Bloody Hands 1 Lent Story - thrive UMC Official Blog

Bloody Hands 1 Lent Story

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Luke 19:11-28 CEB

Lily Wood: A Prayer In C

It’s funny to think about how powerful stories can be.  And I’m not just talking about the biblical stories–but any of them.  Movies, commercials, political campaign speeches, songs, co-workers’ complaints –they’re all stories; and they all move people in one way or another.  Each of those versions of stories have characters, a setting, and plot-movement.  The song we just listened to, for instance, tells a powerful story.  It tells a story addressed to a particular character, presumably God, who sits silently by while the world falls apart.  Children starve, and we’re here aging to death, and the earth seems to be crumbling to ruin –while God, God the One who could do something about this whole mess of a circumstance is precisely the one not doing anything.  Could there be anything more terrifying than that thought?  Is there anything more unforgiveable than the silence of God in the face of evil and death?  Each new line prompts another question.  Isn’t God silent?  Isn’t God idle?  How can we do anything –anything of meaning- when even God is sitting still, detached, and unresponsive?  How can we be responsible for our own lives, and of those we love, when even God himself is taking a break?

And whether you agree with this particular rendition of our world’s story or not, you can at least recognize the power of the tale it tells.  How many of us have, in the dark moments of our lives, turned to God with the urgency of all of our being, and laid bare our deepest, most desperate needs … only to have our most authentic prayers go unanswered?  Or worse yet, how many have had them answered, but with only a cold, vague, ‘no’?  I’ve certainly felt that way.  More than once.  It may not have been the whole story in those times, but that was my experience of them.  That was my lived reality in the moment.

For instance, when I was in 7th grade, after moving to a new school, I had a hard time making new friends; but which I mean I didn’t, and I ended up feeling sad about myself most of the time.  And the story I had told myself when I was in elementary school was that nice people deserve nice things to happen to them.  And I had thought that I was a nice person, so when people didn’t treat me nicely in kind, I did the good Christian thing and blamed God for it.  Trust me, I did my due diligence in praying for friends first, but when they didn’t happen I knew it must be God that was wrong –I was twelve, after all, and twelve year olds know everything.  Truth be told, that’s actually what got me reading the Bible in the first place.  Not because I wanted to know so much about God, but because I needed to find all the passages where God promised people good things so I could call God out on what a terrible job he was doing at being God.

Wasn’t I nice to other people?  God, aren’t you supposed to help people out of their sadness?  Didn’t I deserve to have some friends?  –I mean besides Adam, because he’s weird; God, hey, listen God, I meant like normal friends –I didn’t think I had to specify.  You’re supposed to know these things.  God, seriously, is it too much to ask for just a couple of good friends?  Don’t we all need a couple –a couple we could count on?  Can’t I have something to feel good about, again?  Wasn’t I, after all, loveable?

If you’ve been there, and really wrestled with it, it’s the last one that hurts the most, isn’t it?

Yet, in the midst of all of that, my old stories that I had used to make sense of the world were failing me.  That whole economy of niceness, and ‘treat others how you want to be treated so they’ll turn around and treat you nicely’ deal was turning out to be total garbage.  Just by the way 1995 was treating me, that story suddenly didn’t work in my life anymore. So I needed a new one.  And that new one was shaping up to become, more and more, that there’s just something wrong with me –that I’m the weird one.  And that I must be the one who doesn’t deserve love.  It’s either that, or God can’t be real.

And it was through that first journey through the Bible, cover-to-cover, which I started in Middle School, where I discovered some pretty crazy stuff.  It got me thinking: ‘gee, I don’t think anyone else has actually ever read the Bible before’ –because the God in it wasn’t nice at all –at least in the Old part.  Far from being the big, friendly Santa-in-the-Sky I had assumed him to be, he seemed to be a god with blood all over his hands.  And that was the first time in my life that I discovered how truly terrifying life could be, without the crutch of cosmic Superman, defender of humanity.

For instance, have you heard about the book of Numbers?  The first half is kind of a snoozer, but by about the half-way mark, things pick up a bit.  God sends this dude Moses and the rag-tag band of Hebrews through the desert to find them a homeland.  Of course, that part sounds super thoughtful; but the problem is that it seems like all of the good land is already taken.  So for these former Egyptian-slaves to have a home, they need to take someone else’s spot.  So God tells Moses and the Hebrews to get ready for war.  And He sends out thousands armed troops to attack the Moabites, and then the Midianites. Here are some choice quotes from the 31st chapter of Numbers:

“They battled against Midian as the LORD had commanded Moses, and they killed every male.”

