Monday, October 13, 2008

The God of History and the Nit-pickers

This week's scriptures are Isaiah 45:1-13 and Matthew 22:15-33.

In our passage from Matthew those who disagree with Jesus and are offended by the parable he uses to describe their refusal to come to the party try an different tack. If they cannot argue with his stance about God and God's open free invitation to the Eternal Party, they will catch him up in legal nit-picking about the Law. And they make a valiant effort. Laws about taxes, laws about marriage, laws about resurrection (this question came, by the way, from the Sadducees who didn't believe in the resurrection and who threw their favorite riddle about it at him).

Jesus isn't going to play. He swats away their arguments like Ali picking off a jab in his prime.

This response of the Pharisees and Sadducees is, of course, a response to Jesus' insistance that God loves ALL of God's children with a love that reaches past status and wealth and state of goodness. When you've spent your life chasing goodness like a hampster on an exercise wheel, this kind of preaching is bound to upset you. And if you've used your 'goodness' (read that as, for instance, "I have money and don't have to work at a job that makes me 'unclean' so I'm better than you") as a theo-political weapon to ensure your economic and social status; then the idea of all these hookers and cheats dancing into the Kingdom of God ahead of you is going to really upset you.

But before we get down on them too much, we need to admit that they sound a lot like us. You know the commercial that says "There's a little Captain Morgan in everyone"? Well, there's a little Pharisee/Sadducee in each of us. And it's not a pretty picture. Why do we do this? Because being out of control is a terrible feeling. And Jesus and all of scripture reminds us that when it comes to our salvation...we are soooooo not in control. It's all God, all the time. And God won't have it any other way. Our goodness cannot save us; and our badness cannot damn us. It's Grace all the way.

Isaiah has God saying, in fact, "you have no right to question me about my children or to tell me what I ought to do!" (Good News Bible). To prove it, God will use in Isaiah's time a king named Cyrus of Persia whose conquest of much of the known world will free Israel from their captivity. And what's more Cyrus won't know anything about how he's being used. He'll be off doing his conquering thing and there's God smiling as it sets God's people free; as God 'breaks down bronze gates and smashes their iron bars' (Isaiah 45:2) and claims the title "God of History."

I think this is one of the reasons that Jesus says to the Sadducees, "you're not reading scripture right." They'd gotten so caught up in the 'small stuff' that they were missing the sweeping brush of God in history that was transforming all of life.

In a time like ours; when financial systems falter (okay..they drop like hot rocks) and strong dividing lines are drawn on the basis of race, or social class, or money, (not to mention some of church people's favorite fights over the ordination of women and the marriage of gays) it is easy for us to get caught up in our version of the same nit-picking avoidance of the Eternal Party.

The door is open. The table is set. The food is really, really good; and the band is fantastic (and even I can dance there). All we have to do is trust. Faith. The great "Yes...oh Yes."

We'll be throwing a little bitty part of the party on Saturday at 10:00. Pumpkin Pancakes and Bible Study. I won't say that Jeremy and my cooking matches the food we're gonna have at Brunch in the Kingdom....but the door is open and everyone is invited. Hope we'll see you there.



Anonymous said...

*snip from Isaiah*

Woe to him who quarrels with his Maker, to him who is but a potsherd among the potsherds on the ground.

Does the clay say to the potter,
'What are you making?' Does your work say, 'He has no hands'?

Woe to him who says to his father,
'What have you begotten?'
or to his mother,
What have you brought to birth?'

This is what the LORD says—
the Holy One of Israel, and its Maker:Concerning things to come,
do you question me about my children, or give me orders about the work of my hands?


So, my question is, when is it okay to question God? When does prayer cross that line and become more like "orders"? Here I mean that subtle line, not the list-type prayer of wants. We interpret this line, I suppose, individually - but I'd like to get the view from scripture more directly.

Anonymous said...

First off, love the similes!

I agree with Jeremy that there is a thin line between genuine curiosity/healthy skepticism and just trying clever tactics to make your point. I think it's always ok to question as long as your intentions are genuine - if you're really trying to find an answer to better understand God, not just trying to make someone look like an idiot for believing differently from you.

That's my issue with the new movie "Religulous" but maybe I shouldn't go there...

Anyway, the control thing is important too. It's REALLY hard to admit we're not in control especially when so much of our lives is about gaining and maintaining control.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, don't get me started on that movie. I feel like I've seen a third of it via various clips and interviews with Maher. He always claims he's just asking questions, but then in the next sentence, he is openly mocking others. So many of his fundamental arguments are flawed or show tremendous bias/blindness - it makes me a little sad for him. Perhaps he's comforted by the feeling (and illusion) of being completely in control - a trap for many very intellectually active people.