Stories weave in and around and through each other in such mysterious and enlightening ways sometimes.
I mentioned a couple of days ago that the book of reflections I'm using has been inviting me to read Psalm 119 in recent weeks. Today we reached the final stanza of that epic psalm, and its final verse struck me.
I have gone astray ... I have not forgotten thy commandments (KJV - I like reading the psalms in this version, the language is beautiful, and we all know I'm a fan of Shakespeare - this is his language).
These words from the psalmist reminded me of an image that emerges for me when I consider the notion of 'sin'. There's a lot of baggage and years of unhelpful theology that tumble after that word, and get in the way of my understanding the message from the Epistles, and understanding our relationship with God. So I have this picture, and thankfully it seems to appear like the 'beep' over people's bad language in family tv timeslots, so that I don't trip on all the baggage. In the same way the TV editors replace an offensive word with a 'beep', my mind replaces 'sin' with a picture of humans turning away from God.
The grander picture it reminds me of is a picture of our living God's way of love - it's a continual movement of turning towards God, turning away and turning back. It is the multifaceted 'I have gone astray ... I have hot forgotten' of the psalmist.
And the most beautiful part of that verse is what the psalmist says in between: 'search me out'. God seeks us as we turn away and turn back. God does not turn away. Even in the stories of the ancient Hebrew people, when they understand that the covenant relationship with the people of Israel forced God's hand with their apparent punishment: God goes with them into exile. It may feel like God has, but their experience is always that, in fact, God does not turn away.
Our experiences lead us to trust in this constant presence of God: this trust means we can continually turn back, confident that God is also reaching out to us as we reach out to God, welcoming us back into the home, forgiveness, grace, love that we long for.
Our trust in this presence of God, our commitment to remember God's commandments even though we have gone astray, shapes the decisions we make in our daily living.
This week for my reflection in worship at Belair, I am considering the story in the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus is challenged by the Pharisees with the question of taxes. Do we owe our allegiance to Caesar, Rome & their polytheistic spirituality, or to our God, the One True God? It's a question the posers actually don't want an authentic answer to, they're out to trap Jesus and get him arrested. The answer, though, is authentic as much as it is a clever sidestep out of trouble.
The question of allegiance isn't just about what we do with our money. It's about how we live our lives, how we live out our commitment to God's Way of Love. Do we use our resources of money, time, energy, love, and collectively the earth, for the common good, or only for ourselves? This is not to say that we can't enjoy and appreciate the good things we have - Jesus came that we might have life in its fulness. But do we share of the goodness or hoard it for ourselves with not a second thought for those whose life is less fortunate, or for God who is the source of all that is good?
This is the question.
How then shall we live?
We steep ourselves in the story of God's way of love, immerse ourselves in a life of prayer and song and beauty and serving and caring - love itself.
And so, our choices reflect the story, reflect God's love.
Paying taxes supports the leaders who provide services for the community. Honouring our civic responsibilities become one part of the way we live out our commitment to God's way of love. One part of a whole life lived according to love.