Tuesday, October 6, 2009

God Is Not Nice

Looking ahead to next Sunday, we have scriptures from Amos, Hebrews and Gospel of Mark. The Mark reading (10:9-31) is the story of a rich man's encounter with the Lord. Click the colored words above for the assigned readings. This story comes right after Jesus has talked about marriage and divorce and has blessed the children. Immediately afterward Jesus is headed for Jerusalem, predicting his own death.

The scriptures are not nice. And, frankly, neither is God. I don't think anyone who strictly regulates our sexual lives (see last week's sermon) and our financial lives (this week) can be considered "nice." Niceness implies good feelings. There's nothing particularly nice about someone who makes people like the rich man in Mk 10:9ff feel guilty. Jesus is continually driving people beyond what they can tolerate.
God is not nice, but he is good. Better than we can imagine. The law of God continually drives us to the end of our own resources so we know we cannot be saved, except when we surrender to him. As Jesus says this week (I paraphrase here):
People can't be saved. It's true. There's no way that sinful human beings can get into God's good graces. Except and unless, however, when and how God chooses to do so. Only with God's mercy, only because of what I'm going to do on the cross soon (referring to what happens next in the story), only with God's action on your behalf do you have any hope at all. (Mk 10:27, 32-34)
The wages of sin is death. One of God's main purposes in scripture is to force us to recognize our sinfulness and God's righteous penalty for sin. And then God, when we're on our knees, shows us unequaled mercy. That's not nice, but it is so good -- because, from our knees, we can get up and follow our Lord to a life filled with his light.

Psalm 90, also assigned for Sunday, Oct. 11, summarizes this in such a good way:
Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.

Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

You turn us back to dust, and say, “Turn back, you mortals.”

For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past, or like a watch in the night.

You sweep them away; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning;

in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers.

For we are consumed by your anger; by your wrath we are overwhelmed.

You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your countenance.

For all our days pass away under your wrath; our years come to an end like a sigh.

The days of our life are seventy years, or perhaps eighty, if we are strong; even then their span is only toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.

Who considers the power of your anger? Your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you.

So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.

Turn, O Lord! How long? Have compassion on your servants!

Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.

Make us glad as many days as you have afflicted us, and as many years as we have seen evil.

Let your work be manifest to your servants, and your glorious power to their children.

Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and prosper for us the work of our hands— O prosper the work of our hands!
May we all live and preach in such a way that God's love is always lifted up, while we are humbled by his perfect, holy, awesome power. All praises are due to God, and none at all to us.


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