“Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” Luke 12:13-21
Being “a friend” comes with quite a jobspec! To disagree may mean the end of friendship. Because …
“If you were really my friend you would stick up for me! If you were my friend you would want to help me out. If you were my friend you should be the one I can depend upon. If you were my friend …
Yesterday we had a service about Esther. Through October we are journeying with those who journey through the Old Testament.
As part of the service prep the two of us were given a reference book to use. The received wisdom of others. And – like so much religious received wisdom – it was interesting to read:
It “bigged-up” Esther … it made her a role model .. it put her on a pedestal to be emulated … Esther saved the entire Chosen People with hardly a drop of blood split … all because of “God” (who is not mentioned once in this book of the bible) .. with the learning that “God is present and working in our lives – even when we think He isn’t”. In fact Esther is so worthy of a place in the bible that there is a Jewish Festival in her honour – one still celebrated today – a festival in remembrance of Esther’s deliverance of The Chosen People. This “received wisdom” – this learned academic theology – is “standard fare” for bible study – standard fare for Sunday services – standard fare for teaching Followers. And comes with one teeny problem. The followers are taught something unspoken.
WOW! We could never do that!
Because Esther’s pedestal is very high and very distant. And here “we” are looking up – hearing about Esther – reading about Esther – and all the while knowing that “we” could never do “that” – all the while having reinforced how “ordinary” we are compared to these “biblical figures” we read of … are taught about … who are in a different “spiritual league” than us. And week after week reinforcing our belief that “we will never be them” – that they are biblical super heroes and heroines!
So yesterday we took away Esther’s pedestal.
We took away her super-heroine cape. We invited Esther to sit amongst us. We invited the congregation to see Esther sitting in a pew right beside each one there. Even more “ordinary” than each of us there in church yesterday. Someone we might look at with disdain, who was “spiritually immature”, who didn’t really fit – but was “young and really pretty” – so always welcome to join us (unless she rocked the boat too much … unless she wore the wrong clothes … all the usual “club stuff” … ) – in fact – instead of being someone we looked up to – Esther would probably have been someone we looked down on. And we used this clip to make that point:
A peek inside the “X Factor house”. The place where these ordinary people just like us (our sons, daughters, nieces and nephews, our own family and friends … our own “us” today and right now) are deposited – to be primped and preened – to be shown how to walk and talk – to be styled to look good – to be taught how to project – in short: to be schooled how to make others “love them” … to become a showbiz “product” that is pleasing to the eye of others (who we then judge as the one we love the most).
It is “a showbiz process” we older ones look on with disdain (and which we younger ones dream of with salivating yearning). But we older ones see Shallow. Demeaning. A bubble. Not real. Of this world. Not of God. Something we don’t watch.
Except that is what Esther was swept up in.
Twelve months of the “X Factor House” as written in the bible. Wallowing in the latest beauty products. All the primping and preening. All the mirrors. Always eyeing up the “competition”. Surrounded by the styling … all so that she would be “loved” (or lusted over?). All the same “shallow” celeb stuff of today! Of being the prettiest, the cutest, the most adorable, the most shallow.
And – guess what – Esther embraced it as though to this “shallow lifestyle”. My opinion? Esther would have won X-Factor!
Esther is worth a read and is only ten chapters long.
“Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?”
We have a very subjective (perverse?) relationship with the bible and God. We put Jesus on a pedestal. And God (except His pedestal is REALLY big and distant). And Esther’s pedestal is in that same “distance zone” (mainly because she is Old Testament – and that makes her very distant). Esther is out of our reach. Up there with God and stuff.
And so we asked this question: “If I believe that Esther is really better than me, that I could never do what Esther did, that God would never dream of asking me to do that, that I haven’t got what it takes … What might that mean – and why might that be?”
Doesn’t that mean that I believe God thinks less of me than Esther … that God gave me the left-over bits that no one else wanted … that I am too old to do what Esther did … that I have too many commitments to do what Esther did … that I am too young to do what Esther did … that I am too X Factor – too spiritually immature to be Esther … that I have too much life to live to do what Esther did. In fact …
Doesn’t that mean that I NEED my “biblical pedestals” – that I LIKE my personal comfort and me being in control? That I would have to say no to God if He asked – that it would interrupt the way I want to live, the way I want to worship, and the way I (want to) believe in God?
Which – for me – is the “perverse” bit of all this received wisdom, this learned academic theology, this tradition of worship passed down week after week, this “being washed clean” each week, this need to be “washed clean” week after week, this superstition that if we don’t – we are already halfway to Hell.
Jesus IS God. All these “Esthers” … “prophets” … the Moses and Elisha’s … they ARE the same people we see in the street today, who drive cars today, who have jobs and families, who go shopping in the same places we go shopping. The “disciples” … “apostles” … Pauls and Timothys … they ARE the same people we sit next to in church, that we call when we need a plumber, an electrician, or a pest control operative … All these “biblical heroes and heroines” ARE ordinary human beings just like us. There are NO pedestals in the bible. Not even for God who is Jesus.
Other than those WE put there. As we seem to do week after week. Service after service. We seem to like “them” to be on “our” pedestals. And the oddest thing of all … No one puts them there apart from us. Because if indeed we do prefer our bible and our God “that way” – if we don’t want to know God who is Jesus that intimately – who is so naked – who invites us to be naked as well – because that intimacy IS safe and IS relationship and IS unconditional love …
Just what might that say about “our worship”? And just what might that mean about me and you and God (who is Jesus)?
(to be reblogged on “Just Me Being Curious” – the last of three)