yet we are also as committed to the reality that we are lead sinners out of the lives they are living and into a life with Christ and His Church – not to get stuck in the mud with them. 

So there is that fine line between fulfilling our task as ministers of the Gospel and keeping ourselves pure and fit for holy service.  So it follows that Jesus quotes the prophet Hosea in understand The Lord’s people are called, first, to be a people of mercy and compassion.  The religious rules (i.e., “sacrifice”) have no meaning apart from the lives we are called to lead.

This means we can be the most devout Christians on the face of the planet in attending to Scripture studies, tithing, and worshiping faithfully. None of these things have meaning, however, apart from understanding what mercy and compassion are about.  It is the difference between what we do and who we are.  We must worship, we must tithe, and we must attend to the study of the Scriptures; but these are merely “things” if they do not in themselves define the essence of who we are called to be

So who are we?

Blessings,

Michael

Monday, January 19, 2015

A Thought for Monday 19 January 2015

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”  Martin Luther King, Jr

Dr. King was not only a leader of the Civil Rights movement; he was a voice of conscience for this nation’s Christians many of whom were largely unwilling to hear what he had to say because he was a black man.  Indefensible, of course, but largely true.  As the religious leaders of Alabama suggested to Dr. King and the Movement through a newspaper ad (and which prompted Dr. King’s now-famous “Letter from the Birmingham jail”), things were just fine in Alabama and “outside agitators” were only stirring the pot.

This many years later, however, it is clear things were not fine.  This many years later great strides have been made for Civil Rights though it should be noted there is much more to be done.  Yet while we cannot deny the reality of racism which still exists in many segments of our society, we also should not deny that Dr. King’s burning question is one that transcends race and should be at the forefront of any discussion held at any church across the land – because the question is not strictly about race or race relations.  It is very much a question Jesus would be asking, it is the question posed today by the Holy Spirit, and it is (as Jesus and the epistle writers maintained) the essence of the Divine Law in which the people of The Lord are commanded to “love your neighbor as yourself”.

Churches do and must have discussions about resources, paying the bills, etc., but The Church (as the Body of Christ) must be thinking more directly toward responsible “stewardship” of available resources primarily for the sake of “others”.  Rather than to consider ourselves our own primary audience, The Church must always consider why The Church was called forth in the first place.  It was not for self-aggrandizement, it was not for self-satisfaction or internal entertainment, and it was not strictly so we could have a place to gather each Sunday.

If The Church is not asking itself this question before every committee meeting, before every prayer meeting, before every worship service, before every gathering in the name of Messiah; then The Church is denying itself, its mission, its holy task.  It isn’t about give-away programs; it goes much deeper and requires more thought, more prayer, more introspection, and more personal involvement.  But if we members go to any of these functions of The Church only with the idea that The Church somehow owes us something, we are not being biblically honest.

Shall we go about The Lord’s business?  I think we must if we claim to “love” The Lord.

Come soon, Lord Jesus!

Michael

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Standing in the Gap

Psalm 139:1-18
1 Corinthians 6:12-20
John 1:43-51

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”  Martin Luther King, Jr

It occurred to me a few days ago that the phrase championed by evangelical Christianity, “I am a sinner saved by grace”, presents a few problems.  The statement is a summary understanding of what is written in the second chapter of Ephesians as Paul reminded the Ephesians that “The Lord, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ … by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is a gift of The Lord” (4-5, 8).

Yet what is problematic about such a summary statement as we have created for ourselves is that, first, the statement comes dangerously close to suggesting we are still actively, perhaps joyfully, and certainly willfully engaged without sorrow in a life of sin, which is always displeasing to The Lord.  Secondly, many who are outside of the Church, outside of the Covenant do not understand the word “grace” and are thus likely to focus on our boast of being still sinners – saved from nothing.  Lastly, the summation suggests that The Lord saves us IN our sin even while we are willfully and mindfully engaged in that sin.

Above all else, the statement is fundamentally wrong, in my humble opinion, because sin by its very nature separates us from The Lord.  The Lord does not sanctify sin.  We not only “miss the mark” of striving for spiritual perfection as we must, the statement suggests we have surrendered ourselves not to the will of The Lord which is the mission of the Church - but to our own will.  The statement denies our need to “walk circumspectly” (Ephesians 5:15) - that is, to think as justified persons as we are going about our business rather than to act purely according to our impulses and personal desires.  The statement also denies our real need to pray and to repent as necessary disciples of spiritual growth.

The statement also denies the importance of something much greater, as I shared last week.  It denies the point in our justification in which we are to become active partners with The Lord and with one another in our spiritual growth and in the mission of The Church.  The statement denies our need to “leave behind the elementary principles of Christ … and go on to perfection” (Hebrews 6:1).  It denies any need for effort, any need for discipline, on our part in order to grow.

Therefore the statement (and thus my personal disdain for “bumper sticker theology”) is not helpful for the growing Christian who should be mindful of The Holy Spirit’s real presence in our lives, in The Spirit’s Temple which is our mortal bodies (1 Corinthians 6:19), our mortal minds, our immortal souls!  The statement prevents us from thinking more broadly, more outwardly, and more inclusively especially toward those who should be thought of by the Church not as “outside” but rather as “not yet inside”. 

When we find ourselves so narrowly focused only on self with no regard for those we are commissioned to reach and teach, we deny the real presence of the Holy Spirit in His very Temple AND the reason The Spirit is present in the Spirit’s Temple in the first place!  When this happens, if we are honestly and spiritually introspective and discover we are still imprisoned by our personal desires and human impulses, we discover we have actually been delivered from nothing … and we have already lost sight of what matters most.

