God, Far and Near
Over and over again, God's people failed God. But time and time again, God did not fail the people. No matter what they did, what trouble they got themselves into, how many times they turned away from God, did what God asked them not to do, followed other gods -- despite all of that, God seems to have a soft spot for God's people. God never stops loving, never stops being present, never abandons people.
Once, while I was doing some intense personal growth work, I was asked to make a timeline of my life -- the highs and lows, the significant events, celebrations and losses. Then I was asked to place upon the timeline an overlay of when I felt closest to God and when I felt the most distant. Not surprisingly, the times when I was self-absorbed, doing my own thing, and suffering consequences for my bad behaviors, I felt the farthest from God. But the times when I stopped thinking of myself first were the times I felt closest to God. The high and low events themselves didn't seem to be the marker of closeness or distance. Sometimes I felt close to God when I was experiencing a terrible loss. Other times I felt distant when I was making a lot of money. It wasn't the external things that dictated my relationship with God -- it was my own focus on myself and my gains, or on God and on others that seemed to make the most difference.
Through it all, God never left the scene entirely. And during the periods of distance, I always came back around to a closeness with God. No matter what I did, God was always there for me when I was ready to come back to God.
Narrative Lectionary Text: Psalm 106
Praise the Lord!
O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures for ever.
Who can utter the mighty doings of the Lord,
or declare all his praise?
Happy are those who observe justice,
who do righteousness at all times.
Remember me, O Lord, when you show favour to your people;
help me when you deliver them;
that I may see the prosperity of your chosen ones,
that I may rejoice in the gladness of your nation,
that I may glory in your heritage.
Both we and our ancestors have sinned;
we have committed iniquity, have done wickedly.
Our ancestors, when they were in Egypt,
did not consider your wonderful works;
they did not remember the abundance of your steadfast love,
but rebelled against the Most High at the Red Sea.
Yet he saved them for his name’s sake,
so that he might make known his mighty power.
He rebuked the Red Sea, and it became dry;
he led them through the deep as through a desert.
So he saved them from the hand of the foe,
and delivered them from the hand of the enemy.
The waters covered their adversaries;
not one of them was left.
Then they believed his words;
they sang his praise.
But they soon forgot his works;
they did not wait for his counsel.
But they had a wanton craving in the wilderness,
and put God to the test in the desert;
he gave them what they asked,
but sent a wasting disease among them.
They were jealous of Moses in the camp,
and of Aaron, the holy one of the Lord.
The earth opened and swallowed up Dathan,
and covered the faction of Abiram.
Fire also broke out in their company;
the flame burned up the wicked.
They made a calf at Horeb
and worshipped a cast image.
They exchanged the glory of God
for the image of an ox that eats grass.
They forgot God, their Saviour,
who had done great things in Egypt,
wondrous works in the land of Ham,
and awesome deeds by the Red Sea.
Therefore he said he would destroy them—
had not Moses, his chosen one,
stood in the breach before him,
to turn away his wrath from destroying them.
Then they despised the pleasant land,
having no faith in his promise.
They grumbled in their tents,
and did not obey the voice of the Lord.
Therefore he raised his hand and swore to them
that he would make them fall in the wilderness,
and would disperse their descendants among the nations,
scattering them over the lands.
Then they attached themselves to the Baal of Peor,
and ate sacrifices offered to the dead;
they provoked the Lord to anger with their deeds,
and a plague broke out among them.
Then Phinehas stood up and interceded,
and the plague was stopped.
And that has been reckoned to him as righteousness
from generation to generation for ever.
They angered the Lord at the waters of Meribah,
and it went ill with Moses on their account;
for they made his spirit bitter,
and he spoke words that were rash.
They did not destroy the peoples
as the Lord commanded them,
but they mingled with the nations
and learned to do as they did.
They served their idols,
which became a snare to them.
They sacrificed their sons
and their daughters to the demons;
they poured out innocent blood,
the blood of their sons and daughters,
whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan;
and the land was polluted with blood.
Thus they became unclean by their acts,
and prostituted themselves in their doings.
Then the anger of the Lord was kindled against his people,
and he abhorred his heritage;
he gave them into the hand of the nations,
so that those who hated them ruled over them.
Their enemies oppressed them,
and they were brought into subjection under their power.
Many times he delivered them,
but they were rebellious in their purposes,
and were brought low through their iniquity.
Nevertheless, he regarded their distress
when he heard their cry.
For their sake he remembered his covenant,
and showed compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love.
He caused them to be pitied
by all who held them captive.
Save us, O Lord our God,
and gather us from among the nations,
that we may give thanks to your holy name
and glory in your praise.
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
from everlasting to everlasting.
And let all the people say, ‘Amen.’
Praise the Lord!