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I got to spend last week with some colleagues in Dayton – sadly in the news this morning for a deadly mass shooting last night blocks from where we were working on one relatively small book in the Bible, Hosea. We told it to each other. We picked it apart in workshop style. We looked at its psychological and emotional impact on listeners and on the individuals who told it and the difficulties in translating it to other languages. And we used our imagination to see the writer who composed it.
In fact, for me even the most technical work begins with scenes from my imagination. Hosea is certainly not alone in a genre of prophetic biblical literature that includes extreme and vicious violence against humanity, and in particular, against women and children. But, what makes this prophetic text especially hard to hear is that the composer of the text originates the violence with God. The degree to which the narrative appears to echo a trial transcript from a felony domestic abuse case is terrifying. For the moment, I want to just put that out there and then set it to the side.
Consider now another image: an archeological excavation of an ancient site and how we project onto a pile of artifacts a picture of what an earlier civilization was like. What did they eat? What utensils did they use? What did they wear? How was their skeletal and digestive health? And, how did they defend themselves against their enemies? The particular challenge in evaluating a cache is to riddle through whether we are looking at a garbage pile or a toolshed. The assumptions we make about how they lived are vastly different depending on which way we go.
The idea of “The here and now” doesn’t just seem important. It is important. Yesterday is done and there are no guarantees about tomorrow for any of us. And so some people might try to tell us that what is pressing on our hearts today may seem a lot more important than it really is, but nevertheless it’s pretty darn important right now. And, because it is the thing that God has invited us to engage for this day, it deserves not only our attention but a recognition of its sacramental significance.
“Jesus, my brother is being a jerk. He’s not giving me what is rightfully mine. Make him.”
Every morning we roll out of bed and onto the stage of that day’s drama, tragedy, comedy or mystery. There’s a good chance it will feature injustice and oppression in some form. How we engage that day leaves a mark on every day that follows in its wake. Our contribution will end up in the archeological bone box along with other detritus with someone trying to figure out what it says about how we lived, what mattered to us, and the strength of our character.
Will it also say something about God?
One of the difficult aspects of telling Hosea is that when taking it from the original language and scraps of actual text it is very difficult to tell who is talking. Is this supposed to be God’s voice? Or is it the prophet quoting God or is it the prophet interpreting God? Is God observing the horrific violence? Or has God caused it? These matters are not academic. They are the “bacon and eggs-stalled vehicle-on-Green Street-24-hour-stomach-virus-flying-through-daycare-month- that-exceeded-a-paycheck-stuff of every day of the week. And we take a deep breath, feel a little overwhelmed or a lot weary, and step back and say to ourselves, “We’re gonna need a bigger barn.”
And Jesus said, “All these things you have prepared, whose will they be?”
I realize that, on the surface, the texts this morning appear to be talking about inheritance, or real estate, or abundant produce. I’m intentionally hearing them through another filter, because the Bible also says that our “treasures” are the places where we put our hearts. And, much of the time, many of us put our hearts on our problems. So, it feels like we are looking every day to build bigger barns to hold them.
“All these things you have prepared, whose will they be?”
We don’t need a barn-raising, but a barn-burning. We need a spiritual de-clutterer to help us sort through what is trash that is serving no one any good purpose and get rid of it; identify what isn’t our problem and allow it go to those to whom it belongs; and isolate what is ours and then set about toward resolution. As obvious as this might sound, I try to begin with identifying what problem I am actually trying to solve, and very important, can I discover and be honest about what happened before what happened, happened?
What will it cost to repair what I’ve done to someone else? Can the damage be quantified? Great! Work out a repayment.
Or, have I broken something that cannot be fixed? If so, I must acknowledge it and not try to smear putty over the crack. If I’ve weakened the foundation of someone else’s house, I’ve got to admit that, and to expect that at the very least the cost might be our relationship. But a right beginning is an honest acknowledgement that, because of what I have done, they now have a problem they didn’t cause and never wanted.
Trying to put a spin on that by suggesting that “these things have a way of working themselves out” or that “this looks bad now, but give it time” only adds further injury. As with reading the prophets, we need to be careful not to put our words into God’s mouth.
Last week Stuart helped unpack the prayer Jesus taught his disciples. For me, one of the connecting pieces between that week’s and this week’s gospel is around the phrases to “save us from the time of trial” and “this night your soul is required of you.” The Hebrew words from the Lord’s Prayer are something like “save us from the hands of ‘massah’”. Massah is a location during the wilderness journey out of Egypt and toward to Promised Land when the people began to be so discouraged and lose hope of ever arriving that they actually began to plead to go back into slavery in Egypt!
The reference is to the hands of hell that were threatening to pull them back to despair. So the prayer is to save us from those moments when life looks so bleak that our hearts fail. You may at present find yourself at your own Massah. Any pretense of bravery is gone, and you find yourself face to face with God, suddenly feeling very much the fool.
Though it has death-like features to it, what this moment really is is metamorphosis: a conspicuous and relatively abrupt change in the [animal’s] body structure [— in our case the anatomy of our character —] through sudden [cell] growth and differentiation. These things you have prepared, whose will they be? Not ours alone, not any longer.
Our turning on each other, our betrayal, our turning against God, must all find their recovery in returning to God in the place that is the wideness of God’s mercy, not the dark corner of a bigger barn.
The Rev. Cynthia Park, LPC, PhD
August 4, 2019
The Eigth Sunday after Pentecost