Jeremiah 35:18 But to the house of the Rechabites Jeremiah said: Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Because you have obeyed the command of your ancestor Jonadab, and kept all his precepts, and done all that he commanded you, 19therefore thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Jonadab son of Rechab shall not lack a descendant to stand before me for all time.
Do you recall what the Rechabites did? What commands they obeyed? Just two things. They didn’t drink wine. And didn’t live in houses, just tents. Serioulsly? This is what the Lord, God holds up for the gold standard for those whose blood line will continue through time?
News flash, the Rechabites have survived through time; in the Christian world there’s a group who abstain from alcohol and call themselves the Independent Order of Rechabites; in the Muslim world many consider the Rechahbites their ancestors; and tribes living near the Dead Sea and in Yemen claim descendency from the Rechabites.
But survival of the line is not the story here – at least as a biblical story and in terms of causality. Cause and effect. Did they receive God’s grace because they didn’t drink wine and lived in tents?
Is it a particular command that is obeyed that is important? Is that what the Holy Spirit is saying to God’s people today? Don’t drink. Live in tents, not homes? Or are we being taught something about obedience, in general. About the connection between God’s grace and obedience.
It is easy to be distracted by the particularities found in scripture in lieu of the universal. All the stories of the bible are filled with particularities. Indeed it is the presence of particular people, particular geography, particular gender, particular food, particular times of day, years, etc., that provides access to and teaches one aspect, dimension, color of a universal truth. But. The particularities are not the story – the whole story. The particularities contribute to the story. Give it a particular flavor.
I think focusing in on particular ‘don’t’s of scripture is like constructing a faith-based life picking up the least encumbered lowest valued color stick in a pick up stick game. In the photo here, it would be like picking up the green ones on the outside.
You know the childhood game. A number of sticks are thrown out on the ground and each player has a chance to pick up as many as they are able without moving the other sticks. And each color has a value. And there’s one stick you really want to avoid moving – or get to before the others. The caution to not move other sticks – especially the single colored one – can be paralyzing and limiting. It is easier to remove unencumbered, though less valued sticks and often on the perimeter of the pile, than to reach for the stars and go after the buried single colored stick slowly but surely perhaps even losing a turn every time something is moved with the effort.
Not drinking wine, not living in a house – well these seem like sticks of less value and on the perimeter of the life God created for us. Maybe it works for some, and apparently it did for the Rechabites – but surely God’s people are in that messy pile of sticks, too, and are invited to live in it.
God creates this big, crazy wonderful pick up stick world. We get to play in it and if we follow the rules – if we obey – we win. God is happy camper, and so are we. Playing by the rules – don’t move the other sticks or you lose your turn – is the big idea. But how do we play? How then, are we to live? Are we paralyzed with the fear of making a mistake and so we attach ourselves to ‘doable’ rules, biblical particularities – don’t drink, live in a tent – and hang out there on the outside looking into the mess of the pile?
Or do we take some risks – trust that to give God the greatest glory we obey the rules – take our turn and take our chances at losing our turn – but get right in the mix. Get into the life God has thrown out for us to play in?
Lectionary Readings Saturday:
AM Psalm 137:1-6(7-9), 144; PM Psalm 104
Jer. 35:1-19; 1 Cor. 12:27-13:3; Matt. 9:35-10:4