Wednesday Exodus 32:9-10
9The Lord said to Moses, ‘I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. 10Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.’
This was the verse that I focused sunday's sermon on.
First, the discomfort and even embarrassment caused by 'wrath of God' speech. Whenever a televangelist goes public with usually 'his' assessment that the latest disaster, flood, hurricane, tsunami, is the wrath of God toward whichever social group happens to be the speakers punching bag of choice, we cringe. Even worse are the gleeful proclamation of God's hate for various groups by the Westboro Baptist's (it makes me gag to even type the word baptist in description of that group.)
So wouldn't it be better to ignore the wrath of God parts of scripture.
Unfortunately, if we were to start to excise the witness in the First Testament of God's wrath what would we be left with? I suppose the answer is 'love.' But you have to admit, if you reflect on your own experience of love, that while it does hopefully include mercy, forgiveness, and fidelity, it also includes some disagreements, honesty about hurts and disappointments, and even fights when trusts are broken. My point is that without the 'wrath of God' stories, God is a Xanax, a therapeutic theory that brings comfort or peace when we want or need it. But that God isn't a concept and God isn't a therapist (or as Walter Brueggemann once wrote, a massage) The God that Israel consistently bears witness to, has expectations, hight ones. And this God makes demands of those who wish to live in Covenant with their creator. Without wrath, God is just another self-help and self-actualization tool. Which, according to the book 'Almost Christian' is just what most teenagers are learning from us about God, and perhaps why they are leaving organized religion. It offers self-help and actualization, but so does Oprah. There are stacks of books about realizing potential and being the best person we can be. Without the wrath of God we forget about vocation. We forget that God has a mission to redeem the world and that God has called us to participate in that mission.
I'm not sure 'wrath of God' language is for everyday use. I don't think it's healthy with new Christians or 'pre-christians.' We don't want to start to tell the good news of Jesus with God's Wrath. But we do need to find ways to communicate what Israel communicated; namely that God is not to be taken lightly, is not simply a source of rescue, but also a source of call, of purpose, that God is potently engaged in
Tuesday Exodus 32:3-5
all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. 4He took the gold from them, formed it in a mould, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’ 5When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, ‘Tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord.’
The people came to Aaron in the fear and demanded ‘gods.’ Aaron gave in, sort of. It is interesting that Aaron forms the golden calf, the people call it their gods and Aaron proclaims a festival to YHWH. It isn’t that Aaron has given up on YHWH even if the people have. Aaron is trying to make the people happy and they want present, easily manipulated gods. But Aaron knows that this statue is just a statue (as do the people when you think of it) and not wanting to completely offend God, proclaims a feast for the Lord. Which leads to a troubling question to ponder. Does invoking the name of God somehow ‘baptize’ choices, decisions and behaviors that are clearly outside of the covenant expectations that God has revealed? Does God-talk make up for behaviors that are outside of God’s clear ethical instruction?Clearly the answer in this story is no. Despite Aaron’s attempt to cover up the people’s rejection of God for an image of God that made them more comfortable, God is still angered.
To make this a bit more real and challenging; it is not the presence of the word God on our money that pleases God, but instead how we use our money. Are we generous with the poor? Do we forgive debts? Do we engage in systems that allow poverty to exist? When we are generous, do forgive debts and do our best to participate in trade that is just and fair for all, then God is pleased. The same challenge could be made for the church itself. The Church is continuous created by God to be a witness to the world of God’s Kingdom. We are called to live lives of justice and peace, and to attract others to this way of living. Which begs the question, if God’s justice and peace along with evangelization is not a regular part of the mission of the local church, will God be pleased? Will hymns and prayers make up for the lack of actual discipleship? What do you think?
God of all the living, enable us to surrender ourselves to you in silence and in love. Surrendering ourselves to you does not come easily to our human condition. But you intervene in the deepest recesses of our being and your will for us is the radiance of a hope.
Monday Exodus 32:1
When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron and said to him, ‘Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us;
This story told from Israel’s perspective give expression to our experience of faith. We believe in God’s power, but see more often the power of those who act violently, seeking power, with malice and greed. We believe in God’s ability to bring life, but experience death. Like Israel we want to believe in and follow God, but find the distance and the apparent absence troubling.
This story also points us to idolatry. While idolatry in its historic form of worship and prayer to statues is not a temptation, this episode does suggest forms of idolatry that we have not left behind in the long history of humanity. The fact that Israel apparently is confused between who their true liberator is, Moses or YHWH, suggests that idolatry in our experience can be misconceiving God. None of us can have a complete and perfect understanding of God. Admitting that we cannot completely conceive of the mystery that is God is not idolatry. But holding tightly to misconceptions and errors clearly is idolatry. In this story God, even when seemingly absent, is still deeply aware of and involved in the human experience. For example, to believe in God as creator but not redeemer or sustainer, as that which began all things, but now is completely removed from creation is idolatry. To conceive of the love of God without the God of this story, who is clearly demanding is to hold tightly to a misconception.
