Friday, June 07, 2013

The Challenge Continues, Day 152: II Chron 7-9; Psalm 123; Romans 14

Scripting Community
Solomon and Paul each go to a lot of trouble in their own way to provide a script for what community will look like as they seek to lead people into a deeper walk with God. It is something we all do, to one extent or another. Scripting can set a positive tone for a community, and a good leader with support from the people is able to provide just enough direction so that the rest of the community members can find a way to contribute and thus subscribe to that vision that forms and sustains folk as they make their way in life. Scripting can also be toxic for community, for when a challenged (or compromised) leader without support from the people attempts to provide direction, well, what happens is not good: conflict at best, really; and conflagration as a result, from time to time.

I am not suggesting that a leader's effort to provide a script, a set of governing principle, directions and actions to a community, is a bad thing-or, for that matter, a good thing. It is just the way we are wired as humans. We need a vision, and that vision needs to be forged in such a way as to proscribe our behaviors just enough so that we can get along with each other without too much drama, pain or sense of loss. The "bad thing" comes when competing visions, and people, vie with each other for control. That eventuality leads to real, painful conflict and loss...and in that sort of conflict, someone always loses.

Solomon overcomes that challenge by putting his God-given wisdom to work: he offers a vision to the people of a Temple wherein God is fully present to the people. God is more than just an idea, an abstract. God is present, and we can visit God's place, worship and commune with others who are worshiping on a regular and continual basis. So, according to Solomon's script: God sits, literally, at the center of society; the King and his officers support the priests who administer to God; the people support the King; the subject peoples are indentured to the people supporting the King; even the other nations commit to support the vision, the script, Solomon has articulated. God is to be the center of our way-making. All well and good, and God, it turns out, is pleased. At least, that is the impression of the arc of today's lessons; and II Chronicles would have us accept that Solomon's whole lie and reign were devoted to this goal. Except for this little coda at the end of chapter 9, where God reminds Solomon (and us) that making God the center is great; but we need to keep God as the center of our being now and forever. If we depart (rather, when we depart from holding God at the center), then bad things will happen.

We do depart...and bad things do happen. Even the best scripts crafted by human hands usually prove a bit too hard to sustain forever. Really.

And so, our struggle to find a way to script community with each other and with God finds its way to Romans 14: Paul now makes an effort to tender a way for us to find community...and it must be a community  in diversity. For Paul's community script to succeed, Jew and Gentile must be able to sit together and share the Lord's Supper. Roman citizen and subjected population must have a place to gather beyond the overshadowing divisions placed between them by the engine of Empire. The certain, and the doubting, must be able to keep communion. It all has to make some degree of sense.

That seems an indomitable task, and yet Paul to some degree pulls it off, and all with a simple request: don't judge. Don't judge between those who eat and those who don't. Don't judge between those who keep one code and those who observe another. What matters is not practice, but faith. What matters is not the making of distinctions, but the willingness to find commonality in the person of Jesus Christ. Paul points to a way of making community that is forged in honest consensus around the concept that the only truth in this world belongs to God and that God chooses to manifest that truth in the mercy of new life given to us in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. How utterly simple, and how simply overwhelming.

Our challenge is to be willing to suspend judgment, allowing God to sort us, and others, out with the goal of forging community within a script that God provides. That script requires continual discernment and prayer, and an ongoing willingness to admit that we are not the ones in control of what life will look like. We can only be willing partners with each other and with God if we hope to see a sustainable kingdom of new life come to pass.

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