Sunday, June 27, 2010

Sunday morning musings

If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

This line from Galatians 5 jumped out at me this morning as I listened to the lessons being read.  Biting and devouring isn't usual Sunday fare, thanks be to God, but I wonder if it was usual Sunday - and maybe even daily - fare for the new Christians in Galatia.  It's such colorful language for sniping and fighting!

I suspect I bite and devour sometimes even though I feel like I bend over backwards doing just the opposite.  When others begin to do so, I try to ease the tensions or simply walk away rather than get involved. 

But there are times when we have to stay and fight.  It seems to me the various parts of the Anglican Communion have been biting and devouring lately - or should I say once again or still.  A part of me wants to jump into the fray and do a little biting myself.  Part of me wants to walk very far away, even out of the relationship.  But that feels like I am letting the biting and devouring consume me.

If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

Take care that you are not consumed by one another, says Paul.  It sounds to me like we have permission to disagree even to the point of taking chunks out of each other but that we are never to go for the knockout punch.  Hmmm....  I would love to know what Paul was talking about, wouldn't you?  Is he saying, "If you are going to argue, don't walk away mad" or "If you are going to fight, don't draw blood?"  It's hard to know, isn't it.

But it refreshing to see that Paul doesn't seem to be saying that we should make nice just for the sake of keeping the peace.  We shouldn't paste that plastic smile on our faces and pretend everything is fine.  Somehow we are meant to engage each other about our differences.  It ought to be a loving disagreement with each of us listening to the other and thinking about how best to respond without saying "well, that's just stupid," no matter how obliquely we try to do that.

So I guess biting and devouring are not generally appropriate behavior amongst the greater family but Paul is realistic enough to know we will still try it on once in a while.  'When you do," he seems to be saying, "take care not to cause the other  - and hence, ourselves - irreparable damage.  Always leave the discussion with the door still open and all the bodies intact.

(Image from

Friday, June 18, 2010

what are you doing here?

Elijah led an amazing life.  He is fed by ravens and widows, raises a child from the dead and then takes on Jezebel and her prophets/priests of Baal.  While Eliijah was living with the widow, King Ahab had been looking for him everywhere and is quite pleased to find him.  At last he has a chance to get rid of this annoying prophet.

But Elijah tells Ahab to gather all of Israel together at Mt. Carmel and "bring 450 priests of Baal with you."  I guess the mix is enough to make Ahab curious.  In any case, he does not take this opportunity to get rid of Elijah but does what he asks instead.

And so the famous contest takes place.  One prophet of God versus 450 of Baal's.  Two bulls cut into pieces and placed on a stack of dry wood were the weapons of choic.  The person or group who can get their god to light the fire wins.  Elijah is ever gracious, offering to let his adversaries pick the bull and go first.  So the prophets of Baal picked a bull, prepared it for sacrifice and then began chanting to their God.  O Baal, here us!  All day long they prayed and prayed, shouting out to their god and calling his name over and over again.  But nothing happened even though they continually walked around and around the offering.

Then it was Elijah's turn. First he gathered twelve stones and repaired the altar of the Lord that had once stood there.  Then he dug a trench around the altar, laid the wood in a particular order, placed the pieces of the bull on top and told the Israelites to pour lots of water on top.  And then he prayed.  Not all day but really for only a few minutes.  The Lord answered his prayer and lit the fire, consumed all of the sacrifice and even the water in the trench.  The Israelites seized the prophets of Baal and Elijah killed them all.

To top it off, the drought ended and it began to rain.

After a triumph like that, you would think Elijah would find a comfy chair, a skin of good wine and some great barbeque and relax.  But instead, he chases the king back to Jezreel.  Ahab tells his wife all that had happened - he was a real whiner - and she sends a message to Elijah telling him he is in for it now.  She swears that she will have him killed by the end of the day.

Even thought Ahab has just been incredibly vindicated by the Lord, proving to one and all that the Lord is great and mighty, he hears the message and heads for the hills.  He runs from the northern part of the kingdom to the very southern end.  There he sees a lovely tree in the barren wilderness and lies down to sleep.

Can you hear the Lord sighing as Elijah runs away? 

