The Adventurous Lectionary – The Second Sunday after Pentecost – June 7, 2015
I Samuel 8:4-20
II Corinthians 4:13-5:1
Today’s reading from I Samuel might come with the motto, “the government that governs least governs best.” Dissatisfied with their current political situation, the people demand a king. Both God and Samuel object. Following a more theocratic and libertarian approach, they object to the people’s desire for an intermediary, a human leader, rather than God or a spiritual leader. The consequences of secular rule, even in a godly society, are power plays and self-interest among leaders, taxes, and loss of personal control. All these characterize most governments, sadly, but would we want a theocracy today, given the fanaticism and self-interest of those who claim to follow God, whether in Christian and Islamic communities? Throughout history, the unholy alliance of religion and government has led to violence, idolatry, and investing penultimate values with ultimate authority.
Secular political leadership is inevitable and often positive, especially in the United States. Still, ultimately we need to trust God’s care for us above all earthly rulers. Governments are best when they recognize their penultimate status and, accordingly, recognize a variety of viewpoints, including those held by non-religious persons. At their best, rulers and the rule of law are not to be placed above God and conscience. Accordingly, the reading from I Samuel is an invitation to follow God’s ways not just the patterns of government and society. The church is at its best when it is countercultural, that is, when it has a critical edge, judging governmental policies in light of God’s vision of Shalom.
Psalm 138 also addresses divine power and sees God’s power in moral rather than coercive terms. God’s power is revealed in steadfast love. The kings of the earth are subservient to God and rule best when they listen to divine wisdom in the promotion of their political and social policies. God cares for the poor and vulnerable. Those who seek to be faithful must put God first and honor God’s power made manifest in love; love not coercion should characterize their own political involvement. Our actions, accordingly, are inspired by God’s care for the least of these.
Paul invites his Corinthian listeners to trust in God’s everlasting promise. He wants them to trust that they are resurrection people, growing in grace despite life’s setbacks. In the midst of life’s personal and political challenges, our hope is in the unseen, in God’s vision for our lives. The resurrection transforms everything: failure cannot defeat God, imprisonment cannot defeat God, and aging cannot defeat God. Deeper spiritual growth is possible despite the limitations of age and illness. This is a life-transforming promise especially in our aging congregations. We are invited trust in God in all the seasons of life and to look for God’s movements in our lives. Whether we live or die, we belong to God; God’s eternity is our greatest hope. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. This does not turn us away from the world but gives us a foundation for social and political involvement and for patience with processes whose fruition may come to pass in years rather than days.
The Gospel reading describes Jesus in conflict with his family. No doubt, Jesus’ family has good intentions: they want to protect him; they are concerned that he has gone too far and will be hurt. Their prudence is justified, but misguided. The religious leaders also challenge Jesus’ spiritual wellness, suggesting that he is demon-possessed. In contrast to his family and the religious leaders, Jesus establishes his bona fides; he is speaking for God, he is not possessed by an evil spirit. In words that must have hurt his parents, Jesus asserts that his true family is made up of those who follow his pathway. He is claiming that a new kind of community is on the horizon, one that lives in accordance with God’s vision. This spiritual family includes the nuisances and nobodies, tax collectors and sinners, and not just the wise and righteous. In God’s realm, biological family is important but also penultimate and may be destructive when it becomes an ultimate concern.
While love the creator by loving the creatures, our love for creatures needs to be placed in light of our fidelity to God. Attentiveness to God’s vision enables us to have life-giving attitudes not only toward the powers that be, but also toward the necessary losses accompanying aging and events beyond our control.