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Monday, July 29, 2013
Lectionary Scriptures:  Hosea 11:1-11 AND Psalm 107:1-9, 43 OR Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23 AND Psalm 49:1-12, Colossians 3:1-11, Luke 12:13-21

This week’s lectionary readings are an appropriate follow-up to my musings about love last week.  It’s almost as if they present contrasts in the way we experience life.  Does the cosmos run on love or is it all useless?  I don’t pretend to have a neat packaged answer, especially when it comes to this mixture of scriptures.  I think they say, “It depends on where you look, what you try to base your life upon.  Maybe you need to look deeper---beyond, or under, the surface.”

Hosea continues as the prophet of love with the image of parent and child---Israel (or humanity) being the child.  (Hosea 11:1)  The children are rebellious.  “The more I called them, the more they went from me.”  (vs. 2)  The images of a parent remembering the tender moments of childhood are moving.  “Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms . . . I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love.  I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks.  I bent down to them and fed them.”  (vss. 3-4)  Even though the children have abandoned the loving parent, the parent keeps on loving them.  “How can I give you up, Ephraim?  How can I hand you over, O Israel? . . . My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.  I will not execute my fierce anger . . .” (vs. 8-9)

The reading from Psalm 107 again offers the declaration that God’s “steadfast love endures forever,” although the people have “wandered in desert places . . .’ hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them.”  (Psalm 107:1, 4-5)  In this case they cried out for help (vs. 6), and we are told that God “satisfies the thirsty, and the hungry he fills with good things.”  (vs. 9)  They are called to “thank the Lord for his steadfast love,” and “consider the steadfast love of the Lord.”  (vss. 8 & 43)

The writer of Ecclesiastes seems to offer a strikingly different view of our walk on this earth.  It is all “vanity.”  (Ecclesiastes 1:2---Other translators use the words “futile,” “useless,” or “meaningless.”)  We work hard and all that we have we “must leave . . . to those who come after.”  (vs. 18)  It is like “chasing after wind.”  (vs. 14)  “What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun?  For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation . . .” (vss. 22-23)  The complaint, however, is fairly focused.  The writer is basically talking about using the “mind to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven.”  (vs. 13) 

Psalm 49 seems to take a similarly pessimistic view.  Claiming to “speak wisdom” (Psalm 49:3), the Psalmist focuses upon “those who trust in their wealth, and boast of the abundance of their riches?”  (vs. 6)  It appears that the cost is too high “that one should live on forever and never see the grave.  When we look at the wise, they die; fool and dolt perish together and leave their wealth to others.  Their graves are their homes forever . . . (vss. 7-12)

All that could put us into a bit of a funk, couldn’t it?  Is it possible that the writers are just saying that if our faith is primary in what we can figure out with our minds, if we look for meaning in how much wealth we accumulate, we will be deeply disappointed?  The other readings, and the broad sweep of scripture say precisely that, but they also suggest that there is another level, another perspective, that of the love Hosea talks about, if we really open our eyes, seeing and experiencing with the heart.

Colossians contrasts those who look at and experience life with “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language” (Colossians 3:8) with those who “seek the things that are above” (vs. 1).  The former hold to the earthly values of “fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed . . .” (vs. 5), but those who seek to follow the way of Jesus are to “set your minds on things that are above.”  (vs. 2)  If we moved beyond the lectionary portion, we would find those things defined as “compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” (vs. 12)

Paul describes the movement from one perspective to other as resurrection, being “raised with Christ.”  (vs. 1)  It is like putting on new clothes.  “ . . . you have stripped off the old self . . . and have clothed yourselves with the new self . . .” (vss. 9-10)  “Above all,” he writes, “clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” (vs. 14)  We should not overlook the state of affairs in this “resurrection.”  “ . . . there is no longer Greek and Jews, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free, but Christ is all and in all!”

I’ll take that any day over what Ecclesiastes describes, but don’t we wonder sometimes?  All we have to do is turn on the evening news or read the morning news (or scan it on our electronic devices) to know that there seems to be a lot of futility out there.  Sometimes we even feel it ourselves.  Again, I have no easy answers, but it seems to have to do with where we’re looking and the inner perspective (and presence?) we bring to things.

In the reading from Luke, Jesus tells the parable of a man who is rich, so rich that he had to build bigger places to store all this wealth (Luke 12:16-18), at which point he says to his soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry” (vs. 19---Interestingly, Ecclesiastes says something similar when he writes that there is nothing better for people to do “than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live . . .,” to “eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil.”  (Ecclesiastes 3:12-13).  The parable tells us that the rich man died that night, and Jesus comments, “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:20-21) 

It is possible that these readings are simply contrasting lives based on wealth and wisdom with lives that are rooted in the deeper mysteries of love.  With all the chasing after wealth we see in this world, it’s a lesson to consider.  We see the effect of greed on the entire world economy and on national and international politics, as well as on the person sleeping on the street or begging passersby for a handout.  If such realities are the normative definition of life and its consequences, we are, as I said last week, truly a people to be pitied.

I suggest that the contrasts in these readings may also push us to a question posed by Marcus Borg in his 2011 book, Speaking Christian, “What is reality like?”  That, he suggests, is what we’re really talking about in our conversations about God.  God, for Borg (and for me, as I indicated last week), is the one “in whom we live and move and have our being.”  Borg offers three options.  “The first sees God as indifferent, the second as threatening and dangerous, the third as gracious and life-giving.” How about your reality?  Which is it?  I opt for the reality Hosea portrays as a loving and compassionate parent.

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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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