It feels so good to sit still and breathe deep after a week packed-full. Due to scheduling, these past few days (since the evening of January 25) have been non-stop with a mission conference, interviews for Summer 2013 intern candidates, and continued work on the Wesleyan Theology training course for leaders. And wherever I could I would squeeze in time for studying my class on the Torah.
Brenda Salter-McNeil. I had heard her speak before at Urbana 06 and Urbana 09, but getting to know her a bit and hear from her up close and personal at this conference was incredible.
I cannot begin to encapsulate all that she said, but she spoke prophetically from Isaiah 6 and 11 about "stump ministry." After all these years, I think I have tasted of what it means to get whittled down to a measly stump. I was reminded in new ways that God sides with the broken-hearted. We must cling to Him as we wait for a future we cannot see.
That would have been enough to feast on, but slowly I saw the thread emerge. I went to hear Brenda speak at Westmont Chapel on Monday, January 28, and she taught powerfully on the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10. She called us out as we heard the oft-told story in new ways. She helped me to see how I have been the priest and the Levite, who crossed to the other side of the road to avoid the mess of the man beaten by bandits, more than the Samaritan. In the same way that we walk past trash on the ground, we walk past the "mess" around us, thinking someone else will deal with it. As God has sided with me in my broken-heartedness, I am called to sit with others in theirs. Ouch.
In my reading for the Torah class, we have actually spent these first four weeks on Genesis 1-11. Given that we need to study the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures, you would think we would get going! But this has been time well spent. This week I read through the tragedy of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4, and saw things I had never seen before. Naturally I have been troubled by the strangeness of this story -- why does God prefer Abel's offering to Cain's? In the past I have thought about it, then shrugged my shoulders and given up. But as one of our texts tells us, God has a "penchant for what is not highly regarded." She goes on to break down the Hebrew meaning of the name Abel and Cain. "Abel" apparently points to "what is lacking in worth" and "Cain" is "connected with productivity, with creation and acquisition." In other words, Abel denotes "worthless," but then we are told "the entire Bible shows a God who is on the side of the 'Abels'." Later she says that God has a "preference for what is weak and not able to protect itself."
WOW. In the past, when students and I have discussed scripture and the repeated instances of God working through the unlikely (David, Samuel, Mary, Paul, to name a few) I have always repeated what I have been taught: that God prefers to use the unlikely because then the evidence is clear that he is at work, and the results are not due to the natural abilities of the person in the story.
I won't say that I have been wrong, but this really is only half the tale. God is powerful and sovereign, but I know that he is not an egotistical tyrant who wants to make sure we know who is in charge. He is a God of mercy, grace and unending love. And as we receive such gifts, we are transformed by such tender and amazing love.
Then, we are called. As the textbook continues, "God's penchant for what is weak and 'worthless' must be imitated by the ones who walk in God's ways." Will I walk past the suffering around me, or will I allow it to make my own life messy?
I can't say that I reached the end of the thread this morning, but in my reading I came upon Psalm 27, and things felt clear:
1 The Lord is my light and my salvation—
so why should I be afraid?
The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger,
so why should I tremble?
2 When evil people come to devour me,
when my enemies and foes attack me,
they will stumble and fall.
3 Though a mighty army surrounds me,
my heart will not be afraid.
Even if I am attacked,
I will remain confident.
4 The one thing I ask of the Lord—
the thing I seek most—
is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
delighting in the Lord’s perfections
and meditating in his Temple.
May we all live much more by faith than by fear. May we take risks and love others in the same ways we have been loved by the insanely foolish and persistent love of God.