Proper 19 (September 12, 2010)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Ex. 32:7-14; Ps. 51:1-10; I Tim. 1:12-17; Lk. 15:1-10
Ramadan has ended and Muslims are celebrating Eid al-Fitr (festival at the conclusion of the fast). The common holiday greeting is Eid Mubarak (a blessed festival).
The Eid officially begins with pre-sunrise prayers offered collectively in large mosques and open fields. We could hear the melodic chanting of the prayers from our home in Amman. Muslims are also encouraged at the beginning of the Eid to forgive animosities that have occurred against others during the past year.
Many Muslims also begin the Eid by giving charity to the poor, buying new clothes, visiting relatives and friends, and giving gifts to children and family members. There are interesting parallels to the Christian celebration of Christmas at the end of the season of Advent, and the celebration of Easter after the period of Lenten repentance and reflection.
There was special drama this year as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan ended near the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States. A pastor in Florida called for burning the Qu’ran on 9/11. This is seen as an extremely provocative act in this region and sparked a number of demonstrations. Around the world, political and religious leaders and organizations, including MCC U.S., were quick to condemn the call for burning the Qu’ran. Thankfully, the pastor has at least temporarily suspended his call.
It is important for Christians to condemn such provocative acts and to stand in solidarity with Muslims. But there is little room for self-righteousness. All U.S. taxpayers have helped finance the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which are widely viewed in this region as an anti-Muslim campaign by a “Christian” nation. There is much room for humility; and bridgebuilding efforts with the Muslim community are more important than ever.
The Common Lectionary readings this week offer an extraordinary picture of how God responds to human sin.
God is angry at sin. In the Old Testament, God is angry when the people mold the image of a calf out of gold and worship it as the gods who delivered them from slavery in Egypt (Ex. 32:7-10). Initially, God plans to destroy the people, but Moses appeals for God to show mercy.
God desires truth in our inner being. In his prayer of confession to God after he committed adultery with Bathsheba, David declares, “You desire truth in the inward being.” (Ps. 51:6) David pleads for God’s mercy (v.1), cleansing (v.2), forgiveness (v.9) and restoration (v.10).
God shows mercy to, saves and uses even the worst of sinners. In the Epistle reading, Paul admits that he was formerly “a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence” (I Tim. 1:13) – the foremost of sinners (v.15). Still, God shows him mercy, saves him and powerfully uses him as an example of God’s utmost patience (v.16).
God rejoices when sinners repent. In the Gospel reading, Jesus tells two stories – one about a lost sheep, the other about a lost coin – to illustrate God’s relentless search for those who have gone astray, and God’s delight when sinners repent. (Lk. 15:1-10). While God cares for all people, God shows special concern for those who have lost their way.
We stray so easily from God’s ways — placing our trust in material things, seeking pleasure at the expense of others, becoming self-righteous in our religious zeal. Seasons like Lent and Ramadan are opportunities to reflect, repent and receive God’s grace to begin anew.