O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity: Grant us the fullness of your grace, that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Collect for 18th Sunday After Pentecost, BCP 1979)
Mercy and pity: they sound like such "soft" words in today's world when we throw around terms like "strength and unity" and "shock and awe" with a kind of triumphal glee. When we think about God showing us God's power, we tend to look to the theatrical, yes? Parting seas works. Smiting foes of "the good" is another one in the top ten. God, active in the world, involves no small degree of pyrotechnics, of large and "IMAX-like" effects. It's almost as if we want God to hire Michael Bay, the famous movie-epic director who is famous for his larger than life, explosive actioners to be in charge of God's public appearances.
Even if we are willing to give up on the idea of a show on the main stage hosted by God in all the glory that heavenly might can muster, we still like to think that God is and should be active in fixing things in this life...and on an appropriate scale. I have had a host of conversations with folks who have given up on the idea of the theatrical appearance noted above; yet they still hold on to the idea that God is and should be active in their interests as they desire. God doesn't have to move mountains, but God should be on the line (and on the hook) when I seek that helping hand.
When either of these expectations fail to materialize, it means we are due for either a rejection of, or rapprochement with, God that usually winds up with us frustrated, confused or (at our worst) willingly dismissive of the Almighty. When God fails to live up to our expectations, we too often choose to see this as God failing us.
And then arrives on our doorstep lessons like these for this coming Sunday. In Numbers, the people of Israel are in grumbling revolt. They left behind slavery, sure...but they also left behind the assurance of leeks, garlic and oil (and the occasional bit of meat) for bland manna. The meal sustains, but fails to induce the kind of satiety that they wish. Moses is beyond his comfort zone, and his ability to manage the affairs of the people in relationship with God. God's response? To call for 70 elders to join Moses in leading...and then to pour out full measures of God's spirit on those anointed...including two that remained in the tents (late, not appropriately purified, etc.). God exceeds the needs of the people...but seems to pass by their desires. The reminder is to open hearts and minds to reality around them....they are on a journey for which the needs of the moment are met in full measure even as guidance is given not to dwell in the past or worry about the future. God says, live in the now and embrace the blessings you have as you continue the journey.
Not easy, but true.
James counsels that the community of faith is founded (not burdened) with those in need of counsel, comfort and support. We are less when we focus on the virtue of success without embracing the call to service.
Not easy, but true.
Finally, Jesus give us two huge platters of humble pie, again reminding the disciples (and by extension US) of the fact that though they are the community of the beloved it is, never was and never will be about the inner circle when it means anyone is excluded. It's better to maim yourself, he says, than to have a hand, eye, or foot cause offense and interfere with those whom we are called to serve being denied that grace-filled gift.
The prayer above praises God, whose chief mode of interacting with creation is to exercise mercy and grace; and it is in praising God for this gift that we are reminded that God's way of being is our call to action, to act in like manner and kind. It's not IMAX....but it is worthy.