Psalm 89:46-52; Joshua 8:1-29; Luke 12:35-48

Writing today and for the next several weeks from the porch at Hamilton Beach in Wareham, Massachusetts.

Psalm 89:46-52: The conclusion of this long psalm ends on a note that is at once accusatorial and wistful. The preceding verses have described both David’s political and personal downfall. “You put an end to his splendor, / and his throne You hurled to the ground. /You cut short the days of his prime. /You enveloped him with shame.”(45, 46).

Then the psalmist expands his horizon to include all of humankind: “Recall how fleeting I am, / how futile You made all humankind.” (47). It’s almost as if the poet is asking,’Look, God, in the larger scheme of things, we men are here for only a second or two. So why do you make our brief almost ephemeral lives so miserable?’  After all, every person will die,”What man alive will never see death, / will save his life from the grip of Sheol?” (49).  ‘Can’t we just enjoy the brief moments we are here?’

The psalm concludes with one final plea to remember David–and to remember us when you treated us kindly: “Where are Your former kindnesses, Master, / that you vowed to David in Your faithfulness?” (50)  Which of course is exactly what God does by sending His savior into the world–as John puts it, not to condemn it, but to save it.

Joshua 8:1-29: In a brilliant military stratagem, Joshua draws out the inhabitants of Ai, and when he sees they’ve all exited the fortified city, raises his sword, which is a signal to the ambush group to enter and burn the city. No matter which way the Ai-ites tried to flee they were surrounded and in accordance with God’s command, “Israel struck them down until no one was left who survived or escaped.” (22). The city of Ai was reduced to rubble, its king hung, and the victorious “and raised over [the remains of Ai] a great heap of stones, which stands there to this day.” (29)

As much as we would like to think of God as a being strictly a God of peace, God also enables and here in this context anyway, even condones war.  Moreover, every inhabitant, including women and children, was annihilated. Is this really the will of a God of grace and mercy? Apparently so.

Had humankind not fallen, then there would have been no need for war. But our fallen state, alas, includes combat and battles. Was conquering Ai a “just war?” Who knows? This is an issue we are grappling with even this week in pretty much the same geographical territory.

Luke 12:35-48: Even though the Lutheran church pretty much addresses Jesus’ second coming only when we recite the Creeds (I think I’ve heard only one or two sermons about the second coming in my 35+ years at Saint Matthew), Jesus seems pretty clear on the matter. As he is here: “You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” (40) 

Obviously, the key for us is not to try–as too many fundamentalists have done–to figure out when that will happen.  Whenever it is, it will be completely unexpected.  Our responsibility is clear and simple: be prepared.

As always, there is nothing random about Luke’s ordering of events or of Jesus’ parables. The parable of faithful and unfaithful slaves is a followup to being prepared, because Jesus is explaining what we are supposed to be doing in the meantime before the Master returns.  Clearly, we are expected to be at work in the Kingdom: “Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives.” (43).

But if we turn from our honest Kingdom work and become distracted then corruption will inevitably creep in. Some will think they are better than others and “begin to beat the other slaves, men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk.” (45b) As Jesus notes, a harsh penalty will ensue. How often this has happened in the church! Jesus knew exactly what would go wrong across the past 2000 years.

That is why leadership is so crucial. If it’s corrupt at the top, then odds are it will be corrupt throughout. If it’s wandering away from Jesus at the top, then the entire body wanders away.

Leaders are not just “one of the guys.” They are an example to whom everyone else looks.  A leader’s role comes with heightened responsibility: “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.” (48)

In today’s post-Christian world, the world is looking harder than ever for Christian leaders who fall–and to which they can point in derision in the world’s unrelenting quest to identify “hypocrites.”  In that regard, everyone of us is a leader–and Jesus expects much of us.

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