Lectionary Reflections for July 22, 2012
2 Samuel 7:1-14a; Psalm 89:20-37; Ephesians 2;11-22; Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
Is election partial, predetermined, or universal? Is it ultimately dependent on God’s choices, divine persistence, human decision-making, or a dynamic divine-human call and response?
A recent Christian Century review of conservative Christian responses to Rob Bell’s Love Wins revealed the stake that many conservatives have in a providence that is, by nature, exclusive. If hell is not a reality, then what is the selling point of Christianity? Celestial fire insurance can lure laypeople and celebrities to God. It’s the bread and butter of revivalists who remind us that our eternal souls are always in jeopardy, even on the drive home! Grace must be limited and the nuclear option of hell available for us to affirm a worshipful and potent deity, these authors claim.
Today’s readings reflect on the scope of providence and election. The Samuel reading is an interesting one for God-observers. Should God “live” in a house or a tent? A tenting God is on the move. Houseless, God is everywhere and moving in all things. A residential God can be located in time and space, and thus exclusive in revelation. We have some control over a god who stays put or who has preferred dwelling places, usually in our territory or under our control.
Having a housed God reflects a sense of being chosen and special in comparison to others. God has chosen David and through David’s successes Jerusalem and the children of Israel. God will establish God’s kingdom forever in Jerusalem. This obviously has political and military as well as spiritual implications that have shaped foreign policy, the formation of the state of Israel, and end-time prophecy.
This is a keen theological issue: just last week, a parishioner in my church asked “What’s so special about Israel? Why were they chosen?” Biblical narrative or not, this is a legitimate question.
Revelation, incarnation, and providence are always local as well as global. But, are they exclusive, patriarchal, and imperialistic, or hospitable and welcoming? Centuries after Samuel John’s Prologue saw the incarnation as a reflection of God’s light that shines on everyone, enlightening everyone. Divine wisdom, incarnate in Jesus Christ, moves the sun and the stars, the growth of an infant, and our own scientific and spiritual journeys.
Psalm 89 continues the temptation toward exclusivity found in Samuel. God’s steadfast love toward Israel implies a unique protection and status unavailable to other nations. The enthronement of the king points to God’s everlasting covenant with Jerusalem. Jerusalem will never fall, according to the Psalmist. The reality that Jerusalem has fallen in the past, been occupied and destroyed, and is still under threat challenges such exclusivity and raises issues of theodicy.
Is the fall of Jerusalem our fault, a punishment for sin, or do our actions have a role in reinstating Jerusalem as the planetary spiritual and military center? How we answer this is a big deal to the biblical prophecy crowd who not only looks for the signs of the times but appear to promote policies that will force God’s hand and usher in the final battle.
Ephesians suggests another vision of providence and election. The inferior and excluded, the looked down upon, are now full-fledged participants in God’s reign. The Gentiles who were once aliens and strangers are now part of one soteriological community, embracing both Jew and Gentile, in which God’s grace descends upon all regardless of ethnicity or otherness. God has broken down the walls that would confine election to one people and challenged laws that separate peoples from one another.
Paul is not nullifying the Law of Moses but placing it in a larger perspective, relativizing the Law so that the spiritual, moral, and cultural gifts of other people might be affirmed. All things are knit together in God’s vision of salvation; all places are temples where people can gain access to the divine. God’s temple is within us; we reveal God and can experience God. Life-changing Pentecosts and Damascus Road experiences are available to everyone.
Mark’s gospel speaks about quest for connection with God both among the “saved” and the “lost” and “healthy” and “sick.” Jesus’ disciples are worn out from their missionary tour. The need is great and they barely have enough time to eat. But, counter-intuitively, Jesus takes them on retreat. Human need will have to wait for a moment as the disciples go to a deserted place to invigorate their spiritual energies. Self-care is essential to God’s good news. Moreover in times of contemplation and rest, we reconnect to the well-springs of energy and power that enable us to reach out and embrace people in need.
Mark joins contemplation and action in the healing process. Those who serve Christ must take time for prayer; they must nourish the connections that enable them to experience the lost and broken as brothers and sisters rather than nuisances and nobodies. (Crossan) They must recognize their own need of healing and wholeness, rather than presume unlimited energy and effectiveness apart from God’s grace. Further, in contemplation they go beyond healer and beneficiary to experience the unity of all peoples, sick and well, unclean and clean, foreign and fraternal. Ultimately in God’s healing providence, we are all connected. In sharing God’s energy with others, we are energized. The well-being of others advances our own well-being. We are all connected in that dynamic body of Christ, God’s beloved community that embraces everyone.
Who’s in? Who belongs? Who’s the helper? Who’s the needy one? These are lively questions for our spiritual journey. I suggest that spiritual maturity involves recognizing the twin poles of providence: 1) God responds to each of us uniquely and some places may bear a special role in God’s vision of Shalom and 2) we are all blessed and in this blessing, the walls of otherness and separation – the walls that divide us spiritually, physically, politically, and socially – are broken down. There is no “other”: we are one in God’s ongoing process of providential care.
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.