Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Challenge of Grace: Year A, Ordinary 26

This Week's Lectionary Texts:
Exodus 17:1-7 or Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32
Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16 or Psalm 25:1-9
Philippians 2:1-13
Matthew 21:23-32

This Week's Reflection:
As if in answer to last week's reflection, the Ezekiel passage actually has God asking, "Yet you say, 'The way of the Lord is unfair.' Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair?" The Israelites find themselves in Exodus 17 feeling like they will die of thirst. They are angry and confused. They can't help but wonder why Moses has brought them out of slavery, yes; but into a place where they will starve and thirst to death. Moses fears for his life too because he is afraid that the people's anger will lead to his stoning.

I'm most fascinated by that first phrase of the passage, "From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages." Isn't that how life feels sometimes? It is like we journey by stages through a wilderness of sin. And, we find ourselves in the midst of that place asking God, "Why have you brought us out here just to leave us to die of thirst?"

Ezekiel reminds us that while we like to blame all our troubles on God, God is not the one to take the blame. Whose ways are unfair? Our ways are unfair. Yuck! It is a whole lot easier to blame God, this being out there somewhere, this God that we know can take it.

It may be a stretch, but I think that the Philippians passage this week flows out of those Hebrew scriptures as a way of saying, "And do you know why you can take the blame instead of God? Because you are selfish and cruel." 
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.
The writer points us to the example we have in Jesus, the Christ, who was willing to give up all power and die on a cross for crimes he did not commit.

This self-righteousness is apparent in the gospel lesson as well. The elders want to test Jesus, to see if he is up to par, but they find themselves being tested instead. It is their self-righteousness - their belief that they know better and do better and believe better - that results in their failing grade. Once again, Jesus uses one of his weird little stories to make a point. While it may seem wrong for a son to tell his father NO, somehow it is made right when he realizes his mistake and does what his father asked in the first place. On the other hand, a son who says YES with no intention of ever following the father's requests has no way of making it right. In other words, Jesus is pointing out to the elders that they have always shouted a big "Yes Sir!" to God, but have refused to heed the commandments given through prophets like John. Others who are clearly sinners, who have had a history of saying, "No way, God!" have instead heeded John's teachings and followed the way of God even though they first refused. They are the ones who have done right in the end and the elders are the ones who have let God down.

For preachers this week, there is an opportunity to challenge our congregations to ask themselves where they fall in that parable. In addition, though, it is of the utmost importance to focus on what God is doing in these passages. 

What God is doing is providing living water from a rock. What God is doing is reminding us that God is a fair and just God. What God is doing is giving us a Savior willing to be humble and self-less. What God is doing is providing opportunity beyond opportunity for God's children to turn around, make a change, and do the right thing. God is gracious and merciful. We may want to challenge our congregations about what they are doing in their lives, but we need to present the Good News of what God is doing as well.

This Week's Artwork:
(in order of appearance in the reflection)
Moses Striking the Rock by Qi He
Turn Around by Alicia Silvester
Hitting a Rock with a Stick