Let us pray: The mystery of faith is one that both encourages active searching and prompts us to question. May these words be encouraging words, O God. And may our questions be ones which lead us to new depths in our souls. Amen.
Three different approaches to community development. That’s what we heard in our readings this morning. Concerned perhaps by the possibility of a revolt among the leaderless people, Aaron acquiesces to a misdirected spiritual yearning. The people were calmed, but God was not – as the story tells us. It’s a pretty remarkable story, especially if we are of the common view that God is unchanging, immutable, God only wise – as we sing in one of the well-loved hymns. This story draws into question the whole idea that God is all knowing and all loving. The story breathes a between the lines sigh of relief as Moses pulls the community and their common faith out of both the figurative and literal fire. Is this a blip in a story of constancy, and faithfulness, or should it inform our faith to a much greater degree. If God’s mind can be changed then how earnestly should we try to do the same? And if we try, then what moral characteristic guides us in that exercise of divine mind altering? If God and faith in God is the source of our moral authority, our understanding of right and wrong, then what does it mean if God can be convinced to change a plan of action. Where did the goodness that propels that change of mind come from? Does this mean that there is some greater sense of right and good that is even greater than God?
I don’t know about you, but it is reassuring to know that God’s mind can be changed. It softens the harshness of the vengeful God that is often depicted in scripture. It enlivens God – distinguishing the Holy One from the lifeless object of reverence that the people built during Moses’ absence. A living God, capable of reason, capable of persuasion, even if that introduces an element of mystery and doubt, is a concept that enlivens faith as well. This is an idea that introduces the possibility of deeper discernment. And in my experience deeper discernment leads to deeper relationship. A God that can be persuaded is a God that is more nuanced, a God that has personality, a God that invites deeper consideration.
Moses’ status as a leader in community development is certainly enhanced in this story – both by virtue of what happened when he was gone, and by virtue of what happened when he returned.
Perhaps there is no better term to apply to Paul than that of community developer. A case could be made that his whole purpose in life was to develop the various communities with which he was in touch. Corinth. Ephesus. Rome. And in today’s reading, Philippi.
His approach to community development this week is typified by the advice he gives to the Philippians. You are good people he says, preparing them for what comes next. Prayer is his answer. Prayer can lead to the settling of differences. Prayer can lead people to expression of gratitude. Prayer can remind people that God is good and that God wants goodness to flow out of community. Paul might be paraphrased in this: The community that prays together, stays together.
Apparently the same spirit that inhabited the community of people waiting at the bottom of the mountain in our story from Exodus this morning has come to rest in the community (although I use that word reluctantly) that is described by Jesus. Who knows why the community was so scattered that they did not want to attend the wedding feast for the royal prince? It’s a story without that kind of detail. Typically Jesus leaves the detail out and in so doing invites a richness that comes from our own speculations, filling in of blanks and ascribing of motives.
Regardless of the reasons, the invited ones in Jesus’ story don’t come. And so how does community come together in this story of the wedding feast? By drawing a wider circle. Again Jesus doesn’t go into detail about the ensuing wedding feast. We don’t know whether the original invitees were upset? We just know that in keeping with Jesus’ message in other places – the last became first.
Three takes on community development. I’ve characterized them in this way. Entreat: That’s what Moses did with God – changing the mind of God and thus restoring the faith and the community of the Exodus people. Pray: that was the way that Paul invited the Philippian Christians to strengthen their community and to strengthen their commitment to the way of God. Love: It was shown widely in Jesus’ story of the wedding feast. When one community is too scattered go and bring others, and in so doing you demonstrate the inclusive love of God. Amen.