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I can’t change without God

by davesandel on August 9th, 2021

Monday, August 9, 2021                                (today’s lectionary)

I can’t change without God

Go to the sea, drop in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up. Open its mouth and you will find a coin worth twice the temple tax. Give that to them for me and for you.

I had salmon head soup for lunch yesterday. Leftovers … the eyeball was long gone, but the sweet salmon meat and potatoes, laced with cream and dill and eaten with buttered bread, was very tasty. The fish-rich diet of Jesus and his disciples must have been very healthy. And of course the sea provided fodder for jokes and parables and sarcasm when Jesus needed them.

And now, Israel, what does the Lord, your God ask of you but to fear the Lord, your God, and follow his ways exactly, to love and serve the Lord, your God, with all your heart and all your soul?

At church our teacher Jeremiah quoted his fellow prophet Isaiah, who said the Lord’s word never returns empty. Our point of view is so limited. Thomas Merton said when a created being encounters its creator, the created one tends to question him. Is this Guy really bigger than me? When God said, “My ways are higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts,” he knew we would have trouble understanding that. Really, God? I feel like I can understand anything.

Think! The heavens, even the highest heavens, belong to the Lord, your God, as well as the earth and everything on it. Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and be no longer stiff-necked. For the Lord, your God, is the God of gods.

Jeremiah also said Sunday, “Never stand between a hard heart and their rock bottom.” God is a master at getting out of the way, just in time for me to fall flat and finally turn back to God, who made me. That sickening crashing crunch must be exactly what I need. But how painful is that, both for me and my friend, who would rescue me if he could? There is a higher justice (and mercy) here than comfort or rescue. Rich Mullins sang about it, not long before he was killed in that awful crazy moment in September 1997, beside a late-night highway north of Peoria, Illinois.

There’s a loyalty that’s deeper than mere sentiment

And a music higher than the songs that I can sing

The stuff of Earth competes for the allegiance

I owe only to the Giver of all good things …

So if I stand let me stand on the promise that you will pull me through

And if I can’t, let me fall on the grace that first brought me to you.

We watched a couple episodes of The Chosen this weekend. Jesus weaves his way through the crowds to the Pool of Bethesda, where he kneels beside one particular crippled man and asks him, thirty minutes before the end of Sabbath, “Do you want to be healed?”

The Lord has no favorites and accepts no bribes, but he executes justice for the orphan and the widow. He befriends the alien, feeding and clothing him. So too, you must befriend him, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.

The man’s been crippled forty years, and Matthew asks Jesus, “Why not wait thirty minutes to talk with him and avoid the censure of the Pharisees?” There’s no hurry now. Jesus looks at the sky and says, “Sometimes it’s just good to shake things up.”

Jeremiah asked that question Sunday. “Do you want to be healed?” Because if you don’t, you won’t be. “We can’t change without God, but God won’t do it without us.”

Of course I want to be healed, not just in my body but in my heart. I climb up on the altar, and then slither down again. In Christian language, I am “fallen.” I cannot get back up on my own. I start to stand, and then sit back down again. I am double minded, and I can’t change without God.

Hold fast to him, and swear by his name. He is your glory, he, your God, who has done for you these great and terrible things which your own eyes have seen. Your ancestors went down to Egypt seventy strong, and now the Lord, your God, has made you as numerous as the stars of the sky.

(Deuteronomy 10, Psalm 147, 2 Thessalonians 2, Matthew 17)

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