Monday, August 29, 2011

Relationships: Year A, Ordinary 23

This Week's Lectionary Texts
Exodus 12:1-14 or Ezekiel 33:1-11
Psalm 149 or Psalm 119:33-40
Romans 13:8-14
Matthew 18:15-20

This Week's Reflection
Relationships - can't live with them and can't live without them. Living in community with others can be so difficult. We are reminded on a daily basis (if we are paying attention) that how we treat others matters. Whether we are talking about a spouse or a co-worker or a sales clerk, the way in which we relate can be life-affirming or life-depriving.

It goes without saying that Pharaoh didn't think much of the lives of the Israelites. They were cheap labor to him, pieces of property. In this week's Exodus text, his life-depriving actions come back to haunt him in a most horrific way. As the Israelites prepare themselves for the Passover, he is unknowingly spending his last moments with his first-born son.

There is something happening around these lectionary passages about relationships. Though, as I write that, I wonder if that couldn't be said for most passages of scripture. We are a people of community. God calls us into relationships. God is a relational God. The way we treat others matters. It matters a great deal.

The details of the ways in which that first Passover was to be observed remind me that even these 3000 plus years later, this meal is about relationships. As families and faith communities gather to remember, they are connected to those first families in Egypt, all the families since, and they are connected to the God who gave them this ritual.

But, relationships are hard. When we have a relational God, there can be many questions that arise. What are we to make of the children who were killed not because of their own sin, but because of the sin of those to whom they were related? Relationships are hard. They cause difficult questions and sometimes they lead to difficult answers. Relationships can be life-affirming or life-denying.

As soon as we ask the question of God we are sent into the Ezekiel text that has God replying, "I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked." The Ezekiel passage is a further reminder that we not only live in relationships, but those relationships often do not turn out the way we had hoped.

Matthew gives us a pretty good outline for how to deal with things when they do get all mixed up. Jesus explains the ways in which we should deal when relationships get off track. And, what are those ways? In community, of course. The ways in which we treat others matter. They matter a great deal.

The Romans text supports this fact by reminding us that "love is the fulfilling of the law." With words of warning about guarding against satisfying the flesh, the emphasis is on following Christ's commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves.

There are times in my life when I think it would be a lot easier to live on an island all alone. Maybe I could become a hermit, live in a hut on a mountain where I never had to speak to anyone again. These moments arise when relationships get to be difficult - and they always get to be difficult. Whether it is a silly statement I made that someone else hears in a hurtful way or years of history with my spouse that requires constant navigation or the death of my father or the woman in the check-out line that is so very rude, being in community can be difficult at times. And, at times I wonder if just not being in community would be better. This, of course, is a classic question which leads me to the often quoted Tennyson poem:
"I hold it true, whate'er befall;
I feel it, when I sorrow most;
'Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all."
This is not only true for romantic love, but for all kinds of relationships in our lives. Romans reminds us that love is the main thing. Exodus reminds us of what can happen when we don't love our neighbors as ourselves. Ezekiel reminds us that how we treat others matters a great deal. And, Matthew gives us a guide for dealing with the conflict when it does occur so that relationships have the best chance of being restored.

It isn't a new idea, but it is an important one. We are relational people serving a relational God. Whether we think living on an island alone would be better or not, we are called to live in relation to others serving a Messiah that builds community through the most unlikely of alliances. Christ calls us to be life-affirming in our relationships. I wonder what the world would look like if all life-depriving relationships came to an end. I happen to think it would look a whole lot like heaven.

This Week's Artwork
(in order of appearance in the reflection)
The Space Between by Robin Farbman
Soulmates by Ben Will
Repair by Betony Coons
relationships redux by Alessandro Bonvini
The Insistent Friend by Jesus Mafa
Two Birds by Maria-Thérèse Andersson