Posts Tagged guilt

Where’s the Joy?

My favorite hymn is, “Ode to Joy,” from Beethoven’s 9th. Symphony. Our Sanctuary Choir does it beautifully so does The Mormon Tabernacle Choir and a host of others. What follows in the sermon in churches and in television sermons is not joy. Unless you tune in to Rev. Susan Sparks at Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City at 11:a.m. on Sundays. What usually follows is an indictment of the faithful for not being good enough, for missing the mark, for being less than holy. Let’s face it, the unfaithful are not there, not tuned in, not listening. Why do the faithful need a guilt trip?

In Jesus’s parable about the prodigal son’s return, there was no lecture from his father on what a terrible son he had been to waste all of his inheritance. Instead there was a lavish party welcoming him home. When the widow who had ten coins. but lost one and found it after diligently searching for it, ”she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ Matthew 15:9 (NIV)

Jesus tells us to leave the 99 sheep that are safe and go rescue the one that is lost. “And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ What does that sound like? It sounds like rejoicing. “Restore unto me the JOY of thy salvation….” Psalm 51:12 (NIV)

“Rejoice in the Lord Always. Again I say rejoice.” Philippians 4:4 (NIV) Yes, I know a pandemic is taking place. Yes, I know there are race riots. Yes I know the economy is falling apart. How are these calamities any different than those in the rest of human history? When was there not an epidemic of some sort? When was there not a war? When was there not an economic crisis someplace in the world? Were we Christians not made for such a time as this?

We need an encouraging word, a cheerful word. We are not helpless pawns. God has given us everything we need to weather any storm that comes our way. We have not been left without resources. We have family, friends, and neighbors. We have brains, hearts and muscles. My neighbor mows my lawn. My friend takes me to the pharmacy and a delivery person brings my groceries. My daughter calls me every day and so does my sister. My son helps with things I need to get done. Another friend and I go out to lunch when we can find a place that is open. I have a healthy collection of male friends with whom I solve the problems of the world at least for an hour or two once each week. I go to Sunday school on a conference call. I even teach once in a while. Class members have become family. We check up on each other.  I go to worship services on the internet and I mail my offering to my bricks and mortar church building. I donate to the food bank.

We were not given spirits of fear. Fear breeds discontent and hate. Fear looks for a scapegoat. No one, no organization and no political party is responsible for our current situation. Our question should be, what can I do to be helpful? We all know that we should wear a face mask in public. We should practice social distancing and we should avoid large crowds. Why? Because these are the right things to do. These measures are not for ourselves, but for the protection of others. If you need a Biblical reason, listen to the words of Jesus, “…, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. “ Matthew 25:40 (NIV) or perhaps try St. Paul, “I have the right to do anything,’ you say–but not everything is beneficial.” 1 Corinthians 10:23 (NIV)

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Does God Play Favorites? Rev., Dr. Molly Marshall* –

We hear quite a bit about survivors’ guilt these days. A neighbor’s house has a tree through the roof, while yours was spared. A soldier walks behind another; the one in the lead steps on a landmine, and the follower does not suffer loss of limbs. The hurricane skirts your hometown, and the adjoining county is hard hit. The rains come in due season to your land; not too far away drought is ravaging crops. Because you were born a Buddhist in Myanmar, you do not suffer the degradation of the Rohingya people.

Survivors may be grateful for the good fortune they experienced, but they are wise to consider at what cost to others. It is hard not to construct a “spared for a reason” narrative; however, it diminishes a sense of divine providence for those not spared. Even more horrific is the disregard for the value of lives of a different ethnicity. Survivors’ guilt is to be preferred over callous indifference, yet the sense of being specially “blessed” by God may lead to presumption.

On Sunday, the lesson from the Hebrew Bible was the story of Israel crossing the Red Sea with the army of Egypt in hot pursuit. Written obviously from the perspective of the liberated, the story is grisly in detailing how the Lord fought against Egypt on behalf of Israel. God instructs Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, so that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and chariot drivers” (Exodus 14:26). Moses follows this directive, and the entire army is drowned. Not one of them remained.

The rabbis have long struggled with this text. God’s preservation of the people of covenant seems to have blood cost. Their further travel through the wilderness brings them to the land of promise, which is already occupied, a major inconvenience for both Canaanites and Israelites. More violence will ensue.

Codifying this narrative of election in Scripture then extended to Christians, many of whom became supersessionist, i.e., arguing that now their election in Christ eclipsed the Jews. Even when the humbler Christian approach acknowledged that they have been grafted into God’s enduring covenant with Israel, this claim still argues for a preferential treatment that elevates this Judeo-Christian trajectory over against all the rest of the world’s people.

Doctrines of election are a delicate matter, and it is hard to understand God’s love of the whole world through the lens of particularity that the Exodus story reveals. Does divine favoritism not make it hard for outsiders to find their place in the story of liberation? Christians have always argued that the purpose of the Abrahamic tradition of covenant was to bless the nations, as well as the historic people of God.

Some rabbis have suggested that the covenant with Israel was an experiment in divine-human intimacy. Would a people trust the Holy One enough to follow instruction and live in faithful patterns of worship and justice? Could Israel’s experience of Exodus become paradigmatic of God’s salvific purpose for all?

As we struggled with this text in my Sunday school class, an older man posed this question: “So who are God’s people?” I responded, “Everyone.” The follow-up question in my mind was, “When life is so hard, how do they know God is for them, that they are God’s own?”

This is where survivors come in, it seems to me. Those who are spared must not simply rejoice in their seeming “chosenness,” but must use every resource to alleviate the suffering of others.  Guilt may not be the best source of motivation, but if it spurs compassion, it is constructive.

Christians believe that we come to know God’s favor through Christ and that he is the key to what God is doing throughout the world. What if the means through which God favors the suffering comes through those who already know of the expanse of God’s election in him? As Kathryn Tanner writes, through Christ “God gives the world God’s very own life” and saves us by establishing “the closest possible relationship with us.” The divine favor resting upon Jesus is a gift for the whole world.

Just as blaming God for every cataclysmic event founders, so does expecting God to provide miraculously all the means of recovery. God always uses humanity in the redemptive project, and the only privilege Christians have is their responsibility for acting in the name of the one they have come to know in Jesus Christ.

This approach does not require triumphalistic swagger or a certitude that quashes other perceptions of truth. Rather, it requires the humility of those called to participate with God in bringing this world to its true end. There is so much healing work to be done, and it is urgent.

*Dr. Marshall spoke at the Hamrick Lectures at First Baptist Church of Charleston. She is a trusted guide.



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