I am sometimes confused.
At a restaurant with my husband, the waiter stopped to check on us mid-meal. “Is everything excellent?” he asked. We looked at him quizzically. Was “excellent” our only option? What happened to “good” or “fine?”
Once upon a time, kneeling was a sign of humility or worship, as when proposing marriage or receiving a blessing. When did “taking a knee” become a sign of defiance?
How are we to think about the way our elected leaders speak to and of one another? I can’t always tell if the confrontative language spoken between them is a sign of honest passion, or of callous disdain.
Wildfires in Northern California forced people to make split second decisions before fleeing for their lives. What to take with them? Car keys? Passports? Pets? Nothing? How does one choose when the flames are, literally, licking at your heels?
Though the lectionary texts we engage each Sunday are part of a three-year cycle designed decades ago, there is often an eerie connection between them and the issues we face. This week? Confusion about options, needing to choose, being chosen.
Isaiah introduces us to Cyrus, a powerful Persian (translated: not Jewish) ruler in the 6th century BCE whom God chose to free Israel from exile. (Isaiah 45.1-7) God named Cyrus “anointed,” and gave him power to strip kings of their robes, mountains of their peaks, the wealthy of their treasures. To the people of Israel, Cyrus would have seemed just one more foreign dictator. How could they have known that God chose Cyrus to do God’s work in their lives? He looked neither “anointed” nor even friendly.
Paul writes to a small church in Thessaloniki, isolated from other Christian communities by geography, and under siege from pagan neighbors. (1 Thessalonians 1.1-10) They faced enormous political and religious pressure to conform or recant. Paul instructed them to choose a way of life, just as God chose them. “Imitate us. Imitate Jesus.”
The political tension in Sunday’s gospel is unmistakable. (Matthew 22.15-22) Jesus’ enemies banded together to confront him about his true allegiance. “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not?” It was a simple question with a simple “yes” or “no” answer. But Jesus smelled their scheme and asked them a simple question in return. “Whose image is inscribed on the coin for the tax?” The answer was obvious. “Why, the emperor’s, of course!”
Suddenly, they faced a choice. They believed the emperor was a god. Jesus claimed to be the manifestation of the only God. Whom to serve? Whom to trust? What’s the right answer?
Please join us Sunday morning for Sunday Forum, during which James Nieman will further unwrap the gift of Luther’s understanding of “Vocation in Daily Work.” Our Sunday School children will sing and study at 9:30 a.m. During Worship, in addition to tackling tough texts, we welcome Annabelle Forte to the table for her First Communion. Before she communes, she will serve as one of our readers, bringing the Word of God to us in her clear, calm eight-year-old’s voice.
Though we are often confused about how to think, how to speak, whom to trust, Annabelle is not confused at all. She knows she is deeply loved and protected by her family. She knows our congregation to be a safe and welcoming place. She knows that in receiving Jesus’ body and blood, she receives love and forgiveness and strength far beyond her own. She knows she doesn’t have to choose, because she’s already been chosen.
In a world of false choices and confusing voices, we can live with less than “excellent.” We will always “take a knee” before God whom we love and serve. Our words will be of forgiveness and hope. The gifts we treasure most are those that no fire can destroy.
Not really all that confused,
Pastor JoAnn Post