The Least, First

Monte Asbury's blog

How odd the Bible is. (readings for Sunday, October 11)

with 3 comments

The oddness of the Bible—its miles-away foreign-ness—is, perhaps, too little allowed. Take this week’s batch of it:

Isaiah gives us a thrilling hymn of the end of tyranny and want. Perfect!  But he begins it in a destroyed city.

Psalm Scroll of the Dead Sea Scrolls

Psalm Scroll of the Dead Sea Scrolls

Jesus invents a story of a king who can’t get invited guests to show up at his son’s wedding—finally replacing them with homeless and helpless folk—quite a wonderful tale!  And then he tosses a guy who isn’t dressed right.  But wait – how could any of his lately-discovered guests be dressed right?  And isn’t it a little caddish to get so put out about it?

Why?  Save it, preacher:  Don’t give me that this means this and this means this. These stories are nearly impenetrable, and we fail the task of adequately communicating them if we make them simple: Jesus did not.

Impenetrable—but not completely so.  The process of spilling all their odd parts onto the table before me and wondering, “What on earth?” is among the richest pleasures of life.  And it is there amidst that strange mess that God defies expectations and reveals himself, refusing to yield mere information, but speaking in a way more wonderful.

What will we find here? Not much, if we simplify.  Moralisms.

But if we let it stand with all its oddnesses, and let the oddnesses themselves become the clues?

Well, in that case, who can say?

Proper 23 A: October 11, 2008

Exodus 32:1-14 or Isaiah 25:1-9; Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23 or Psalm 23; Philippians 4:1-9; Matthew 22:1-14

Isaiah 25: God’s Hand Rests on This Mountain

1-5 God, you are my God. I celebrate you. I praise you.
You’ve done your share of miracle-wonders,
well-thought-out plans, solid and sure.
Here you’ve reduced the city to rubble,
the strong city to a pile of stones.
The enemy Big City is a non-city,
never to be a city again.
Superpowers will see it and honor you,
brutal oppressors bow in worshipful reverence.
They’ll see that you take care of the poor,
that you take care of poor people in trouble,
Provide a warm, dry place in bad weather,
provide a cool place when it’s hot.
Brutal oppressors are like a winter blizzard
and vicious foreigners like high noon in the desert.
But you, shelter from the storm and shade from the sun,
shut the mouths of the big-mouthed bullies.

6-8But here on this mountain, God-of-the-Angel-Armies
will throw a feast for all the people of the world,
A feast of the finest foods, a feast with vintage wines,
a feast of seven courses, a feast lavish with gourmet desserts.
And here on this mountain, God will banish
the pall of doom hanging over all peoples,
The shadow of doom darkening all nations.
Yes, he’ll banish death forever.
And God will wipe the tears from every face.
He’ll remove every sign of disgrace
From his people, wherever they are.
Yes! God says so!

9-10Also at that time, people will say,
“Look at what’s happened! This is our God!
We waited for him and he showed up and saved us!
This God, the one we waited for!
Let’s celebrate, sing the joys of his salvation.
God’s hand rests on this mountain!”

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Psalm 23: A David Psalm

1-3 God, my shepherd! I don’t need a thing.
You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
you find me quiet pools to drink from.
True to your word,
you let me catch my breath
and send me in the right direction.

4 Even when the way goes through
Death Valley,
I’m not afraid
when you walk at my side.
Your trusty shepherd’s crook
makes me feel secure.

5 You serve me a six-course dinner
right in front of my enemies.
You revive my drooping head;
my cup brims with blessing.

6 Your beauty and love chase after me
every day of my life.
I’m back home in the house of God
for the rest of my life.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Philippians 4

1 My dear, dear friends! I love you so much. I do want the very best for you. You make me feel such joy, fill me with such pride. Don’t waver. Stay on track, steady in God.

Pray About Everything

2I urge Euodia and Syntyche to iron out their differences and make up. God doesn’t want his children holding grudges.

3And, oh, yes, Syzygus, since you’re right there to help them work things out, do your best with them. These women worked for the Message hand in hand with Clement and me, and with the other veterans-worked as hard as any of us. Remember, their names are also in the Book of Life.

4-5Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them. Help them see that the Master is about to arrive. He could show up any minute!

6-7Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.

8-9Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious-the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Matthew 22: The Story of the Wedding Banquet

1-3 Jesus responded by telling still more stories. “God’s kingdom,” he said, “is like a king who threw a wedding banquet for his son. He sent out servants to call in all the invited guests. And they wouldn’t come!

4″He sent out another round of servants, instructing them to tell the guests, ‘Look, everything is on the table, the prime rib is ready for carving. Come to the feast!’

5-7″They only shrugged their shoulders and went off, one to weed his garden, another to work in his shop. The rest, with nothing better to do, beat up on the messengers and then killed them. The king was outraged and sent his soldiers to destroy those thugs and level their city.

8-10″Then he told his servants, ‘We have a wedding banquet all prepared but no guests. The ones I invited weren’t up to it. Go out into the busiest intersections in town and invite anyone you find to the banquet.’ The servants went out on the streets and rounded up everyone they laid eyes on, good and bad, regardless. And so the banquet was on-every place filled.

11-13″When the king entered and looked over the scene, he spotted a man who wasn’t properly dressed. He said to him, ‘Friend, how dare you come in here looking like that!’ The man was speechless. Then the king told his servants, ‘Get him out of here-fast. Tie him up and ship him to hell. And make sure he doesn’t get back in.’

14″That’s what I mean when I say, ‘Many get invited; only a few make it.'”

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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Written by Monte

October 6, 2008 at 11:31 pm

3 Responses

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  1. Thanks, Joe! I suspect that our over-simplification is the tool by which we make the Bible comfortable. One could go so far as to wonder if systematic theology is an official over-simplification. For it seems to me we are much more content using the Bible as a collection of stories and maxims that illustrate our theological views than we are letting the Bible say what it says.

    Monte

    October 10, 2008 at 12:34 pm

  2. Great post, Monte. I’m often astounded at our endless capacity for, and insistence on, EPIC over-simplification.

    We do this with the bible, we do it with political issues, with interpersonal relationships, with work-performance, expectations, etc. etc. etc.

    I wonder – is our ability to over-simplify potentially tied to the very thing which makes us such clever little monkeys: our capacity for abstract thought. Abstractions allow us to take something completely intractable, perform a structured decomposition into basic components, and make those components concrete and (overly-)simple. I’ll bet there are all sorts of great papers on that if I had time to look right now. Of course, by the time I have time, I’ll be distracted by something shiny… ;-)>

    Your blog has been a blessing to me, Monte. Thanks.

    Joe Hayes

    October 8, 2008 at 11:38 am

  3. M,
    Each time I risk leaving the pat answers behind and allow another ‘oddness’ to stand, the scriptures seem new again. And I sense the distance is less between He and me. So now I am thinking, why was he so put out about the clothes/dress? Hummm…

    Monte Says: Uh-huh. I hope I can figure that out!

    sharon

    October 8, 2008 at 1:09 am


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