Questions and Reflections

September 2015

A reflection on Numbers 11

Our first reading is Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29.

It's easy to romanticize the past. Today's reading from Numbers starts with the people wanting to go back to Egypt. They're tired of it. They remember their time in Egypt, choosing to remember the foods they once enjoyed: meat, fish, vegetables and spices. They're tired of the mana from heaven, the desert sands, and the constant wandering. They want to return to a past they understood. They're willing to forget the violence and brutality. They're willing to forget their slavery. The past is colored positivity because the future is so unknown.  

The interesting thing about this passage is that even Moses complains. He knows that the people are upset but instead of being upset with people, Moses turns his frustrations to God. He's annoyed that God's anger keeps returning. Moses is tired of being the only person God seems to care about. Moses calls out God, reminding God that the people complaining are, and always will be, God's people. God isn't only Moses' God; God is the God of all. And God needs to start acting like that's who God is. 

God listens to Moses and orders Moses to chose 70 elders to co-lead God's people. God isn't taking leadership away from Moses. God, instead, is expanding the opportunities of leadership for all. When the 70 are gathered, the spirit of God comes, and the 70 speak and sound like Moses does. But God isn't limiting leadership to only these 70. All of the sudden, two are discovered in the camp who were not there when the 70 received the spirit. These two, Eldad and Medad, are in the camp, being prophets. Joshua asks Moses to stop them because they are not one of the 70. But Moses refuses. He recognizes what God is doing. Everyone has an opportunity to be God's people, to love like God does, and to make a difference in the ones around them. We're not called to leave God's love to the professionals, the religious, or the more faithful folks. We're called to love, to share God's story, and to care because, in our baptism, we've already been chosen. And God asks us to act like we are. 



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A reflection on Jeremiah 11

Today's first reading is Jeremiah 11:18-20.

These three verses from Jeremiah need a little context. 

Jeremiah is a prophet operating around Jerusalem right before (and during) Jerusalem’s destruction by the Babylonians. He's watched as Babylon gets involved in Jerusalem's affairs. An empire with an army much larger (and better equipped) than what Jerusalem has, fear is tearing Jerusalem apart. Jeremiah is watching his society unravel before his eyes. He is given a job by God to spread a message about Babylon's advance and pleading with the people to turn to God and not try to defeat Babylon militarily. But no one truly listens. Jeremiah is arrested, tried, and almost killed. He's in prison when Jerusalem is captured by Babylon and eventually dies (we believe) in Egypt as a refugee. 

These verses from chapter 11 are the first of Jeremiah’s nine laments. God tells Jeremiah that others want to kill him. This makes Jeremiah sad and angry. He's upset that others aren't listening to him but he's also upset that God sent him on this mission. Jeremiah doesn’t want to share this negative message with his neighbors. He doesn't want to be the one living this kind of life. But God chose Jeremiah to speak the truth during a chaotic time so Jeremiah presses on. And he trusts that, in the end, God will set the world right.  

The verses end with Jeremiah asking God to destroy and punish his enemies. His sadness is matched by his anger towards those around him and God. Like many of us, Jeremiah can't fully separate sadness and anger. They're always together, with his sadness making him want to lash out at others. Faced by the impending war with Babylon, Jeremiah responds to his enemies in kind. He struggles, like all of us when we are in a crisis, to imagine a world bigger than what he is experiencing. Surrounded by violence, he imagines God’s promise in the language of violence. His language isn’t a model for us but his trust is. He trusts that God will make all things right but he struggles to imagine just how God’s hope, mercy, and love will look like when Jeremiah is caught up in the chaos around him.



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A Reflection on Isaiah 50: God's Work, Our Hands.

Our First Reading is from Isaiah 50:4-9a.

“The Lord God has given me…the Lord God has opened…the Lord God helps…the Lord God who helps…” These phrases in our first reading today is the key to this text. The writer is announcing that God has acted, giving them gifts and help. Whatever work the speaker is doing is because God is acting through them. 

Walter Brueggemann, Professor Emeritus of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary, writes that these verses seem out of place. They don’t fit with the words that come before. “It is as though these verses provide a reflective interlude conceding the urgent, context vocation of the servant of [God], who is to bring Israel home from exile.” This interlude is rooted in the “utter reliability of [God.]” The speaker in the text is called the servant and they are struggling. The servant is facing trials and fights while living out their faith. There are times the servant wants to be silent, to hide, and pretend to not be a disciple of God. But, even during those times, God is enough. God will prevail. In the end, God’s kingdom will come. The servant proclaims they will not give up their relationship with God because God is always reliable. 

So who is this servant? As Christians, we see our Lord Jesus Christ in these words. We see in his story God’s reliability. This interlude is God's interlude into our world as Jesus who came to teach, heal, love, and overcome death on the Cross. This interlude is Jesus saying God is enough. 

This interlude in Isaiah can also represent our ned for interludes in our lives. Many times, during our own struggles, we need to breathe. We need to take a moment to step away, to reflect, and to remember who we are. We are disciples of Jesus, even when we fail to love others like we should. We are children of God, even when we fail to recognize God around us. We are loved, even when we don’t feel loved. 

God's love comes from God’s claim on us, a claim that we don’t earn on our own. Just as God risked living a human life, God takes a risk on each of us by claiming us as God’s. God’s claim on us is utterly reliable. God has gripped us tight. So, since we are loved, how do we share God’s reliable love to our neighbors, friends, family, and even to ourselves?



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A Reflection on Isaiah 35: Here is Your God

Our first reading is from Isaiah 35:4-7a.

Chapter 34 and 35 of Isaiah need to be read together. The joy of chapter 35 is seen through the violence and vengeance in chapter 34 and vice versa. To only see God as joy or vengeful is to miss the big picture of what God is doing. The bondage, drought, and oppression in the world will meet its match in a God who will bring about rehabilitative transformation. The displaced ones (Israel) will be restored and brought home. Evil will be defeated and God's goodness and love is coming. Isaiah visualizes God's love as people being healed, deserts being watered, and dry grasslands turning into lush and green places. God's kingdom is a full of life indeed. 

When I came back from vacation earlier this week, I noticed trees leaves in my driveway. My lawn is parched, brown, and dry. The weeds are limp and wilted. And the trees are just giving up on their leaves. The water I was hoping for hasn't come these last few months. Instead of rain drops, dry leaves are raining down instead. My home is parched. 

And sometimes, our lives are parched too. Something unexpected happens and we're caught off balance. The security we knew in being safe and knowing what was coming tomorrow is gone. The parts of our story that gave us life is now drying us out. 

It's in these times where the church, when we're at our best, comes to those who are suffering and says, "Here is your God." Each Sunday, we gather to be nourished by a God whose body and blood is offered to each of us. During the week, we call and connect, visit and bring food, restore and affirm our relationship with each other. Because the God who waters our lives also promises to be with us when we are caught in our deserts. There's no place where we go that God cannot come. So we, as Christians, are called to say boldly that here, right now, is your God. And's lets see where our God, who is with us, will take us next.   



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