So what does matter most to us?  It could be different things for different persons, of course, but this is true only because we do not have the unified and sanctified Mind of Christ.  We do not think as THE Church commissioned to a common task of “making disciples”.  Rather we think as a bunch of individuals who happen to go to church – if we go at all.  We do not think of The Church as an instrument of The Lord’s grace, an extension of The Lord’s mercy to all the world; we think of it only as our personal “toy chest”, filled only with things we like and enjoy, things that bring joy and delight only to ourselves.  We do not think of The Church as The Lord’s “tool chest” filled with instruments suitable for “repairing” a broken world. 

“All things are lawful for me, but not all things are beneficial.  All things are lawful for me, but I will not be dominated by anything” (1 Cor 6:12). 

It is not clear what “law” St. Paul may be referring to since we know the Law of Moses does not make “all things lawful” nor does Roman law.  It may be that St. Paul is attacking some sense of “bumper sticker theology” unique to Corinth expressing a newfound “freedom” in Christ, and yet a slogan as careless and as shallow as “I am [still] a sinner [yet] saved by grace”. 

There may be a fundamental truth in such a statement even as the statement as a whole can be fundamentally well off the mark, but Paul is beginning to fill what appears to be a substantial “gap” between the Truth as revealed in The Word, and a “truth” created by the ‘infant church’ in Corinth.

It is the same “gap” we find ourselves standing in today; the significant gulf between what we have been called to be – and what we actually are.  If we are indeed active and engaged “sinners” yet still claiming salvation in that impulsive and thoughtless life of sin, we are lost and don’t even know it. 

If we believe the Law of Christ, the Law of grace gives us unlimited and unchecked freedom in which “all things are lawful for us”, we may well be delivered from the sins of our past – BUT – our current state of sin in which we see no need to repent means only that we are walking directly toward The Bottomless Pit from which there may be no rescue, no salvation.

Yet the psalmist (139:7-10) writes that there is no depth at which our God and Father cannot reach us; “Where can I go from your Spirit?  Or where can I flee from Your Presence?  If I ascend to Heaven, You are there.  If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.  If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me and You right hand shall hold me!” 

We can run, but we cannot hide. All things are not “lawful” for us, but all things are permissible within the human freedom we often take for granted.  It is what we do with that freedom which defines the nature and the depth of a relationship we may choose to have with our God through His Son who is the Head of the Church.  If we are concerned only with what we can do when we choose to do it, there is no relationship with Christ anymore than there exists a relationship between husband and wife when one or the other goes and does with no thought or concern for the other!

We can do better and indeed we can be better, but we cannot do or be if we are unwilling to move beyond that “gap” in which so many new and complacent believers become lost.  We must act within the strength, faith, and courage of conviction in knowing our God and Father will not sanctify “The Gap” – but our God will sanctify and richly bless the Journey out of that Gap!  We must decide to move – and together we shall.  For like ancient Israel, we will move and grow together – or we will perish together.

Therefore “choose life, that you and your children may live and that you may love The Lord your God, listen to His voice, and hold fast to Him.  For The Lord is your life and the strength of your days” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20).


Amen.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

A Thought for Thursday 15 January 2015: "The Narrative"

“The magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils, for the boils were on the magicians and on all the Egyptians.  But The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh; and he did not heed them, just as The Lord had spoken to Moses.”  Exodus 9:11-12 NKJV

The question which is problematic for Christians and Jews alike is the same: Why did The Lord harden Pharaoh’s heart?  To suggest the standard answer many of us have settled on - so The Lord could really prove Himself to Pharaoh and the Israelites - may be close to the truth; but it does not help to explain why so many innocents would be forced to suffer because of the stubbornness of one man.

There are also questions as to whether The Lord intentionally hardened Pharaoh’s heart – or – if the Pharaoh was so removed from the real world because of the world he had created for himself.  This perspective is disturbing to me personally, as it should be for many others with any sense of conscience, because it is not only Pharaoh who is stuck in this particular state of mind and being.  This perspective reaches across many spectrums and touches many of us because each of us has created for ourselves a little world in which we are safe – or so we think.

We are taught by the Scriptures not only to “share one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2) but also to “love your neighbor as you love yourself” (Leviticus 19:18).  In other words, the Word of The Lord does not allow us to create our own personal little worlds to the exclusion of those who need our help.  Yet we are overwhelmed with such great need at home and abroad and are left wondering whether whatever piddly thing we might do could possibly make a difference.  Often we justify our refusal to reach out in meaningful and life-changing ways by suggesting we are only “enabling” laziness.

Maybe so, but there is something much deeper we overlook in such a narrow vision.  To remove ourselves from the lives of those around us “enables” us to remain as “hardened” as Pharaoh was.  Let’s face it; if our own little world we’ve satisfactorily created for ourselves is threatened in any way, we can be as stubborn as any other! 

Rather than to be sideline spectators in the events unfolding in the Exodus narrative, then, let us be honest with ourselves and admit we are actually players in the same story unfolding even today when we settle into our own worlds while the greater world around us continues to deteriorate – especially for those who cannot do or speak for themselves.  In matters of justice and mercy, we became players when we were baptized into the Covenant.  It is a choice we made then; not an option we can exercise later!  It just may be, however, that we have found it much more comfortable and less dangerous on the sidelines.  It is much safer, of course, but this is not who the people of The Covenant, the people of The Church are.

Let us not forget that just as the narrative was written so long ago for our well-being and our learning, the narrative continues to be written today for future generations.  We have to decide where we fit into the narrative which continues to unfold, and what we want future generations to know about our God.

Come, Holy Spirit, come!

Michael