Another form of idolatry that is suggested in this story is the formation of an object, the golden calf. Idolatry then can also be putting ultimate hope and trust in objects, created things. As much as we may want to deny it, we live in a society that puts much more trust in money than it does the God whose name is printed on that money. Material wealth and economic prosperity demand more of our time and energy than God. We could name other cultural phenomena that demand attention and promise happiness; Sports, Military might being two more examples.
Where do you see idolatry in church and in society? What form of idolatry is most tempting to you?
Friday Exodus 12:11
11This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the Lord.
Walter Brueggemann calls this a ‘festival of urgent departure.’
The festival, of course, is the passover, in which Israel would yearly recall God’s decisive rescue of the people from the slavery in Egypt. Each year they were to remember, through the blood marking, that they were highly valued and powerfully protected by God. Each year they were to remember to be a restless people. (I’m still paraphrasing Brueggemann’s work here)
Why be a restless people?
William Loder, in his wedding prayer that I often use, includes this line for the couple being wed, that I think illustrates being a restless people; ‘Help us to not make peace with that which will not bring us peace.’ This is a challenging prayer for at least two reasons. First, it suggests that as a people, Christians will always live with a certain amount of discomfort in whatever cultural system they exist in. If we are focused on the coming Kingdom of God, as we pray each and every Sunday, ‘Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done,’ we will inevitably begin more and more to notice the times, places, and ways in which God’s Kingdom is absent and not present, God’s will thwarted or opposed and not honored. And that is discomforting.
This is Brueggemann’s point about restlessness. That Israel should remind itself regularly not to become ‘at home’ with systems, cultures and practices that seem safe, comfortable or convenient, but which subtly oppose the Kingdom of God. To be restless, to not make peace with that which is not ultimately peaceful, is painful. It leaves us at odds with friends and neighbors. It makes us sound like lunatics and malcontents. And who wants to be seen that way and thought of in those terms
Except that remember that we recall that Jesus was accused of madness and demonic possession for his restlessness. When Jesus commanded that his disciples take up a cross and then go into the world without extra clothes or money, he was commanding them to be restless as well. To see honestly the brokenness and pain which they had become numbed to for so long and to resist the urge to remain silent and still for feeling powerless to change or afraid of the consequence.
Thursday Genesis 50:15
‘What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong that we did to him?’
The first word, lû, translated here "what if," in fact means "if only," or "would that"—it expresses a wish. Prof. Anathea Portier-Young makes this really interesting observation.
If only, the brothers wish, Joseph would take his revenge. The end of the Joseph cycle takes is to the heart of its purpose. From the beginning we have known that the dream that has been given to Joseph is destined to disrupt lives. It disrupts the lives of Israel and Joseph’s older brothers. On a larger, more social level, it disrupts the powerful claims of Empire as the Pharaoh cannot deal with famine, but the shepherd boy turned slave, Joseph, can, due to his call to be the one who carries God’s vision. And that is a major point. Let’s not skip over it. While it may be subtle, the dream that God gives Joseph is a dream which disrupts power that is prideful, destructive and violent, and places power in the rightful hands, the hands of the one who listens, follows and obeys God. Or, the truly powerful are the ones who do not seek power at all, but simply seek to serve and share the wisdom of God. So the moral to the story of Joseph is that those called to dream by God, are called to exercise their power in opposition to powerful political, social, cultural forces that promise life, but cannot deliver, and only lead to death. This opposition is not rebellion, but humble service and faithfulness to the ways of God, as exhibited by Joseph’s strength of character throughout the story.
But the brother’s wish, that Joseph would actually exact revenge upon them for plotting to kill him and relenting only for profit goes to an even deeper disruption. The brother’s cannot imagine relationships, culture, world, that is not governed by the laws of vengeance and violence. One scholar has suggested ( I forgot to make a note as to whom it was), that the end of the Joseph cycle is God making right, what went wrong between Cain and Abel. Remember that in that story, one brother is inexplicably favored and the disfavored one kills the favored. Which was Joseph’s brother’s plan at the beginning. By chapter 50, the brothers, all this time later, still are paralyzed by the anger, bitterness and guilt of their actions and can imagine no way to be free of this, other than to have vengeance enacted upon them.
In other words, the dream given to Joseph was not only meant to disrupt the presumptions of the wealthy and powerful, exposing their injustice and their weakness, but it was also meant to disrupt the cycle of vengeance and violence in the world. Would that we would listen.
Wednesday Genesis 37:22
throw him into this pit here
First, Adam and Eve are cast out (or called out if you entertain my strange interpretation of this story). Next Abram is called out into a long journey. Now Joseph is thrown down into a pit, thrown out of his family and into slavery. The description of the life of faith has been rough for these past three sundays. Walter Brueggemann wrote an essay entitled ‘Always in the Shadow of Empire’ in a book entitled, ‘The Church as Counterculture,’ in which he states; 'Israel under threat is never an easy 'therapeutic' community, and faith in Yahweh is not a massage. It is the embrace and practice of a destiny that make costly demands in the name of Yahweh.’
