A friend with whom I often share in bible study has a lot of trouble with the Hebrew Scriptures. For him the God of the Old Testament can be bribed by the right kind of sacrifices, is threatening and vindictive, and is seen by the people of Israel as their savior on the one hand, and as the immediate cause of their problems on the other. After all, if God doesn’t get his way he is going to do some real nasty stuff to them. I don’t think that’s an uncommon reading. I hear it now and then from the pews, and it seems to be something some people learned in Sunday school or really bad adult bible classes.
For Episcopalians this Sunday will begin with a prayer that reminds us to heed the prophets’ warnings and change our ways, and that always leads me back to look into exactly what those warnings were. Two things seem very clear when I do that. First, the prophets mostly warned about individual and collective behaviors that engage in social injustice, oppression and betrayal. Second, the natural and ordinary consequences of that behavior will be disastrous for the nation and the people. The object lesson that really brought this home happened a few years ago when my office looked out over the back yard of a family with two very active little boys. Sometimes I’d watch them play, and like little boys are wont to do, most every game sooner or later involved sticks as swords, and I’d think, “Well, I can see what’s about to happen,” and it always did. If I’d gone out and told them to stop before someone got hurt they might have heard it as, “Father Steve threatened us if we don’t stop.” I imagine that’s just the way the Israelites heard it
At least they heard something, not that it did them much good since they just kept at it. But what do we hear? Do we hear anything at all? Are we paying even the slightest attention? Those prophets had something important to say on God’s behalf, and I don’t think it was just to those old Israelites. And I don’t think it has anything to do with gay marriage and all the rest of that nonsense. I think it has to do with the very serious stuff about what kind of persons we ought to be in this life as we prepare for our own time of accountability before God. Oh, wait a minute. Isn’t that what Peter wrote to the early Church? Bah, just a bunch of ancient Greeks or something. I guess it doesn’t have anything to do with us after all, so put a buck in the plate and let’s get back to looking out for Number One. I wonder if they’ll have a Santa Claus at church on Christmas Eve?