Week 18: Starting Over Yet Again

Readings for the week: Psalm 51, Judges 13-21, Ruth 1-4, John 5-8Psalm 52-53, Listen to these passages

Opening Prayer:

Dear Lord, the world is a crazy place. Sometimes good crazy but often just crazy crazy. There’s all sorts out there, doing all sorts of things that doesn’t make sense, makes things worse for themselves and others.  Even when we mind our own business, the crazy finds its way to our door. 

It’s not just crazy we’re dealing with. There’s also hardship and frustration, popping up just when we’re thinking we’re on track. I’m trying to do my best God, I’m needing your help this week to keep going. I know it’s not about doing or performing, but life is full of things I need to do and decisions I have to make.

I really need your Spirit to come alongside, to fill my heart and my mind, to give me peace, and to give me discernment.  I don’t want the crazy. I want hope and life and encouragement. Amen.

Psalm 51

 Reading through Judges 13-21

So often when people think about the Bible they think of the wonderful stories of miracles, of holy women and holy men doing holy things, speaking pronouncements about doing good and avoiding evil. We assume everything is straightforward: here’s the happy, clear plan for this world. We get intimidated by that, thinking our messy life doesn’t fit the clear picture, or on the other side, people think they have to pose as having a perfectly tune life.  Smiles everyone, smiles!

Sure, some religious texts are like that. Very austere and clear cut between the good folks and the bad.  It’s an odd assumption about the Bible though.  From the beginning, there’s messiness.  Among the evil and corrupt, of course, but also among those who we are told are on God’s side in the story.  But that’s the issue, isn’t it? Even those who are on God’s side are in a world with craziness.  And craziness has a way of getting into all sorts of places, even the Promised land.

In those days, Israel had no king. That’s the continuing theme. There are judges, and they serve a kind of messianic role at times, stepping in when things get really bad. But they’re not ideal figures either. Take Samson.  We know him as the strong man of the Bible, but he seems a very mixed character, being given significant gifts but squandering them and getting caught up in the world around him.

In a lot of ways, he’s a symbol of Israel itself, God giving strength and courage, but they keep getting seduced, giving up their power because they trusted the wrong people–again and again. But even in this story, God shows his grace and his power despite Samson’s faults.

That story takes us through chapter 16. The rest of Judges isn’t something you’d want to read aloud as a family. It’s brutal, it’s even disgusting, shining a light on who people are and the craziness they cause.  It’s nothing new, but we’re still surprised.

The fact that it’s in the Bible is odd, I suppose, but it really points to the idea that Scripture does not avoid the hard stories, it doesn’t make light of brutality, it doesn’t put a mask on human behavior. It calls us to something better and it makes it all the more astounding that God continues to show grace and bring life out of such stories.

Everyone did what they saw fit, and it wasn’t good. But God’s not done with the story.

Reading through Ruth 1-4

Thank God for Ruth.  Seriously, after reading through Judges, leaving a person feeling disgusted and confused, Ruth is exactly the book we need.  When things are going wrong, it is very easy to get caught up in the negative, start making generalizations about groups of people, assuming one part of the story represents it all.  God continues to work and it seems that God’s work often is in the little stories, the stories we might not notice if we were around at that time. The particular stories of particular women and particular men who are faithful to their calling, and show faith in how they encounter trials.

That’s the story of Ruth. A woman who lost her husband and stayed committed to her mother in law. She was a Moabite woman, and if you’ve been following along, God wasn’t exactly happy when Israelite’s married Moabites, indeed read Deuteronomy 23:3 again: “No Ammonite or Moabite or any of their descendants may enter the assembly of the LORD, not even in the tenth generation.

Ruth wasn’t the right kind of woman for an idealized story.  She doesn’t even seem to be the right woman in our messy story.  Yet, there’s something about how God works that includes those who respond with goodness. Ruth was a woman who didn’t see an easy life but was faithful in what she knew was right to do. And in this story, a good man appears, who was faithful and good to God, in his work, and with Ruth.

This story, this little story of intersecting lives is the thread of God’s work of salvation. God could emerge from the heavens, throwing lightning bolts and taking over empires.  But so often it’s entirely the opposite. The solution to the chaos we read in Judges begins with this story of finding community, showing faithfulness in the small things. The story of God’s work emerges from below and expands broadly. Like a baby in a manger, or like a boy who fight a giant.

Indeed, both those stories descend from Ruth’s story. Part of the same family. Ruth is David’s grandmother. Ruth is the ancestor of Jesus. Even though she’s a Moabite, she finds hope in doing what is right even when the world around her is filled with people who do whatever they want because there is no king.  God, you see, is faithful to his Promise and continues to work just when we think things have gone too far.

Reading Through John 5-8

If Ruth was the oasis after walking through the wilderness of Judges, then these chapters in John are like arriving at our resort destination.  All the craziness, all the ugliness, all the hurt and pain and uncertainty, God hasn’t given up on people. And we see God engages with people in a transforming way.  Not in the ways or with the people that some of the leaders though he should, but that’s not really a concern about God.  Those leaders were in many ways trying to do what is right, and trying to be faithful, but they were being faithful to a system not to God’s presence and calling.

What is God’s purpose? To draw all people into communion, through love, with hope.  Some of the leaders got this, but were still confused. Nicodemus, for instance, who came up in last week’s reading. He was a pharisee who sought Jesus out, to learn what Jesus was up to and what he was leading toward. A new beginning? How can that happen, he asks.  On the other side, we encounter the Samaritan woman, someone who was an outsider. Yet, Jesus treated her like God treated Ruth, inviting her into the story of God’s redemption.

This week we ramp up the declarations by Jesus and the declarations about Jesus.  Sure, we have John saying in chapter 1 that Jesus is God, but what does that mean practically. Well, Jesus makes whole that which is broken. A holy God is drawn to healing, making holy that which is clean.  I think of these healing stories as extroverted holiness. Jesus isn’t made unclean by sin or scandalized by brokenness. He offers hope to those who can’t find it.  His message reaches into all sorts of different places and ways: to the broken he offer wholeness, to the learned he offers deep wisdom, to the hungry he offers food, to the eager he offers a mission.

Not everyone wants what he is giving away though. He’s undermining the systems of society, he’s shifting the social expectations and diluting established authority. He’s not playing according to the established rules. For some, this offers hope because they’re stuck. For others, this is a threat because they like things the way they are.

Jesus is confronting this world. Not in the ways of the world, but by playing a different song, dancing a different dance, using a completely different rule book. He shows he is able to do more than we can possibly imagine and everything we need, but the cost is following him in this song, this dance, these rules.

Are we willing?

4. Psalm 52-53

5. Respond

If you’ve fallen behind in the readings or having started year, don’t worry.  Reading the Bible isn’t a limited time offer. Jump in this week, and catch up with what you’ve missed in future years.

Also, I highly encourage you to share your thoughts with others in your family, or immediate community. Talk about this stuff! 

And, since I sometimes feel lonely, share your thoughts in the comment section.

Talking about your thoughts and questions is a very important part of the reading goal. Writing out our thoughts can help us remember what we read and keep our minds on the passage. It also is very helpful to share as we learn from each other. Even our questions or confusion can bring us together, as we highlight what others may have missed or address what a lot of us are also wondering.   Don’t feel like you have to say or write a lot, or feel pressure to be profound. Respond with honesty and openness.

Just jump right in where you’re at, knowing that Christ invites you to respond without pressure or anxiety. It’s a journey not a performance.