I often write and speak about how God is waiting for us to choose God’s ways over our human ways. The texts this week invite us to evaluate where we are on the faith journey. Are we serving God or are we more self-absorbed? In the U.S. it is Labor Day weekend and we are all taking a last deep breath before the program year begins again. With this breath, may we breath in truth and breathe out all that we no longer need.
We begin with Jeremiah who is always good for calling out the people of God. This passage speaks of a people who have questioned how God could lead them from Egypt, through the desert, and into a new land where life is difficult. Of course, the prophet points out that goodness comes from God. Where there is no goodness, the people have turned from God’s holy ways. Jeremiah tells them that they have not only turned from God, they have also replaced God with something completely inadequate. Have we done the same? Have we forsaken living water and dug cisterns than can hold nothing? Do we claim to be God’s people and fail to live in a way that shows whose we are?
The verses from Psalm 81 echo Jeremiah. The people of God have stopped seeking holy council and are listening to “their own stubborn hearts.” Yet, God has not abandoned God’s people. God yearns to feed the people with the finest of wheat and honey. When will the people give up their ways and return to God’s ways? These verses leave me wondering if we have ever truly followed the ways God has set before us. It’s easy to point fingers at others, even other Christians, and say how far they are from living as God’s people. It is much more difficult to look in a mirror and point out all the ways our own community has fallen short.
Sirach takes this further and attempts to explain how people can get so lost. For Sirach it is pride. Pride removes us from our Maker. This makes sense and it is a reasonable explanation as far as it goes. Attributing the consequences of withdrawing our hearts from God to God is a little more problematic. I don’t think the destruction Sirach describes is from God at all. It is a description of what happens when we forsake holy ways. Pride, selfishness, whatever it is that causes us to ignore the needs of our neighbors, leaves a wide path of devastation in its wake. God may allow this destruction to happen, hoping always that human beings will learn that there is a better way. However, God isn’t responsible for what we do when we follow our own very human ways.
Psalm 112 is a reminder of all the good that can come when we seek holy ways. The future for generations brightens. Blessings and richness are magnified. The poor are cared for and the wicked are disappointed. Fear of evil diminishes and mercy abounds. These are the fruits of serving God in serving our neighbors. There is no promise of it being easy. Yet, the promise of life being good can’t be missed in these verses.
If we are unclear about what holy ways might look like, Hebrews brings some clarity. It’s all about entertaining angels, especially angels in disguise. We are to extend hospitality to strangers – not leaving out immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers. We are to care for those in prison – without judgment, without exception – as though we, too, were imprisoned. We are to respect relationships and pray for our leaders. We are to trust God’s abundance and share what we have so that our neighbors’ needs don’t go unmet. Mutual love. It’s simple but not easy. That’s the point. We are to choose God’s holy ways – every day and every moment. And when we fail, there is forgiveness and grace enough to begin again. God’s love is an ancient promise that cannot be broken.
Which brings us to the Gospel text. They key to it all is a healthy humility. Not a humility that negates or devalues anyone. Instead, a humility that recognizes all as equals before God. A humility that values all human life and tries to see Christ in all. How many of us would dare to invite those who are neglected and marginalized to dine with us and celebrate with us? Mutual love combined with humility challenges the divisions society insists on creating. What can we do as church to live in God’s love?
These passages have significant depth. Perhaps you are going in a different direction this week. Please share where you are that we may accompany one another on the way to the pulpit.
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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