Ezra 8:21-9:15; 1 Corinthians 5:1-13; Psalms 31:1-8; Proverbs 21:1-2
Today is the 9th day of August. Welcome to the Daily Audio Bible. I am Brian. I am thrilled to be here with you today for the next step forward in the scriptures as we passed the halfway point of this week. We’re reading from the Good News translation and we’re working our way through the story of the return of the exiles back to Jerusalem and all the obstacles that they had to overcome as we move through the book of Ezra, which is not that long. We will finish it tomorrow. But we’re not there yet. We’re here. We’re today. Ezra chapter 8 verse 21 through 9:15 and we’re reading from the Good News translation this week.
Ok. So, some heavy stuff going on in both Old and New Testaments and they are remarkably linked together and generate the same kind of shock and awe among the writers, Ezra and Paul. So, we’re going to have to go a little bit theological here. And, look, I love theology. That is what I studied. But also, I understand that the worship of theology, like the trying to tweak out your theology to get it more perfect and thinking that that is actually pulling you deeper into relationship with God, because you’re tweaking what you believe, just constantly tinkering with that. I don’t think that’s a replacement for a relationship with God. In fact, I think I would go further than to say I don’t think that. I would say, it’s not, which is precisely the premise of my book, Reframe - From The God We’ve Made To God With Us. However, even in that work, I acknowledge that, look, theology is the framework. It’s the studs in the wall that hold the walls up. And, so, especially in First Corinthians, we reach this particular passage where there’s some really weird stuff going on, that we’ll talk about in a second, that to understand what Paul is instructing, you have to have a theological underpinning. But more than a theological underpinning, a social and cultural underpinning and an understanding who Paul is writing to and what is going on there, in that spot, at that time. That matters. If you want you explanation of Jesus to be correct, you’re unpacking of the whole thing, your understanding and explanation of the whole thing to be correct, while acknowledging that a number of things, lots and lots and lots and lots of things in the bible have been theologically debated and wrestled with all along. And devout, completely gifted, and sold out theologians who were completely in pursuit of God have arrived at different conclusions or nuanced understandings. That is normal. And it’s not new. It’s, like, old. Super, super old. And this has always been going on. In fact, it is a part of the Jewish tradition from which our faith in Jesus comes. Israel means the one who wrestles with God. And that is a part of their DNA, to approach the scriptures and wrestle with them and allow them to go inside and disrupt things and wrestle with things and come together around the ideas that are brought up because the bible, as we all know because we’ve been going through it every day since beginning of the year, the bible becomes a mirror and it brings up things in our own life that aren’t necessarily explicit on the page. The Holy Spirit surfaces things. So, let’s take a look. Go back Ezra and the people have gone into exile. We watched all this happen. The northern and the southern kingdoms disintegrated. The ten tribes of the north of Israel fell to the Assyrians and disappeared from history. Judah and Benjamin were conquered by the Babylonians and taken into exile. And Ezra is us watching them be able to come back, come back to a Jerusalem that has been completely destroyed and begin putting rock upon rock to rebuild the temple. But let’s go back to before there were northern and southern tribes. Let’s go all the way back to the other side of the Jordan river when we’re just with Moses. And you remember that, when we got cross the Jordan river and finally be in the promised land with these guys. One of the reasons that they were going to be able to go into this land and displace the people and have a land of their own was what the people were doing. And they were doing things that God said, I haven’t even thought of these things. Like, they’re doing things that I have never conceived in my mind. And part of that was the rituals in their idolatrous worship of their false gods, some of things they were doing with each other, even some of the things that they were doing with animals. Just all kinds of stuff that included, like, infant sacrifice. Things that that no one should ever think of. And, so, as Moses leads the people into the land, there’s a code, there’s a law. There is sort of a governing document that prescribes what life together, what community life together, will look like. And one of those things is that you don’t mix when you go into this new land. You’re not going to mix. And there’s been all kinds of interpretation around what that actually means. But God was specific enough to say, the reason that you don’t mix is because your heart will eventually be seduced away and you won’t be this chosen people with this construct given by God for how to govern yourselves anymore. That will all fall apart because you will start mixing it all up. In fact, this was one of Moses final warnings. When you get there and you are not in struggle anymore. When you are not fighting to survive every single day. When you get into this land that’s flowing with milk and honey and everything is peaceful around you, that’s when you’re at your most vulnerable position, to the slow but steady intertwining of other things that will seduce you away. Now, if we pause right there, we can look at it a number of ways. But if we just look at it in terms of our own lives, we can say that idea is true because, yes, when I am in hardship, when I am struggling to survive day by day, I am lock step with the Lord. I am trusting, I am pleading, I am crying out, I am focused, I am trying