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Wednesday, July 27, 2016

"Chosen": The shadow side

Judges 6:1-24; 2 Corinthians 9:6-15; Mark 3:20-30
In praying over the Scriptures there are many approaches. It is always a work of the Holy Spirit, so we begin asking the Holy Spirit to lead us and instruct us. One highly recommended approach is to read the text and summarize, re-read the text and pick out key words or phrases and ponder them, read for the broader context (how it fits into the book of the Bible it comes from; how it interacts with other Scripture passages--especially in lectionaries). Always we end with a request that God inform
us: what we you have me know? What you have me do?

Today I want to model the lectionary interaction, which we will do in Sunday School as well

Judges 6
The first verse "did what was evil in the sight of the Lord" occurs seven times in Judges (and twenty five times in 1&2 Kings). It is an explanatory statement, which is connected to God's Judgment and Israel's plight. Evil in Hebrew is rah and is a comprehensive term including nature, behaviors and results. After forty years of peace, the evil produces seven years of oppression. The verb nathan  means to give, to deliver (and a dozen other related things; the noun means gift) and this is used to day: YHWH gave them over to the enemy. Sin can be seen as breaking the protective bond with God and God's wrath is often times handing us over to the world as it exists. The roving herders who prevail over Israel are eating up all the produce, so Israel must hide in caves. Note the suffering is universal and corporate, not individual. Justice is a community experience (all in it together). Also take note of the typical Biblical hyperbole (not a thing, innumerable, utter misery)

A "prophet" appears who gives the basic creed: God saved, God warned, you blew it, life is hard"... In the Jewish Bible, wrong worship is the mother of evil behavior. "You become what you worship" may be a helpful way to understand it.

Then an angel appears to Gideon, in another case of human reluctance to believe. The exchange is a middle eastern one with self-depreciating statements. Salvation is most often through a human instrument but God's promise is to be trusted. Gideon tests the messenger. He makes food (angels don't eat!) which the angel miraculously ignites before he miraculously disappears. This demonstration inspires some 'belief' and he constructs an altar adonai shalom (Lord Peace). A time reference (to this day it stands) reminds us that the book we are reading was written at a much later date.

So Gideon is chosen, not to receive a blessing but to give a blessing: salvation to God's people.

2 Corinthians   
The ninth chapter of this letter is, ironically, about giving money: a subject many people complain about in church. In particular, Paul is writing about a collection for the church in Jerusalem, the "mother church," which is in financial distress. [as an aside, every Good Friday our collection goes to the Anglican Church in Jerusalem, arguably a Biblical thing to do] Paul walks the line required of every fund raiser in a church setting, complementing his reader's generosity and enthusiasm, assuring them it is voluntary, but including a warning that it would be "shameful" (remember this is an Honor/Shame culture) if the church failed to live up to the "boast" Paul made on their behalf.

Our reading Sunday picks up with verse 6. A proverbial saying about reaping and sowing certainly echoes a similar statement by Jesus in Luke 6:37-38 (the measure you give is the measure you receive) and the theme of how God deals with people (e.g. forgive us as we have forgive, those who do not forgive are not forgiven). Paul also says that you will reap what you sow in Galatians 6:7. The "other side of grace" is manifest here. God loves a cheerful giver (nature of God manifest in His children) and He graciously supplies us so that we can supply others. Giving to the needy saints is a means of thanking and praising God. Alms to the needy glorifies God, is commanded and it is deeply intertwined with the Gospel. There should be no surprise here. Paul, as a Jew, had always been taught that there is a salvific benefit in alms-giving. Once more, the chosen ones at Corinth are to share their abundant blessings (what might be called the fullness of salvation) with others in the church. What better way to break down the world's model of family (biology) and broaden it to Jesus' definition of family (faith members in Him). I would argue, this is one of the greatest obstacles and challenges Christians face in this or any age. Even so, once again we see the shadow of Calling. It costs much to be called because the call is always for others.

Mark 3:20-30
The excitement of the beginning of Jesus' ministry is writ large in this chapter. Jesus is healing and curing, throwing out demons and preaching to great multitudes. The opposition is also growing, but Jesus silences them in direct confrontations and unclean spirits are declaring Him to be the Son of God. He has likewise empowered His disciples to "be with Him" and "to go out (apostle) to proclaim the message and have authority over demons." In the aftermath, He goes home, but the crowds make it impossible to eat.

The cost of Messiah ministry is being too busy to eat. Here is another dilemma for anyone serious about following Jesus and going out in His Name. There is no easy line to be drawn, the needs are always mulitplying and one is hard pressed to meet basic personal needs. It impacts one's family life and the "world" renews its offensive against the Kingdom. His family declare Him crazy in response to the huge crowd interrupting dinner. Mark gives us no more information about what must have been an incredibly painful family conflict (in a culture which overvalues family as the source of identity and personhood). However, a new layer is added as the theological elite (Scribes) sharpen the attack saying He casts out demons by Beelzebul.

Jesus' response is a delightful display of logic. [We all do well, in this age of Twitter and FaceBook to test what we are saying.] Jesus says that if Satan is against Satan then the problem of Evil is about to self destruct. Next, in a self-reference, He says that if you are going to plunder a strong man you need to be a Stronger Man. Exorcisms is plundering Satan. Jesus is the Stronger One. The failure to recognize God's deliverance in Jesus is a fatal flaw. The Holy Spirit is present and active. The sick are healed and the demonic are delivered. People, even common folks, are being invited to reorder their lives in trust of God. The opposition, which is calling this saving work of God (active Holy Spirit) demonic, have cut off any hope. If you reject the doctor and send her away, you cannot be cured. It is an unforgivable error, because the forgiveness is cut off!

The cost of being Jesus, and by extension to be a Jesus Follower and a member of the church/Body, is huge. He is the Savior, reaching out to others and addressing their needs, sending us to do the same. It will generate the worst kind of reaction from family and those opposed to Jesus. In our age, this resistance is growing more and more strident. No way to avoid it. Jesus said, "follow me," then He said, "go in Me."  Chosen...

What is the Holy Three God saying to us? What am I hearing? What should I do in response?

The Office Lectionary provides us readings from three different Books, each one a theological entity. The juxtaposition of the three readings interact with each other within our minds and hearts. They illustrate that being chosen has a shadow side, one might call it the "cost of the gift." I have long believed that "nothing is for free"---their is always a cost. Remember, the cost of the Kingdom is "everything" (its like carrying a cross and dying) but it is worth infinitely more than the everything we have. The shadow side is cost, but the bright shining light is the cost is nothing to the glory to be revealed.

I should be aware that grace is not free in every sense of the word.
I should act to embrace my mission as a servant of God's people, bringing salvation to those entrusted to me, and providing the physical needs of those near and far through generous alms. I must live a life in Jesus and not let the opposition take me from the life as a chosen one. It is a cruciform existence but God prevails in resurrection love. So respond to the Call and live as a Chosen, but expect there is a shadow side!

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