Psalm 46; Leviticus 5:1-6:13; Mark 1:35-45

Psalm 46  The psalmist states his theme right in the opening verse: “God is a shelter and strength for us, a help in straits, readily found.” (1) The “God as shelter and strength” meme occurs frequently in the psalms.  The phrase, “readily found” is more provocative because so many psalms are about God who isn’t there and/or doesn’t show up.  Yet, here in this psalm of rejoicing, God is “readily found.”  Could it be that in our despair of an absent God we are simply not looking in the right places?

Because God is near us, “we fear not when the earth breaks apart, when mountains collapse in the heart of the seas.” (2) But even as the “waters roar and roil, mountains heave in its surge,” (3) there is also a peaceful stream, whose “rivulets gladden God’s town [Jerusalem]”(4). But “God is in its midst and it will not collapse” (5) because “God helps it as morning breaks.”   To be sure, God is the God of earthquakes and crashing seas, but also the God of the peaceful stream and the sunrise.  Power and peace are always juxtaposed in God.

So, too, in the affairs of man, which parallel God’s power over nature.  Like the collapsing mountain, God is there as “Nations roar and kingdoms collapse” in military and political turmoil.  God always has the last word, “He sends forth is voice and the earth melts.” (6) God’s power rules over the nations, but God is also a God of peace, who has “caused wars to cease to the end of the earth. The bow He has broken and splintered the spear, and chariots burned in fire.” (9)

No wonder we are so confused by the apparent contradictions of God.  The God who brings hurricanes, earthquakes, and destruction is the same God in the glinting stream and sunrise and in the peace that marks the end of war.

Leviticus 5:1-6:13  Chapter 5 lays out different types of offenses and the requisite sacrifice of atonement.  There is the silent witness, who “has seen or known [of a sin committed by another], if he does not tell, he shall bear his punishment.” (2).  Then there’s the person who swears a vow and doesn’t carry it out (5), as well as a person who betrays a trust. (14)  All must make bring a guilt offering to God.

Even unwitting sins require sacrifice: “if a person offends and does any one of all the commands of the LORD that should not be done and does not know and is guilty, he shall bear his punishment.”  We talk about our culture as being “post-Christian.”  Perhaps we should also call it “post-sin.”  “Sin” seems so antiquated in our therapeutic age where victimhood seems to have largely replaced guilt, never mind atonement for guilt.

We think of these detailed Levitical rules as being almost absurdly constraining.  Yet it’s clear that those same rules, which form the basis of our own laws, are exactly how order was maintained among that “stiff-necked” people wandering in the wilderness.  Without them, chaos would have ensued.  Does a decreasing awareness of sin and its consequences lead to a breakdown of order in our own society?

Mark 1:35-45  I’m always struck by the fact that Jesus prays alone, often early in the morning.  (And the one time he asks a few close companions to pray with him in Gethsemane, they just fall asleep.)  Only after praying does he start his first preaching and healing tour around Galilee.

There’s a layered meaning of the disciples’ exclamation, “Everyone is searching for you.”  Yes, the disciples were looking for him in the dark (another double meaning!)  But we are all searching for Jesus (in the dark).  Even those who deny they are searching are still searching for the meaning and purpose that only Jesus can bring.

Mark frequently points out that following a healing, Jesus implores the persons healed not to tell anyone.  Of course they cannot remain silent.  Their lives have been changed and they can do nothing else but shout that reality from the rooftop.  Jesus, master of human psychology, surely understood that this would happen, so why his pleas to be silent?   I don’t think he was using reverse psychology on these people, it was just a hopeful request.  After all,  his growing popularity had certainly complicated his life “so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly.”   I think the simple reality is that when we are truly healed by Jesus, it’s simply humanly impossible to keep the good news to ourselves.

As well, in Matthew, Jesus implores us to go and preach the Gospel.  What better way than this?

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