Today’s Scriptures: From the Book of Common Prayer
Psalm 66, 67, 19, 46
Judges 11:1-11, 29-40
2 Corinthians 11:21-31
What happens when the Spirit is with us in our endeavors?
There are times when I need my entire team around me, all working the same direction to accomplish our work goals. Sometimes I just need one or two select people to get things done more efficiently. Every once in a while I find myself resorting to bargaining and sometimes even shaming them to get done what needs to be done. Often, I stand up and do the work by example. We see some of the same things happening in the passages today as the Holy Spirit works through people to accomplish God’s plan.
The Psalms passages celebrate God’s presence with his people and myriad benefits from that presence. Examples from worship and history remind the people of God’s grace when they keep in good standing with him while citing a few instances of what happens when they turn from God.
The circumstances around Jephthah coming to leadership in the Israelite army offer elements of the prodigal son and Abraham stories. His status by birth caused him to be an outcast among those in line to inherit leadership, so he fled and became a self-made man (largely by plunder). His skill as a military leader, though, captured the attention of the leadership in Israel when they were under attack. He comes back, with the spirit of the Lord upon him, and delivers victory for the Israelites. Sadly, his own vanity tempers what could have been a glorious celebration. Despite the spirit already being with him, Jephthah made a vow to the Lord stating what he would do if he was given success over the Ammonites. Many scholars believe he misspoke in making his vow; nevertheless, he was bound by the words he said. When his daughter appeared to greet him, the foolishness of his vow became apparent. In an ironic twist, after defeating the Ammonites who practiced child sacrifice, Jephthah found himself bound to sacrifice his child which was not acceptable in Jewish culture.
Even though the circumstances are particularly gruesome, the exchange between Jephthah and his daughter demonstrates a contrast between vanity and wisdom. His vow, and then his response to his daughter when she comes out to greet him (he blames her for putting him in the grievous situation of having to kill her) furthers the idea of his self-centered focus. Her response places her as the voice of wisdom. She too makes a deal (with her father) so she can prepare for her death. Dying a virgin especially distressed women in that time because they had never given birth to a child who would carry on their name. That she was never named in the story reflects that forgotten nature.
As often happens in the letters of Paul, he addresses conflict within the church. The 2 Corinthians versus are the central part of a much longer speech delivered by Paul against the opponents who challenge his authority. He defends himself by both bragging about the abuse he has endured (much of it at their hands – a move to shame them) while building the difference between true Apostles and the false apostles circulating through the church at the time. Paul concludes this portion of the speech by declaring his reliance on God’s power to see him through – no matter what the opposition does. That presence of God with him proves that he is a true Apostle.
Although early in the ministry of Jesus, he has shown authority over the spirit world. In this popular passage, Jesus and the Apostles are crossing a sea when the storm arises while Jesus sleeps. Everyone else has great fear, but Jesus calmly steps out, silences the wind, calms the sea, and challenges the faith of those with him. He is Jesus after all, and he has power over all creation. Those around him do not understand the fullness of what it means to be with Jesus; they only know history- storms are dangerous and people drown. Jesus calm and assurance reminds us that everything is different with him.
God’s presence with all the players in the selections today shows the effects of God’s participation in actions of his people. The degree of faith of those people distinguishes each situation. The Judges passage shows a failure of belief as Jephthah bargains with God despite already having the blessing. Paul contrasts that lack of full faith with his overwhelming response to God. Those with Jesus on the boat are learning to be faithful even though they do not fully understand it. Negotiating the faith landscape can be tricky as we come into the trek with experience and a personal history. Bargaining, shaming, modeling have all worked for us in different situations in the past. With the Holy Spirit none of that is required. When we act on God’s will, God provides all we need to be successful. He knows our every need and is faithful to supply; we have to overcome our experience and history and accept his grace.
Let us welcome your presence with us and accept that presence as it is, knowing it is all we need to do your will.