Thursday, October 21, 2010

Whale of a tale

A long time ago, Jonah didn't want to go to Nineveh. The Lord said, "Jonah, I need you to go to Nineveh and tell them that they're screwing up and if they don't change, I'll smite them."
"But Lord, they're mean and nasty and smelly and dirty and I don't wanna go to Nineveh. Send someone else!"
"I don't want someone else, I want you. Go."
"No. I'm going to go somewhere else. Anywhere else."
"Jonah, see this whale? Let's find out how you like seeing the inside of this whale."
Three days later: "Fine. I'll go to Nineveh. But I'm not going to like it. I'm going to complain about it the rest of my life!"

Even though there aren't currently great big fish involved, I don't want to go to Nineveh.

There's a place I'm comfortable, where I know the people and what is expected of me. I like what I'm doing, who I'm doing it with, my friends and family. My life may not be the best, but I know what it is and I have a plan for where it is going. Things are on track, there is a goal.

And from the quiet shadows, something will present itself. God whispers our names, quietly calling us to serve Him as I pledge/d to do. I'll ignore it, for a time, because I don't want to move, because I am safe and comfortable. Maybe if I ignore the call, it will go away and I won't have to do anything. Maybe the next call will come at a more convenient time, or when I'm ready to move on, or when I have money or time or support.

Eventually, if I don't accede gracefully to what I know I am supposed to be doing, I will get smacked upside the head with a metaphorical clue-bat, because while He has infinite patience and time, I don't, nor does the need I'm supposed to be working with. (Hopefully, God won't need to graduate to Whale to get my attention.)

It's cold outside, and there are people who aren't like me, who want things from me. Why can't I stay here? I have limited resources, can't I use them somewhere else? There's a need here that I could work on instead and it wouldn't require stretching very far.

God requires many things from us, including growth and trust and doing what He asks. Those aren't fun a lot of the time. I don't like walking out of my safe space, but I am reminded that I am not walking alone. There are others also on the journey...and even if it seems like I'm the only one in the world being asked to do this very hard thing, being a Christian means that I'm not really alone, that I can reach out my hand and be met by God. I'm not doing this by myself.

"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of Death,
I will fear no evil
For thou art with me,
Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me."

It is far better to go along with what God calls us to do, joyfully and with thanksgiving. Jonah dies an angry and bitter man, still upset about having to go to Nineveh, and that his project for God succeeded, the city he hates so much is still standing. But I certainly understand the impulse to cry out, complain, to walk every direction away from that call. To be stubborn in the face of what is right, because it's not what is comfortable, it's not what I want to be doing.

I still don't want to go to Nineveh, damn it.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Right of Redemption

Real Estate. The more it changes, the more it stays the same.

Recently, the Old Testement reading was from the Book of Jeremiah, in the 16th chapter (editing for length):

Jeremiah said, The word of the LORD came to me: Hanamel son of your uncle Shallum is going to come to you and say, "Buy my field that is at Anathoth, for the right of redemption by purchase is yours." Then my cousin Hanamel came to me in the court of the guard, in accordance with the word of the LORD, and said to me, "Buy my field that is at Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, for the right of possession and redemption is yours; buy it for yourself." Then I knew that this was the word of the LORD.

And I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel, and weighed out the money to him, seventeen shekels of silver. I signed the deed, sealed it, got witnesses, and weighed the money on scales. Then I took the sealed deed of purchase, containing the terms and conditions, and the open copy; and I gave the deed of purchase to Baruch son of Neriah son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel, in the presence of the witnesses who signed the deed of purchase, and in the presence of all the Judeans who were sitting in the court of the guard. In their presence I charged Baruch, saying, Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time. For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.

In many ways, this passage is a record of early Jewish Real Estate practices, and other than the direct Word of the Lord and His involvement in the affair, much of it still works this way.

Jeremiah is sitting imprisoned in the Court of the Guard in Jerusalem, besieged city just prior to it's destruction and the exile. Needless to say, the real estate market isn't doing too well in Israel and Judea right now...nor is farming particularly profitable. At some point or another, Jeremiah or (from the phrasing) his father "sold" Hanamel or Shallum a field, in Ananoth, a contract for eventual deed. Hanamel can't make the payments, and so is coming to Jeremiah and saying - "Buy it from me, for yourself, as you have the right to do because technically, it's still yours...but pay me back what I've paid you over the years in exchange." Jeremiah says, "Sure, why not?"

A lot of people are giving things back to the bank these days, trading in their possession of the deed and home in lieu of a foreclosure. The difference being that Jeremiah wants to own the land (or at least doesn't mind it), while a modern lending institution isn't in the business of possessing residential or agricultural real estate, they're a third party.  They won't pay you back what you've paid them. (God has a right of redemption, too. Pre-paid.) 

Then look at the account of closing. He gets his money together, with witnesses and the deed. He signs the deed, seals it, pays his cousin. Both the sealed deed and the unsigned copy so that the terms are clear, are given to Baruch, so that a record may be kept for a long time.

These days, we send you to the bank to get a cashier's check, then to the title company to sign the deed, pay the seller, and the closer witnesses, signs, and seals the deed. Then, after you go home with an open, unsigned copy so that you know what the terms are, the title company sends the sealed version (in triplicate) to the Recorder of Deeds, so that the record of sale is known and will last for a long time.

For the people of Jeremiah's day, they thought he was nuts. Why would you pay good money for something that has no value? The real estate market had frozen, mostly due to an invading army. Why sell when no one can buy? Why buy, when things were so uncertain?

Our God is a God of Hope (as well as trial, suffering, sacrifice, and love). It gets better. He never said life would be easy. He said He'd be a wall, guarding your back, there to lean on. We will survive the invading army of despair, apathy, hopelessness, intolerance, fear. And we will survive to reclaim ourselves and our lives and our livelihoods from the powers of darkness.

"For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land."

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Blue Police Box

There are no limits to God's love.

Infinity is a hard concept. God made it all, everything. He loves it all. He's there with it, in it, all things created and made by Him and in Him.

I discovered this morning that you can stream the new Dr. Who seasons from Netflix. This was the cause of much rejoicing. Between catching up on the episodes I missed because I was busy having a life, and a comment from elsewhere about the size of a man's soul, I started some thinking.

Christ, being both God and Man, is sort of like a TARDIS. He's much, much bigger on the inside than on the outside. There's no limit to the room inside his regard, his heart, his love...all within a mortal envelope like our own. It's a pretty small package to fold God into, but God manages. It keeps leaking out the edges, that divinity, causing miracles to occur around a human man in rural Palestine.

We keep trying to put human limitations on God, on His power and love and wisdom. It's kinda like a companion, being told that a 1960s police box really is a space/time traveling device, believing it, but still seeing only the meter square blue cube. Really, if we truly believe in an omniscient, omnipotent, and infinitely compassionate God (and I do), and walk with Him and in Him, we're inside that fantastical police box, where all things are possible.

It's a scary concept, to open the door the first time and walk through. What are you really going to find? Will it just be an old, slightly dusty, dirty phone booth? Or will it be the Creator of the Universe?

At your command all things came to be:
the vast expanse of interstellar space, 
galaxies, suns, the planets in their courses,
and this fragile earth, our island home.