Do you ever get discouraged by human behavior? I do, often. I sometimes find even my own behavior disheartening. We know what is right and good, yet we persist in doing things that are harmful to ourselves, to our neighbors, or to the planet. The other day, after reading a particularly horrid news article, I thought humanity needs a cosmic behavior plan. Then I realized (almost immediately) that God has provided one. The texts this week are a pretty good refresher on how God might want us to modify or change our behavior.
Nehemiah is pretty clear that we need to read/hear the scriptures and endeavor to take them seriously. If we understand that the laws of God are meant to guide us into relationships of loving-kindness, then we can free ourselves from so much sorrow, fear, and regret. Out of that freedom comes a profound sense of gratitude which, in turn, inspires true worship. Gratitude and humility would govern our worship and, maybe, our behaviors.
Psalm 19 continues this theme. All of Creation cries out in praise to God with voices we seldom hear. We fail to see God’s ways are better than our ways. They are perfect and they can revive the soul. The laws God sets before us are sweet and good. They are not for God’s benefit so much as for ours. When we fail to experience God’s power and strength in a way that revives and sustains us, maybe even fills us with joy, there is no way the words of our mouths or the meditations of our hearts are acceptable to God. When we learn to love God before all else and love our neighbors as ourselves, we will be filled with joy and life will be sweet indeed.
If the words of Nehemiah and the Psalmist don’t convince us that God’s behavior plan for us is good, Paul spells it out clearly. We need one another. The Body of Christ is incomplete when anyone tries to cut themselves (or someone else) out of it. It takes all of us working together and using our gifts to be the Body of Christ in the world today. No one person is greater than another. No one gift is more valuable than another. We are all supposed to be striving toward that greater gift, the gift that brings about the Realm of God. Somehow, we keep forgetting that we are supposed to be about building the Kingdom rather than our own personal success.
Now if we are still uncertain about what being the Body of Christ means today or what activities constitute building the Realm of God, the scroll Jesus read in the synagogue in Nazareth leaves little in doubt. Jesus’ tasks are now the tasks of the Church. We are to bring good news to the poor. We are to release the captives. We are to open the eyes of those who refuse to see. We are to let the oppressed go free. And when we have done this, we proclaim a year of God’s favor.
Somehow we find it easier to blame those who live in poverty for their own condition instead of recognizing the system that only feeds and sustains those with power. Instead of releasing captives, we privatize our prisons so the racism in our justice system can create wealth for a few more who are already wealthy. Instead of speaking up and acting against those who persist in worshiping the gods of money and power, we remain silent and passively contribute to sustaining the status quo. Instead of letting the oppressed go free we tell ourselves whatever is necessary to justify “the way things are.” This is far from what God would have us do.
The Good News is that God waits patiently for us. God continues to fill the world with signs of God’s great love for the whole of Creation. God forgives us when we stumble and fall. God raises us up in love and asks only that we love in return. It’s not too late for us. We can taste the sweetness in God’s ways. We can rejoice in the amazing gifts we have been given. We can endeavor to build the Kingdom one act of loving-kindness at a time. One day we will be able to proclaim the year of God’s favor.
Rev. Dr. Rachael Keefe is an author and the pastor of Living Table United Church of Christ in Minneapolis, MN. You can find links to her blog, video series, and books at Beachtheology.com.
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