Several things are happening at once today:
- Chronicles is again giving us lists, lots and lots of lists. This time, about who is in charge of what in David's court. It's a role call of ancient Israel's civil service, really.
- The Long Psalm draws to a close...with an odd ending.
- We arrive at that little bit in Paul's letter to the Romans that rests at the outskirts of the very marrow of the epistle. Meaning and purpose are being revealed, but at this point only just.
Herein lies my attempt to discern a common theme in today's readings, so hence the title of today's post. First, though, a little story...
I once served a parish alongside a very high-functioning warden from the business world. The parish at the time was going through some rapid change, and expected patterns and relationships between leaders was shifting rapidly. This warden had a solution, one that in his mind would help us to resolve the tensions caused by what was happening: an org chart. He was convinced that if we could just codify and establish who was in charge of what, then all would be well. I understood to some extent his idea, but never having worked in the corporate world I realize now that I lacked the faith in org charts that he expressed. The issue became more complicated when we actually attempted to create the chart. You see, in a rapidly changing, volunteer-focused church environment it turns out that an org chart does not so much direct relationships (as it can in more corporate structures where people are bound contractually by those relationships) as it provides a series of snapshots of what the organization looked like at some point in time. The faster things changed, the more revisions of the org chart were needed, and the more frustrated my warden became. In retrospect, I realize that there was one element we left off our chart that was the controlling factor...the fact that when it comes to Church, God is the one who is in charge. With God in charge, anything can happen...and it usually does.
That doesn't do us much good as human beings struggling for meaning, order and purpose in our lives. We need structures, patterns and predictable relationships from which we can forge reliable responses. When we don't get them, we get very anxious.
The reading from Chronicles is an exhibition of what an org chart might look like in ancient Israel. It recounts who is in charge of what role in the nation's liturgical life. It details which family of which clan is in charge of which gate into the city. It names the people in charge of specific roles that relate to the day-to-day maintenance of the king and his family. It lays it all out for us to see. Great...and yet this is in the wake of David's thwarted attempt to perform a census of Israel. In other words, God determines that you can count on the people around you...but please refrain from counting the people. David is in charge of the functions of the government, God reminds us all that God is in charge of it all.
That is the final plea of the Psalmist. After all this struggle, we arrive at the conclusion of the singer's great love ballad dedicated to the Lord's statutes. Our balladeer praises God for providing order, beseeches God for protection from the people who don't respect that order and laments when those people prevent our singer from doing right by God's Law. It ends with these lines:
Lord, I long for your saving help!God bless the psalmist: 176 lines of text to get to this point...yes, God, you are in charge and like a lost sheep I need you to find me and direct me.
Your instructions are my joy!
Let me live again so I can praise you!
Let your rules help me!
I've wandered off like a sheep, lost.
Find your servant
Because I haven't forgotten
That is the revelatory element that erupts from Chapter 10 in the letter to the Romans that both sets the stage for the next few days and links up our experiences of today's readings and my big question about who is in charge. The answer? God, in Christ...who not only fulfills the Law and thus completes the salvation journey of Israel, but also opens the narrow gate of the kingdom to the whole Gentile world. Again, this is not accomplished by any one human (even Christ himself!) being assigned the role of being in charge. We cannot establish a sustainable order, or ensure a creditable salvation by our own wills. What we can do is recognize that God is the one true source of life, of hope and of Truth (with a capital "t"). Our job is not to accomplish, for that has been done. Christ himself announced at his Passion that, "It is finished." Our job is to proclaim. Paul does just that, and invites us along for the journey at the same time.
Org charts are good things...but if we in the church want to avoid the frustrations my warden and I suffered, we should remember that the very top of any chart we write has to have three letters at the top....