Wednesday September 22, 2010
Apologies for my late post this week. I will get the posts out sooner. In this busy time as fall program in church, school and community begins, the scriptures are very rich for reflection. Jeremiah offers hope for restoration, the Psalm assures us that, though peril may surround, God is very close, bearing us up, and the gospel reading jostles us with the story of the rich man and Lazarus.
Background on this weeks readings:
Jeremiah 32: 1-3(a), 6-15
I love this story. It is such a window into the time and the place of Jeremiah. Here we have Jeremiah under arrest for agitating against the King. (Read the excluded verses 3(b)-5 for the details) The Babylonian army is on the doorstep and Jeremiah believes that unless the powers, ie. King and Temple, change their ways, God will not protect them from the power to the north. The king has had enough of his agitating, and is trying to silence him. But even in silence, Jeremiah finds a way to bring hope by demonstrating his commitment to the covenant. He buys a field from his cousin just north of Jerusalem at Anathoth. This is right on the path that the Babylonians would take to destroy Jerusalem. He is staking a claim, literally, on the faithfulness of God. He is saying, even if the King will not listen, even if the Babylonian army invades, even if disaster strikes, God will always be with us. Someday God will restore the people to the land, and “houses and fields and vineyards will be bought in this land.”
God is our protector! That is the assertion of Psalm 91. “God is my refuge and my fortress.” These are strong images of protection in the midst of mortal threat.
I am of two minds on Psalm 91. I worry about a theology that says, if I am faithful to God, nothing bad will happen to me (it will not come near to you even if it comes near to others vs.7). There is real danger here because disaster does come, and when it does, by this theology we are left with two possible conclusions: either we have not been faithful, or God is mean. As well, it leads to a reverse theology that judges victims as somehow deserving of what happened to them. These are my reservations about the theology of Psalm 91.
However, as a song of the faith, sung in adversity, it is a plea for God to remain close, and asserts that, ultimately, God will be faithful and “raise us up.” It has functioned as great comfort to the afflicted, and I can sing it from that place with a whole heart.
Further to the theme of bad things happening to good people, we have the story of the rich man and Lazarus. Before anybody gets too literal about this story, remember, IT’S A STORY! Scene 1, set on earth, has a rich man ignoring the poor Lazarus suffering at his gate. Scene 2, set in the afterlife, has a huge reversal of fortunes with the rich man suffering in Hades while Lazarus goes to be with Abraham and all the faithful. And even when a plea is made to the great ancestor Abraham, there is no mercy to all who “Have Abraham and the prophets but won’t listen to them.” Is there no mercy?
Now it needs to be said, this is not a debate about what happens after you die. This is a debate that Jesus is engaging with the Pharisees and others who believe that if you are doing well in this life, that is an indication that you are in God’s favour. It is classic prosperity theology and Jesus is opposed. Material wealth and privilege is no indication of divine favour or judgement. Rather we are challenged to bridge the gap and be compassionate kin irrespective of the gaps of wealth, race, or any other characteristic that threatens to separate us one from another
Here at Northwood we frequently have people sleeping under the eaves, behind the house, or sheltered in some other way on the property. It is tempting to cast this reality as a security issue, and we do need to be careful about needles and other dangers. I would rather cast it as a homelessness issue, but I am challenged by it. After all, it is not an issue at all, but an experience of people, real people who are cold, wet, struggling with a dazzling mix of life circumstances.
The challenge is clear. On this Christian path we are called to bridge the gap between us and every other human being, and that is not a mental, physical and emotional gap, but a financial one. We of the North and the West have so much in common with the rich man and feel the gap with from that angle.
1. Where do you see yourself in this reading? Do you have experiences like those of Lazarus, or the rich man?
2. Jeremiah claims there is hope even when the evidence is pointing to hopelessness. He stakes a claim on it. That takes faith and courage. Any examples you can think of? Any times you’ve found yourself stepping out on a limb?
3. The rich man is told that his family doesn’t need a messenger because they already have the prophets who carry the same message of compassion. Do we have prophets? Are we listening to them?