Friday, October 18, 2013

Thoughts on Last Sunday's Readings (A Week Late)

As a music director in charge of choosing hymns, I read the readings for Sunday well beforehand. Then I hear them again on Sunday. Sometimes I come up with something useful as I read. More often, I don't. So I figured I'd share. The readings can be found here. The ELCA, like most liturgical denominations, follows the Revised Common Lectionary. An excellent resource for that can be found here. For picking hymns based on the RCL try this.

The first lesson reading from 2 Kings as well as the Gospel reading from Luke both contain God doing something. God is an active agent in the lives of those involved in the stories. In the first lesson, it is Naaman. In the Gospel it is the ten lepers. In both cases, the people helped came looking for help. (I would love to tie the second lesson into it, but 2 Timothy just doesn't fit.) Naaman was told what to do to be healed. It involved nothing difficult, simply to bathe in the river. The ten lepers had to do nothing. Jesus simply healed them.

What I find interesting in both stories is the idea of unilaterality -- in other words, only one side did any action and that was God/Jesus. There was no quid pro quo involved. Granted, Naaman had to bathe in a river, but I wouldn't consider that a quid. God acts. God's actions are not contingent upon our doing something. There is no negotiating.

In our human interactions, unilaterality isn't always good. Think of war. Multilaterality is usually desired in those cases. The more countries you can convince of going to war, the stronger case you have made for military action. When it comes to making peace, however, unilaterality often proves superior. It may in fact be the only way to stop the "this for that" cycle. So a rule of thumb seems to be that unilateral action when things are good and multilateral when they're bad.

Let's shift to interpersonal relations. Forgiveness is best when done unilaterally. Can we imagine a case of forgiveness based on a qualification being good? I will forgive you if . . .. We needn't reach a consensus on forgiveness in order to forgive.

When God acts upon us, it is done unilaterally. God loves/forgives/heals us not because of what we do, or pray, or think (now you see why 2 Tim doesn't fit?). We are then expected to do the same towards each other. We should love/forgive/help without expecting anything of our brothers and sisters.

H. Richard Niebuhr wrote a wonderful book title The Responsible Self. I thought it was a strange title. How does Christian theology tie into being a responsible person? He uses the word responsible, however, in a different way. Focusing on its root, response, he points out that we should live our lives as a response to God's love of us. God acted first and unilaterally. Now we should copy that and do the same for each other. We should live responsibly -- our lives should be lived in response to God's love.

"So we love because God first loved us." 1 John 4:19

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