Lectionary Reflections for Sunday July 29, 2012
2 Samuel 11:1-15; Psalm 14; Ephesians 3:14-21; John 6:1-21
As we read this passage together, my colleague in ministry Phil Gilliland noted, “If we take these passages seriously, everything’s possible.” This can be good news or tragedy depending on how we use our power and whether our use of power is self-interested, domineering, and objectifying or connected with God’s vision of Shalom and abundant life for all creation.
In the springtime when kings go off to war, David is AWOL, but spring is in his heart. He spies a beautiful woman, commands her to come to him (what choice did she have?), lies with her, and then when she was found to be pregnant not only conspires to manipulate her husband into believing he might be the father but, failing at that, he has him killed in battle. This is absolute power at its worst. David committed adultery and murder because he could! His power was demonic in its domination and objectification of both Bathsheba and Uriah. It was all about him, his gratification, and self-indulgence. He could see no further than his own momentary pleasure and gave no thought to the tragic long-term consequences, including rebellion, that would ensue as a result of his behavior.
Of course, we aren’t David. But, behold, do our behaviors and self-interest lead to tragedy and suffering? Certainly, consumerism has a cost. It is unsustainable for our environment and the well-being of marginalized people. Political polarization has its costs; the destruction of national solidarity and the ability to solve economic and governmental issues. The almighty self-interest, exemplified by laws that protect the .5% and political posturing that would sacrifice the well-being of millions to save a handful of personal dollars exemplifies the cynical self-interest of our time. Whether mobilized by individual leaders or political voting blocs, power must be used for the well-being of all or it soon becomes demonic and destructive.
The Psalm notes “fools say in their hearts, ‘there is no God.’” I suspect this is not a matter of abstract theodicy, but practical morality. We go astray when we believe there are no greater values than power, success, pleasure, and – to quote Charlie Sheen – “winning.” Destructive power, as the prophets assert, leads to great terror among the wealthy as well as the impoverished.
Ephesians speaks of quantum leaps of energy that emerge when we are connected to God. Perhaps, the author remembers Jesus’ promise “you can do greater things” or the parable of the vine, “connected with Christ we will bear much fruit.” From God’s riches in glory – the glory of the big bang and the god-particle, we receive inner power through God’s Spirit. Christ dwells in us and the gifts of divine Shalom are ours. We abound even when we struggle. God is supplying our needs and giving us manna enough for each day. This is not the prosperity gospel, but the simple joy that comes from living in relationship to God’s unsurpassable love.
God is working within us and is able to accomplish “far more than we can ask or imagine.” As the church father Irenaeus asserted, the glory of God is a human fully alive. We are fully alive when we are connected with God. Ephesians is good news for today’s Christians and congregations: God is able to give us more than we ask for or imagine. While being cognizant of the bottom line, we should make big plans. We are God’s beloved children and God’s power is moving in and through us. We may continue to do what others call ordinary things, but as Mother Teresa promises, we can do them in extraordinary ways.
John 6 presents us with alternatives of abundance and scarcity and connection and disconnection. “Don’t be afraid” either of the great task in front of you or the storm at sea. In this very personal version of the feeding of a multitude, the meal hinges on a small boy’s lunch. “Five loaves and two fishes can’t feed a multitude,” everyone knows that. Living by the bottom line is essential – we need to know what’s in the budget, we need to recognize our current limits – but we don’t need to be limited by them! There is a deeper reality – the reality of quantum leaps of healing and transformation. We don’t to debate on how the multitude was fed. We don’t need to assume the multiplication of the loaves was supernatural. We all have experienced the wonderful synchronicity that occurs when we dream big, trust God, and act on our dreams. You have not because you ask not. (James 4:2) But when you ask and act, a way opens for dreams to come true.
As in the case of last week’s reading, connection is everything. There is enough food to go around if we let go of our grip on our possessions. Everyone can have adequate care if we willingly sacrifice and create efficient systems of delivery. We can reduce the dangers of global climate change if we imaginatively explore and embody lifestyles that reduce consumption while enhancing overall quality of life for everyone. We can respond creatively to national gridlock if we let go of the idolatry of our own positions and place the good of each and all ahead of our own self-interest.
Power can corrupt and destroy. But, power is essential and cannot be avoided. Connected with God and the well-being of the whole, power can heal, affirm, and inspire.
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.