Ezekiel 18

It doesn’t have to be this way.

In Adam all die, the doctrine of original sin means we’re all going to fall short of God’s glory.

It’s a kind of curse, and heresies based on this doctrine embellish the idea of the cursed generations. Bad seeds, bad blood, karma being revisited on the children of bad people.

Grace blows apart original sin. At any time we can throw ourselves on God and ask for the renewal of our hearts.

This chapter is about how we need to take responsibility for our own response to God… to Jesus, for us. We can’t use the idea of original sin to blame Adam for our evil, and certainly not some superstitious curse.

Here sin is exemplified by a list of practical life attitudes. Personal morality: not cheating, fair with money, obedience to the true God. And community building: sharing with the disadvantaged, not being oppressive. It’s written in a mixture of poetry and prose. It’s designed for teaching.

Our sin is our’s alone, our responsibility. But more significantly it’s a freedom. We can choose to turn to God, we can do it daily, we can do it with clarity:

Rid yourselves of all the offences you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!

No need to stay cursed.

Psalm 130

Unlike the jolly tone of much of this collection of 15 pilgrim psalms of ascent to Jerusalem, this one is deeply emotional.

It reminded me of the sort of scenario you get into as a teenager, where you get in a pickle and need help and forgiveness at the same time. I recall on a couple of occasions making phone calls along the lines of “dad, I’ve smashed the car, and I need you to pick me up”. And you then are waiting for dad to come, contemplating his loving patience and his practical capacity to help you. It’s that sort of prayer.

It’s one of the most naked expressions of grace in the old testament. Forget blood sacrifices, scapegoats, trying to live by levitical laws and all: “If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness.”

The author is confident of forgiveness, but is also crying from the depths, and waiting for God to respond, his whole being waits. There is a striking repetition of the phrase “more than watchmen wait for the morning…” We are aware of every second ’til God helps.

I wondered, have I ever been this much in the depths? And counting the seconds, like a watchman waiting for morning?

Now it’s my turn to be a father, I wait for my children, I wait for God to bless them.

I’m also taken back to the time my business failed. I’m still traumatised by the sense of responsibility, needing to produce as the debts mounted up, but frozen, dysfunctional, unequal to the task.

I still get a bit freaked out by deadlines and responsibility. I feel like it’s a mixture of me being shaped by that event, and me being simply built that way, so the event was shaped by me. Therein lies my stress I suppose.

But this psalm is about hope. In the last verse, the lesson for Israel is not connected to how the disaster turns out. During the psalm, we aren’t told if God comes, we’re left waiting on that score.

But the covenant promise of God’s love spans and blurs the distinction between practical help and spiritual forgiveness. In the end, it doesn’t matter as much as it seemed to at the start of the psalm.

“…with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.

It’s been a stressful week, lots of opportunities to struggle with my sense of inadequacy.

Lord, give me hope that is bigger than my immediate problems, lift me out of the depths, to be aware of your loving kindness.

Psalm 116

This psalm contains the first verse ever preached on Australian soil, by Rev Richard Johnson, fresh off the first fleet of convicts to arrive in Australia.

What shall I render to the Lord for all his goodness to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.

I’m not sure what the convicts made of the reference to God’s goodness, criminals on the other side of the world permanently separated from all they knew. At least they were alive, they had survived the trip.

At the conference on treaty last week at our church, pastor uncle Ray Minniecon told us to think carefully about the verse and read this psalm, in the context of the interest we had expressed in hearing about the cause of treaty.

Johnson was apparently a sensitive man. I don’t know much about him. He and his wife were friendly to the natives – they gave their daughter an Aboriginal name, Milbah. It was however the start of great trauma that nearly wiped out the Aboriginal race and smashed their elaborate and astoundingly ancient culture.

230 years later, shamefully, there is still no formal agreement over the land. They are now at least counted and vote as humans, not just part of the flora and fauna (since 1967) and the courts have recognised their original ownership of the land (Mabo decision, 1984). But they are asking us for a treaty, and so far we’ve said no.

The title to all our Christian churches still goes back to the moment when, without the inhabitant’s consent, Captain Cook planted the union Jack and claimed Australia for the King. It’s land taken without consent, still, and the practical effects of the trauma significantly impacts Aboriginal lives.

The narrative of the psalm starts with praise of God’s rescue from crisis. From impending death; from tears, trouble and sorrow.

I think back on my own hard times, and the Lord has been there. Through deaths of family members, lost jobs, financial strains, times I felt brought very low. Not as low as the psalmist I’m guessing, but low. Sometimes I’ve felt active guidance, at other times, comfort and peace.

