Friday, January 29, 2010

Pentecost, A Poet's Tale

(from Acts 1 and 2—a story of incarnation)

"What in the world is going on? I've never participated in a Shavuot ("Festival of Weeks," a holiday commemorating the grain harvest and the teachings of Moses given at Sinai) so full of energy."
"I know. Isn't it great? It's as if God were about to give the Torah (teachings) to us all over again."
"I imagine this is exactly how it felt at the foot of Mount Sinai when Moses presented the Torah to the people for the first time. There had to be such a sense of promise. For the first time our people had tangible ways to practice being God's shalom (peace and good will) in the world."

"Isn't that Peter, the follower of Jesus, up there speaking?"
"It sure is!"
"Isn't he an uneducated Galilean fisher? Isn't his native tongue Aramaic? Where did he learn to speak Greek so eloquently?"
"Greek? What do you mean? That's the finest Leshon HaKodesh ("The Holy Tongue," Hebrew) I've ever heard. And to think that he'd be so bold as to use it for such a public occasion is magnificent! Praise Elohim!"
"What are you two talking about? I know both Greek and Hebrew. What you are hearing is Arabic, the language of the eastern scholars."
"What?" . . . Finish the story!

The Pursuit of Respectability—Episode 2

(from Ezra, Nehemiah and Isaiah 56—a story of inauguration)

One would think that the vehement exclusion of one group—foreigners—for the sake of increased respectability would be enough, but as is often the case with this kind of thing, respectability is seldom satisfied with the exclusion of just one group of 'outsiders.' To do it once is to become addicted. It didn't take long before the ever more respectable Israelite insiders had compiled for themselves a growing list of outsiders to pick on: foreigners, Israelites married to people of foreign descent, the children of mixed marriages (all of whom coincidentally were longtime residents of the land these returnees from Babylon were trying to reclaim) had to go; those without land, women, children born out of wedlock, eunuchs (sexual minorities), weren't banished but were afforded few or no political rights. Only the most respectable could have full rights in the temple assembly. Only they could retain God's favor. At least that's what Nehemiah, Ezra and those most like them had come to believe.

Not everyone agreed . . . Finish the story!

The Pursuit of Respectability—Episode 1

(from Ezra, Nehemiah and Isaiah 56—a story of inauguration)

With the completion of the wall around Israel's capital city, Jerusalem, there arose a wave of national pride. It had only taken fifty-two days of focused effort. The repatriated exiles, the returnees from Babylon, were excited about being recognizable as a nation again, no longer the conquered and displaced people whose gentry had been carried off into bondage and whose peasants had been left to eek out subsistence on the surrounding lands. And as is often the case, as the returning gentry felt better about themselves, they also felt better about how God felt about them. The possibility of God's renewed pride for Israel was exhilarating. Had he not already extended his favor by allowing them to return and restore the temple and the city walls?

Though the total city had not been rebuilt, the 3 most important symbols of a promising future had been. The first was the temple, a symbol of God's abiding presence. Now the walls and gates. Walls and gates are symbols of a nation's self-determination. Like the walls of your bedroom which define the space you call "yours" and the door to your bedroom which limits access (even if it stays open all the time), Israel's walls and gates said, "This is our city, and we decide who gets in." Gates and walls also give a nation the ability protect itself as necessary. And wasn't that what God wanted? Wasn't that why he had allowed them to return: to redefine themselves and to protect that renewed vision?

That is exactly what Nehemiah, former cup-bearer to the king of Persia appointed governor of Israel, and Ezra, former scribe to the king of Persia commissioned as high priest, believed. Once the physical walls that defined who Israel was as a nation were complete, these two men believed it was time to erect by analogy the cultural walls that would help define the restored Israel further. After 70 years in exile, who were they? They were the people of God's favor, were they not? Okay, but what does in mean to be the "people of God's favor"?

What does God favor? . . . Finish the story!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Everything Costs Something

(from Exodus 4—a story of liberation)

If you've ever heard the story of Moses, you may have gotten the idea that all the confusion in Moses' life happened before the burning bush, and that after the burning bush, everything was pretty straight forward: Moses goes home, tells his family what he has to do, packs his bags, goes to Egypt and gets the job done. There may have been some struggle along the way—some things Moses had to contend with—but Moses is often depicted as a man crystal clear as to his purpose and mission. However, that was not the case, as Aaron likely learned a few nights later when he met up with his brother's family at Mt. Sinai while they journeyed toward Egypt.

"So what did Zipporah say when you told her?" Aaron inquired upon sharing his own story and hearing of his younger brother's remarkable encounter with God.
"She was all for it—until she found out what it would cost."
"What do you mean?"
"After Jethro, Zipporah's father, gave us his blessing, we spent the rest of the day preparing for the journey and left the following morning, early. We kept a good pace. As desert dwellers, Zipporah's people know how to travel. By the end of the day, Geshom, our son, was very tired. We made camp, set a fire, and Zipporah and the child laid down. As I stayed awake and prayed, the Lord spoke to me and said I must circumcise my son here at the outset of our pilgrimage, even as Abraham did, as an act of faith and covenant.

"The next morning I told Zipporah what the Lord had asked of us. To my astonishment, she flatly refused. 'You will not cut my son! That is not a custom among my people. It may be something mothers among your people allow, but I will not. And if you try to make me, I'll go back to my father and leave you to return to Egypt by yourself.'
. . . Finish the story!

Thursday, January 07, 2010

The Making of Job—Episode 2

(from Job 2—a framing story)

Well, Lucifer was undone. He thought for sure that the compounding tragedy, one awful hit after the other, would be enough to devastate Job to the point that he would curse God and prove Lucifer right. "Surely loyalty cannot survive such great loss," he thought to himself. But as awful as things had gotten for Job—and things were awful, there is no way to gloss over that or to minimize it—Job was not destroyed. And what that meant for Lucifer was . . . Finish the story!

The Making of Job—Episode 1

(from Job 1—a framing story)

There is an ancient allegory—perhaps the oldest story in the Bible—which explores the epic struggle between good and bad and humanity's efforts to tell the difference. Like any cherished old story, this story shaped the way those who told it understood the world around them. In fact, there are those who even believe that this story may hold the secret to help us properly value all other Bible stories. Let's tell it and see.

The story goes that one day God called a general assembly of all the sons and daughters of God. This assembly involved hearing reports of generative activities throughout the universe. Reports came in from all over. When it came time to hear the report from Earth, most members of the assembly expected only silence. It had been a long time since the assembly members had heard from her. Her guardian had long since turn his back on the assembly. As had become the custom, when Earth's name was called the guardians of the universe instinctively bowed their heads to whisper a blessing for her, when all of a sudden, the doors to the great chamber where the daughters and sons of God had gathered flew open and in strode Lucifer, the lost Guardian of Earth . . . Finish the story!