Lectionary Reflections: Second Sunday After Pentecost
June 10, 2012
I Samuel 8:4-15; 11:14-15; Psalm 138; 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1; Mark 3:20-35
Today’s lectionary readings integrate concerns for just leadership, alignment with divine law, and the extent of grace in transforming our lives. Despite the reality of human freedom, creativity, and God forgetfulness, God’s power is all-embracing in its relationality and constancy. Unlike “Satan,” God does not dominate or coerce but lures us in our current life-situation toward lively, abundant, faithful, and just living.
The passage from I Samuel could easily be an argument employed by today’s Tea Party and other libertarian movements. The people want a secular ruler, a king, rather than leaders appointed directly by God, despite Samuel’s caution that kings demand obedience of their subjects, require taxes, requisition property, and draft soldiers for purposes of military defense and aggression. Kings bring big government to replace the ad hoc approach of spirit-guided confederations. In a primarily secular state, God’s word will no longer be directly available to the people. The request to separate the religious and the political spheres of life has its benefits, but it also places religious authority and revelation in the background.
Still, lest we think that scriptures oppose political leadership and governmental organizations, God continues to work through political and military leaders and demands – as is obvious from prophetic critiques – secular governments as well as theocracies to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with the divine.” (Micah 6:6-8)
Psalm 138 proclaims the glory of God. In words curious to modern Christian and Jewish ears, the Psalmist sings praises to God above all other gods. The reality of other gods – literally or figuratively – is affirmed, but only the God of Israel can give life and promote justice. The God of Israel is not a morally indifferent energy, but the moral power of the universe which uplifts the lowly and challenges the arrogant and wealthy. God’s glory is, accordingly, both cosmic and moral: God sets the universe in motion and guides the movements of the galaxies; God also implants Torah in our hearts and sets divine law as a standard for our behaviors. The order of the universe and the law of God mirror one another in the macrocosm and microcosm. Order, however, is not static or backward look, but dynamic in its reflection of the dynamism of the Living God.
2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1 extols the gracefulness of God that enlivens and enlightens every season of life. The grace of God leads to gratitude for God’s transformation of our lives. God’s love endures forever inspiring and energizing the human spirit. Even though our bodies age and succumb to illness, we can discover God’s work in our lives. Recognizing God’s presence in our lives, we gain perspective on both negative and positive events. We are not overwhelmed by misfortune, economic distress, sickness, or mortality, but experience God “in all things and all things in God.” Our lives evolve from glory to glory, despite life’s challenges, because of our openness to God’s evolving vision for our lives.
2 Corinthians reminds us that we are children of both heaven and earth. Everlasting life is ours today when we open to God’s movements in our lives. Mortality shares in God’s everlasting adventure that called us into life and will lure us forward toward new adventures at the moment of our deaths. In many ways, this is the central passage of today’s readings for post-modern, pluralist readers: it points to “thin places” everywhere – the moments of our lives are not merely passing away, but filled with possibility and wonder. Lively eternity undergirds changing temporality. Beauty is not the possession of some far off realm, but the reality of this moment, often overlooked in our busyness and fixation with how life should be, rather than seeing holiness in the here and now.
Everlasting adventure inspires a toddler’s curiosity and a baby’s latching on to her mother’s breast. It also inspires our commitment to growing in wisdom and stature long after we have graduated from college. We can even grow at the descending edges of life: as Grandfather Austin in Madeleine L’Engle’s A Ring of Endless Light asserts, despite the reality of incurable cancer, “my vocation is now simply to pray.”
I must confess that the rift between Jesus and his family, surfacing in their worries about his sanity, does little to inspire my own homiletic imagination. Nevertheless, there are a few choice passages in the lectionary reading from Mark 3: 1) the radical distinction between Jesus and Satan, implying that only Jesus as God’s messenger is unambiguously on the side of healing and wholeness and 2) the experience of being misunderstood as a result of your devotion to God. In the latter case, despite the religiosity highlighted by political candidates and preachers alike, most North Americans mistrust people who sacrifice everything for God. When faith is identified with “your best life now” or “everyday a Friday” (Joel Osteen), spirit-centered experiences that lead to mission and justice-seeking are often suspect. Today’s passage begs the question, “What would you risk for following Jesus? Is there any distance between the fruits of your faith and the socially-accepted values of American society?” The implication of the Markan passage is that if there is no dissonance brought on by your faith, your faith is too lukewarm!
The reading from Mark also raises the issue of “the sin against the Holy Spirit.” This phrase has plagued preachers, theologians, and laypeople for centuries, and is still unsolvable. It implies an unforgivable sin, which is anachronistic with the Protestant affirmation of God’s graceful and prevenient forgiveness of all who call upon the divine. My own vision of process theology enables me to take this passage seriously without taking it literally: first, the sin against the Spirit does not defeat divine power or presence in our lives; regardless of our actions or beliefs, God continues to work toward our wholeness. This is the theological and practical meaning of the juxtaposition of divine omnipresence, divine omni-activity, and God’s universal aim at abundant life. Second, however, we may lessen the impact of God’s energy and possibility in our lives by our behaviors. God’s vision is always the best for this moment in time, and God’s vision may be severely inhibited by our turning away from God’s emerging inspirations in our lives. Turning toward God opens a new world of energy and possibility for our lives.
Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, pastor, and author of twenty two books, including Process Theology: A Guide to the Perplexed, Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living, Philippians: An Interactive Bible Study, and The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age. His most recent text is Emerging Process: Adventurous Theology for a Missional Church. He also writes regularly for the Process and Faith lectionary. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for lectures, workshops, and retreats.