Saturday, March 9, 2013

No Daylight Between

I believe it was on a Sunday night that I was leading worship and preaching at a church where I was the associate pastor.  In the message, I retold a Tony Campolo story where the climax was Tony saying, “I belong to a church that gives birthday parties to whores.”  The ecclesiological and missional significance of the statement was not what took the air out of the room.  It was the use of the word whore.  That’s what rattled the upper-middle class sensibilities of St. Mark.  I remember meeting with the senior pastor Monday morning and him telling me, “Boy, you like pushing the envelope, don’t you?”

That story came to mind while I was contemplating a prophetic parable I read this morning from Jeremiah 13.  I cannot recall reading this account before.  The prophetic image in the story is that of a linen loincloth.  With that, some of us are already retracting into a religious fetal position, and some reread the previous sentences to make sure they read it accurately.   “Loincloth?  I told my teenage son he should read this blog.  Maybe I need to rethink all that if he’s going to use the words whore or loincloth.”  Well, you ain’t read nothin’ yet, and it’s all in the Bible (so is the word whore).

The Lord tells Jeremiah to buy one (a whore? No, that’s another Bible story of a different prophet – a linen loincloth. Are you sure ya want to teach this stuff to kids?).  He was to wear it without dipping it in water (ouch!), take it to the Euphrates and hide it.  Then the Lord tells him to go back and find it.  He digs it up from where he buried it and finds it ruined, useless for anything.  Today we’d throw it in the Maytag and see if we can get it clean enough to use.  In the story, the ruined cloth symbolized what the Lord was to do to the pride of Israel and Jerusalem.

The loin cloth when dipped in water will cling to one’s loins.  I remember being a kid and taking baths.  Our mother had wash cloths available for us to use in the bathtub.  I was a kid.  I used mine as a toy whenever and however I could.  I learned early a wet cloth could adhere easily to any part of the body and any fixture in a bathroom. 

Jeremiah 13:11 reads:  For as the loincloth clings to one’s loins, so I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me, says the Lord, in order that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory.  But they would not listen.

The image of a wet loincloth cling to the loins is not a secondary, borderline irrelevant referencing in the story.  It’s everything in the story.  The NRSV uses ‘cling’ in verse 11.  The Hebrew uses the verb ‘dabaq’ (if that matters to anyone) - defined as cling, stick, stay close, cleave, keep close, stick to, stick with, follow closely, join to.  I’d put it this way – no daylight between.  A damp loincloth, so we’re to cling to the Lord.  A dry linen loincloth would not cling and, in fact, would irritate the loins. 

An idolatrous people refuse to hear his word, stubbornly follow their own way.  It’s essential to realize that the words of the prophets in the Old Testament are spoken and written to a covenantal people, bone of God’s bone, flesh of God’s flesh.  Such words were calls to repentance and faithfulness in relationship with the God of their foreparents.  The harshest words, by far, Jesus uttered were directed to the culturally and institutionally religious.  They make disciples twice as fit for hell as there themselves (Matthew 23:15).  There’s plenty of idolatry and self-seeking, self-righteousness unchecked and tenaciously defended and masked as faithfulness in the church.  Can we accurately describe the 21st century western church in its relationship with her Lord as a damp loincloth clinging to loins?  “Oh, I wouldn’t dare!  It’s so inappropriate.” 

Simply because the cloth is in the vicinity of the loins doesn’t mean it clings.  Folks, if your religious practices and doctrines and dogmas don’t lead you into a deeper walk with Jesus, clinging to loins, no daylight between, then you’re just religious, and I pray you’re not making converts and sitting them in the pew next to you. 

Clinging to our Father, Son & Holy Spirit – no daylight between – is what the Lord longs of us. 

Nothing between my soul and my Savior,
So that His blessed face may be seen;
Nothing preventing the least of His favor;
Keep the way clear! Let nothing between.

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