Despite all the times God has acted on Elijah's behalf, keeping him safe from famine and from Jezebal, Elijah is so elated by "his" triumph at Carmel that he is vulnerable to threats and criticism.  Isn't that what happens to us when we are on an incredible high, having just accomplished a goal or done something we thought was beyond our ability?  We are so happy that it takes almost nothing - an unkind word, a smirk or sneer - to pop our balloon and send us crashing to earth.  This is how Elijah feels.

So the Lord sends an angel to feed Elijah and prepare him for an even longer journey deeper into the wilderness.  The Lord sends him to the very mountain upon which Moses and God used to talk.  You would think just being there, remembering the stories of Moses being in God's presence would be enough to turn Elijah around, to remind him whose prophet he is.

But once Elijah arrives, the Lord speaks to him and says, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" and Elijah whines almost as much as Ahab.  "I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts.  For the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars and killed your prophets with the sword.  I alone am left and they are seeking my life, to take it away."

So God, hearing the despair in Elijah's whining, tells Elijah to go out on the mountain and the Lord will pass by.  The Lord was not in the wind, the earthquake or the fire.  No, the Lord was in the stillness.  Sheer silence, a space absolutely devoid of sound or movement.  And Elijah recognizes God there and hides his face.

Again God asks the question.  "What are you doing here, Elijah?"  Now you would think that Elijah, having experienced the Lord firsthand, would have a new answer.  Even "I don't know" would have been better than his last answer to the question.  But, no, he repeats what he has already said.  Again, I hear God sighing, wondering what else can be done to turn Elijah around.

The Lord tells Elijah to go home by way of Damascus. God doesn't promise that all will be well, that nothing bad will happen to Elijah.  There are no rainbows in the sky or pillars of cloud and fire.  God just tells him to go home.  "And on your way, annoint Hazael king in Damascus and Jehu king in Israel.  Also anoint Elisha as a prophet." 

Just as Moses needed the seventy elders to help him, so Elijah needs help.  He can't do it alone - although the stories we have make it sound like he was doing a pretty good job.
When we lose trust in our faith in God, how do we answer God's question. "What are you doing here?"  Sometimes it is not so much a matter of losing trust as it is taking matters into our own hands and making a real hash of things.  "What are you doing here?" I think God asks us this question a lot.  How about times when we agree to do something because we know someone has to do it?  We aren't the right person for the job but we know it has to be done.  "What are you doing here?"  Are we brave enough to honestly admit we don't really know what we are doing or do we stick with the same old excuses.  "Well, someone had to do it, God.  You didn't seem to be helping much so I struck out on my own.  I like to take charge and there seemed to be a leadership void I could easily fill."

The man with a legion of demons must have felt as high as Elijah after Jesus sends the demons out of him and into the pigs.  But then he sees the fear in his kin and his former neighbors and he begs Jesus to take him with him.  The fear has pricked his balloon of triumph and he loses trust in the one who just made him well.

But Jesus doesn't make it easy for him.  He tells him to go home, and proclaim what God has done for him.  That couldn't have been easy to do.  No one wanted to be reminded of this event.  They have asked Jesus to leave and the healed man's presence won't really let that happen.  He knew what he was doing there.
What are we doing here?  Are we doing what the Lord has called us together to do or are we content to have everything stay the same.  Are we running away, sleeping under a lovely tree or allowing our demons to tear us apart?  Can we set aside wind, earthquake and fire long enough to hear God in the sheer silence?
I suspect that the truth is we could probably answer yes to all of those questions.  We do do the work of the Lord but we are content to remain the same, not listening for other new ways God is calling us to work.  There are times when we run away, just want to get away from it all and even times when the pressures, stresses and anxieties tear us apart.  And for many of us, finding that silence is what keeps us on the right track.

What are we doing here is a good question to ask ourselves.  Maybe not every day but often enough that we seriously consider whether we are walking with God, sitting on the sidelines or have decided to take over and run our own show.  Whatever the answer to God's question, we need to answer it honestly and be prepared for God's response.  It might not be what we want to hear.  It is likely to challenge us and may even be a little scary.

But just as God is present to ask the question, God is present to help us live into the answer.  As the psalmist says more than once, "Put your trust in God."