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Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Lectionary Scriptures: Jeremiah 1:4-10 and Psalm 71:1-6 OR Isaiah 58:9b-14 and Psalm 103:1-8, Hebrews 12:18-29, Luke 13:10-17

Our value as human beings transcends our years here on earth. We are a product of eternity. We have our very being in eternity. Eternity is our destiny. Ecclesiastes 3:11 (in the New International Version of the Bible) says, God “has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” We are in, of, and for eternity, but its full meaning remains a mystery.

This week’s reading from the first chapter of Jeremiah, recording Jeremiah’s call as a prophet, begins with God saying to him, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (vs. 5) The Psalmist, in Psalm 71, declares “Upon you I have leaned from my birth; it was you who took me from my mother’s womb.” Although I have trouble with the way these verses are sometimes used, even misused, in debates about abortion, and the judgments and actions which are sometimes taken as a result, they do ascribe to the human spirit great dignity. We did not just happen upon this earth. We are part of a larger stream of life and purpose.

In the portions of Hebrews we have looked at the past couple of weeks we have been given a litany of the names of people of faith through the centuries. We have been told that although they were all moving toward the realization of God’s promises for their lives, they did not come, during their lifetimes, to that full realization. (Hebrews 11:39-40) In this week’s reading, we are told that the destination to which they, and we, have come is not “something that can be touched.” We are given wild and imaginative and sometimes scary images. (Hebrews 12:18-19) What is being described is “the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, filled with “innumerable angels in festal gathering . . .” (vs. 22) There’s more. In the end, the place of promise is “a kingdom that cannot be shaken,” a place where “we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe.” (vs. 28)

Through poetry and mystery, these verses place our lives again in the context of eternity. Our spirits are not intended for a few short years of earthly existence. We do not come to full maturity and perfection in those years. We come from eternity and return to eternity—and through some mystery we are part of a process by which eternity breaks into every moment.

I submit that such an astounding vision calls us to look upon all of life as having dignity and worth, that all of our relationships are part of an eternal dance with those whom God loves, those whom God wants to be in caring, intimate, relationship with one another and with the divine Spirit which is Love itself.

We are a congregation deeply committed to peace and justice. It would be possible to ask why should we care about anyone else. Why not just pursue our own interests? A simple answer is that it doesn’t work over the long run. A more profound answer is that the value of every human life, I believe, is built right into the cosmos.

As has been the case for many of our readings in recent weeks, we find a belief that God is a God of justice running through the prophets and the Psalms. Psalm 71 is a prayer for escape from “the grasp of the unjust and cruel.” (vs. 4) In Isaiah 58, it is “offering your food to the hungry” and satisfying “the needs of the afflicted” that is rewarded. (vs. 10) The reading from Psalm 103 sees God as a forgiver of “iniquity,” a God of “steadfast love and mercy” who “works vindication and justice for all who are oppressed.” (vss. 3-6)

The combination of readings for this week led me to reflect on the basis for our commitment to peace and justice. Do we stand for peace and just only because of God’s commandments or the teaching of the Bible? Is it because of some rational, philosophical, political, and pragmatic arguments we can draw upon? All of those are important, but our values, our commitments, I believe come from a deeper place, full of mystery, wonderment, perhaps even awe.

Are they perhaps part of our DNA (literally or figuratively)? If so, I don’t deny that we sometimes resist and rebel, work against our DNA. The spiritual call, in more than one religious tradition, is to become attuned to our inner nature, to discover and live out the purposes which have given us life and which are intended to be life-giving to all those who co-inhabit this earth.

The Gospel lesson from Luke says that giving human life that kind of dignity and value supercedes any literal adherence to ritual and other laws. Jesus is criticized for healing a woman on the Sabbath, thus violating laws again working on the Sabbath. He attacks them as “hypocrites.” They take care of their animals on the Sabbath. Isn’t the freeing of this woman from “bondage” something to rejoice about, whenever it happens? She is an embodiment of eternity in our midst. Pay attention to eternity—in yourself and in others—every day!

A postscript on Jeremiah: Jeremiah is a young man. He responds as others in the Bible sometimes do. “I am only a boy.” (Jeremiah 1:6) Others might say, as Moses did, “I have problems speaking clearly.” I’ve heard people say, “I am only a layperson.” God quickly puts that to rest. We are never “only” if we understand ourselves as “images of God,” if we believe God is with us and has a task for us to undertake. Granted the task given Jeremiah was a bit overwhelming—plucking up and pulling down nations, etc. (vs. 10)—we need to remember that the words and actions of any one of us can build up or tear down. We may not be Jeremiah, but God intends our words and actions to be used in the service of eternal purposes.

A postscript on values undergirding ministries of peace and justice: I was once part of a process that identified a set of such values. We at first called them interdependence, stewardship, and integrity. Later integrity morphed into “reverence.” “Integrity” and “reverence” for us were both ways of affirmed the value of every expression of life—each having its own “integrity” to be “revered” and held in respect and awe. Where do such values come from? They are, I believe, more than the product of staff efforts. They are part of our God-given DNA as human beings. I offer them here without development for your consideration, discussion, guidance, etc.

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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