And then later, in verse 15: “Moses said to them, ‘Have you let all of the women live?  These very women, on Balaam’s advice, made the Israelites break faith with the LORD in the affair at Peor, so there was a plague among the LORD’s community.  Now kill every male child and every female who has known a man intimately by sleeping with him.  But all the young girls who have not known a man intimately by sleeping with them, spare for yourselves.”

And it’s hard to know what to do with a god like that –a god who seems to be behind the killing of women and children, and possibly the sexual enslavement of little girls.  It’s hard to the believe in a god who, if not directly responsible, at least allows terrible things like genocide, and slavery, and natural disasters that kill people by the tens of thousands almost without warning; and mental illness, and cancer, and famine, and mortal poverty, and domestic abuses of all sorts, and entire lifetimes of meaninglessness, and this global, murderous plague of apathy.  It’s a dark and lonely position to be in, confronted by this terrifying, uncontrollable god, especially if you’re in a place that feels more like being numbered among the Midianites than it does a citizen of His precious chosen flock.  And it’s hard to live with a god too, who takes recompense in blood, and revels in the libations of tears, and in hymns played on the chords of broken hearts.

I wanted to share with you today, that if you haven’t met this god yet –the God of suffering, blood, and death, then I’d really like to challenge you to see if there isn’t a gap in the story you’ve told yourself about life.  If your story is limited to a suburban success narrative about a happy little family that works really hard, pays their taxes and moves to Florida for retirement because the humidity is better for your joints, then I’m going to be honest: I’m a little worried for you.  If the guiding narrative of your experience is ‘good things happen to good people’ then I hope you have a helmet on, because I keep having this terrible feeling that, one of these days, reality is going to hit you at 100 miles per hour.  If the ensemble of characters in your day-to-day experience is filled exclusively with ‘Hey Jill, how’s it going? –Just wonderful Fred; how’re the kids?  Couldn’t be better, thanks for asking’ then I’d really like to know how you breathe upside down through all of that sand.

Because I’ve just started to notice a serious discrepancy between the god we so often say we believe in and the reality we live with on a day to day basis.  For most of us, we spend our faith on a god who loves us, and takes care of us and makes us happy  -you know, the spiritual genie in a teeny-tiny lamp –where all we have to do is rub our hands together, close our eyes and make a wish.  But what we actually have is sometimes little more than ambiguity and confusion coated with a thin candy shell: ‘well, let’s just hope God is doing God’s job!  And if you can’t tell, just keep trusting Jesus!’

Meanwhile, so many of those who are on the outside of the Church are peeking in through the windows to see us sing our hallelujahs on Sunday, but come Monday morning, they can tell we’re writhing in the same muck and grime and fear and wounded-ness as everyone else. Then these secular folks stop and ask the obvious question: if your sacred stories and holy rituals only help you cover over the tragedy of this life, and don’t help you actually do anything meaningful to help it –why bother? If your god doesn’t drastically improve the quality of your days, why bother with the extra baggage of belief?  Why waste a Sunday morning on a pep-talk, or the space in our brains with long-dead stories and archaic moralisms?   Just go listen to the ‘Happy’ song.  Or go watch the ‘Cosby Show’ or ‘Leave It to Beaver’ or just ‘follow your conscience and do what you think is right’ –which is something that can kind of hit close to home for some of us anyway.

Since, in case some of you hadn’t yet picked up on this yet –it’s kind of my thing- I want to challenge you all this morning.  Get your note-taking receptacles out to write this down, because you’ve got life-work to do: this week, I want you to take an inventory of the stories you tell that guide your life.  Think of the movies, role-models, mantras, recurrent complaints, books, life experiences, or parental lessons or whatever, that keep coming back to you in your moments of confusion –and I want you to just list 5.  Summarize them down to a one-line phrase or image.  And please do yourself a favor, and don’t put ‘The Bible’ –that’s like saying ‘I live my life by the encyclopedia.’  Oh, so those bits about President Garfield, or Aardvarks, or the Chinese Arms Embargo helped you decide to work at Wellmark?  Is that how that went?

