Leviticus 8

Aaron and his sons go through the ordination offering ritual. The cleansing is elaborate, but the forgives is profound. 

The last time we heard from Aaron was in exodus when he made the gold calf, introducing a false religion and letting the people run amok. He then made a very lame and unconvincing excuse for it all to Moses. Yet he he is, redeemed and Israel’s spiritual leader. 

1 Samuel 29

Holiday in Philistia. 

David, sick of being hunted by mad jealous Saul, has been hiding out in the enemy country. The narrative is disturbingly lacking in editorial comment. I don’t know what it really means. But he seems to be on holiday from God, and from the expectations of being god’s anointed.

The inevitable comes and he’s called upon to fight his own people. Will he? He says so. He and the philistine king exchange all sorts of statements of trust and affection. 

We know from the last chapter though, that he has been lying to the king about how much of a traitor to Israel he’s really been. The philistines generals don’t buy it for a second. Slaughter requires quite some commitment, their instincts are good I think.. He is sent home.

The narrative doesn’t say it’s divine intervention, but I reckon it is. He must have been relieved to avoid that dilemma. The former shepherd seems like a lost sheep. God’s plan has come to a stand still. 

I love that my new church is a doing church. After the service on Sunday, we wrapped parcels for the homeless and poor people they regularly minister to . They preached on the great commission, Jesus last words to his disciples. After all they’ve been through, Jesus says “therefore, go…” …and do something. 

What should I do? I feel a bit like I’m living out my life in enemy territory, not really god’s, not really not god’s? Lying a bit to both.

1 Samuel 21

David is sort of like Jesus and not. It’s important to notice his flaws, the narrative doesn’t always flag them.

This chapter here tells two lies. He’s hiding out with some men and they need food so he gets some dedicated temple bread from the priest. 

The priest is suspicious, David is alone and somewhat desperate. But he gives him the bread when he says he is on a secret mission from the king. I don’t know how much the priest bought the lie, he needed a plausible level of deniability for supporting a person the king would view as treasonous.

David also fudges the answers about whether the men are holy enough for the bread. Have they kept themselves from women for 3 days? Probably, he essentially says. Besides the bread isn’t that holy, he spins…

Then he runs to a neighbouring country and avoids being drawn into an alliance with the king, who knows his reputation as a great warrior, by feigning madness. 

David is a true believer in Jehovah, motivated by a deep contemplation of God, but he is not perfect.

It’s good to remember that christian leaders are not flawless but neither are they invalidated by their flaws. They need to be admired for what there is of God in them, not made into God.

Amos 6

I watched bits of the movie “this is 40” a thinly veiled semi autobiographical Judd Apatow story about the horrors of middle age, and was struck by some lines from Albert Brooks about being Jewish. Describing his son to his (gentile) daughter in law: “now he doesn’t seem very Jewish, but believe me one day you will wake up with a rabbi”. An inescapable cultural identity.

The perennial Jewish stereotype, which Brooks and, say, Woody Allen are adept at expressing, is uncomfortable, an outsider, the other, feisty, endlessly questioning how you fit in, which then becomes an often humourous commentary on society’s paradigms. All of that familiar schtick.

To an extent it’s still the role God created for the Jewish race by choosing them, and by extension for all believers.

In Amos they have grown way too comfortable. Here the prophet/God takes them astral travelling to look at the neighbouring lands and sees no distinction, no difference. Lolling about, plenty of wine, plenty of food, singing idle songs, living a life of ease. They are insiders, there’s no questioning, the mainstream owns them.

To me the phrase it all seemed to hang off, and about the only direct criticism (there is plenty implied) is that they are “not grieved for the affliction of Joseph”.

Joseph, chosen by God, who was left to die in a hole by his brothers out of resentment. Became a prince in a foreign land but never lost his identity, reviled by his own, by whom grace was poured out and the whole race was saved. A prototype of the Messiah, who would also be despised.

This is the identity God has for us.

