Oops. I read the wrong Old Testament lesson for the day from the Daily Office yesterday. Oh, how will I recover?
I actually read from Judges 11 about Jephthah becoming a judge for Israel instead of Judges 6 where Gideon hears God’s call to serve in leadership.
Mistake or not, Jephthah was thrown out of his family by his brothers. He was a brotha of a different motha. He became an outlaw in a foreign land. When threatened by the Ammonites, the elders sought him out and asked if he’d come back and lead the attack against the enemy. They agreed to make him a judge if he succeeded.
Jephthah went to the Lord and vowed if he received the victory by the Lord, the one who came out of his hose first to greet him afterward would be a burnt offering to the Lord by his hand.
After the victory, his daughter came out first. He told her his vow to the Lord. She was agreeable, but she asked to be away for two months and then return to be the sacrifice. He agreed. She did, and he did.
I told April about what I read. It is what it is. Nothing more to me. She said it reflected Jephthah’s orphan spirit. He felt he had to reciprocate God’s grace in granting him victory. He sacrificed a person which was illegal in Israel. He was obligated because of the vow, a vow God didn’t request of him, and his daughter suffered the consequences.
How often do we do things in the name of God which God hasn’t asked of us? And we feel obligated.
We attended worship yesterday. I felt obligated to go to that particular church out of nothing but obligation. The experience felt like it. It was familiar to me. Its how I worshiped for decades in years past.
When I realized I’d read scripture from the Daily Office, I felt I’d violated my obligation to read and reflect on these scriptures in order. I’d not signed a contract or pledge, but why did I feel a twinge of shame? The spirit of religion. And the story of Jephthah illustrated, for me, what I experienced in attending the church we attended. Obligation without inspiration.
Our daughter, Anna, met with her small group for Bible study, discussion and prayer last night. Before the night was over, she’d been baptized to commemorate a new season for her and a new freedom in God she’s grown in this summer. April and I celebrated that with her this morning.
Next Sunday, she’d planned to be baptized at a church in Auburn she attends for the same reasons. Last night was spontaneous and with friends she’s growing with in Christ.
I believe in the sacramental elements of the acts of the church. They can be means of grace for all participants in any ecclesiastical community. That’s exactly what happened to Anna last night. She encountered the means of grace in recognizing formally what God had done and is doing in her life afresh, and she celebrated with her sisters in the faith. Alleluia.
I told her this morning if she went ahead and got in the formal tank in her church and was baptized again, she might be doing it under obligation to the church and to friends who missed the spontaneous immersion last night. But that’s up to her.
Have you done things in the name of God when God hasn’t said anything, and you, regardless, feel obligated?
Won’t the sound of chains hitting the ground around your feet sound good and liberating?