Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Rolling with the Punches

Our lectionary passages for this week are Jeremiah 8:18-9:1, Luke 16:1-13, and 1 Timothy 2:1-7. Give them a read through here...and you may need to read them several times, particularly that Luke passage!

Our passages this week fall on our ears with both cultural familiarity and abrupt strangeness. At least some of the words of Jeremiah's lament will likely call to mind the lyrics of a familiar spiritual, the song of a balm in Gilead that can heal the sin-sick soul. That song, based on the part of this passage alluding to a nearby region (see picture above) whose trees produced a well-known soothing ointment, was penned as a song meant to offer encouragement and hope even in the darkest of days. Jeremiah's song, however familiar some of the lyrics may be, diverges from the spiritual, though, in that it is sheer lament. There are no glimmers of hope in this passage (though those do come other places in Jeremiah's message); here, all there can be are tears. There's no hope of healing...just grief of the most raw and heart-rending form...a surprising turn from the hopefulness intoned in the spiritual.

The final line of our Gospel reading for this week will probably sound familiar to even casual churchgoers as well: “You cannot serve both God and wealth.” But the parable that precedes the passage will likely be quite unfamiliar…in fact, I am fairly certain I’ve never heard a sermon preached on this parable. Probably because this parable is not nearly as straightforward as the “either-or” of serving God and money…it is convoluted enough to put fear in the heart of anyone who would dare try to interpret it, and to humble anyone who would try to simplify it. It involves a master who may be construed as either a jerk or merciful, a manager who’s either crooked or commendable, Jesus telling his disciples to make friends by means of dishonest wealth while also telling them that whoever is dishonest in a very little will be dishonest also in much. What kind of parable is this? It comes directly on the heels of the parable of the prodigal son, which I think may be a key for us; but it also feels scattered, not nearly as neat and tidy as Jesus’ last line would make it seem.

The readings sound familiar at first…then send us to these unfamiliar places, places that grate on what we expect to find in these lines. In that tension between the familiar and unfamiliar is likely where meaning for our lives can be found…lives where, like Jeremiah and his people and Jesus and his people (and even Paul and Timothy and their people, in our epistle) we have to learn to roll with punches that are not always familiar or predictable…how to continue to live and to lead in a world that is not neat and tidy. Stay tuned on Sunday as we do our best to work through these questions and conflicts together.

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