Shaken and Stirred Up
We don’t have much patience for people who stir the pot and shake our foundations. If you make statements that don’t sit well with the “majority” you could find yourself in a difficult situation. Such is the role of the prophet, a role that few preachers dare to take up. But in each of this week’s lectionary passages we have a word that shakes and stirs things up.
If ever there was a rabble rouser, that person was Jeremiah. He rarely offered a politically expedient word. It’s no wonder his opponents stuffed him in a jar and sent him packing to Egypt. But this was what he was born to do – it was his destiny. The text from Jeremiah gives an account of Jeremiah’s calling. Only a boy, God called him to deliver a message of judgment. God told him that this calling had been placed upon him before he had been conceived in the womb. Indeed, God had commissioned him prior to his birth. Jeremiah’s protests about his youth and the fact that no one would pay attention didn’t deter God, who told him not to fear and then touched his mouth and put in his moth the words of God. Not only would he bear the words of God to the world, but God also appointed him to rule over the nations, to pluck up and pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, and then to build and to plant. All of this was in his calling. Here he stood, for he could do no other. Are we ready to hear his word?
As we consider whether we’re ready to hear the word of Jeremiah, a word that has the power to pluck up and pull down nations, to destroy or overthrow the powers that be, and then in the aftermath engage in a bit of nation building, we can attend to the word given in Hebrews. Hebrews is a rather enigmatic document. It is at heart a combination of Midrash and allegory, pulling from and adapting not only the Jewish scriptures and stories, but also taking from Jewish liturgical practice, and redefining it all for the author’s own purposes. This particular text is not easily traversed. We begin with a conversation about whether or not the holy mountain can be touched, lest human or animal die. Yes, when it comes to the mountain of God, even Moses trembles with fear. If we can wade through all of this we come to this part of the passage that seems to fit perfectly in our conversation this week. After being told not to refuse to hear the one speaking, we’re treated to a voice that shakes not merely the earth, but the heavens as well. And, what is shaken is removed – sort of as if speaking of sifting things. In the end, after everything is shaken and sifted, what remains is the realm of God. This we are called upon to take hold of, for it alone remains after the shaking and the sifting ends. And after we take hold of this gift, then we are invited to give thanks and offer to God worship that is reverent and acceptable. What is the picture here? Is it little more than the visit to the Wizard of Oz? There was shaking in the boots then too, but of course, the “wizard” was a mere front. Surely the one we’ve been to worship is more than a projection thrown up on a screen by one who is clever.
Keeping to this train of thought, about shaking and stirring things up, we must deal with Jesus and his tendency to stir up trouble. When we think about pastoral calls, it’s clear that Jesus, like Jeremiah, would never fit in. He had a tendency to upturn traditions and practices that got in the way of what God is up to in the world. In this case it’s a matter of healing a woman who has been bent over in pain for nearly two decades. Jesus sees her, invites her over, and sets her free. The leader of the synagogue complains that he has done work on the Sabbath. Now, surely Jesus could have waited another day. After all it had been eighteen years, what did a few more hours mean to the woman? Jesus’ response was to point out that his critics would untie their oxen and their donkeys and take them to water. Surely, this woman was of more value to God than oxen and donkeys (not to say that these animals don’t have value). The point being – don’t let your traditions, even if they were meant for a good purpose, get in the way of a greater good.
Yes, the message that we find in the biblical story often is a challenging one. It’s not always politically expedient or popular. Yes, even we who consider ourselves to be open minded can find that the message is unsettling to us. As we prepare for the weekend, whether we’re preaching, or teaching, or simply meditating on the things of God, let us prepare ourselves to be shaken and stirred up!
By Bob Cornwall
Bob Cornwall is Pastor of Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Troy, MI and Editor ofSharing the Practice, the journal of the Academy of Parish Clergy. Holder of a Ph.D. in Historical Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary, he loves to write, having authored several books, with a book on the Lord’s Prayer due out in November. Besides contributing to this blog, he writes nearly every day at his personal blogPonderings on a Faith Journey, as well as contributing regularly to the Christian Century blogTheolog.