What Matters: Right or Good?
Just like a yogi sets their intention before they begin their practice – we set an intention before we begin ours. That’s part of what worship is – practicing a way of being that we can take off the mat – or the out of the pew – into the world.
We begin our intention naming something we know about the nature of God – then ask for God to help us take something from the living word of God – and the living bread of God – into our hearts, minds and spirits.
This morning I find our intentional intercession – somewhat problematic. “O God from whom all good proceeds, grant that by your inspiration we may think those things that are right, and by your merciful guiding may do them.”
Sure, on the one hand it seems perfectly obvious and simple what the prayer is asking for – simply put – do the right thing. Help us think – then help us do. But what is so great about thinking – over feeling, sensing, intuiting, etc. Second, that word “right” – it’s very either/or. Where is the both/and?
Whose thinking gets to decide just what the right thing is? Is what is right for me – right for everyone else? What if what I think is right – actually hurts someone else – or keeps them at a distance? What if what I think is right – and what you think is right are two very different things?
When we dig deep into our actual history – deeper than the narrative history most of us took in as right and absolute – there is so much that was considered “right” at the time, inspired by God even – that now we know is anything but.
We are reckoning with these realities from our past right now – and know it really matters for our future.
What we think is right – can be so far from the essence of God’s nature – which is always good. (God is good all the time. All the time, God is good)
It’s funny because both scripture lessons – Samuel the priest – and Jesus the prophet – don’t want to do what everyone around them is saying is the right thing to do. Both of them want to do what is good.
My take is that Jesus and Samuel embody the struggle of our heart and head when we are trying to live into a way of being that is intuits the goodness of God’s will. A way of being that often goes against what institutions, or society, our social circle – or our family – tells us is right.
Samuel is trying to be good. “Samuel, Samuel” – remember the story when God called Samuel as a boy? He was apprenticing with Eli – who helped him understand that voice was meant for him – he was called by God (like we all are).
But now, Samuel is old – at the end of his priestly career. The right thing – the expected thing – is that one of his sons would take over the family business.
But that doesn’t always work out does it? The sons keep skimming from the offering plates. So the elders ask for what they think is right – a king.
“Samuel – just set us up to be like every other nation! If everyone else is doing it obviously it’s the right thing to do. Tell God to give us a king.”
But Samuel knows – and God knows – that has nothing to do with the promise of God. Living – heart, mind, body and soul – into a relationship with goodness that doesn’t always fit with what the world says is right.
Maybe in Samuel’s case – living into that goodness would’ve meant the hard work of sitting Samuel’s sons down – to figure out what exactly was the reason they kept stealing? Maybe one of them had an addiction issue? Maybe they resented this assumption they had to go into the family business? Maybe one of them wanted to start his own business – or go be a farmer – or had fallen madly in love?
Maybe they just didn’t like the assumptions that were made about who they were and what they were supposed to be? Maybe Samuel had some parenting faults of his own (we all do) and the kids just needed to air out some of their hurts and anger?
Maybe doing the very wrong thing – was the only way they knew they could release themselves from what everyone around them thought was right? That was how they could free themselves from the expectations placed on them by everyone else?
So the harder work of the elders – the good work might have been to sit down with those two sons and dig deep. Maybe show some mercy and understanding. Maybe take responsibility for the assumptions of these institutional and societal expectations and work towards some change – some new ways of being – focused on the common good.
That’s what God promises. That’s covenantal relationship – faith and hope is something new – something not yet seen but created as we live into a new way of being. That’s what a vow, signifies – because it’s a promise – not a contract.
But the people just want to do what they think is right by the standards of their day. Punish the sons – humiliate the father – and get a king in place to tell them what to do.
It’s funny how God responds – just give the people what they want. It’s what they always want – what they think is right. “For they have not rejected you Samuel, they have rejected me.”
This story to me is like a piece of vellum paper – you know tracing paper – you can lay it over so many stories, realities, we are hearing in our world with all the voices saying – this is the right way.
This story invites us to pray and ponder – where might we need to dig deep – past our assumptions, past the history we take for granted – and get into the heart of the matter. Do the work required in relationships where faith, hope and love abide – knowing that the way of love, God says, is the greatest of the three
God's community – God’s people are meant to be a family that takes care of each other – no matter their familial ties. Hence the gospel story – which I’m not going to get into to – because you already know why his family is mad at him.
Jesus doesn’t meet his family’s expectations either. He didn’t meet anyone’s expectations – which is exactly how the forgiveness he embodied brought new life to the whole world.
As followers of Jesus you and I should be challenged by trying to figure out what is right. What our social groups – our institutions – our families – tell us is right. Turning our hearts towards God’s goodness - which may require more time – more investigation – more perspectives – is holy, relational and risky work.
God is good all the time – and goodness begets goodness – it lasts. So may God help all of us align our good will with God’s for the good of our whole human family.