Thursday, October 6, 2011

In the Meantime: Faith Before Sight

Our scriptures this week are a bit scrambled from the ordinary lectionary because, really, there are moments when the Gospel and Old Testament pairings would just make a lot more sense if they were in a different order! (Look at me trying to rearrange the wisdom of many...forgive me, but really, I feel like we need to be reading these passages together today--shouldn't we read the commandments together with what Jesus had to say about them, even if what Jesus had to say doesn't technically show up in our Gospel readings for three more weeks?). SO, that said, our readings are Exodus 20:1-21, with Philippians 3:7-14 and Matthew 22:34-40 (click on each passage to read it).

We all know Exodus 20--the Ten Commandments. Well, at least we think we all know this ubiquitous passage that has sparked great public debate and great hair-raising appearances by Charlton Heston...though we may want to rethink how well we know them, being as a recent survey said more Americans could name the 7 ingredients of a Big Mac than the 10 Commandments (I added the link so you would know I was not making this up).

But even fewer of us, I think, know the scene that unfolds in Exodus 19, the chapter just before God opens God's mouth to give these "ten words" to the people to guide their life together. In Exodus 19, all the Israelites are gathered in a crowd at the base of this mountain towards which God has been aiming them for the last three months through the wilderness. There, God gives Moses a message to share with the people:

‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy [people].’ (Exodus 19:4-6)

God calls them to obedience, to live in covenant with God; and upon hearing these words, we are told in Exodus 19:8, "The people all responded together, 'We will do everything the LORD has said.'”

OK, so here is how I read this, though I may be wrong: the people are agreeing to God's covenant before they have even heard what it will be. The covenant words are not given until Exodus 20; here in Exodus 19, they know a covenant is coming, but do not yet know what it will contain. But these people--so often filled with doubt, grumbling, and still new in their knowledge of this God--agree to live by this covenant about to be given before they know what will be included.

Are they insane? I basically never agree to anything before I hear the details. I mean, if you say, "Can you do me a favor?" even if you are one of my dearest and most trusted friends, I'll usually wait to hear what the favor is before replying "Yes"...just because you never know. How much would you have to love and trust someone to agree with what they are going to say and to promise to live by their words before you even know what words they are going to speak?

But I think that is what makes this one of Israel's shining moments in its history: this crazy God has delivered them from Egypt, brought them through the Red Sea, given them water from a rock and bread and meat like rain from heaven. Everything God has promised so far has, miraculously, happened. So now...whatever God asks of them...they agree, sight unseen. They agree simply because of what they have come to know of this Yahweh character thus far, trusting that God's name is true: God will be who God will be into the future, forever, no matter what God may ask of them.

I am terrified by this kind of faith. But isn't this what all faith is--trusting the character of God enough to trust that, whatever is to come, God will make for a us a way of life, a way to walk? It boggles my mind that Israelites who have lost faith in moments of just a little thirst or a rumble in their stomachs can make such a big promise in this moment...but still, in spite of their stumbling, they want to be a people who put faith before sight--because of who they believe this God to be. The Israelites were even more clueless about what was about to come than we who more quickly name Big Mac components than commandments...yet they felt they had enough of a clue, based on who God is, that they could promise to seek to live in these ways.

Now that's faith. Scary faith. Real faith. Risky faith. Faith that makes me stand with them at the foot of the mountain and ask, "Can I really commit myself to God's hopes for me and the ways God wants me to live before I even know fully what they are? Can we do that today as a faith community--be those who commit to God by faith even before we have sight?"

1 comment:

Jeremy said...

"But isn't this what all faith is--trusting the character of God enough to trust that, whatever is to come, God will make for a us a way of life, a way to walk?"

Exactly. This is the hinge pin of the whole thing - and personally, I add some of Stephen Price's benediction, which goes: In the goodness of God we were born, by his watchfulness we are kept all the day long, and in his loving kindness we are all being redeemed and made whole.

Just like Abby (as she humorously put it), I hesitate to agree to something sight unseen from just about everyone because people are frustratingly/awesomely/colorfully surprising. In some ways, it should be more so with God, I think. The possibilities that we might open ourselves to are endless - but then again, there is that important element that comforts us: that God is working for the ultimate good of God's creation. We may see God's positive work in our lives and surroundings, certainly - as the Israelites did here - or we may not. Or, perhaps worse than not(in my mind), we may seen God working in this part but not in another for reasons we can't begin to conceive.

In the Bible, we see time and time again that God comes when people cry out...but it's not always (maybe even rarely) on their schedule. Gah! What are we supposed to do, then? For me, I can only sing my songs, rage and wrestle with God, wait, and trsut before I see the "results." Such a faith is frustrating/awesome/colorful when it is able to be lived. Perhaps I'll get there more often - a good hope to have, eh?