Sunday, March 20, 2011

Devotional for the Twelfth Day of Lent, The Second Sunday of Lent

Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? Those who have clean hands and pure hearts,
who do not lift up their souls to what is false,
and do not swear deceitfully. They will receive blessing from the Lord,
and vindication from the God of their salvation. Such is the company of those who seek him,
who seek the face of the God of Jacob. (Psalm 24:3-6)

Then [Jesus’] mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:31-35)

I was a Boy Scout for one year when I was twelve. I signed up, got my uniform, picked up the Scout handbook, and started memorizing some things like the Scout oath and the 12 Points of the Scout Law (“A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind . . .” and so on). I didn’t have to know any of this stuff to get in, nor did I have to give evidence that I was good at any of those things before the Scouts took me in. But if I was going to be a Boy Scout, it was expected that I would act like one. Wearing the uniform came with an identity that was to be lived out in everyday life.

The psalmist describes a people with clean hands and pure hearts. These are the ones to receive God’s blessing. They are the ones who are to come to the Temple to worship. I don’t imagine that there was a guard at the Temple entrance checking everyone’s hands and interrogating them about their hearts in order to let the right people in. This Psalm describes the character of the people who are seeking God and living with integrity as a response to God’s love. This isn’t about behaving well enough to gain God’s favor; it’s about living in the identity as God’s beloved people.

In a similar way, Jesus speaks of those who do the will of God as if they are the equivalent of his family. Family members don’t do things to be qualified as family; they are family by sharing things like DNA, parentage, and love. Strangers don’t generally enter our homes and start doing the dishes in order to be accepted as family. Brothers and sisters and mothers are already bonded by familial connection, and as such they are supposed to live out that identity in ways that are real.

People often get confused at this point. A follower of Jesus does not have the job of trying to make everyone else feel guilty about the way they live. Instead, those who follow Jesus are called by God to live in that identity. The Bible tells us that we don’t even have to do that by our own strength, but by the presence of God’s Spirit within us. Doing the will of God and being Jesus’ family is not an issue of qualification, but rather being who God is forming us to be.

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