The Promise of History


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 130; 148, Numbers 20:1-13, Romans 5:12-21, Matthew 20:29-34

Despite leading the Israelites through the desert for forty years, Moses was forbidden by God to enter the Promised Land. Why? At Meribah the people had quarreled with Moses because they lacked sufficient food and water. The Lord had commanded Moses to speak to a rock, and waters would gush forth. Once before God had produced waters from this rock and had instructed Moses to strike it. This time, instead of speaking, Moses struck the rock with his staff twice, and seemingly took credit for the miracle.

Some people believe this direct disobedience caused God’s rebuke, though all things considered this seems like a pretty minor infraction. God is entitled to do whatever He wants, but He is not petty. Thirty-eight years earlier the Israelites had balked at God’s orders to enter the Promised Land, and instead sent spies ahead to make sure it was worth the effort. In His anger God decreed none of the current generation – including Moses – would enter the Promised Land. Their children would see it after their deaths.

Our sense of history can be short. When we experience a painful event – a revolution, a shooting, a divorce, a riot – we tend to look to recent circumstances to explain it. We find comfort in assigning blame to the easiest – and usually closest – targets, but we frequently do so hastily, lazily, and mistakenly. The roots of our troubles often run deep in time: generational poverty, unredressed discrimination, legacies of domestic abuse, complicated political histories, etc. Understanding the world is difficult work, but willful ignorance leads to yet more difficulty. Even if we can’t solve these problems in our lifetimes, we should reject quick-fixes and easy answers and provide thoughtful, faithful leadership to deliver the next generation into the Promised Land.

Comfort: The world is a complicated place. You don’t have to form quick opinions about it.

Challenge: Few answers are both easy and correct. Don’t settle.

Prayer: Eternal God, grant me wisdom and patience to be a steady, healing presence in a sometimes thoughtless, broken world. Amen.

Discussion: What opinions about the world have you had to revise based on more evidence or better understanding of history?

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God of History


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 47; 147:12-20, Exodus 13:3-10, 1 Corinthians 15:41-50, Matthew 28:16-20

God visited ten plagues upon Egypt before Pharaoh freed the Hebrews. Scholars estimate these plagues unfolded over a period anywhere from a month to a year, but even a week of boils, locusts, and other disasters must have felt unending. The last and worst one – the death of the firstborn of Egypt – was so terrible that God assured Moses Pharaoh would finally relent. It would be so effective the people would need to be ready on a moment’s notice, without even enough time to let bread rise. The Lord commanded them to prepare unleavened (yeast-free) dough, and they took it with them when Pharaoh ordered them to depart. Baked in the wilderness, this unleavened bread was literally their first taste of freedom in four centuries.

In Exodus, the Lord gives explicit and emphatic commandments about observing Passover properly. During the Passover Seder meal, Jews recount the story of their flight from Egypt. Maintaining such an observance has helped them preserve their identity across thousands of years. For all of us, remembering where we come from – both the good and bad parts – makes us wiser about where we are headed.

A workplace phenomenon called “drift” – which occurs when someone becomes overly comfortable with a duty and cuts corners – causes many avoidable errors. Many people who reach weight-loss goals find the pounds creeping back on because success has made them lax in their diet or exercise regimens. Western Christians leading comfortable lives can easily forget the Gospel should “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” When we forget the past, we fail to understand the meaning of the present. Memories – personal, family, and cultural – need to be preserved lest we begin to think we are entirely self-made.

Edmund Burke said: “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.” Living as if our present situation was inevitable will lead us to take it for granted. There’s no Passover without bondage in Egypt. We can’t be a resurrection people without a crucifixion. Let’s remember the bitter taste of our failures to stay on course, and our sweet successes to keep moving forward.

Comfort: Our pasts – overcoming the bad, benefiting from the good – inform who we are today. Your story is important.

Challenge: Read about the meaning of the Passover Seder.

Prayer: God of History, thank you for the lessons of our spiritual ancestors. May my words and deeds honor those who have gone before, especially Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Discussion: What important parts of history do you think get neglected?

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