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Reconciling Scripture

July 23, 2016

marmot 2

Whenever we go driving or hiking in the Rocky Mountain National Park, we never know what or who we are going to run into. The week before last, we drove up Trail Ridge Road and the Marmots were on full display at the Forest Canyon Overlook! This particular one looked like it was getting ready to get into the pulpit and preach a sermon! On a more serious note, we can learn volumes spiritually from the members of the animal kingdom if we but slow down and actually be still for a moment or two.

I have been struggling with trying to be still myself and actually take some Sabbath time in the midst of the busy life and ministry we have here in Estes Park. Sabbath hasn’t been the only thing that I have been struggling with this week though. I have been struggling with the Scripture readings for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost. More specifically, at first it was trying to decide between the passage from Hosea 1 where the prophet is told to marry a “wife of whoredom” as the NRSV puts it. Marry her and he will symbolize Israel whom I will put an end to. Hmmmm… not exactly an easy passage to parse and try to bring something positive and thoughtful out of for Sunday morning!

The next choice for the Old Testament was Genesis 18:20-33 where Abraham bargains with God for the innocent lives in Sodom and Gomorrah. God is ready to destroy the cities and Abraham actually stands up to God and pleads for them to be spared. God, will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? This passage is a difficult one for me to read in light of the hell-fire and damnation coming out of the mouths of self-righteous prophets of the prosperity gospel and rabid anti-anything that isn’t exactly like me preachers. I have heard, read, and listened as so many have been violated and condemned by self-righteous bigots this past week. I have heard people literally ready to call down the wrath of god (yes, I am using lower case on purpose) upon those who are different from them. These people will cherry pick scripture to justify their self-righteous wrath and positions. The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is one of those cherry picked scripture readings they use to justify their position of hatred.

The struggle I have is deeper than this particular passage though. How does one reconcile the teachings of Jesus (God’s love, mercy, forgiveness, compassion) with the specific reading from Genesis (along with other passages such as Psalm 137:9 where we find these words: “Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!”)? Granted, there are more verses in the Old Testament that describe a nurturing, loving, compassionate God than describe what could be called a vindictive despot. But still, how do you reconcile this?

So how does one deal with that, Padre? How does one keep any sort of a balance in the midst of the hatred, fear, xenophopbia, homophobia, misogyny, and racism of the past week? How does one counter the rampant fear and hatred being spewed out of the mouths of politicians and preachers? How does one continue to pray! Yes, dear reader, I have struggled with these questions and so many more this past week and, in fact, for a very long time. How can Love possibly Win with such overwhelming hatred and fear? Especially when it is spewed in the name of god!

Strangely enough, as I explored the link between the Genesis reading and the Gospel, I began to see a connection. Abraham saw how difficult it was going to be to find enough righteous people to keep God from destroying Sodom and Gomorrah. He began with fifty and ended up with ten. If I can find ten righteous people, will you spare the city? Yes, for the sake of ten I will spare it. The thing was, Abraham didn’t give up. He was persistent. Did God relent? No. So what do we do with that?

One of the teachings of Reformed Theology and Biblical Studies is that we use Scripture to interpret Scripture and, as Christ followers, ultimately use the teachings of Jesus to deal with troubling passages. A few weeks back, in the reading from Luke 9, we read in verse 54 how James and John asked Jesus if they should call down fire from heaven to destroy the Samaritans who didn’t accept Jesus’ teachings. Did Jesus say, “go ahead and smite them like the good old days when God smote those who didn’t agree with God”? Nope, he rebuked them! Why was this done? Love God, Love Neighbor… the sum of the Law and the Prophets!

Jesus gives us a new way in the Gospel reading for tomorrow of looking at prayer and God’s response. When Jesus taught about prayer he taught about persistence. Yet, unlike the struggle Abraham had with God, this struggle is different. The friend at midnight who refuses to help a neighbor out with some bread for unexpected visitors eventually relents because of the persistence of the neighbor. If your child asks for a fish, are you going to give them a serpent? Nope! So if it is that way with us, how much more so will it be with God! Ask, seek, knock… and you will find! “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13)

In this shorter version of The Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught the disciples balance. “And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.” (Luke 11:4) We ask to be forgiven as we forgive others. Just as the Ten Commandments are a balance of how we are to relate to God and how we are to relate to neighbor, so too ought we pray. Not just for ourselves, but for others. Perhaps if we were concerned as much about our neighbor as we were about our own selves, ┬áthere would be less violence and hatred in the world.

At the end of this reflection, I still don’t have easy answers. These stories are in scripture and we must deal with them… wrestle with them… cry out to God in anguish as we work through them! How do you deal with the harsh stories like Sodom and Gomorrah? How do you deal with the biblical story where God seems to be a vindictive despot and Abraham is trying to wear down that despot? For me, it helps to remember the fact that the Hebrew Scriptures were the only bible Jesus had. He knew the psalms by heart and all of the stories. How did he deal with Psalm 137:9? Did he go about dashing baby’s heads against the rocks to be happy? Did he call down fire and brimstone upon the Samaritans because they didn’t accept him? No and No!

Instead he taught about a relationship with God that was intimate, loving, forgiving… Call God, “Abba” or Daddy! The law and the prophets? Love God, Love Neighbor! Even on the cross he forgave those who had crucified him! Post resurrection, he restored Peter who denied him three times!

At the end of the day, I find myself trying to be more forgiving and less judgmental. I find myself trying to be more loving and less condemning. At the end of the day, I find myself wrestling with the same passages that Jesus did. In that wrestling, I finally find myself persistently falling at the feet of Jesus and asking that my heart and life might be transformed so that I might love as he did.

  1. yes, I had the same struggle with the choice of my Sermon this week

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  1. Reconciling Scripture | Michael Moore’s Blog | franciscansonthemountains

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