Hosea 11:1-11; Colossians 3:1-11; Luke 12:13-21
To whom do we turn when seeking guidance? Justice? Wisdom? Reassurance or perhaps vindication?
The texts for this week are directional: God laments that though called, beloved and treated with goodness, God’s people move away from God. “My people are bent on turning away from me.” Colossians tells believers to seek things that are above, where Christ is. Get rid of those base actions such as lying and slander and abusive language. Jesus instructs the brother desiring his fair share of the family inheritance: Look to being rich in God, not in things. Turn away from your fixation on possessions and turn instead toward the One who promises to provide you with what you need.
Where do we turn for a sense of security? Ethical and moral guidance? A rule for living? A source of our value and worth? The answers to these questions – consciously or unconsciously –guide our attitudes, choices and actions. In other words, much is at stake in where, and to whom, we turn. The state of our families, congregations, communities and world will reflect which direction we choose.
As mid-August approaches here in Charlottesville, Virginia, our community is planning ways to mark the tragic events of August 2017. Choirs will join together and sing. An interfaith worship service will take place on August 12. Candlelight vigils will bring light to places where darkness attempted to prevail two years ago. Multiple entities, people, groups and institutions, secular, civil and religious, will attempt to turn toward things that are above — in full, painful knowledge of the suffering wrought by malice, abusive language and wrath. But even as many seek to live God’s truth that divisions and enmity between people has been overcome, others remain bent on turning away from the reconciliation and love God desires.
At a recent meeting of faith leaders, we were made aware of avowed white supremacists in our area, people who may or may not come to Charlottesville over the course of those August days. We learned that on the very weekend when many will turn toward the light and attempt to reflect it, others plan “torchlight tours” of Civil War battle fields less than an hour from Charlottesville. Additionally, events in proximity to our community promise to attract members of the League of the South, the Virginia Flaggers, Sons of Confederate Veterans and perhaps National Association for Awakening Confederate Patriots (that’s NAACP, in case you didn’t notice). Our clergy group got this information in order to be vigilant and prepared, reminded that seeking things that are above is not without resistance and risk.
You see, where and to whom we turn matters. Turning toward the God of love who loves us, even when we are hellbent on destruction, strengthens cords of human kindness. Seeking things that are above helps prevent our downward spiral into all kinds of greed: greed manifested not only in hording things, but in oppressing others. Being rich in God – and the divine characteristics such as forgiveness, justice, mercy and love that mark our God – builds not bigger barns, but an infrastructure of genuine relationships and community. Such outward, upward, other-oriented directions represent a countercultural turn that requires strength, practice and a whole lot of support from fellow travelers and the Holy Spirit.
When the world resounds with chants of “send her back,” Christians must remember that we follow the One who rebuked those who refused to welcome the children, care for the stranger, tend to the sick, forgive the sinner, bring home the marginalized or love those deemed “other.” Turning toward all that is holy, looking to the things that are above, being rich in God — none of these marks of a life lived for Christ come easily in a culture bent on malice and all kinds of greed.
One of the white supremacists we were informed about this week was photographed wearing a T-shirt that read: “Believer: He died for me, I live for Him. John 3:16.” This very person posted that those protesting the white supremacists should be killed. This juxtaposition leaves me wondering where to turn. I don’t understand how one could hold these two sentiments together: that God so loved the world that he sent Jesus not to condemn it, but to save it, and also that those advocating for racial justice and reconciliation “need to be put in their graves.” All I know is that Jesus warns against all kinds of greed, that building edifices that separate people and hoard resources is not the gospel answer. All I know is that I and we are to seek those things that are above. That we are called to put away malice and wrath and abusive language. That God does not give up on us even when we turn away from the very cords of human kindness and bands of love being offered to us again and again and again. That when we seek to divide people, money, land or resources, God keeps calling us to unity, sharing and reconciliation.
So, this week I am trying to turn in the direction of Jesus Christ, trying to turn toward the One who calls us to a new self and a new way of being, who has the power to transform even the most corrupt and bent on destruction among us. As disgusted as I am by the actions and attitudes of those promulgating not only abusive language, but abusive acts, I cannot return evil for evil. All of us who claim Christ as our Lord and Savior must seek the things that are above, remember to whom we should turn for strength, courage, security, wisdom, justice and life. We must remember the truth, no matter how difficult it is to see at times, that Christ not only is all, but in all.
This week, and in the weeks ahead, I am praying. I am praying for the people planning to wield torches rather than shine their light. I am praying for those who somehow believe that the gospel justifies racism rather than makes every proud division end. I am praying for all those who inflict violence instead of pursuing human kindness. I am praying, fervently, to turn toward the One whose goodness and mercy follows us all the days of our lives despite our greed, our evil desire, our inexplicable tendency to move away from the very grace that saves us. I would humbly ask for you to pray with me.
- Why do we turn away from God’s love and kindness?
- When have you wanted Jesus to take your side? Offer you vindication?
- Jesus warns against “all kinds of greed.” How is greed evident in your life? Our culture? The church?
- Looking at the list in Colossians of things we are to put away, which of these do you most need to jettison?
- How do we “build barns”? What do we store in them? What do we hope to gain by building these bigger and bigger barns? What do we lose when we give into this temptation?
- Where do you turn for guidance? Is it where you should be turning?
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