August 24, 2013

Twin Peaks

Filed under: Lectionary — by Lisa Meeder Turnbull @ 10:59 am

I’ve had a song stuck in my head all week. It’s a favorite hymn from my United Methodist upbringing that is sadly not included in the Episcopal hymnal. Evoking Hebrews 12:22, we sing:

Come, we that love the Lord, and let our joys be known;

Join in a song with sweet accord, Join in a song with sweet accord

And thus surround the throne, and thus surround the throne.


Let those refuse to sing who never knew our God;

But children of the heavenly King, but children of the heavenly King

May speak their joys abroad, may speak their joys abroad.


Then let our songs abound and every tear be dry;

We’re marching through Emmanuel’s ground; we’re marching thru Emmanuel’s ground

To fairer worlds on high, to fairer worlds on high.


(With each verse followed by a rousing chorus)

We’re marching to Zion, Beautiful, beautiful Zion;

We’re marching upward to Zion, the beautiful city of God.[i]

If we’re lucky, the preacher calls for an extra chorus

While I was humming my way through the week, it struck me that I couldn’t think of a single hymn about God’s other mountain in the Epistle assigned for this week—the mountain of God’s wrath, the mountain of fear and trembling and death.

The more I thought about it, the more I began to wonder: Of the many conversations I’ve had over the years with companions in my spiritual journey, I have shared and heard countless struggles and joys, wilderness times, mountaintop experiences, moments of knowing and deserts of doubt. But I can’t remember a single conversation around a time when “God just grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and shook me like a puppy.”

Why is that? Why do we resist this other mountaintop, this other face of God? Does it somehow feel un-resurrection-like to embrace God’s wrath and righteous anger?

That is where I lapse into what Gray Temple calls “the somewhat dishonorable Christian habit”:

Christians who … seek to contrast the Old Testament’s God of wrath with the New Testament’s God of grace … betray ignorance of both testaments. If the New Testament God’s mercy is always close to the Hebrew surface, something like judgment is near to Christian texts too.[ii]

In other words, Temple continues, “we cannot escape that fire by leaving the synagogue and crossing over to the church.” Jesus himself knew this truth when he said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” (Matthew 5:17)

Perhaps a better way to wrestle, then is in what Lanny Peters sees as the invitation in this text:

What is the pastoral word for (those) who are honest enough to name what they see in biblical texts? Does God have schizoid tendencies? Is God…sometimes really kind and loving and forgiving, while at others God gets all angry and wants to punish and even hurt people? Or might this question instead bear witness to our human ambivalence about the nature of God? Texts like this provide a great opportunity for honest dialogue within faith communities.[iii]

When has your spiritual journey taken you to Sinai…or to Zion…or even to both at once? What songs do you sing in these fairer worlds on high?

[i] Watts, Isaac and Robert Lowry. Marching to Zion.

[ii] Temple, Gray, in Bartlett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor, Editors. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the

Revised Common Lectionary, Year C, Volume 3. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press. P. 376.

[iii]Ibid., Lanny Peters. P. 378.


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