Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Obedience and Seasons

Devotion 1 Kings 17:2-7

In pastoral care I often advise people that our life is best thought of in terms of seasons. Scripture is replete with examples and teaching along these lines, the most significant of which is Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. There are times to mourn and times to dance, so the Scripture teaches. The task is to observe the season in which we find ourselves and act in obedience to the Lord in the present circumstance. Misreading the season can lead to an attempt at obedience that will simply fail. That is the message behind our passage today.
"And the word of the LORD came to [Elijah]: 'Depart from here and turn eastward and hide yourself by the brook Cherith, which is east of the Jordan.You shall drink from the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.' " -1 Kings 17:2-4 ESV
After the prophet proclaims that there will be no rain except by his word, the Lord calls to him to go to a particular brook in trans-Jordan (modern day Jordan). The prophet is to settle there for a time and receive sustenance from the Lord through some helpful ravens.
"So he went and did according to the word of the LORD. He went and lived by the brook Cherith that is east of the Jordan. And the ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook. And after a while the brook dried up, because there was no rain in the land. " -1 Kings 17:5-7 ESV
Elijah obeys the Word of the Lord and it is just as the Lord said it would be. Yet, because of the drought, the brook eventually dries up. In other words, the season changed. We will see next week that the Lord leads Elijah elsewhere to provide for his needs. Yet this passage tells us something about following the Lord. We need to read the season and understand that being faithful in the new season may not look the same as the old season.
Do not misunderstand what I am saying. I am not advocating discarding the Biblical witness, and especially not its ethical teaching. We do not get to proclaim that it is a new day or a new season simply because we do not like what the Bible teaches on, say, loving the neighbor or rejecting greed, let alone sexual morality. We are not talking about changes in substance (function), but changes in method (form). If Elijah locks down his understanding of obedience as something like, "The Lord said to sit by this brook, and even if it is no longer a brook because it stopped flowing, I am going to sit here because that's what a good YHWHist would do." That would be foolish and would result in him dying of thirst.
Likewise, we cannot lock in place things of the past that have no bearing on the underlying truth of Scripture. Let me give a few examples. The translation of the Word of God needs to be updated to reflect the current vernacular. We do not speak the King's English any longer and so insisting that only a translation in the King's English is correct is wrong. The season has changed and we should update our translation accordingly. You may continue to use and enjoy the King James Version all you like, but we cannot insist it is the only acceptable English version. To move to a modern English translation, like the English Standard Version, is adjusting to the season without tampering with the call to faith and obedience that are timeless.
Another example would be the style of music in church. Unless you are advocating for acapella Psalms only, every song we sing in church was new at some point. The style of music has never been fixed for all time in the church and any music that gives glory to God in both arrangement and lyrics is permissible in the church. While I prefer hymns personally, I recognize this is a preference and not really a mark of obedience or principle.
The season shifted while Elijah sat by the brook as it dried up. If he continued to insist obedience only meant staying there, he would have violated the Word of the Lord (that comes again in 1 Kings 17:8) by not adjusting his obedience to God's Word to the present season. Jesus himself said, "And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins." [Mark 2:22 ESV]. Jesus' claim is that when the new comes, namely the new covenant in his blood, it will not fit into the forms for the old covenant. It is still wine (faith in YHWH) and it still needs to be carried in wineskins (a covenant relationship through faith in YHWH), but it will have new forms (faith in Jesus as YHWH in the flesh and a new covenant in his blood shed for us and for our salvation on the cross).
As the season changes, the timeless truth of Scripture does not. Jesus is the Son of God, the only savior of the world. We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus as he is revealed in Scripture to God's glory alone. We are called in our faith to a life of thankful obedience to the clear ethical teaching of the Scriptures. These truths will not change. Yet we must recognize that the season in which we follow Jesus may change. We cannot lose sight of the truth, but we can adjust our forms of obedience to reflect the current season within reason. For example, most of us will never be invited to outright idol worship. We will not gather in pagan shrines and sacrifice animals to pagan idols. Yet, we the call to reject idolatry remains pressing for us. Idolatry may not be blatant, but we are still called to worship power, money, sex and death. If we insist that idolatry is ONLY attending pagan worship services, we will fail to adjust our obedience to the new forms of idolatry we actually see around us today. The form of that idol worship has shifted, but the timeless call to reject idol worship remains. To fail to see the shift is to risk sitting by a dried-up brook and dying of thirst.

The song this week is "Spirit Resurrect" by Josh White and Josh Garrels.

News for You:

  • Our annual Trunk-or-Treat will be 10/31 from 4-7 p.m. Come have some fun!
  • Pick-a-party fundraisers for Chelan Camp, our youth outreach camp, are ongoing
  • Do not forget to fall back one hour this Saturday (11/3) or else, horror of horrors, you may be early to church!

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