Sunday, May 22, 2011

Obedience

I'm a pansy.  I'll admit that upfront.  And I think that most of us are, when it comes to the kind of obedience we read about in the Testaments of the Bible.  We think we have it rough when God asks us to go on a short-term mission, or to fast and pray for someone, or whatever it is that is so sacrificial.  But we really have no idea.  Think of what God asked Abram.  "Take your wife and leave your home for the land I will show you."  Think of the Israelites who'd made Egypt their home, albeit an enslaved one, for 400 years. "Take your families and follow this man, Moses, who will lead you through a sea back to your own land." Think of Joshua, to whom it was told, "Have the people march around this city for seven days and the walls will tumble without you lifting a hand to help."  Even as stiff-necked, rebellious, scared and disobedient as the people of God often and infuriatingly were, they risked more than the majority of us ever dream of doing.

The Israelites Moses led left everything--think of that.  Think of having been in a place 400+years.  What if every descendent of every slave on American soil decided to return to Africa all at once?  That's what we're talking about here.  In theory, there might be much rejoicing among those who had been used as farm and house tools, but wouldn't there also be a sense of, "But this is my home.  I am an American, too."  I can't say, for sure--I can't imagine, and am NOT trying to speak to what I cannot understand, just to place what the Israelites did in a context we might get.  My point is, it wasn't necessarily as simple, "Yippee, we're out of here!"  So it isn't surprising to me that there were grumbling. Really. Obedience is hard.

But then there's Joseph.  Mary's Joseph, I mean. The man who was much more obedient than the people of Israel, with less to go on (only a dream that might well have been something he ate!) and a whole lot more to lose (his reputation, for example).  This was a man who was, as Exodus 21:5-6 says, "a servant for life--with an ear pierced with an awl."  Think of it: he makes a plan to put aside his betrothed wife, goes to sleep, and when he gets up in the morning, he's already made a completely different plan.  A 180 degree change from when he lay down to sleep.  That readiness to obey didn't happen in the morning, but was already there before he went to sleep the night before.  When the angel of the Lord spoke, Joseph was ready to obey, no matter how odd or outside his preconceived notion of what was possible or probable for his life. He's told,"What is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit." I can imagine thinking, very skeptically, 'Well, okay then. The Messiah, you mean?  Of course.' But the text in Matthew simply says he got up and obeyed. The end.

And this was the mark of Joseph's life. 

We talk endlessly about Mary's faith, trust and obedience.  But this amazing carpenter, who was step-daddy to the Son of God was visited by angels not once, but three different times as he carried the burden of this little family. "Take this pregnant girl to be your wife."  "Get them out of Bethlehem--all the way to Egypt."  "Go home now!"  And entrusted by God, as a man and a father, to raise God's own begotten Son to be a man Himself.  Can you imagine?  Joseph helped give Jesus feet to stand on this earth, and was a model of a man for the Son of God.  Think about that a moment.

And all because of Joseph's heart of obedience, that helped him obey before he even knew what it would mean, when the world was pointing fingers, when it cost him everything--reputation (at least for a while), a home, his job, his country.

As I say, we're pansies about obedience in comparison.

But here's the thing about Joseph:  He did it for Jesus.  Yes, for his wife and new baby son, but that son was the SON.  Was Jesus.  He did it for Him. He was always considering Jesus.  NOthing in Joseph's life--from that first dream on-- was about himself.  Ever after, he lived his life putting Jesus first.

This is an obvious thing, because it's what all fathers do.  But it's also a perfect picture of discipleship.  If we can be Joseph, if we can live, paying attention to angels (and we entertain them, Hebrews tells us, even when we're unaware), and putting Jesus first, considering Him, being His servant--we're in good shape.  Do I get up in the night when He speaks? Do I move?  Step away from my comfort zone?  Trust Him when it looks improbable or impossible?

And here's the other thing:  All these things Joseph did, from the moment He first obeyed and took Mary to be his wife onward, he did WITH Jesus.  Think about that.  Jesus was always present.  Yes, yes, I know, He was a baby, small child, little boy. But the metaphor is a good and useful one for us, because we are not left alone even to obey by our own strength.  In fact, trying to obey by our own strength is likely to doom us to failure--at some point or other.  Instant obedience is only possible, I believe, if the Holy Spirit empowers us to it.  If He pierces our ears with an awl so that we are His servants for life.

(By the way, it was when I read those verses in Exodus at the age of 24 that I decided to get my ears pierced.  Before that I'd resisted.  Since, I've LOVED this pierced sense of being His Servant.)

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