A Perfect Waste of Time

October 3, 2011

Before and after last week’s decision to appeal the Synod PJC decision in the matter of Parnell et al v. San Francisco Presbytery, some very interesting opinions have been expressed in comments here and offline. One was particularly thought provoking because it reminded me that we had heard this remark several times at the beginning of the process in early 2008. It is the idea that pursuing ecclesiastical legal action against an offending presbytery is a waste of time, energy, and resources.

There is no argument that the legal process is time consuming, trying emotionally, and expensive financially. The undergirding strength for this effort has come from a sense of call and a good measure of God’s patience. Many, many churches and individuals were extremely generous in their financial support through the first round (Naegeli et al v. San Francisco).  The second round (Parnell) was done on a shoestring out of necessity, and one contributing factor was the belief that pursuing it was a waste of time, energy, and resources.

With all that behind us, and only one more appeal to the GAPJC ahead of us, the remark hit me in a different way this time. This time, my thoughts went to Leviticus and the concept of giving offerings to the Lord. As part of the regular service of worship, the Israelites were instructed to sacrifice a male from the herd or flock, an animal without blemish or defect (Leviticus 1). This twice-daily burnt sacrifice consumed the entire animal, producing “an aroma pleasing to the Lord.”

On the one hand, an Israelite calculating the economics of such a practice might be tempted to say, “What a waste.” (A New Testament example of this attitude would be the disciples’ reaction, when a woman emptied an alabaster bottle of expensive ointment on Jesus’ feet as a sign of her devotion to him [Matt. 26:6ff and parallels].) On the other hand, the very fact that a perfect, good animal — otherwise delicious to eat or valuable to sell—was instead ‘dedicated’ wholly to God communicates devotion and obedience. Is it wasteful to demonstrate that God is sovereign, that God’s worth is exceedingly greater than any possession we have, that we trust God with our future provision? Not at all! In fact, such a demonstration is expected as part of our discipleship. Today, the form that takes is not a burnt sacrifice. Now, sacrifice is in the form of modern currency: time, energy, and resources. In our case, this has meant standing in the grace and truth of the gospel within the PCUSA disciplinary system.

The night before our first trial in 2009, the Great Commandment supplied the motivation for the activities of the next day: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). This is how we love God with everything we’ve got, simply by engaging our minds, emotions, will, and physical strength in an activity that has meaning perhaps only to God. Whether that effort makes a difference in temporal affairs is not the criterion for deciding its worthiness. God determines that, and if in obedience and repentance we are required to go all in, we proceed knowing that nothing is wasted if it is offered to God with a pure heart.

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2 Responses to “A Perfect Waste of Time”

  1. Dave Moody Says:

    Best argument yet… thanks Mary

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