Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Offensive Prayer?

Lectionary for August 31. Jeremiah 15:15-21, Psalm 26:1-8, Romans 12:9-21, Matthew 16:21-28

 "Never avenge yourselves...Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." Rom. 12:19

Payback is a common theme in these passages, and a natural desire of all human beings at some time! When wrong is done to us, when we see injustice done to others, we have a gut longing (sometimes a burning drive) to see perpetrators punished. We rejoice when the 'bad guy' gets what's coming to them or the thoughtless suffer the natural consequences of their indifference. We like to lay blame and point fingers, because that is part of exonerating ourselves, laying issues to rest, and maintaining a sense of control over our lives.

This drive to set things right is too often self-serving and based on faulty reasoning/assumptions.  Jeremiah says; "O Lord, you know; remember me and visit me, and bring down retribution for me on my persecutors."  At first this feels like an offensive way to pray. It feels like we are trying to manipulate God the way a child would ask a parent to punish a sibling for them. When I thought about Jeremiah's words for awhile, however, I started to feel that he's on to something important.

Jeremiah acknowledges that "God knows", which implies that Jeremiah does not know all the angles of his dilemma. He is willing to concede that things might be other than his personal experience. By asking God to do the punishing, Jeremiah gives up control to God. That's a hard thing because it means accepting that the outcome might be other than what what Jeremiah would choose. (Remember the story of the labourers in the vineyard in Matt. 20? The landowners judgement was not what many of the "good" people wanted!)

Jeremiah, in fact, is frustrated with God. He wonders why he is in so much pain, and says God is like a deceitful brook and waters that fail. (v.18)

All four of these passages display the difficulty of turning over control to God, but also help me understand the rightness of it. Our own understandings are too limited to be reliable. We simply cannot know all sides and situations involved in any conflict situation. Of course, we have to do our best with what we have. We need good rules, accountability, boundaries, and ways to apply these and work with each other. But over all of that, we must "let love be genuine, persevere in prayer, find ways to bless those who frustrate us, and leave room for God to be the final judge." (paraphrased from the Romans passage.)

This summer, I've had the opportunity to listen to a variety of people, in and outside churches, talk about difficulties they face in their family and work relationships. Bosses that turn a blind eye to the struggles of employees, deceit and cover-ups in families, the pain of blatant disrespectful comments. It's so hard for people who see themselves as in the 'right' (and likely they are) to do their best and then turn it all over to God's control for the outcomes.   When Peter heard the Jesus was going to surrender himself to unfair judgement, he argued with him to the point that Jesus said; "Get behind me set your mind, not on divine things, but on human things."

This week, I think I'll try to practice "offensive" prayer like Jeremiah whenever I experience something that "isn't fair" or when I feel the urge to "set something straight." It will likely be frustrating, and sometimes the feeling that God isn't doing anything will challenge my desire to control things! Our calling is to do our best where ever we find ourselves, act honourably, and leave control to God.

Friday, 1 August 2014

No Internet and Big RVs

Lectionary readings for August 3, 2014
Isaiah 55:1-5, Psalm 145:8-9-14-21, Romans 9:1-5, Matthew 14:13-21

In our campsite in Jasper last week, I had no internet connection. It was actually kind of a luxury to be without it. I didn't check email, didn't worry about what work wasn't getting done, and enjoyed a great mystery novel.

The scriptures for August 3 have the theme that God will provide, especially for those who know they need help. There is a subtle theme here too, that we don't always know what we need. I love Isaiah's question in verse 2. "Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which does not satisfy?" It's a perfect question for our wealthy, accomplishment driven, very busy society. Why do we spend money on luxuries that we don't need? Why do we use up so much of our limited time on earth working crazy hours to pay for things we don't need?

It's a great question for me to reflect on after having camped in Jasper. It's hard to believe how many huge, luxurious RVs are in the campsites. Some of those units are massively expensive, and they are just a luxury for most of those using them. They have TV, air conditioning, big generators, fridges, toilets, showers, pull-outs, etc... Isn't this excessive, a flagrant waste in the face of environmental and social justice issues? How much time away from family and friends does it take to pay for these beasts so that family and friends can |"holiday" together?

I enjoy camping, I don't want to begrudge people their trailers, but I think something is seriously wrong when it goes to such extremes and people spend so very much money on these luxuries. (Can that even be called camping when the campers are so isolated from the very outdoors they ostensibly are experiencing?)  Isaiah doesn't begrudge people the "good things" in life. He goes on to say; "eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food." He's not advocating asceticism. His question, however, does push us to consider what it is we really need.I don't think Isaiah is telling people to blindly indulge themselves at the expense of others or the environment. He is rejoicing in the way God richly provides for our needs.

When I didn't have the "luxury" of internet connections, I could relax. I talked with my family and we played games. We enjoyed hiking and biking and seeing the mountain sights. We cooked together and sat around the fire. Sure, I was on holiday and I didn't need the internet like I do when I am working, but the break from it helped me ask the question how much do I really "need" it? When does the luxury of high-speed connection become something that takes my time away from the good things (family, friends, community, charity...) that would actually nurture me and those around me?

Psalm 145 reminds us that God has great patience with us, and will satisfy the desires of all living things, but we need to call on God. That means realizing we need help in figuring out what is good. It's hard, when we're rich, to see that we need God. We easily lose sight of what is truly needed and what is wasteful luxury that actually takes us away from what is important.

God provides for our needs. These scriptures are a good reminder to help us think about what it is that is truly needed.