Lectionary Reflections for Sunday July 15, 2012
2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19; Psalm 24; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:14-29
One of my favorite John Bell hymns is “Glory and Gratitude and Praise.” The words and tune are simple:
Glory and gratitude and praise
Now let earth to heaven raise
Glory and gratitude and praise:
These we offer to God.
Today’s readings, with the exception of the narrative of John the Baptist’s execution, revolve around the interplay of glory, gratitude, and praise, all of which are essential components of the Christian spiritual journey, whether in worship or daily life.
2 Samuel’s description of the return of the Ark of the Covenant is multidimensional in its complexity. On the one hand, the passage raises issues regarding localizing God’s presence and assuming that the relics of faith insure God’s blessing. On the other hand, it describes our experience of “thin places” that reveal the divine to us. Spirituality is always local, even when we recognize its universality. If God is omnipresent, all places reveal God and some places may be especially revelatory of God’s presence as a result of the joining of God’s intentionality with human openness. As the “Raiders of the Lost Ark” reveals, there can be focal points of extraordinary power, such as the Ark of the Covenant and other holy places, recognized or unrecognized. In this passage (v. 6-11a), it is clear that this power was, for the Hebrews, ambiguous – it could both bless and curse, cure and kill
When we encounter such thin and powerful places, we may wish to bow in silence but we may also dance in ecstasy. David is ecstatic in God’s presence. He jumps for joy, indecently to some eyes, but he is surely passionate about God. Do we respond to our faith with passion? Do we jump for joy, spiritually and physically, in response to God’s grace? There are, of course, many ways to passionate and joyful. We can experience the divine in shout and silence, and movement and meditation. A life of praise is a life of passion and joy, whether we are prospering or struggling.
David is energized by praise. Praise is more than repeating compliments to God or singing a few verses accompanied by guitars and synthesizers; it is an awareness of the wonder of creation and the wonder of the Divine Artist. Praise is a form of what Abraham Joshua described as “radical amazement,” an opening into the amazing realities of each moment of experience.
Psalm 24 proclaims the majesty of God: even the gates arise in response to divine power and creativity. While this Psalm can be seen as a glorification of power for power’s sake, it is about much more than praising God because God is bigger than us and can pulverize us. It is a hymn of amazement calling us to pause – to purify our hearts and behavior – in ways that befitting our birth into this amazing universe. Only those who train their hearts and ears will hear the celestial sounds of divine creativity. Our personal integrity opens the door to appreciation of life’s wonders. People with small minds, closed hearts, covetous spirits, and unjust motives seldom see beyond life’s surface and rarely connect the dots between experiencing beauty and affirming the unique wonder of each creature.
Ephesians invites us to “live for the praise of God’s glory.” Here God’s glory is ethical and soteriological in nature. It involves God’s decision to seek our well-being from the beginning to the end of the creative process. This passage can be cited as evidence for divine predestination, but I see a different kind of providence: a gentle movement toward health and wholeness, encompassing all creation, from cells to souls. There is no double predestination or exclusivity here, no “us versus them,” or saved and unsaved, but a universality of invitation that some recognize while others miss. But, even those who are currently unaware of God’s grace are still in God’s care. A favorite saying of mine is: “there are only two kinds of people in the world – those who are in God’s hands and know it and those who are in God’s hands and don’t.” This sense of God’s presence – not fear of hell – should motivate our faith and witness. We want to invite people to see God’s movements in their lives. Our invitation is grounded in gratitude for God’s suffering-celebrating love for us.
I am tempted to omit the Mark 6:14-29 passage as too problematic and distracting to be helpful. But, if you read it, you need to preach about it – at least a bit. Herod’s execution of John the Baptist reflects what happens when our passions exclude God. We can be passionate about many things – consumption, wealth, power, sex, diet, political principles and being right – we can even be passionate about scripture and ritual. But, if these are lived out apart from awareness of grace and the profound interdependence of ourselves and the world around us, they will bring death rather than life. Herod’s passion is inappropriate; his ecstasy is self-gratifying; and this leads to death and regret.
“Glory, gratitude, and praise” – these are good words for us today. Glory in the wonder of the creation and the Love that moves the stars and fireflies and our imagination and compassion; gratitude for the beauty of the earth and the graces of each moment’s interdependent emergence. Praise for the giver of life, love, and adventure. Let our “hallelujahs” be whole-hearted and passionate – let everything that breathes praise God!
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 email@example.com for lectures, workshops, and retreats.