Friday, May 10, 2013

The Challenge Continues, Day 124: I Kings 16-18; Psalm 103; Acts 18

The Art of Persuasion
The deeper I journey into the Bible via this Challenge, the more I am aware of (and persuaded by) the deep desire of God to be in relationship with humanity, and of humanity's innate ability to create dissonance in its relationship to God and with itself. Just when things are flowing well in one quarter of the story of our lives, in another part of our selves rebellion, sin, conflict and contention are brewing. It provides a significant quotient of the drama in scripture. Most of the conflicts we are reading about now in the first book of Kings offer fabulous examples of just how hinky life can get when we turn from God's will and (by the judgment of scripture), embrace ways that deprive us of the persuasion that it is God alone who makes, sustains and saves us in this life.

A little test of faith, Elijah versus the prophets of Baal
Right now, we are embroiled in a succession of rulers in Israel, with each one somehow finding ability to sin more profoundly and expansively than his predecessor. No small feat, each succeeding monarch outdoes the monarch he (usually) usurps in doing evil in the site of the Lord. They commit depredations against the people of Israel. They follow other gods and erect temples, high places and enable practices that not only offer testimony and evidence of their own apostasy...those practices encourage apostasy amongst the people of Israel. What a mess.

The widow of Zarephath, her son and the Prophet
Into this mess comes a singular man of God, Elijah. He makes his debut in today's readings, and his opposition to the Israelite king Ahab and his Baal-worshipping wife Jezebel is about to become an epic conflict that will alter the face of the nation and challenge the fiber of its being. Against a backdrop of famine and conflicts between competing factions of the prophets of God and the Baals, Elijah continues to present actions, teachings and prophecies that certainly persuade us that God wants Israel to repent; but seem only to continually infuriate the king and his wife. I wonder at the provocative ways that the prophet makes use of in his work to undermine the sinfulness of Israel, while reminding them that God is real, present and active in judgment--calling them back to righteousness in the face of their sin.

Priscilla and Aquila tutor Apollos
Paul offers no less an effective witness...and we see how much that art of persuasion is active today in our reading from Acts. He is able, amongst Greek-speakers, to use their love of rhetoric (and persuasion) to offer arguments that draw many to Christ. So powerful is his persuasion, this chapter illustrates that his preaching and God's Spirit are communicable in the most positive sense of the world. Aquila and Priscilla begin as his students, and then succeed him as teachers, correcting and maturing Apollos as a fellow apostle. They become persuaders of a persuader. Fantastic!

For us, reading the scriptures, we are embracing a model of persuasion that has persisted throughout human history, embracing the testimony of our ancestors and absorbing those experiences so that we might seek and know God more fully in the here and now. Our challenge is to take those experiences, use them as a lens by which to see God at work in our lives today; and then offer our own witness to God's grace and glory working in us "more than we can ask or imagine" in order that others will be persuaded that God is truly present, and is active, in the world.

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