O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.Many collects ask God to tell us what to think and do. Many of us ask God the same. I suppose it does not hurt to ask, but it is important to excercise extreme caution when I am tempted to take my answers for God's answers. It is all too easy to justify my position by saying, "God made me do it!" God has never promised to think for us or to act in ways that make us God's puppets or automatons. Why should we choose to be God's puppet? God offers instead for us to be God's friend. A Quean Lutibelle alternative:
God, just checking in, my friend. I hope all goes well for you, and if not, that you re-deploy your love in ways most likely to improve situations. Thank you for giving me a mind and heart of my own. I hope that I too can deploy your love in ways most likely to improve situations. Here are some specifics in central focus for me today...... Love, Lutibelle/LouieGenesis 25:19-34 First Sarah was barren until she was seventy. No wonder that she laughed (in Hebrew, "Yitsak, Yitsak. Yitsak, Yitsak ....." Try it out in a high wide-mouthed, high-pitched cackle!) Pregnant at 70! Whew! Even today we're tempted to share her unbelief. Then her daughter-in-law Rebekah proves barren too! What's going on with this family? How ironic that Abraham, the progenitor of progenitors, heads it. When Rebekah finally becomes pregnant, she does so in spades -- with twins. Esau arrives first, with Jacob right after him, gripping Esau's heel. In Beyond the Fringe, a 1960 British comedy revue, Alan Bennett played a vicar in the routine "Take a Pew". He said with falsetto: "My brother Esau is an hairy man, but I am a smooth man." Some credit this show with the popularity of satire on the British stage for over a decade. Jacob was smooth indeed, and a consummate trickster. The story pits Esau's physical strength (the "skillful hunter, the man of the field") against Jacob's wits, against Jacob's craftiness. Famished, Esau loses control and sells his birthright as the first-born for mere lentil soup with bread. Later in parts of Genesis, Jacob himself falls prey to tricks of Laban, who becomes his father-in-law twice before Jacob gets the bride he wants. Be glad that Hollywood did not get an advance copy of this script. The Bible version does not dress its main characters to please the crowds. The patriachs of Genesis often are less than grand. Psalm 119:105-112 This selection repeats several basic tenets of Hebrew Scriptures. The speaker obeys God's law and expects to be rewarded. The speaker has enemies who set traps for him, but God protects the speaker, because "I have not strayed from your commandments." The contract runs smoothly. God commands; human beings to obey. The speaker claims justification by virtue of the good behavior, and God rewards the obedience. That's radically different from Saint Paul's understanding that we can never be good enough to be justified by the law. That's why, Paul and other apostles argue, we need Jesus to save us. Note the beginning verses of today's passage from Romans: Romans 8:1-11
There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.For Saint Paul, the flesh is our great weakness. The flesh makes it impossible for us to obey the law fully. Jesus pays the price for our sins, and it is through our faith in Jesus, not through our own righteousness, that we are justified -- according to Paul. Saint Paul pits the Spirit against the Flesh. He believes that the Spirit alone can save us. Not all early Christians behaved as Paul wanted them to behave. Read his epistles to the Corinthians, in which he becomes quite worked up with some of their sexual behaviors. Paul's view of our creatureliness differs radically from the view propounded in the book of Genesis. When God made each part of creation, God proclaimed, "It is good!" It's hard to imagine that when God came to the genitalia, God said, "It is nasty! Yuck" -- But Saint Paul has led many to come to that conclusion. Elsewhere, Paul says it's best not even to get married and recommends marriage only as a last resort, for lust-control. "It is better to marry than to burn" (1 Corinthians 7:9). Nowhere does Paul even suggest that flesh and spirit can integrate fully. Yet I believe their integration helps define a healthy person. That's another good reason that God gave us minds and trusts us to think for ourselves. One of my first cousins graduated from the highly conservative Dallas Theological Seminary and worked his full adult life as a pastor and counselor in large independent congregations. We were close in growing up, and he valued me immensely as the one who gave him his first bible and, while I was still a Southern Baptist, "led him to the Lord." Years into our ministries, I was in Dallas to speak at an Episcopal service, and we arranged to meet in my hotel room. Each tried hard not to offend the other in the areas of our clear difference. "Louie," he said well into our time together, "I don't know much about gay people, but do you find that they have some of the same problems understanding faithfulness and commitment that I find many of our converts having? I am troubled that some are caught up in promiscuity and seem not to connect their sexual behavior with their spirituality." "Some lgbtq folks have the same disconnect," I replied. See my fuller account of this conversation at Huge Bibles. Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 Evangelists and teachers, like sowers, are not responsible for the harvest, only for the planting! At 74 I continue to hear from persons whom I taught during my 44 years as a teacher, beginning when I was 21. I am amazed at what some remember. Some credit me with major changes in their lives, yet sometimes I cannot even remember saying the transforming words they attribute to me. I have learned to smile and say, "Thank you. It was a privilege to teach you." And it was. I did not make the seed, nor did I remain to nuture it as they and others have done long after they leave my classes. I am but the sower. God gives the increase.