to move beyond this. But when you get beyond that, things settle down, everything is good, you’re having a good season of prosperity or whatever, then, that’s when the slippage begins to happen because beginning to intermingle - and mix and we’re not even talking people here, we’re just saying - everything becomes looser and eventually, when that’s not maintained, it becomes a problem. Right? So, that’s or talking about here. So, when Ezra gets to Jerusalem with a lot of supplies, a lot of wealth, a lot of people, and they’re sort of settling in to the process of participating in the rebuilding, and Ezra realizes that some of the very highest leaders of the exiles have begun mixing with the surrounding people again. He is horrified because this is what undid them in the first place. And it’s not about, it’s not about personal judgment of another kind of people. It’s about the seduction of the heart away from God. And we can see in our own lives and that we have this tendency. But we can also look at people, like, the wisest person ever. Right? Solomon, king Solomon devoted his life to God and brought Israel to its absolute apex, it’s civilizations apex. But then he fell away because he had collected the most beautiful women in the world to be his wives. Part of these were, like, treaties and alliances with other nations. Part of it was that he loved beauty. So, Solomon, wisest man in the world has the most beautiful women in the world available to him at any time and that eventually seduces his heart away from God. And it’s not the woman that seduced him away. It’s that she came from somewhere else. And eventually converted him to her religion. And this happened with a number of people. And, so, Solomon starts building shrines and stuff for his wives to worship in and then other people start worshiping there and then all of the sudden this thing starts to fall apart. Ok, so, all of that unrest. All of that thought over all kinds of time about why Israel fell apart, why they went into exile, why they were lost, why they got to come back as exiles. That stuff informs Paul’s personal theology and understanding of the world because he is a trained Pharisee. So, like, no matter how much he’s converted to Jesus, his theological underpinning is in Judaism and he is a trained scholar in it, an articulate communicator in it. So much of what Paul writes is back at those people saying, look, here’s why Jesus connects to our story. So, this same kind of situation arises in the church in Corinth with a man having sex with his stepmother. Whether they somehow got married or they were living together, or whatever. They’re sleeping together. And that would not be accepted very well even today, in our very open cultures, especially sexually open cultures. Even that, even today, even a couple of thousand years later is still a little weird. Maybe even more than a little weird because its incestuous. That’s immediately what comes up. It’s incestuous. So, even though this man and this woman weren’t, like, biologically connected to each other, incestuously, still kind of like a mother / son relationship. And, so, Paul addresses it. But he’s addressing it kind of through the lens that we just talked about. So, Paul says, now, it is actually being said that there is sexual immorality among you so terrible that not even the heathen would be guilty of it. Right? So, this mimics those ideas that God was saying in the Old Testament - I haven’t even thought of these things, the things that these people are doing, I haven’t even thought of these things. And we hearken back Ezra, sitting there, waiting for the evening sacrifice, lamenting and mourning, God you have rescued us so many times and we just keep doing the same thing to destroy ourselves. This is part of Paul’s worldview and this is what he’s seeing happen in the church in Corinth. And, so, what he says is, how can you be proud? So, what’s happening is, that this is going on. Right? This mother’s son kind of stepmother, stepson relationship, that’s odd, that the church in Corinth is completely accepting that it’s fine. And, so, many scholars over a long period of time have kind of read between the lines to find that this relationship between this, this mother son relationship, this alliance, probably held power in the church. Probably wealth for the church. Status for the church. And, so, these two people, who are doing this in the open, probably had a prestigious position in the church. Probably because they had money. Because it would be that kind of influence that would make everybody ok with everything. This wouldn’t normally be ok with most anybody, even today. So, Paul’s just calling it out. How can you be proud of this? You should be filled with sadness. Right? Which is just like Ezra. The man who has done such a thing should be expelled from your fellowship. Which immediately twists us because it’s like, what about this inclusive gospel the Paul’s talking about where everybody in the world can come in through Jesus and grace and mercy abound and a multitude of sins is covered over. Like, why are we kicking people out all of the sudden? And Paul partially clarifies that a little bit later when he’s like, look, we’re not talking about judging the whole world here. People are going to do what people are going to do and you’d have not even be in on the planet earth to get away from all of that. So, specifically, what Paul said is, in the letter that I wrote you, I told you - by the way, as a side note here, there’s a lot of thought that there is another letter to the Corinthian church that we don’t have, that has not been preserved, and we don’t know exactly what it said, but it’s because of this, Paul says, in the letter that I wrote you, and this is First Corinthians, so, what is that other letter, I would love to read that letter, but we don’t have it - in the letter that I wrote you, I told you not to associate with immoral people. Which means, this had already been