Although many themes are explored in the cycle of Joseph stories, certainly on of these themes the struggle, even the defeat that comes to those who live caught up in the dream that God sends. While Abram gives voice to our frustration at having to wait, at feeling forgotten, Joseph goes even further to voice our emotions when our good deeds are punished. The story of Joseph isn’t so much about dealing with the tragedies that happen in life, but instead with the trials that we choose when we take that first step in fellowship and faithfulness to God.
There are no easy answers to this. Nadia Boltz-Weber has commented upon how difficult it is to discern good and evil in the Joseph stories. The dreams of Joseph, ultimately prove to be good, but they cause his family discomfort and feel ‘evil.’ Joseph is sold into slavery, which is evil, but he prospers in slavery, which is good. Until he is thrown in prison unjustly, which is evil, but it is there that he is finally noticed by Pharaoh, which is good. Joseph has the vision to help Egypt (and other peoples) survive a famine, which brings his family and people to Egypt so that they can survive, which is good. But we know that the ancestors of Jacob and Joseph will one day be oppressed and enslaved in Egypt and this is evil?
Joseph forces us to look clearly at the fact that those who have been given a God-dream will deal with disappointment and resistance and have their shares of pits as well as mountaintops. If our journey of faith has not included the facing of fears, the taking of unpopular stands, the derision or distrust of the powerful and influential, is it faith at all, or therapy? If the idea that God not only loves, but also demands sounds strange, have we really heard the story of the relationship between God and God’s creation?
What are the demands of God? How do God’s demands manifest themselves in your life? Where are tempted to resist?
Tuesday Genesis 37:5
Once Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more.
Joseph’s dreams are odd. They upset the usual order of family and society that Joseph’s brothers have come to expect. One dream is an image of the entire family out to harvest wheat, all the sheaves gathered by the rest of the family bowing before Joseph’s. The other is of the sun, moon and stars bowing before Joseph. Joseph is one of the youngest of Israel’s sons. While Israel might have had a certain amount of wealth for a nomadic shepherd, neither he nor his sons would have had any status or power when compared to the likes of Egypt’s Pharaoh, for example. The older sons should be more honored than Joseph in the family and the son of the Pharaoh more than the sun of shepherd. But the dream, an odd dream, suggests that the natural order of things could be upset. And this is troubling for those who are supposed to benefit from the status quo. Read a little more of Genesis 37 and you will notice that even Joseph’s father, who loved him best, found his dreaming annoying and troubling.
Dreaming is dangerous business. Especially a dream that threatens to upset equilibrium that the community is accustomed to. Dreams are troubling because not just anyone and everyone has them. And those without dreams, or who stand to loose the comfort, satisfaction or status of the current normal way of doing things will probably resist. Which is what the story of Joseph is all about - the resistance to the dream by the brothers, the father, the empire. Everyone resists Joseph’s dream. And we should note that the dream is not introduced as coming from God. It just arrives. So even Joseph, it is safe to assume, did not fully understand or appreciate what the dream meant.
What is at stake here is the mysterious way in which God bring peace and justice into human experience. The story assumes that God powerfully conducts such business, but in strange ways. Such as through the unexplained dreams of annoying children. The question for us as believers and as the church; are we Joseph excited by the possibility of a disruptive dream, or are we the brothers who resist disruption in favor of status quo?
Monday Genesis 37:5
Once Joseph had a dream
Is God relevant to a social situation in which human control seems established and sufficient? This is the question that Walter Brueggemann suggests lies behind the writing of the Joseph stories. He suggests following another Old Testament scholar, Von Rad, that the Joseph stories were written around the 10th Cent BCE, during Solomon’s reign over Israel. This was a time when Israel was particularly powerful and prosperous. Israel was no longer as vulnerable to other national powers. So they seemed to be in control of their future due to the military and economic power centered in Jerusalem and King Solomon. It is a story told time and again. The story of Babel tower is the story of human pride in its own technological achievement. Is God still relevant? It was an experience warned against in Deut 6;..When the Lord your God has brought you into the land...a land with fine, large cities that you did not build, 11houses filled with all sorts of goods that you did not fill, hewn cisterns that you did not hew, vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant—and when you have eaten your fill, 12take care that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. What does ‘relevant’ even mean? We have God’s name on our money. Is that proof that God is relevant? We mention God in the pledge of allegiance. Is that proof of God’s relevance? Over 90% of American’s express belief in God. (84% of Americans between 18-29 years of age express belief in God.) Does that suggest that God is relevant, or even loosing relevance? Are there other indicators of God’s relevance? Jesus commanded us to pray for our enemies. Do we act as if that were relevant? Jesus said to give to all who ask. Do we treat that as relevant? To forgive as generously as we would like to be forgiven. Relevant? The story of Joseph challenges us to allow God’s relevance to grow deeper than the shallow ‘belief’ that so many express, the simple God-talk on our dollar bills, and hour of devotion on Sunday morning. Would the casual observer note the relvance of God in not just your thoughts and emotions, but in your commitments and convictions?
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.