Today's reflection on the Daily Texts:
"From the rising of the sun to its setting my name is great among the nations," says the Lord. - Malachi 1:11
Many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. - Matthew 8:11 (NIV)
Two-year reading texts: Psalm 119:65-72; 2 Samuel 15:1-29; John 9:1-12
One great benefit of reading scripture regularly is that it gives a whole different perspective on what it means to be a citizen of a nation and what it means to be a child of God. The nearby kingdoms of the Old Testament who were life-and-death enemies or allies of Israel and Judah have been gone so long that their names seem like only difficult tongue-twisters. The Roman Empire that ruled the known world in Jesus' time decayed and fell a few hundred years later. When the Bible speaks of "the nation," it means the descendants of Jacob who became Israel, wherever they might be. When it speaks of "the nations," it means the Gentiles, all other people, however they have organized themselves into political groups. God is there for all of them, and in Christ, we have the fulfillment of God's design that all people everywhere should have access to God's table.
At times in history, other groups have identified themselves with "the nation," appropriating all of God's promises and grace for themselves. These rise and fall, come and go - but God continues. America is probably the prime example, in my lifetime, of a country with enough faith to be inspired by the stories of the Bible, but also enough pride to see its borders as the markers of God's favor. The tension between the kingly and prophetic voices in scripture has found a long-running parallel in our American tension between a sense of identity rooted in Judeo-Christian faith and a commitment to truly submit our vast resources to God's vision of a better future for all. I can't read scriptures like today's verses, without thinking of our current presidential election and our ongoing struggle to figure out how to be a people whose lives and work reflect God's intent.
Two important factors rise up from these two little verses today. One is that God has to be at the center of any people or nation or effort before it can be truly great. We can build a solid foundation by humbly bearing the name of God, knowing that it's not we ourselves who are great, but the One who created us and all others. The second is that God desires all nations, all people to take their place together at the banquet of God's love, so that true faith in God leads toward peace and reconciliation, healing, respect, and abundant life for everybody. Rather than futilely trying to grab what we can and hoard it for ourselves, we understand that the earth is God's, and everything in it, and whatever power and influence we've been given is a gift for us to steward toward God's design.
Thank you, God, for creating us in all our variety, for giving us tribes and groups of people with whom we can become families and communities, and for providing a clear vision in which our divisions are not ends in themselves, but different ways to show forth your love. Call us to see you, to hear your word, to build on the power of your name, and to work for your love for all people, here and in all nations.