August 18 texts: Isaiah 5:1-7; Psalm 82; Hebrews 11:29-12:2; Luke 12:49-56
This week’s texts are harsh. They indict God’s people on a number of fronts. Psalm 82 even comes across as a sideways indictment against God. The Hebrews text holds up examples of those who managed to do better.
What does it mean to do better? The simplistic answer might be to follow God’s will. The more involved answer would be to join God in acts of justice and deliverance. (Psalm 82:2-4) Examples of such good followers are lifted up in the Hebrews text: the Israelites who passed through the sea; those who seized Jericho; Rahab the prostitute because of her peaceful welcome; Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, Samuel and the prophets.
Unfortunately the reward for joining God in these activities toward justice and deliverance frequently was death, or at best a variety of forms of suffering. Following God and walking in the footsteps of Jesus is apparently tough stuff. The best that can be said, it seems, is that we might join the cloud of witnesses. (Hebrews 12:1)
Today’s scripture words are the types of messages that I shy away from when stenciled to a sign and wielded by a street prophet. I have a gut reaction to them (the words and the messengers) that is palpable. I was none too pleased to find them in today’s lectionary readings, either.
So what to do? What to say? Perhaps I will take them as a reminder that what I want from God and what God expects of me is not always the same thing. It well might be that my ability to concede justice and deliverance to God, by God, on God’s terms, is actually a good sign – it means that I still allow that God is God.
After all, that was part of the great encounter with the lesser gods in Psalm 82. The one true God reasserted primacy. The God of scripture is the one that we encounter at work in the world, the God who is continually, surprisingly asserting justice and deliverance for those who are persecuted and trapped by other lesser gods.
Lord, have mercy on me. Help me to respond to the great cloud of witnesses, to lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let me run with perseverance the race that is set before me, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)
What does it mean for you to participate in God’s justice and revelation?
What wondrous love is this
Father, I stretch my hands to thee
Faith of our fathers/Faith of the martyrs
Develop the Hebrews passage as a responsive litany.
God of guidance, quicken your Holy Spirit in our hearts and minds so we may follow what is right.
Give us direction so we may know which way to choose and which to refuse;
Which course to claim and which to reject;
Which action to take and which to avoid.
Enlighten our minds, purify our hearts, strengthen our wills,
And lead us to live as faithful followers of Jesus all the days of our lives. AMEN
(Adapted from a prayer by William Barclay)