Lectionary Reflections for the Third Sunday after Pentecost (June 17, 2012)
I Samuel 15:34-16:13; Psalm 20; I Corinthians 5:6-10, 14-17; Mark 4:26-34
This Sunday’s lectionary readings describe the surprising and unexpected revelations of God. God is not a homogenous force, evenly distributing revelation across the universe. Rather, divine revelation and inspiration are contextual, historical, and personal. God has a vision just as we do. While no one is left out in the interplay of call and response, God’s revelation is always personal and variable. A shepherd boy is chosen as king; a mustard seed grows into a great plant; and a small child grows into the Christ. God takes initiative, but our response and a supportive environment help God’s dreams come to fruition and new dreams emerge. Where is God moving uniquely and intimately in your life? What is God’s dream for you, right now and over the long haul? Moreover, what are God’s dreams for you and for your congregation, and loved ones? How can we open to God’s dream for ourselves and God’s dream for others?
The reading from I Samuel describes Samuel’s covert operation to choose a new king. Saul has lost the spirit and the people need a new spiritual-political leader. The choice will come from one of Jesse’s sons. The most likely candidates are passed over until Samuel comes upon the youngest and least equipped, David, who becomes God’s choice for king. God sees deeper into the heart than humans do. Beyond appearances, there are deeper gifts and possibilities, hidden to the untrained eye. God uses small and unexpected events – and unlikely people – to be great agents of revelation. Where might you discover God’s hidden work in your life in your community, and among your acquaintances? Could you be “chosen” or “called” for a particular divine task? What great calling are you hiding, even from yourself?
Psalm 20 is a hymn of protection and affirmation of the king. God chooses, supports, protects, and guides the nation’s leader. While we no longer live in a monarchy or theocracy, we can honor our leaders, praying that they are guided by divine wisdom. Yet, in light of the universalism of revelation, is it possible that this Psalm relates to everyone? Is everyone anointed in some way? If so, this has profound spiritual and ethical consequences? On the one hand, we need to awaken to God’s anointing of our lives – where is the King David or Queen Esther hidden in our lives? Further, we need to care for all whom God has anointed. That means doing the impossible – seeking the well-being and spiritual growth of all of God’s anointed ones – that is everyone, friend and foe? Where are leaders, teachers, mentors, healers hidden – in the generosity of revelation, everywhere!
The passage from II Corinthians is complex and can be problematic, if taken literally and, frankly, as Paul may have intended it! The good news in this passage is that we walk by faith and not by sight: we are called to awaken prayerfully to a deeper realism, undergirding the obvious. God is at work – seeking in all things, God’s vision – despite appearances. No one is God-forsaken. Possibility is present even in the most dire circumstances, but we need to open to it and to cultivate a deeper vision and, then, faithful action to bring forth divine possibilities in unexpected and adverse contexts.
There is a touch of otherworldliness in the passage that can tempt the listener to turn away from the responsibilities of embodiment and earthiness. Our true home is elsewhere, Paul claims. We would rather be away from the body than alive in this world. Perhaps, like Socrates in Plato’s Phaedo, Paul is yearning to escape the burdens of aging, imprisonment, or the infirmities that have come as a result of previous beatings. Yet, if taken literally, this “Gnosticism” is not helpful in a world of mass starvation, political conflict, economic inequality, and global climate change. While it is true that we live by ideals, by a vision of Shalom and personal and planetary healing, experiencing God begins right where we are as concrete persons in concrete situations with concrete responsibilities.
We do not need to flee the world but transform it! Our calling is to be spiritual explorers, looking for more than meets the eye, discovering treasures in unlikely places. We are called to be new creations, and to bring together old and new, tradition and novelty, heaven and earth for the transformation of ourselves and the world. As theologian John Cobb says, Christ is the principle and source of creative transformation. Christ is already here working within us, but if anyone is “in Christ,” that is, aligns her or himself with Christ’s constantly living and evolving vision, he or she is a new creation. “New things have arrived,” as the Common English Bible proclaims. Keep awake for the new things coming!
Serendipity and synchronicity abound in the parables of the scattered seed and the mustard seed. (Mark 4:26-34) Seed is scattered and its sprouts, growing into a great harvest. Beneath the randomness of life, there is a gentle providence seeking growth, new creation, wholeness, and transformation. Possibilities appear to emerge from nowhere – a way is made where is no way forward -and chance encounters change lives. This is the often unseen and subtle of God who works for good in all things. Even the least obvious, the mustard seed, can grow into great things, bringing sustenance and comfort to all around.
There is a quiet movement of grace in our lives. Unheralded, and mostly unobserved, changing the world not by bravado or coercion, or even celebrity status or miraculous demonstrations, but by constantly growing grace and emerging presence. The miracle is in the moment – every moment. Mustard seeds abound, seeds of grace are scattered broadly, children grow into leaders, and new creation bursts forth out of ashes. Look deeply, feel sensitively, and pray constantly. Awaken your heart, train your senses. God is moving providentially in subtle moments of growth and surprise.
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.