Leviticus 10, Man
This is the first time in my nine years of ministry that I have suffered serious grief (except for stupid break-ups with jerks), and the first time I have been asked to officiate at the funeral of a family member. While I feel honored to do so, there was that little mewling brat in me who rebelled, whining that I don't WANT to be set apart on that day. I want to be one of the kids crying in the seats, next to Mommy, sis and bro.
In a moment of weakness I expressed this to Mother of PeaceBang who, although sympathetic, gave me some much needed Hell in the following format:
Point #1: This is what you do.
Point #2: If you are who you say you are, you have a source of love and strength to draw on now that you believe will sustain you through all toils and snares.
She is so right.
So La Madre kicked my butt to the curb, so to speak, and I prepared the service (with the occasional interruption by about, mmmm, roughly 30 to 40 phone calls from relatives) and did as good a job as I could. It's done.
I wondered with a few trusted colleagues this week about the very tricky issue of congregational support of their minister at difficult times. I have never really done any theological reflection on this issue: all I know is that we should expect to get all our major, practical support outside the congregation. And that's fine. But I had never really reasoned through the WHY of it.
Today a American Baptist colleague of mine said simply, "Leviticus 10."
Check it out. Leviticus 10:1-8:
And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the LORD, which he commanded them not.
And there went out fire from the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD.
Then Moses said unto Aaron, This is it that the LORD spake, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me, and before all the people I will be glorified. And Aaron held his peace.
And Moses called Mishael and Elzaphan, the sons of Uzziel the uncle of Aaron, and said unto them, Come near, carry your brethren from before the sanctuary out of the camp.
So they went near, and carried them in their coats out of the camp; as Moses had said.
And Moses said unto Aaron, and unto Eleazar and unto Ithamar, his sons, Uncover not your heads, neither rend your clothes; lest ye die, and lest wrath come upon all the people: but let your brethren, the whole house of Israel, bewail the burning which the LORD hath kindled.
And ye shall not go out from the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, lest ye die: for the anointing oil of the LORD is upon you. And they did according to the word of Moses.
Okay. What this sounds like on the surface is a terribly abusive story, with God as a sick tyrant who incinerates Aaron's sons because they offer him, "unholy fire" (I prefer the NRSV -- don't know which translation that is above, I just ripped it from a web site). And I'm not going to argue that God is a crazyass in this tale. But the point is, the LORD says not to mourn and tear your garments because the anoininting oil of the LORD is upon you. And I take that not to be an abusive, sick arrangement where God smites you and your loved ones and you just need to suck it up.
Because that would be too easy.
I am taking it today to be about God's relationship with God's ministers. And here's how I'm exegeting it today, Tuesday night at 11:30 after a 14-hour day, mind you. I'm saying that this is a teaching to God's ministers that we ought to know how life works, we know that death and suffering are part of it. We will suffer great losses ourselves in the work we feel called to do, and that work doesn't stop because we're suffering. We don't get to rent our garments (I prefer to buy them, myself) and wail with everyone else, because the anointing oil is upon us and our work at those times is different. We are, whether we like it or not, set apart.
And I could choose to eat a lot of chocolate over that, and feel full of resentment and victimy feelings, and hate the God of my ancestors for being a crackpot Cosmic Bully, but frankly, after the week I've had, I have to go with my instinct that there's something much more complex, ancient and powerful than that to it.