Monday, October 13, 2014

A Thought for Monday 13 October 2014

“The Lord spoke to Moses in the plains of Moab by the Jordan, across from Jericho, saying, ‘Speak to the children of Israel and say to them, When you have crossed the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you, destroy all their engraved stones, destroy all their molded images, and demolish all their high places … but if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then it shall be that those whom you let remain shall be irritants in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall harass you in the land where you dwell.  Moreover it shall be that I will do to you as I thought to do to them’.”  Numbers 33:50-52, 55-56 NKJV

Often even the most devoted Christian can have difficulties with certain stories in Torah, particularly those stories in which Israel is commanded to destroy everything – and everyone.  We cannot begin to imagine the blood baths that may have actually taken place and how each warrior may have felt in faithfully executing his duties.  It is even more problematic when each account is taken literally, when we are then prevented from getting anything useful from such passages as applicable to ourselves and our lives now.  I get that some Christian traditions dismiss the First Testament altogether as irrelevant (even as they are often quick to quote “eye for an eye”), but our United Methodist tradition does not allow us to walk away so easily – especially from such difficult passages.

These passages are made even more difficult when we consider that what is unfolding in the Middle East by the hands of the Islamic State comes eerily close to matching what we read; like locusts, they are devouring everything and everyone in their path.  It does not matter whether they are right or wrong in what they do; it is the reality the world currently faces and must contend with.  Consider this, however; the Koran also contains some equally problematic passages often cited by outsiders who try to disprove the idea that Islam is a “peaceful religion”.  The brutality of the Islamic State – and the hatefulness of Westboro Baptist Church – are what happens when we read the words in the Scriptures but fail to engage the Spirit in reading.

Israel had been enslaved 400 years and they had only come together as a nation, as an army, as a people, during the latter part of their 40-year journey to the Promised Land.  It would not do for them to be confronted with Canaanite cultural and religious practices lest they be tempted away from the God of Israel and His Torah.  So every speck of their religion and their practices had to be put away and destroyed.  Otherwise there would always be that “irritant”, that remnant of what must be driven out.  Failing to destroy everything and drive out everyone would be the risk of subjecting Israel to even the slightest temptation we know all too well: that which is once tolerated will soon be embraced.

There are some things – and persons – we cannot literally destroy or drive out, but there are many things – and persons - we must consider to be legitimate threats to our faith and the well-being of our families and our churches, our communities of faith.  Some may seem harmless; but the point of putting these things away from our presence and our thoughts is not about how strong we may be.  We must always consider what may be a “stumbling block” for others.  If we do not protect them from these temptations, who will? 

So it is not entirely about literally destroying everything we deem offensive; it may be more about what we must do to protect the “little ones” of the faith so they are not drawn away from the One True God.  This takes prayer, fasting, and serious consideration of everything we encounter and then measuring it according to what is written in the Scriptures.  Once we determine for ourselves it is not so bad, however, we leave that door open to others who may not share the strength of our convictions, our devotion to prayer and fasting, and our spiritual capacity to walk away.

We must not act impulsively according to our social sensibilities, however.  Jesus warns that there are some things so powerful that can only be confronted with prayer and fasting.  These must therefore become our own spiritual practices before we consider any sort of social “crusade” in the name of The Lord.  In our faithfulness and by His Word, we will be given what we need.  So we take heart that while we are defenders of the Gospel itself by our baptism, much more is expected of us than to simply curse or attempt to destroy those things and persons we do not like.  It is not our impulse or instinct being called forth; it is our faithfulness in obedience and our care for others.  This is who we really are in Christ.



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