Saturday, February 27, 2016

A Humble Beginning

They never gave him a thought. He was the runt of the family, little thought of, little cared for: a grubby kid whose only possible worth to the family was to send him out to watch the sheep. He did seem to be reasonably capable of that, despite his dreaminess and his tendency to want to sit and make up music all day. What use to the family was that? A boy like that needed to be constantly put in his place lest he start imagining he was somebody special. And when they muttered to each other in annoyance, his older brothers never gave a passing thought to another younger brother, centuries before, whose older brothers, irritated beyond measure, had sold him into slavery.  That boy, Joseph, had risen to be above them all, but what of that? After all, these brothers had no intention of treating the kid that way. Out of sight was out of mind.

So when the prophet came to visit they scrubbed up, dressed up, and went nervously out to greet him. What was their little town to warrant such attention? What did Samuel (or, more alarmingly, Samuel’s God) want with them? It wasn’t a comfortable meeting, and they never gave a thought to that uppity kid as they organised themselves. Their father, Jesse, was one of the elders of the town, so they were present when Samuel was greeted. He assured them that he had come in peace and only wanted to offer a sacrifice. He invited them to consecrate themselves and attend. The brothers felt honoured to be included, and even more honoured when the prophet asked their father to present them to him, one by one. But as each of the seven was presented, the prophet searched their faces as if he was trying to see into the deepest parts of their hidden selves. There was a sense, a very disturbing sense, that he was looking for something that wasn’t there, that these brothers, handsome and tall in the prime of their young manhood, lacked something important.

The prophet said nothing, however, until he had inspected all seven, then he turned to Jesse and said, “The Lord has not chosen these.” There was an awkward silence while each wondered what it was that he had failed. Then Samuel continued, “are these here all of your sons?”

Jesse was startled, but he knew better than to lie to a prophet of God. “No,” he said slowly, “there is another one, but he’s out in the fields with the sheep.”

Samuel ordered him to send for the boy. “We will not sit down until he comes,” he said.

So they sent for the boy, David, and when he came in, to their immense astonishment, Samuel rose up, took his horn of oil and anointed the boy. The brothers didn’t dare catch each other’s eyes. What did this mean? But before they could gather their wits to find a way to ask, Samuel had risen up and gone on his way back to Ramah where he lived. But they knew that something had changed and something very important had happened.

It took years before it became clear – years of persecution and humiliation, years where they wondered if the boy had any idea what he was doing and why it was that he kept putting himself in danger. It all seemed too crazy to be true, and too horrible to contemplate. But then it came to pass, and David became the king of Israel, a far greater king than Saul had ever been. And even then they did not see the whole of his glory, how he was named a King after the Lord’s own heart, and how he was the great ancestor of the Messiah. They had no idea that, millennia later, his songs would be sung around the world by millions who had no drop of Jewish blood in their veins. He was, after all, their kid brother.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Ash Wednesday Prayer

At the place of intersection
Where the waves uproot the earth
And crash away, are gone;
At the place of silence
Where the rushing wind is paused
And I fall into myself;
At the place of burning
Where light, unavoidable, streams
And the dark lies trembling;
In this place, hear my prayer.

At the place of unclothing,
Where I struggle with filthy rags
And avert my shrinking gaze;
At the place of beseeching,
Where I account my beggared state
And have nothing in my hands;
At the place of forgetting,
Where the map won’t fit this country
And I know no compass points:
In this place, hear my prayer.

At the place of congestion,
Where the haggling voices drown me
And my lips have no words left;
At the place of desertion,
Where love vanishes in quicksand
And I castigate my heart;
At the place of ignorance,
Where assumptions turn to mock me
And relentless truth stares down;
In this place, hear my prayer.

And may mercy fall like rain.

Monday, February 08, 2016

A Step too Far

It is only now, as I climb my last mountain alone with god that I fully understand. At the time it seemed such a little mistake, just one step too far. While I would not dare to question His judgements, or so I told myself, in my heart I wondered why a little thing should matter so much. Why should my anger be a betrayal of God’s holiness? Wasn’t it part of my zeal for him?

I admit that I will be glad to be done with their bickering and squabbling, the perpetual grumbling that became like grains of desert sand blown constantly into my face: at first just a silly irritation, but over time irritation (such a little thing) grows to a great weariness of pain carried for too long, and the effort of bearing it turns to anger, and (I understand now) a kind of contempt. One cannot be compassionate and contemptuous at the same time. But it goes even deeper than that, and it has taken me a long time to understand. My own bitterness, rooted in pride because I was God’s instrument in their deliverance, had blinded me to the deeper truth. I had proclaimed God’s law, but I had veered away from His heart. In the end my own self-righteousness was still as foolish, my anger still as destructive and futile, as that time, so very long ago, when I struck and killed the Egyptian. Striking the rock instead of speaking to it was not just a momentary lapse, a tiny step too far past what God had decreed, it was an act of blasphemy against the One I had been called to represent.

Meribah we called that place, because the name means quarrelling. The people were protesting their lack of water, a valid concern (I acknowledge now), but the tone of it irked me. I had had enough of them. I had forgotten that the Lord takes pity on His people. So I sought the Lord, but I was not seeking His heart, only a set of instructions. He commanded me to speak to the rock and water would come forth. But I was angry. I was contemptuous. I disobeyed the command. I took that step too far, and it was the step over the edge of the precipice. I did not speak to the rock, I spoke to the people, words of condemnation and pride. I claimed for myself the power to produce the water that they needed, and then, in my arrogant rage, I struck the rock.

God was merciful. He gave them abundant water, in spite of my sin. But I was chastened. I no longer had the right to lead them into the Promised Land. I had offended against the holiness of the Lord. I had taken for my own the power to bring them life amidst the deadliness of the desert. I had failed to see that the heart of God’s holiness is a compassion so enormous that it will one day turn the whole world upside down. He does not despise us for our needs, He comes down to meet us where we are, and calls us into deeper trust. Most of all, though, I could not lead them into the Promised Land because I, myself, had failed to enter His rest. I had made it my own burden to carry them, and I was weary with it. It is the Lord who redeems, the Lord who provides, and it is the Lord who will carry His broken, sinful people and bring them into His victory.