Thursday, July 13, 2017

July 13

1 Chronicles 15:1-16:36; Romans 1:18-32; Psalm 10:1-15; Proverbs 19:6-7

When you were reading today were you struck by all the hoop-la that went into moving the ark of the covenant into the place David had prepared for it? Usually, I’m ashamed to admit, I sort of skim these sections that list a bunch of names and a bunch of tasks. But today, I was really moved by the sheer celebration surrounding this significant symbol.

First, David prepares a special place; then he chooses special people to carry the ark (only the Levites). After that, he gathers the whole community together to rejoice in its arrival. David gathers the chiefs, he himself wears special robes, he appoints singers and musicians and a musical director; and as the ark approaches Jerusalem, a great shout choruses through the people. This sounds like my kind of party! I wish I could have been there to see this momentous occasion. Because we’re a little disconnected from Jewish history, the significance of the ark might be lost on us. But do you remember from previous readings what is inside it? The two stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments (and in some accounts, a pot of manna to remember the Exodus and Aaron’s rod). And it was made by Moses himself on Mount Sinai. This ark is no insignificant icon!

But there’s a Debbie Downer in today’s story. David’s wife, Michal, sees David rejoicing with his people and she “despises him in her heart” (1 Ch. 15:29), clearly thinking his actions undignified for a king. But David, whether he knows about her scorn or not, doesn’t let anything dampen his celebration – when the ark is in place, he offers burnt offerings and peace offerings, and blesses the people with words and food. And then he instructs Asaph and his brothers to sing a beautiful hymn of thanksgiving. What rejoicing and gratefulness we see in the verses that follow. “Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!” (16:34).

And because I don’t feel right about skipping over such a blunt passage in Romans, let me say a few things about our New Testament reading. First, when we’re looking at a difficult passage like this, we have to remember how Paul frames it – “For his [God’s] invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20). He’s going to list some behaviors and consequences that are very severe in the verses following, but his framework is clear: these people who are making such terrible decisions should have known better. God has revealed himself in creation; his power and divine nature are there for everyone to see, so claiming that they don’t know any better isn’t going to get these folks off the hook. They can look around and see from creation that there is a God – and knowing this should move them toward the light, but they “become futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (vs. 21). They choose idols over the immortal God (vs. 23); they use their bodies for lustful and unnatural sexual relationships (vs. 24-27); and they reap the consequences of those sins in their own person (the nature of the “penalty” is not clear but it seems like something that affects them physically). They are full of all kinds of malice and wickedness and they not only engage in these kinds of activities themselves, but also give approval to others who do them as well (vs. 32).

These verses cut very close to home, particularly in the city in which we live. Long Beach has a very high LGBTQ population and it continues to grow, even among believers. And there is lots of pressure in churches from those who follow those lifestyles to have approval, from those in the same lifestyle and those from without. I fear this is becoming the defining issue of my generation and I’m afraid for the church. As much as I want to have compassion and be loving (which I certainly believe we are called to do), I cannot read passages like this and give my approval for those choices. This, then, leaves me in an uncomfortable position when I’m trying to love a co-worker or a neighbor or a fellow church member and I’m left to work through passages like this and passages that tell me to love others. The truth is, it’s both. We live in a complicated world; it’s the “now but not yet” tension of living between the cross and the second coming. We must navigate the truth of God’s words, all of his words, as best we can in a world that does not make it easy. We must love AND we must hold fast to the truth.

I’m praying for you, fellow OYB readers, as we wade through these waters together, in different parts of the country or even the world. This is our call as believers in Christ – to read God’s word, to take it seriously, and to allow all parts of it to inform who we are as followers of Christ. May God be with us all as we continue on this journey.

- Esther McCurry

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