... Ecclesiastes 2:26 ...
Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.

PENTECOST 20 Year A, Message October 30th, 2011

Aspect of Idea Relationship

Text: Joshua 3:7-17; Psalm 107:1-7,33-37; 1 Thess. 2:9-13; Matthew 23:1-12

As the lectionary readings for last week guided our contemplation into the realm of ideal relationships, this week’s readings assist us in applying the ideal to the practical. The two great commandments as Jesus gave them; to love God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind and to love your neighbour as yourself; are all well and good. However to apply them to the here and now is something quite different. How do you establish and maintain human relationships both in light of God’s relationship established with us? How do we establish relationship with human authorities is light of God’s authority?

This past week on CBC there was a program discussing the issues of Zionism and anti Zionism of anti Semitism and the right of Palestine to have its own state. At the heart of the matter is how two peoples of opposing views, of different cultural theological and social background and of diverse prejudices come together to establish a right relationship to live in harmony and to share a common geographical area! The tensions between the two peoples are enormous and morally confusing. Both sides are or have been both oppressor and oppressed, both have historical claims to the land, both claim descendence from Abraham as legitimate while at the same time negating the other.

Again this past week we were shocked by the hazing of a 15 year old hockey player by his team mates. How can true friendships be established when one group humiliates and propagates abuses on another group or another individual? Even that seemingly banal and altruistic of all boys groups, “the Boy Scouts” have shown the problem facing humanity in establishing right relationships. Not only have they had sexual predators, but have in their own way protected them at the expense of their ideal. Amid all these assaults to our ethical and moral senses, how do we truly establish right relationships?

Unfortunately there are no simplistic answers to the various questions and scenarios that we as humans bring to the situations of life. Each has his or her own particular needs desires thoughts prejudices and emotions. Each has particular views on how best to set up and live in society as well as in family or community and no two people are exactly identical in every aspect. Thus no text or simple solution (one fits all) can hope to solve every issue or be the panacea for every ill. Yet the texts for today do remind us that human decisions, relationships communities and public policies must be rooted in the reality of God. They also provide us with some models of what that rooting implies.

In the reading from Joshua we learn of the legitimacy of Joshua’s leadership both through Moses’ laying hands on him and of God’s directives do such. But we learn more in that this people have life and reason in being only in and through God’s grace and mercy. The story of the crossing into the Promised Land over the Jordan River in a way completes the circle.

Just as their escape from Egyptian slavery was sealed in the crossing of the Red Sea so now the end of the wilderness trek is sealed with the crossing of the Jordan into Canaan. The stories of both crossings are almost identical. The elements are that the waters were held back, piled up and stilled so that the people might cross over on dry land. The only way that could have happened was with the presence of God – at the Red Sea depicted by the pillar of fire and could, and at the Jordan by the Ark of the Covenant. The community, the twelve tribes and the individuals in them existed and related one to another only in the grace and mercy extended by God and the outward symbolic acceptance of this was that each tribe represented by an individual was to take a stone from the place where the Levites, who held the Ark, stood – those stones to form an altar of remembrance.

The psalm – a song of thanksgiving – declares that Israel exists only because God is good and that the divine love and mercy will last forever. God’s mercy had sustained the peoples in the wilderness; God’s mercy had provided food, water, healing and a basis of social law by which people might dwell together as a reflection of God’s love.

Paul in his letter to the Thessalonians shows the ideal Christian leadership and communal life as that of family. In last week’s reading Paul extolled the motherly attributes of his apostleship among the believers. This week it is the fatherly attributes. Quite often we witness Paul do this – the motherly acts being a symbol of the “feeling “ aspects of relationship and the fatherly being the instructive or teaching. That teaching aspect reveals an example of how relationship ought to be between leaders and followers or between apostle and convert. Paul and his co-workers had not presented themselves as a burden to the new congregation. Instead they had worked and provided for their own needs while at the same time encouraging the people in seeing and understanding the Gospel. The primary example of this being the relationship they had had in Christ Jesus and then by extension to the believers at Thessalonica.

The passage from Matthew’s encounter between Jesus and the Temple leaders continues now with an address to the disciples and the people. It is an address which at first seems to point out the hypocrisy and lack of integrity on the part of the religious leaders and Temple hierarchy of his day. However, very subtly Jesus’ remarks turn to speak to the readers, pointing out that the behaviour of the scribes and Pharisees has only been an illustration and that the real lesson is aimed at his followers of every generation.

As Jesus recounts the failures of the scribes and Pharisees exposing their lack of integrity, teaching one thing and doing the opposite, he is also addressing the issues concerning right relationships and what leads to the destruction thereof. Note he did not condemn their teaching – in fact he encouraged his listeners to follow their teachings, “do whatever they teach you and follow it.” What he cautioned them against was doing what those teachers were doing because, “they do not practice what they teach.”

And that is so true in every human – even today. We have had great leaders who genuinely have the welfare of the people at heart yet in their own personal lives treat their families with nonchalance or worse. We have been only too aware of religious leaders who have been faithful in their teaching of the gospel but who have fallen in their practice of it.

What the readings point out is that the human condition – greed, pride, desire self gratification and lust are the obstacles that block us from truly loving God and loving neighbour. Humility integrity honesty and transparency are characteristics which are necessary but which are difficult to maintain even in the best of people. Yet that is what Jesus demands of all who would truly be followers, and in that quest we are to help aid and assist one another to acknowledge one divine source of authority and to live as family, brothers and sisters of one parent.