a problem in the church in Corinth. Paul has already begun to address this problem with the church in Corinth and then all of the sudden there’s, like, leadership positions in the church where a stepson and his stepmother are having sex and we don’t know where the father is but either way, that’s what’s going on. And the church is fine, completely fine with it. So, this has kind of been an issue in the Corinthian church already. But Paul says, I did not mean - when I said don’t associate immoral people - I didn’t mean pagans who are immoral or greedy or are thieves or who worship idols. You’d have to be not on earth to avoid that completely. What I meant was that you shouldn’t associate with a person who calls themselves a believer but then doesn’t in any way act like a believer - their immoral, greedy, they worship idols, their slanderers, their drunkards, and thieves. Those people that are claiming Jesus and could not be farther away from Jesus, that’s who I was talking about when I wrote to you. But I’ve said all of what I’ve said up until this point to get us right here, Paul’s instructions. You need any kick this guy out. This can’t happen. You can’t say that this is OK. This has got to be confronted. And Paul says, you’re to hand this man over to Satan for his body to be destroyed so that his Spirit may be saved, ultimately, in the day of the Lord. And so much of the theology of church discipline hinges on versus like this. And a lot of people have been hurt in this kind of context. And, so, ultimately, what we’re talking about here is mixture - that which would seduce a person’s heart away from God and toward idolatry, toward giving one’s heart in worship to something else. And when that happens community wide all the sudden you have a new normal. And that new normal will become another new normal that will become another new normal and eventually look nothing like when you started. And like I said just a little bit ago, we can we can see that tendency in our own lives all by ourselves. We’ve all experienced this. So, it’s not like a fake thing and it’s not like an exclusive thing. It’s, like, a human thing - when we access and reintegrate our fallen-ness. It’s just our tendency. So, what is Paul actually saying to do here? What does it mean that you are to hand this man over to Satan for his body to be destroyed so that his Spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord? Because that’s very ominous sounding. And, literally throughout New Testament church history, this has been debated. I mean, some have concluded, as a church body you are to kill this person so that their Spirit may be saved. And that kind of understanding has found its way into church history all over the place. People have been burned at the stake to destroy their body to set their Spirits free for all kinds of reasons, mostly associated with theological differences. And when an interpretation like that runs amok, you end up with something worse than you had in the first place – power, terror, fear, shutting down, closing off. Taking a singular interpretation about a singular event that was happening in a singular church in a singular place and applying that globally. So, you can do your own wrestling and start going down the wormhole as far as you want to go. It’s going to take you a while but I’ll at least say that I arrive with what I believe is the consensus with the majority of the scholarship on this. That is that there are two issues here, pride and sexual immorality - incest. The pride is on the part of the man involved here and the congregation. Paul says, how can you be proud of this? You should be filled with sadness. So the pride, all the way around, Paul rebukes. But to this incestuous behavior, he condemns. But I don’t believe he was saying, look, Sunday morning, right after worship, before the offering, all of you need to get together and execute this guy. Rather, I think Paul is saying this can’t be going on, this can’t be affirmed, the pride around this can’t continue, that’s going to establish a new normal, that’s going to establish a new normal, that’s going to establish a new normal, and is eventually going to destroy you. You need to withdraw the protection of the community and call this what it is. And you need to acknowledge your own pride in this. So, like, maybe this guy was funding the building program and who knows what else he or they were involved in. There’s no way to know. So, it’s not just what this guy was doing. It’s what the church was doing response. And everyone is culpable. Everyone has to take ownership and there needs to be repentance all the way around. And if there is no repentance on the part of this person then there’s not whole lot else to say, other than, they’re going to reap what they sew. Other than that, they’re going to destroy themselves. This isn’t going to work. But, better that then they be lost forever. They’re going to leave in a huff. They’re going to take a bunch of people with them. They’re all going to get together and bad mouth everyone else. They’re going to post mean things on social media. They’re going to broadcast it all over the town. But all that is spiteful. All that is coming from the root of pride and arrogance and eventually that all dies down and a person has to look in the mirror again and deal with their own lives. And, so, once they’ve exhausted all of that they going to have to deal with their own lives. And wherever this path goes, it’s going to lead to their destruction, until they repent. So, better that that happen, so then in the end his Spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. And then Paul goes back right back into to the idea of mixture. It is not right for you to be proud. You know the saying, a little bit of yeast makes the whole batch of dough rise. You must remove the old yeast of sin so that you will be entirely pure. Then you will be like a new batch of dough without any yeast, as indeed I know you actually are.
