Wednesday, 14 March 2012

lectionary leanings Lent 4B: snakes on a plain?

[I can take no credit for the 'snakes on a plain' gag; this courtesy of 'Marci' from a RevGals chat in the Facebook arena.]

The Old Testament passage for this upcoming Sunday features wandering, wondering, whingeing, and quite a few snakes...

Numbers 21: 4-9
From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; 
but the people became impatient on the way. 
The people spoke against God and against Moses, 
“Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? 
For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.” 
Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. 
The people came to Moses and said, 
“We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.” 
So Moses prayed for the people. 
And the Lord said to Moses, 
“Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” 
So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; 
                                                                             and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live. 

The passage got me pondering upon the problems of a particular take on the providence of God...and making amused links to my studies on church discipline - and specifically, the Protestant practice of corporate penitential fasting.   [yes, yes, my research area is a veritable cornucopia of alliteration using the letter 'p']
The reformers saw Scotland as the new Israel - they saw themselves as God's chosen people, with both the rights and the responsibilities that came as part of the covenantal package.
Be good, keep the commands and blessings followed...
be disobedient, and signs of God's wrath would surely come.

The remedy to cure the illness of sin, which jeopardised both the spiritual and the physical state of the community, was the act of corporate penitential fasting and humiliation. 
However, pity the poor souls living in Perth in the 1590's - 1610's, in what Margo Todd calls a 'laundry list of horrors': 
strange plagues amongst the livestock; severe storms; several cases of flooding - including the destruction of the bridge; several occurrences of the plague with considerable loss of life. 
Believing these were signs of God's displeasure, the Perth Kirk Session reached into the spiritual medicine cabinet and pulled out the corporate fasting cure.  And so the people fasted, and prayed, and prostrated themselves before the Lord... again, and again, and again.  

Which was all very well, but even when they were giving it their best penitential shot, and being good and godly and duly fasting... during worship - in the midst of the sermon - God, still seemingly displeased, sent a storm of such severity that it knocked down the stone wall at the back of the church. Understandably, the congregation were utterly terrified.

Truly a bit of a scunner.

So, what is our take on God - and the providence of God?
Do we at times think of God as acting in a 'good God'/ 'bad God' kind of way? A God who, as my gran used to observe, 'plays funny tricks'?
What is a healthier way to approach the matter of God's providence for us and our congregations?

*who said a history PhD wasn't relevant for ministry training?!* :)

1 comment:

Martha Spong said...

I think it's very relevant. Loved reading this.