Monday, March 14, 2016

21st Century speaking

I have two months "in the can", from June 12 to August 21. I'm not stopping to put them all up just yet, just offering these teasers for now. I do take requests. 

Luke 13:10-17

The symbols in the Luke verses have a little more meaning than many of the verses in recent readings. Jesus calls this woman to him. But he's teaching in a synagogue, that's male territory. The inclusion of women in the early movement may be a significant factor in why Christianity has survived. When men began fighting the Romans in the uprising of 70 AD, an exclusively male movement would have suffered. No doubt the women also contributed to the more compassionate nature of the movement. (See Richard Carrier's chapter in John Loftus' collection, "The Christian Delusion")

He also challenges the law. The details of exactly which laws were the right ones (the ones Jesus came to fulfill Matt 5:17) and which were wrong is not laid out in any detail. You only get clues like this, that healing someone is more important than watering your donkey. It doesn't seem that difficult of a choice. This story carries more weight if we understand how these additional laws, supported by the elites played a role in maintaining their status (as we saw in Luke 11 back in week 12).

You also might want to compare this to the similar story in Mark 2 and 3. Mark is the earliest written gospel that we have, and this similar story comes earlier in that gospel. It sets the tone in Mark. It's important to Luke, but Luke is addressing the growth of the movement into the upper classes.

Today, we are dealing with questions of moral law like family values. Some Christians say things like; staying in a marriage is the only right thing to do. This is sometimes followed so strictly that a single mother is shunned and her children are not given the support they need. This is done regardless of the circumstances of how she came to be a single mother. Hopefully, a thousand years from now, everyone will have difficulty understanding why someone would say that, just like we have trouble understanding why the Pharisees acted as they did.

Jeremiah 1:4-10

The book of Jeremiah may have actually been written by Jeremiah, a prophet in the time of King Josiah. As we get further along in the Bible we know more about the people discussed. Jeremiah probably also wrote Deuteronomy. This "second law" of Deuteronomy was intended to fix the problems of Israel being exiled by the Babylonians. Here he's proclaiming his authority by saying God literally put words in his mouth. And he gets to destroy and overthrow. This is why we have secular governments and democracy now.

As an aside, I live where there are lot of billboards about abortion. One of them uses this “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” partial verse. I'm pretty sure this is Jeremiah making this claim about himself and what God said to him, not every egg that has ever been fertilized or in this case, every soul that existed before it was even conceived. If I were to say that God speaks to me because he spoke to Saul, I'm pretty sure the people who made that billboard would have a problem with that. It's convenient to say that God can know us individually in that way, but inconvenient when someone says they have a relationship to God that doesn't fit their narrative.

Isaiah 58:9b-14

Often, an easy way to increase your understanding of the lectionary passage is to simply read the whole chapter that contains it. Verse 6 tells says the yoke is the yoke of the oppressed. In the included verse 9, it is also about not arguing with one another about what to do next. The other verses expand on the ideas of sharing bread with the hungry and bringing homeless into your home. Acts like performing a fast are said to be meaningless if these actions are not also taken.

However there is also mention of honoring the Sabbath, so ritual acts are not to be eliminated. This author, as many in the Bible do, sees the two things, ritual and working for the community as integrated, almost one and the same. As we've been seeing lately in Luke and some of the Old Testament passages, this theme of doing more than merely appearing to be godly is repeated throughout the Bible. The reminders to actually do some kind of work usually are often mixed with reminders to pray or to remember God. Here, the Sabbath is not just the day to stop working, it's the day to refrain from pursuing your own interests. It is not some arbitrary rule designed to oppress you, or to focus on something imaginary, it's a reminder of how to build a community, through peace, with justice.

I think the 21st century speaker can repeat these themes of community building without the language of worship or “delighting in the Lord” or stopping to explain who the ancestor Jacob is. Our rituals can involve more direct symbolism of where our attentions should turn. Whether those attentions turn on a certain day at a certain time, is not always that important. And there doesn't need to be lot of promises about springs of water or our needs being satisfied. It doesn't hurt to talk about how investing in your community has a tangible return, but the work itself should be its own reward. You may not see a direct payoff to serving up a free meal, but someone in that line will undoubtedly go on to contribute in a way that benefits others. That's how it's supposed to work.

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