Sunday July 14 2019 – Proper 10 C
Deuteronomy 30:9-14; Psalm 25:1-9; Colossians 1:1-14; Luke 10:25-37
There’s a bumper sticker that I’ve seen before, and it goes like this, “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.” I think one of the sentiments behind that bumper sticker is good. You can see an impulse to have faith in God and to follow what God speaks to us through the scriptures. But the problem with the bumper sticker is that there are different points of view in the Bible. And less than a book of answers, it is more of a conversation that a community of people have had with God in history. The Bible is a conversation with God that you and I are invited into.
For example, there are two different creation poems in Genesis. In chapter 1 we see God speaking creation into existence by words. In chapter 2, we see God who is much more earthy, and shapes human beings out of dirt and blows breath into their nostrils.
Another example is that Israel became divided into a northern and southern kingdom, and you have books of the Bible written from each perspective. One perspective says that a particular king was faithful to God. The other perspective, writing about the same king, says that he was unfaithful to God.
You can see multiple perspectives throughout the Bible in the tension between priests and prophets. Priestly writers have written scripture that painstakingly lays out the requirements of temple purity and sacrifices and liturgies. They want us to take worship very seriously. On the other hand, you have prophets who write scripture and say that all of our worship is worthless if we don’t treat the poor, widows, and the orphan with justice and equity.
Even our four Gospels show us that there is a diversity of thought and opinion when it comes to the life of Jesus. We have four different perspectives on Jesus’ life and teachings in the New Testament. Mark was the first Gospel, and Matthew and Luke quote the majority of Mark verbatim in their respective Gospels. They are similar, but they each have their own theological lenses through which they view Jesus. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are each filled with instances of Jesus exorcising demons and teaching in parables. In contrast, the Gospel of John, doesn’t have a single exorcism or parable.
The Bible is less a book of answers, and more of a conversation that you and I are invited into with God and with each other. We need to consider the Bible in light of who we know God to be in the life and person of Jesus Christ. We need to take the scriptures as a whole, and consult what different parts of the church have thought throughout history. And we need to be open to new modes of understanding that the Holy Spirit gives us in our own particular times and places.
The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it. But the Bible doesn’t just say one thing. It’s a conversation that invites us to draw near to God and to listen deeply, and to turn our hearts to God to figure out how we may live in relation to God and others. It takes time and prayer and most of all, a heart that wants to know the God who is the source and subject of the whole of scripture.
And I say all of this to you this morning, because we have just read a text from Deuteronomy that requires faithful engagement. It represents one perspective out of a larger whole that comprises scripture.
Today we hear the following in Deuteronomy:
The LORD your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all your undertakings, in the fruit of your body, in the fruit of your livestock, and in the fruit of your soil. For the LORD will again take delight in prospering you, just as he delighted in prospering your ancestors, when you obey the LORD your God by observing his commandments and decrees that are written in this book of the law, because you turn to the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.
Moses is telling the community that if they follow and obey God’s commandments and decrees they will be prosperous. Not just prosperous, but abundantly prosperous in their children, livestock, and crops. Basically, Deuteronomy is telling people that if they are faithful to God they will be prosperous. And unfortunately, there are preachers who have taken this one theological perspective from the scriptures and made a whole industry of telling people that they will be prosperous if they obey God. They have sold millions of books and preach to millions. I have read a couple of their books and heard these preachers who have influenced millions of people around the globe preach that if they are obedient to God, they will be healthy. They will get that next job promotion. Issues in their families will go away. And what ends up happening is that scripture and faith in God become less about loving God, and more about a way people can try to manipulate God into getting what they want. Faith is no longer about loving God, it’s about finding a formula to get what we want.
One of my favorite book series is Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling. These fantasy novels chronicle the adventures of the young wizard, Harry, and his friends Ron and Hermione. They attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and learn to use magic in their struggle to defeat Lord Voldemort. And here is how the magic works. You study up on potions and spells and then you are able to manipulate your environment to achieve certain ends. If you want to change your appearance to look like someone all you need to do is find the instructions for Polyjuice potion. Get the ingredients and mix it properly. If you want to cast spells, you find the right magical words and practice making things happen. This is how magic works: You find the right formulas and words to say, and you can get things to happen the way you want them.
And in my life as a priest and just as a baptized member of the worldwide church in general, I sometimes encounter people who want me or the church to do magic. They want the correct formulas or the magical words that will get things to go the way they want them. But the reality is that I don’t know how to do magic. The church doesn’t either. I don’t know anything about formulas or magical words that will instantly make anyone healthy, increase their financial status, or make family issues go away. That’s not what Jesus offers us. What he offers us is a relationship with God. He invites us into a life of loving God and being loved by God, and sharing that love with our neighbors.
Julian of Norwich was an English mystic who lived in the Middle Ages. She died in the early fifteenth century, but she left us an amazing book called Revelations of Divine Love, which is the earliest surviving book written in English by a woman. It’s a book about her experience and insight into God’s love and she speaks a lot about God’s goodness. In a striking passage, she says that “our natural wish is to have God and the good wish of God is to have us.” And then there is a very moving prayer she offers which goes like this: “God, of your goodness, give me yourself; you are enough for me, and anything less that I could ask for would not do you full honor. And if I ask anything that is less, I shall always lack something, but in you alone I have everything.”
Julian prayed for other things, but for her, the best thing she could ask for was that God would give Godself to her. That God was enough for her. That in knowing God, she had everything.
Maybe you realize this morning that God has been pursuing a loving relationship with you, but you have been pursuing magic. You have been approaching God as a means to different ends in your life. You may have circumstances that really need to be changed. But I invite you this morning to accept all the circumstances of your life, the good and the bad together, and just for a moment, forget about changing any of it, and turn your whole heart to love the God who loves you more than you can imagine. Make your prayer not about all the ways you want your life to change. Instead, make Julian’s prayer your own: “God, of your goodness, give me yourself; you are enough for me, and anything less that I could ask for would not do you full honor. And if I ask anything that is less, I shall always lack something, but in you alone I have everything.”
There are many different theological perspectives out there that you can encounter. There are different perspectives in the Bible. But in all of our engagement with scripture, in our deep listening and faithfulness to the Bible as a place where the church listens for God to speak to us, we must always keep in mind the two greatest commandments. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” All of the law and the prophets and all of the scriptures are summed up in these two things.
Loving God with all we are and loving our neighbors as ourselves. These two commandments will be our guides along the path. They will lead us past magic and into the very heart of God.