Another memory, John White, the great christian psychologist and teacher was asked to give a talk on dealing with stress as a Christian, and he said that if you are doing it right you should expect more stress, not less.

So let me astral travel in prayer to the world around me and let me look for opportunities for difference.

Malachi 2

This chapter is primarily addressed to corrupt priests. In christian theology everyone is a priest, so this should be a way of learning what God values – and despises – in us.

A priest is a bridge to god, proclaiming his blessings.  We are our own bridge to god, and we are his voice here is this world.  God says that if its not real, if we don’t sincerely recognise him, the blessings we claim and proclaim are like shit, literally, referring to the least pleasant part of the animal sacrifice, which was never supposed to make it to his presence. In the sacrificial system it was burned off prior to coming to the holiest place.

Turning to a more positive model, God holds up the ideal of the priesthood, the covenant of levi, the patriarch of the priestly tribe.  In life he was upright, with integrity. His words were full of instruction and knowledge.  His fruit were people turned from evil.  In contrast the corrupt priests show partiality in instruction, their own agendas.

The corrupt priests’ relationship to god is compared to faithlessness in marriage.  I’m not sure if Gods complaint was literal faithlessness, jewish priests trading in their wives for younger, less jewish models; or its an analogy, or a bit of both. He shows you how cynical he feels about insincere prayers “why have you abandoned me” and “where is God’s justice” when we have abandoned and betrayed him. What justice does the author of life deserve?

Its a mirror with an ugly sight in it. In the era of grace we can forget that we are offending and betraying God if we lie to ourselves about his lordship, don’t live it or speak to truth of it to others. God has not given us grace for this.

Help me stay focussed on you father, and not yield to the temptation to betray you.

 

 

Zechariah 8

God’s favor.

This a chapter is about the magnitude of God’s blessing. This 70 year process by which the Jews are knocked out of Jerusalem and it is destroyed, and then put back into it and Jerusalem rebuilt shows how much god is in control of history.

It’s a series of statements each with the refrain that it is a word from God, about blessing. The place will be a thriving metropolis again. Crops will grow abundantly, fasts will become times of celebration.

It climaxes with the last verse: 10 people at once will try to grab onto the hem of a Jew’s coat and want to hang with them because they’ve heard God is with them. They’ll be hot stuff, the ants pants, the bees knees.

We have this favor, we are blessed. We are the luckiest people on earth. But Christians are falling into something of a seige mentality as society changes around them. We are not the dominant unchallenged majority and it’s tempting to feel defensive, under attack.

We need to forget about all that and remember how great Christianity is. We’re saved. We know love. Our faith should not be a walled city at war with the world or hiding away from it, an enclave of a threatened culture.  It is a light on the hill, a beacon, an incredibly attractive advertisement for the love of God.

Father, never catch me apologising for being a Christian.

Nehemiah 9

The celebrations of the return to Jerusalem of exiles continues with a vast confession prayer. Part of it is remembering god’s goodness, and many significant moments in Israel’s history are recited. Then the related failure of the people to obey God, and his constant mercy.

They are aware that God has blessed them even in exile, and are clear that they are to blame for it by ignoring and killing the prophets. They do bring the fact that the city is still under foreign rule to him, and set the stage for a deal, a promise that will be made in chapter 10.

The history of Israel is one of God’s mercy and their failure.

I am feeling depressed at the moment, a bit stuck on the treadmill, sad about church because I am disappointed with our minister at the moment. Not really connecting with this right now, but I shall carry on in faith and pray for mercy.

Psalm 25

When “Waiting” is not just passing time.

Its a deliverance song like so many of them, but the emphasis very much on the writers relationship with God and the writers internal desire to have God transform him. The enemies make an appearance but they are not the emotional focus. The psalm should be called “deeper and deeper into god” because it takes each thought about God as a starting point for further expanded thoughts on the goodness of God.

