Wednesday, September 21, 2016

On reading the hard texts

I have had a few conversations recently about the hard texts, the hard Bible passages that we have heard in church. I have had some questions about why we read those hard texts, and some have said maybe it would be better not to read those, especially from the Old Testament, some of the Psalms, and lately, the Gospel has been a worthy wrestling partner. The rota of readings we use is called The Lectionary, and using the Lectionary, we read the entire Bible once through every three years. That’s one reason we read them all. But even more importantly, we do not get to pick and choose the Bible passages we like and support our position, while leaving others we don’t like or don’t agree with unread and unexamined. It keeps us honest. We must grapple with them all, like it or not.

We have an especially difficult one coming up on October 2nd, Psalm 137.
1 By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept, * when we remembered you, O Zion.
2 As for our harps, we hung them up * on the trees in the midst of that land.
3 For those who led us away captive asked us for a song, and our oppressors called for mirth: *
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion.”
4 How shall we sing the Lord’s song * upon an alien soil?
5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem, * let my right hand forget its skill.
6 Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, *
if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.
7 Remember the day of Jerusalem, O Lord, against the people of Edom, *
who said, “Down with it! down with it! even to the ground!”
8 O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, *
happy the one who pays you back for what you have done to us!
9 Happy shall he be who takes your little ones, * and dashes them against the rock!

The most difficult verse in this Psalm, is the last one, “happy shall he be who takes your little ones, and dashes them against the rock”! Not only do we read this text, we sing it! One of my Bible professors once said to our class, all bible passages will be appropriate at some time and in some place. As I hear this Psalm, I remember.

Psalm 137 comes out of the time of the Exile, when the Hebrew people were thrown out of their lands, their homes, and banished to Babylon, the land of foreigners, of foreign gods, of pagans. “By the waters of Babylon, we sat down and wept, when we remembered our home, O Zion.” Wouldn’t you, thrown out of your country, your land, all that you know, just want to lay down and weep? The Hebrews wondered how they could sing anymore, so why not just hang their harps in the trees. And to make it even worse, those pagans wanted to be entertained with their songs, not happening, the Hebrew people said.

This reality is in our world today. Refugees are thrown out of their own countries, they must leave their own countries for fear of their lives, and are lead away captive. Refugees don’t want to be in that new place, they would much rather raise their children in the land of their birth, but can’t, for fear of torture and death. Which is worse? Staying home with the fear of death, or leaving home and all that is dear, for a foreign land? It must feel like there are people who would be happy to take their children and throw them against a rock. It must feel hopeless. It must feel like you are dying. Where is God in all that?

The reason we don’t just ignore these Bible passages, is that they continue to show us the truth of our brokenness. The truth that on our own, we believe we are the best creation has to offer, and therefore can treat anyone and anything any way we want. These passages show us the pattern. God creates and God blesses, we turn away from God and begin to believe we can do it on our own, we worship idols and ourselves. This is what gets us into deep, deep, trouble. God calls us back, God loves us back into wholeness, God puts us back together.  These passages continue to call us to repentance. Turn around, God loves you, love each other, treat each other with dignity, respect, justice and mercy.

These passages we must listen to, especially today, especially now.

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