January 2023 Newsletter

A Call to Responsibility and Transformation

One of my favorite passages in the Bible I often draw strength from is chapters 31-34 of Deuteronomy, known as the Song of Moses. In these chapters, I find his words take wings and soar into a song of the integrity of God’s ways, the Rock, unto the dull and witless people of Israel. With the angel of death at his bedside, he imparts his faith in God and God’s faithfulness to his promises.  Here I quote a portion, from Deuteronomy 32:1-6:

Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak;
    and let the earth hear the words of my mouth….
Do you thus requite the Lord,
    you foolish and senseless people?
Is not he your father, who created you,
    who made you and established you?

These are words worth remembering as we begin the new year. We can recite them every day: God, the Rock, His ways are perfect and just, never false. In essence, a wise sage and teacher, Moses, says don’t blame God for all the things we, the crooked and perverse generation, brought forth upon ourselves. We deceive ourselves by making matters complicated and asking God to help us. And he concludes by reminding us that God is calling us to responsibility: you clean up the mess you made, and you will be changed from victims of circumstance to a responsible people, no matter the circumstance.   

It is also worth paying attention to his concluding words in Chapter 32:39

See, then, that I, I am He; 

There is no god beside me. 

I deal with death and give life…

With these words Moses brings to closure the drama that began with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden in which Adam blamed the woman, and the woman blamed the serpent for the sins they committed. The blaming of others didn’t end with Moses’ death for the people of Israel. On the contrary, the same pattern continues to this day both in the religious community and the civilian government. 

To be honest, it is our collective story: we run from responsibility. The only thing that changes is the players: it’s always “them.” It is not I, and it’s not our fault. We justify. We abide by the rules, and it is the others who break the rules. Hence, we escape from the call from God to responsibility. Jonah tried to escape that call to responsibility. How far did he escape? Not too far–into the belly of a big fish.    

In this Christmas and Epiphany season, God calls us to examine our place here and now as well. Isn’t that what makes the Christmas story stand out?  In Christ, God is calling all nations to human responsibility. From this call, you and I cannot hide, no matter how far away we have been running: even the Magi from the far distance couldn’t escape from the reality of the call from God. Guided by the star, they came to face reality- to see the Babe, whose mouth deals with death and life, who takes full responsibility for what it means to accept the call of God. They were free to accept God in flesh and their calls to responsibility. With their encounter with God in flesh and the call of God, the Magi are to take responsibility and with that responsibility, take the risk of taking actions in their new found freedom in God.

What does it mean for us? God gave us bodies, and we must tend and heal them. God gave us the fields, the ministry, and we must plough, sow, and harvest them. 

God is our Father and Creator: He made us and established us in His image. That means we are free as God is free. We are creative as God is creative. God is our Teacher and Guide, guiding our paths; God is our Father and calls us to responsibility. There is no room for us to wallow as victims of circumstance, the work of Satan. That means, we have agency; we are called to reflect, confess, repent, and receive forgiveness and hope again against all the odds, especially against the current culture of anger and hate that divides us versus “them.”

In that power of hope, we experience God’s love and forgiveness in which we locate freedom and responsibility, which then leads us to have open minds, hearts, and to transformation.

My goal for 2023 is not to blame God for all the wrongs I committed or that I perceive around me. Yes, there are plenty to count. Instead, I will keep my hope in God alive and will not emulate those who blame others and divide the community of believers.

I also remind our leaders, disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ in the church: Do not hide from your responsibility to call, teach, and guide people to the faithfulness and transformation of God, so that we together become people of God, being creative and being sustained by the God who is faithful and transforms us, our community, this nation, and the world.

I have seen and heard many who claim to be Methodist or Christian, inflict hurt and wound others. Remember this: both Moses’ final words and the Christmas story of Jesus and the Magi remind us that we are sustained by God’s faithfulness in us more than our faithfulness in God. The Christmas story is proof. God’s faithfulness and transforming power in us calls us to the call of responsibility and risk-taking. This is our mission as God sent His only begotten Son to us in faith. May that of God’s faithfulness sustain us as we move forward to 2023.

January 1, 2022

In Suk Peebles