Uh, maybe instead, try and come up with a specific line or story.

For example, all of us probably have someone in our lives who, every time we talk to them, has a new report about how terrible life is, and how other things or people are keeping them from being happy?  ‘Oh, let me tell you how bad the weather is. Oh, let me tell you how my co-workers, family, friends, neighbors, president, and God are all jerks. Oh, let me tell you about this other jerk who hit me while I was driving and texting. ’ Does everyone have someone like that in their life?  If not, I’m more than willing to share –but anyway, one way or another, you can just tell that, each time you talk to that person, they’re going to tell you some version of the story of ‘I’m a victim’ –right?

Or, on the other end of things, do you know people who always seem to drop success stories?  ‘Hey Jeremy, how’re things going?  –I bet you didn’t just get promoted, book a trip to Fiji, and buy a new Jaguar?  Did you?  But I know a guy who did and he has two thumbs…’  And after a while, their stories just start to sound like desperate attempts to fish for validation.

Or do you know someone who seems to get a new ‘look’ every, like six months, and you start asking yourself ‘who is this person?’

Or there are the people who have nothing of their own to talk about except movies, drinking, sports, fashion or work?

And sometimes it’s easier to recognize the stories in other people, but what about you?  If you could sum it up in 4 or 5 lines, what would they be?  Do you have a personal mission statement?  Or something that guides you through conflict?  When something tragic happens, what’s your default story for what that tragedy means?  When you and the ones closest to you argue, how do you justify your side of the story?

In hopes that this might give you a clearer picture of what I’m talking about, I’ll share one of mine with you –one that isn’t from the Bible.  In college, I read ‘The Great Gatsby’ again, and there was this great line in it that I find myself continually going back to, again and again.  Right after this long chain of terrible events had transpired, the narrator sums up the cause of the calamity with four simple words: “They were careless people.”  And it’s a story that seems true and telling when I look at the world and the things in the news. It’s a story that helps me recognize the apathy and short-sightedness behind so much of the violence and suffering I see in the world.  And it’s a story that reminds me of who I’m supposed to be, in spite of the temptations to be otherwise.

For a lot of you, I suspect this will be a scary and difficult exercise.  You’ll find that it’s much easier not to do it. Most of us have spent so much time living on auto-pilot that we’re not even aware of the stories we picked up, or how they got there.  Most of us might be shocked to discover how disconnected our stories are from the God we told ourselves we believe in.  Some of us will stumble upon the unsettling realization that we have stories for work, stories for home, stories for conflict, and stories for the future we want; but yet, without any over-arching narrative to bring them all together.  So that we’re left without any way of formulating a coherent and meaningful sense of purpose about our time on this planet.  In short, we’re left without a means by which to become whole –and we’re left broken.

But it’s precisely in that recognition that we can become empowered to be healed.  Only through realizing, and facing, our brokenness and the holes in our stories, can we find peace in this life – peace with our neighbors; peace with the God of bloody hands … and peace with and ourselves.

Through this season of Lent, we’re going to be taking another look at the stories of Holy Week, from the Gospel of Luke.    We’re going to trace the footsteps of Jesus from the gates of Jerusalem, to the hills of Golgotha, and on down to the road of Emmaus, to see if there’s any redeeming of the story of God to be had.  Is there justification for the blood on God’s hands?  Is there any sense to be made from all of this suffering in our world now?  How might we understand our lives and ourselves today, in light of this ancient, sacred narrative?

And then, as we read and find new meaning in these most sacred stories, we’re also going to be challenged to put our hands to work.  Lent is traditionally a time of discipline and preparation to encounter God in Christ again.  It’s a time to lift up the spiritual disciplines so that we might find practices and exercises, which might help us to grow in our faith and become the people God has created us to be.  So we will address a different practice each week –some of these will be revisiting familiar, ancient traditions; while other times we’ll be putting a special emphasis on activities that might be more relevant to our specific needs and culture.

And this week, we’re going to take a quick look at reading and interpreting our scriptures.  But first, let’s pray.

Bloody Hands Questions

Ken
October 16th, 2016 at 8:37 pm

Really appreciate you sharing this article. Much obliged.

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