Sunday August 8, 2013
Psalm 107:1-9, 43
I have a predilection to continue to use the language in the 1st chapter of Hosea in reference to Gomer, Hosea’s wife. In part because of its shock value, but more because of its apt description of the Israel’s relationship with God. In-spite of the reality that she has sold herself to other powers, ie. Assyria, and other gods, historically the Ba’als, but often whoever current regional power worships, Israel, at least her Kings, prophets, and priests, believes that all is fine with God. It’s not an honest assessment. Also, I’m often concerned it’s an apt parallel for our, the United States’ relationship with God. There are many, among the people, and our leaders who believe with all their hearts God is forever cheering U-S-A; U-S-A. In-spite of continuing struggles with living into the radical equality of the Gospels Paul so avidly proclaims, in-spite of continuing failures to enact principles of mercy into our system of justice, in-spite of abject failure of justice (as defined in scripture, not the vast accumulation of civil and criminal code) within our boarders, many hear God’s voice cheerfully bellowing U-S-A; U-S-A.
Truth is both Israel and the US are much like Gomer. As did Gomer, we have sold ourselves to the functionaries of other gods. Israel perhaps literally, the US may be not so much, but certainly in our behavior relative to equality, mercy and justice. Israel sold out to other gods. We’ve sold out to money and power, in so much that we worship that we value money and power more than each other, more than others, more than God. We’ve sold out, so there’s no longer a reason to listen for what the Spirit is saying to God’s people, and we don’t.
A seminary classmate had an obscure, but noticeable scar below and around her right eye. It seems there is a large ditch in her back yard. It was quite an attractive challenge. All the neighborhood kids challenged each other to jump the ditch. It came to be a rite-of-passage. Her dad repeatedly warned her not to jump the ditch. It was wider than it appears. Its sides were not stable. There were many exposed rocks and roots, that could do real damage when, and it is not if but when, you fall short. For a long time she obeyed. At least she knew she was simply too small, too weak to jump the ditch. But then one day, kids her own age jump the ditch. They challenge her. They encourage her. They taunt her. And sure enough, despite all the warnings, she decides to jump the ditch. Running as fast as she can, when she reaches the near edge she launches herself high, and far … may be high enough, but not quite far enough. She lands chest first on the far side, her face smashes into a cluster of roots and rocks. Everyone screams. Half the kids run. A few reach down to help. Her dad, happens to come around the corner, races to her side (without jumping the ditch, there is a convenient way around). He quickly examines her bleeding face. The initial determination is that she is hurt, but not injured. She prepares herself for the blistering excoriation she knows she deserves. She is surprised when her Dad assures her she will be okay; when he tells her how glad he is she is okay, when he gathers her into a merciful loving hug.
In many ways, ancient Israel, the US, in fact most of the world’s, most of God’s people continue to try and jump the ditch. We know better. We are aware of the dangers and consequences. We even know we deserved to be punished when we try, whether we clear the far side or not. And there are plenty of preachers who preach about the sin of jumping the ditch, in all its various manifestations. There are plenty of preachers who rail on about the consequences, the punishment that awaits those of even dare think about jumping the ditch. But that’s not where I am today. In part because I know something of jumping ditches, and not quite making it to the far side; of jumping ditches clearing the far side, and discovering it lacking; both scenarios are something of a mess. Maybe that’s why Jesus’s story of the Rich man’s barns resonates so profoundly.
At first glance, we would hold the rich man in high esteem. [i] He has done what we are told we should do. He planned for the future. His barn’s, are equivalent to modern insurance and 401ks. Quite the opposite of my classmate, he seems to have jumped the ditch often and successfully. He is everything modern financial planners, legislators, political pundits, (well at least some) hold out as the very model of a modern self-made businessman. On closer examination, just as Gilbert and Sullivan’s modern major general is not quite what he seems to be, neither is the modern self-made businessman, nor the ancient farmer. The farmer’s language is absolutely self-centered. He talks and thinks only about himself. In truth ~ he talks only to himself. He takes all the credit, gives no credence to the perversities of numbers, better known as chance, nor God, nor others, who labored on his behalf. He gives no word, no thought to sharing the abundance he can never use, with those to whom the perversities of numbers dealt a very different hand. And recalling that fornication, in its oldest and broadest meaning is forsaking God for idols[ii], in this case himself, the rich farmer is the very manifestation of Paul’s list of unsavory traits: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, greed, anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language; if not plainly then at least by inference.
Actually the rich farmer seems to have successfully completed another jump. He seems to have Jumped the Shark,[iii] he has successfully jumped to a point beyond redemption. That is the apparent story of Gomer, who, like ancient Israel, has sold herself and is beyond redemption. It is the apparent story of my class mate’s leap across the ditch. That is the apparent story revealed in so much of the social, political and religious behavior in the US, and much of the world. But, the surprise in scripture, the surprise in my classmate’s tale, the surprise for us, is not the farmer’s fate ~ the loss of his soul, but undeserved mercy. The surprise is the Kingdom of God is here, perhaps not fully, but most certainly transformationally. The surprise is when we perversely jump the ditch, or the shark, and then discover ourselves, not in eternal nothingness but embraced, by mercy, within the grace of God; to be so transformed, that we are welcome strangers, not only to our neighbors, but to ourselves.
[i] The Working Preacher.com, Commentary on Luke 12:13-21, Elisabeth Johnson
[ii] Wikipedia; note  Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. 2001.
[iii] Wikipedia – an idiom created by Jon Hein that was used to describe the moment in the evolution of television show when it begins a decline in quality that is beyond recovery,
Proper 13 | OT 18 | Pentecost 11, Cycle C
By the Rev. Anjel Scarborough
11 Pentecost, Proper 13 (C) – 2013
RELATIONSHIPS ARE THE TRUE TREASURE
Center for Excellence in Preaching, Proper 13 August 4, 2013
Luke 12:13-21, Scott Hoezee
Hosea 11:1-11, Scott Hoezee
Colossians 3:1-11, Stan Mast
Psalm 107:1-9, 43, Doug Bratt
Hosea 11:1-11, David G. Garber Jr
Colossians 3:1-11, Richard Carlson