1-3 has the familiar “I’m the worthy one, smight the unworthy” form.  But the kingdom heartedness and the relative temperance of the language already subverts the revenge cliché with shafts of grace. The worthiness comes from trusting God and waiting for God, two very passive “good” qualities, which set up the gracious theme.  And the evil trait of the enemies is “wanton treachery”, a depersonalised slight that is a crime against God’s revelation most of all. He calls for justice in shaming: may the proper people be ashamed. It’s a justice with the advancement of God’s kingdom at heart, and not a harsh justice.  

Then the revenge theme is left alone altogether for a few verses with a section that expands on the idea of waiting for God as a personal spiritual journey.

“Waiting” is understanding God’s mind, his paths, being led by truth and learning from it.

He expresses regret over past sins, appealing to God’s character of solid love and mercy, generally and also specifically to him. It’s all God. He doesn’t even suggest “I’ll be good, so treat me right”. It’s all “you are good”. All we can give God is acknowledgement.

He expands further on the goodness and teaching of God. God leads, shows his path, we are sinners he forgives, the humble will learn goodness and see the godly way forward.

He speaks again of his great guilt, and the need to fear God. Fearing God is to trust his guidance, friendship and providence,  keep your eyes on him even when you’re feet are stuck in a net.

This last image for me introduces an unexpected note of urgency into the song.  Until now the enemies have be vague. Does the writer mean to say that all the while he’s been expanding and expanding on God’s mercy, it’s been an emergency?

It’s verse 15, for me is the defining image of the song.  Reminds me of judee sills ” ridge rider”, his eyes on the horizon and his boots on the ground “

He then prays the prayer I would have prayed straight away in an emergency ” help, I’m all alone and things are terrible – many violent people hate me – deliver me!” Even so, his own struggle with godliness is more in the foreground than the immediate external threats.

How rich it is when he returns to his theme to conclude “may integrity and uprightness  preserve me as I wait for you.”

He then prays that the whole of Israel will be delivered in the same way.
How true it is that when you feel pressured and panicky, and desperate for gods guidance, what seems like external issues is so often actually an internal struggle not to trust God. You pray for guidance like a shaft of wisdom to beam down and mcgyuver a specfic problem, but God’s answer is to be still and contemplate his goodness.

Luke 15

They seem to have put the chapter divisions around the themes in Luke’s reports of Jesus teaching. We’ve had two scary ones and now a wonderful one.

13 was about the stark choice of repenting or facing terrible consequences, like finding the door shut on you, the urgency of repenting… Perhaps this year is the one when the unfruitful tree will be cut down.

Then 14 was teaching about what repenting involves.. Everything. Status, family, your life, your sense of self.. You need to be willing to let it all go.

Now 15 is about the celebration, the love that awaits those who repent, how no sin is too bad, how that just makes the celebration and love greater. And the passionate concern good has for lost souls. A counterbalance to the somewhat coldly pragmatic illustration of the farmer deciding which year to cut the fruitless tree down, now God is compared to someone sweeping and checking every corner of the house for a lost coin, the shepherd risking all for the missing sheep, and carrying it home on his shoulders.. Lovely detail.

Luke 10

Jesus send out 72, big publicity, they are amazed at the devil obeying them, but Jesus says they should be amazed at their own salvation, and gets very excited about the gracious nature of it and his role in it. He used his classic oxymoron phrasing, given to children, hidden from the wise. He reminds the disciples how lucky they are, many faithful men would have loved to be them.

The good Samaritan is a simple message, love everybody. People find find it so hard, we are born pattern makers, can’t avoid social categorisation.

It’s a story with a tricky protagonist. The question is “who is my neighbour”. So in context, it’s saying “I” am the robbed man: vulnerable and dependent, the socially unacceptable one is the one doing the loving, and the love is inevitable, not a chore, its about how we will naturally accept goodness from those who we wouldn’t normally like. But when Jesus says go and do likewise, has the protagonist switched? Is it the good Samaritan we are supposed to emulate and relate to, or is the message of doing likewise a message about not being prejudiced against Good Actions by those we would normally write off?

Martha and Mary… Jesus lived this priority. He would pray all night. He would take time to go and be alone with god.