Then comes the verse I quoted, about what I can give back. And the first thing you can give God when you accept he has been guiding your life is to receive more from him: salvation.

The commentators remind us to recall that Jesus probably sang this directly before going to the garden of Gethsemane, and praying that if there was any way, he’d rather not drink the cup of salvation. But that God’s will should be done.

Then the psalm goes on to talk of a life of grace and obedience in response to God’s saving presence, keeping your vows, accepting that you are God’s child, not his servant, valuing your life and death as much as God does.

What we give to God in gratitude for his redemption is to receive the revelation of his mind, trust his promises and act on them. Humble acceptance is a strange service, but it’s what God wants from us.

And it’s critical to a treaty between the first and later possessors of this land. Us, the later being truthful, and humble, accepting from the first the land we already took, and accepting forgiveness for taking it. We’re finding it harder than it sounds like it should be, given what a passive service it is to render.

Psalm 106

My unbelievable inability to stay constant.

It’s a bunch of historical psalms in a row. This is the end of book 4 of psalms… The last I’ll read for a while.

Yesterday’s talked about God’s great deeds. Today’s talks about the people’s faithless response. Or rather, temporarily faithful. They could love God… But only momentarily.

Again and again, in Egypt, during the exodus and in the promised land, they slipped into scorn for God. Tried something new, because Jehovah wasn’t working for them. Diverted from clarity by an urge for gratification either denied or supplied, dangled in front of them.

It’s written from exile, from remorse. They’ve lost the promised land. You can tell because of the anticipation of being gathered in by God, from all nations.

All they have at that point is God’s character. It’s all any of us have. His constancy, his promises.

Vs. our lack of focus, our rapid cycle always back to our own comfort, the grip of our self- obsession, greediness.

We stand or fall on the promises of God.

Remember me, Lord, when I forget myself!

Psalm 103

This is a delightful Psalm of happy praise to God. It’s one of David’s, and they think it probably dates from his later years.

It’s a nice counterpoint to yesterday’s, from the start of his reign promising sincerely to stay pure, strong and good.

Older David is still praising unreservedly, but thanking God over and over for lifting the burden of his sin, his failure. It has a wonderful light, spacious feeling.

As high as the heavens is the size of god’s love, as far a the East is from the West has he removed David’s sin.

He remembers god’s patient compassion to past generations and looks forward to an eternal future of god’s rule, erasing the sadness of the ending of our frail ephemeral span of years.

He lists the benefits of being God’s: personally he’s been pulled from the pit, given a crown of love and compassion (more worth mentioning than the earthly crown) provided good things and he feels young and invigorated, ready to soar like an eagle.

It’s just wonderful intimate tumbling praise of a person filled with God’s spirit.

The righteousness and justice phrase describes god’s objective again.

Righteousness and justice; forgiveness and love. Being the beginning and end of all those seemingly irreconcilable things is the mystery and power of our triune God.

But that’s not a heavy thing to think about, it’s light, fizzy and best expressed in a song.

Job 18

Bildad, the most black and white of the friends, doubles down on his theory that evil people suffer.

The thing is it works one way: evil leads to being cut off from God. But it doesn’t work backwards: if you seem cut off from God, you must be evil.

It is completely false in Job’s case, we know from chapter one he was chosen to suffer because he was so righteous and loved God so much.

It means that what Bildad says is horribly unjust. Job lost 10 sons in an accident, and that is attributed to his evil. He has a horrible skin disease, ditto. He’s being kicked when he is down, its cruel.

It’s easy to dismiss Bildad, but it’s harder to have a sensible theology of sin, evil and hell.

I’m mixed up about it, but in some respects in a good way because the old testament has such conflicting rhetoric about it. One minute everyone but the chosen people are as good as dead, and probably most of the chosen people are too. The next minute all nations are dancing on a highway to blessing though the desert blooming with crocuses.

Hellfire and brimstone are pretty out of fashion as preaching topics. I do believe warnings are needed, Christianity does exist partly to call out evil, corporate and individual.

Beyond the injustice we see around us however, the cosmic consequences of evil, the specifics, which people, which evil, what punishment, seems to go fuzzy.

The consequences of personal immorality and unethical living, Jesus’ ‘unforgivable sin’ It’s a project for when I get back to the new testament to figure out how that impacts on daily life for me.

The barista at work is someone who’s been through the salvation army mill, in recovery from addiction, now a keen attender. He got a denture to replace his four upper teeth the other day. I noticed and he said how he had hated going out with the top teeth missing.

They were evidence of his ‘poor life choices’ as the Salvos like to call them, and he felt judged. And rightly so, I judged him. It branded him as someone with an uncontrolled past. A brawler. Its not fair, some of the least evil looking people can be as evil as all get out.

