Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 19; 150, Jeremiah 36:1-10, Acts 14:8-18, Luke 7:36-50
When Paul and Barnabas were evangelizing in Lystra, a Roman-occupied city in what is now Turkey, they met a man who had not been able to walk since birth. When they healed him, the locals proclaimed them gods in human form. The priest of the temple of Zeus tried to offer sacrifices to them. Despite their best efforts to persuade the people they were mortal representatives of God, Paul and Barnabas “scarcely restrained the crowds from offering sacrifice to them.”
It’s possible to be a little too eager to put our faith in someone we believe represents God. Paul and Barnabas quickly deflected the adoration of the crowds, but not everyone in the business of faith is as strong. It’s very common for people, especially those in vulnerable states, to project strong feelings onto their ministers. Since a successful ministry relies partly on attracting people to listen, the line between persuasion and exploitation can easily blur. We might be tempted to blame ministers when this happens (and certainly there are an unscrupulous few who deserve it), but it can also happen with little to no encouragement. Even a good minister can head in a bad direction, and if she or he has developed a sort of cult of personality, people will follow.
Those of us not in ministry are responsible for being discerning about who we listen to and when. Cramming “Lord” and “Jesus” into every sentence doesn’t mean someone is directing our attention toward God more than toward themselves. We need teachers and preachers, but we don’t need idols. Elevating someone’s status too high tends to make us insufficiently critical of what they have to say.
Conversely, a worldview that divides people neatly into the righteous and the unrighteous also makes it difficult for us to hear truth and wisdom from people we’ve already dismissed. The saying is “a broken clock is right twice a day,” but aren’t we all – even the best of us – a little broken? Sometimes we’re right. Sometimes we’re wrong. The best faith leaders don’t convince us that we need to follow them, but that together we can learn to hear the voice which guides us all.
Comfort: No one stands between you and God.
Challenge: Be discerning about who you listen to and why. Don’t be too quick to dismiss their (or your) critics.
Prayer: Gracious God I listen for you, however you may call me. Amen.
Discussion: Do you have any tendencies to agree or disagree with anyone just because of who they are?
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