So, there’s our little theological discussion today. But I normally like to tie things off in terms of, ok, what do I, like, how does this apply to me? Because I am really big on personal responsibility for our relationships - all of our relationships - including our relationship with God, owning our stuff. How do I behave? And what this passage in First Corinthians does for me is force me to put myself in the position of this man. What are the places in me of pride and arrogance so big that I’m willing to flaunt it even if it’s not right? And even if I’m not flaunting it to the world, you know, like even, just inside of me. What are the areas that I have begun to allow the mixture that is only going to eventual create a new normal in me? And the Holy Spirit will begin to bring those things up. We already know what they might be. And we can immediately turn toward condemnation of someone else or of ourselves. We can immediately turn toward dogma and fundamentalism and go, like, I’ve got to build a thicker wall around myself to keep myself away from whatever. But that kind of behavior closes us when we are to live open. That kind of behavior, eventually is exactly what Paul was talking about in Romans when we were talking about the law. Nobody’s going to be able to do this perfectly on their own. Nobody’s going to get before God and say, I deserve to be here because I was that good. So, the only thing that we can do - and this is going to sound esoteric because it’s also something that is very individual - we have to walk with God. And what that looks like for you is going to be different than what that looks like for me because we all have different stories but we do have a heavenly father that knows us intimately, wove us together in our mother’s womb, has known us before we even knew we existed. He understands our story in his willing to walk through life, collaborating with us in that story. And, so, this whole thing becomes less about kicking people out of church to me and more about dealing with my own hypocrisy, pride, and arrogance. UGH!! Right? It’s just easier to kick someone out of the club than to deal with that kind of darkness within. But it’s like Jesus said to the man next to the pool at Bethesda, do you want to get well?
Jesus, of course we want to get well. We just don’t want to have to do anything. We don’t want to have to do any hard work. We don’t want to have to change anything. We just want a miracle. We just want you to touch us. But, like this man, we are going to have to reach toward you in faith and collaborate in that change and some of that is going to be dealing with old new normals that we have systematically created for ourselves, that have allowed darkness to exist inside of us. And, so, we invite Your Holy Spirit into those places. And we do this often because we need to do this often and because Your word keeps bringing these kinds of things up in us often. And, so, there things that we have to be vigilant and constant about. It’s not like we’re going to just fix this once and then we don’t ever have to deal with it again. You continue to come back for deeper cut. You keep coming back, taking us further. And we raise our hands in worship and ask You to take us out into the deep but we don’t always really mean that. It just sounds good. But we need to be able to trust You to go beyond the shore, to go into the darkness where we can’t see anything and there is only You and allow You to have access to those places in us that we might be healed. And that the power of Your resurrection might occupy the space that was once filled with darkness. And, so, this is meaning a lot of things for a lot of us and we’re inviting You into all of those things and we’re asking that we are beginning something today that isn’t going to end. This isn’t something we aren’t going to be vigilant over ever again. We’re inviting Your Holy Spirit because we do want to fall deeper in love with You. We do want to be lost in You. We do want it to be You who lives within us, shining out Your glory into the world as we continue to represent You and infect this world with light and good news. Come, Holy Spirit. We pray in Jesus name. Amen.
SONG played on today’s DAB “Cleanse Me” Brian Cook & Power Nation http://apple.co/2v0XmAZ