The Anglican Synod wanted to ban Aboriginal smoking ceremonies on church properties, because of links to paganism or some such. Where do you start? Should we ban christmas and easter too?  How about Aboriginals ban churches from being built on stolen land? Job wasn’t christian, not even jewish – how did he even make the bible cut?

I was excited by the idea that seemed to be in chapter 14 that sin shows us we are not God. Its a big part of Jesus’ teaching: use sin, learn from sin.

Had a couple of  more positive days at work, feeling more cheerful.

Psalm 51

Psalm 51! David’s second most famous Psalm after 23.

He faces his evil, his sin. His crime of lust and murder, perfectly covered up with the corruption of his kingly authority is dragged into the open by Nathan the prophet.

But though he’d technically gotten away with the ghastly mess until Nathan, it was ever before him, the poisonous guilt between him and God.

So ugly. And he knows it runs so deep. He speaks of being a sinner in the womb, original sin, but not by way of some sort of excuse.

Acknowledging the whole ugliness to God means experiencing the complete beauty of forgiveness and renewal. Mercy, grace deep down to every dark place. All the evil he’s ever done and been, the evil he will do and all the horrible consequences, known and borne, absorbed, by God.

What can I say? I too know that grace. As a child I sang Allegri’s ridiculously beautiful music – I got to sing the really high note. These things are meant to be sung. Into a frame of misery, remorse and sadness, the entry of God’s mercy is too beautiful. Praise him!

Psalm 32

The upside of being forgiven.

This is a poem about your relationship to your sense of your own evil.  Believers and non believers are hardly different in this. Everyone has a sinful nature.

We all have lots of sin that we don’t know about, probably. You can tell this because you often meet people who have massive faults they are barely aware of, so it follows logically that you could have them too, even if you you’re not aware of them…

Also some sin we are aware of but forgive ourselves of. Indulgences.

Some sin that eats us up with guilt. It can make life a living hell.

But… only believers believe the cosmic promise of rightness with their creator, that the centre of the universe is love, and against all odds, despite everything, they are loved. And it’s a fantastic, light feeling. A wonderful way to be.

The psalm compares it to being surrounded by songs, unafraid of rising waters (not just a metaphorical threat these days), protected, safe, and watched out for by God’s loving eye; glad, joyous, singing and enveloped in love.

The images of being controlled by sin are vivid: it leaves you groaning and weighed down, saps your energy like a hot summer day.

It robs you of judgement and understanding.  You still answer to God, but your relationship to him is like a horse being controlled by bit in its mouth. People who accept forgiveness are more like children, who learn and actually come to understand God’s mind.

I’m tempted to default to thinking Christianity is a bargain, you pay by losing some fun and freedom, but gain by getting god.  But this psalm is a great reminder, sin sucks equally for everyone, there is no substitute for being free of it.

2 Samuel 24

Ah the bible, you would never mistake it for hagiography. The final story of Israel’s greatest king, concluding this long pair of books about him, is unflattering and strange. Anti climactic.

He takes a census of fighting men. For some reason this is a great sin, and a God gives him a sort of multiple choice “chose your punishment.  He chooses plague.

He feels the weight of it, touchingly comparing it to punishing sheep for the sins of the shepherd. He buys a threshing floor, some sort of rural building, to offer a sacrifice and ends the plague. And the book.

Say wha?

Commentator says the census is a sin because it is about owning the army, taking pride in it.  Its a boast, a failure to give God the glory. All of his advisers and generals tell him not to do it, but he does anyway.  Its a strangely real way to end the book.

 

Jeremiah 6

Having condemned and warned both kingdoms, Jeremiah does the same for Jerusalem, calling Benjamin, because it is in that tribes territory, his own tribe.

I do like the sense of great personal alarm and sadness coming though. You think of the fiery old testament prophets as being angry and self righteous, but this is a man in pain.

He goes though the drill: their evil has reached the limit, they must prepare for invasion which is God’s judgement. They will be devastated.

The variations for context include poignantly mentioning how delicate they are, unmatched for war.

Also more mention of how many warnings they have had, and how deaf they have been: uncircumcised ears.

And because it’s Jerusalem, reference to the religious rituals they should be doing to prepare, signs of true repentance, and how unacceptable the sacrifices they do offer are.

There is also reference to a surviving remnant, and a metal refining process.

I’m feeling a confusing bunch of emotions. Starting a new job next week. Slightly less pay, for a Christian organisation. It could be great. But the whole redundancy experience has been wearing. I don’t think I can complain that I’m being refined by fire.

I feel I need to hold onto some of the priorities and feelings from this time before I slip into busy complacency again.