Fellow Passengers: This week’s Promise Passage* (2 Chronicles 7:11-16) transports me to the Buncombe County Baptist Association junior choir retreat circa 1971, when I joined fellow 10-year-olds from around the county for a trip down to Pigeon Forge. We spent a few days there frolicking around water parks and learning to sing together so we could come back and perform at Ridgecrest. Two things stand out about that retreat – one, the Kurt Kaiser musical we learned gave us our first exposure to the song, Pass It On, which would become a standard sing-along rivaling Kumbaya around campfires for decades to come. And second, some older kid from another church, I can’t remember who, brought along a new 8-track to play on the trip down and gave us our first exposure to the British rock group Humble Pie. So we had two competing “soundtracks” going on during those few days – It only takes a spark to get a fire going, and soon all those around can warm up in its glowing in one ear and Find it hard to see you in the dark, I looked around, you were beside me. . . Take me on a ride girl! Right there by my side, Lord! Shine on! in the other ear. It was the typical adolescent energy mixture of the spiritual and sexual.
Three or four years later Humble Pie was no longer cool (can anyone name their much maligned guitarist who went on to solo infamy?) and we were back at Pigeon Forge singing another musical from the world of Christian pop – If My People, which encouraged a different kind of humility than the British rockers had in mind. The musical by Jimmy Owens was based on 2 Chronicles 7, which gives us the verse so many church-goers have been encouraged to learn by heart – If my people, who are called by my name, shall humble themselves and pray, and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. But I don’t remember the choir leaders giving us any context for that memory verse. I wonder how many folks have ever looked at the preceding verses. It shows us a land wrecked by holy havoc, and strangely enough, the imagery of destruction comes right on the heels of God answering Solomon’s prayer and putting a stamp of approval on the newly constructed temple. Just as the sacred space is being dedicated, Solomon hears the divine voice interrupt the celebratory mood with a strangely placed warning, a cautionary preamble to our memory verse: Whenever I bring a drought or command locusts to devour your crops or send a plague on my people. . .
So it seems we have been given fair warning and can expect some holy havoc in our lives. The unstated implication is that people of God will not be able to maintain faith consistently, will invariably chase other gods and engage in wickedness and violence and greed and other self-destructive foolishness. And the passage lets us know what we already know; life brings consequences. We reap what we sow. But whenever we get tired of life plaguing us, whenever the famine creates a deep hunger in us, we are told what to do: eat some humble pie and pray, put out a search party for God’s face, and disengage from the destructive behavior. Jesus’ version of this call to repentance was to Put away your sword. . . Sell all your stuff and give to the poor. . .Welcome the stranger. Or, as the Reverend Billy Ray Collins always reminds John Boy and Billy, Turn before you burn. And in turning, we experience the twin blessings of forgiveness and the healing of our land. It looks to me like we’re pretty well into the holy havoc of life consequences in our land now, and we know what to hope for – full forgiveness and a full healing of the land. The trick is in the middle of the equation – humility, prayer, seeking God’s face, and repentance. Maybe we could revive the old British rockers and sing while we pray, Don’t you realize it’s hard to dream without your helping hard to guide me, This could be the one, if you will be my sun, Shine on!
*Daily Passages are the weekday reflections of Stan Dotson, connecting culture to biblical texts. Each week takes its guiding theme for the daily posts from the gospel reading on Monday, the “Primary Passage.” This week’s theme is “Forgiveness.” As always, your feedback and comments are welcome. Feel free to share where the passages take you in your journey of faith