The Adventurous Lectionary – The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost – July 19, 2015
2 Samuel 7:1-14a
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
God’s covenant embraces all of us, promising more than we can ask or imagine. How do we best align ourselves with God’s vision of abundant life for us and those we love?
The passage from Samuel explores the nature of God’s covenant with David and his descendants. It affirms that although God travels with us, and is the source of David’s successes, God also seeks a permanent dwelling. This is not to suggest that God is limited to one place, the Jerusalem Temple or our own congregations, but that certain places can be focal points of our faith and of God’s presence. Described by the Celts as “thin places,” holy places where heaven is transparent to human experience, these venues suggest that in certain spots there is a greater sense of the holy and quite possibly a greater manifestation of divine energy and inspiration. Samuel sees these as covenantal spots, revelatory of God’s special relationship to certain people, such as David, and nations, such as Israel.
The passage from Samuel begs the questions: Can God choose to be more fully present in some places than others? Is there a synergy between divine call and human response that makes certain times and places unique? Is the Logos/Sophia, described in John 1, available in a saving way to all people while being particularly incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ?
The words of Psalm 89 speak of an eternal covenant with David and his descendants. Despite their waywardness, God will not forsake David’s children. God is faithful even when we are unfaithful. There are consequences to turning away from God, and these include loss and destruction, national upheaval, and economic catastrophe. Yet God will remain faithful over the long haul. Our waywardness is not an impediment to God’s covenantal love. This passage also begs the questions: Are these consequences a matter of divine blessing or punishment, focusing on God’s initiative, or primarily a result of our closedness to divine energy? When we turn away, do we block the fullness of divine power and love and thus lose blessings we might otherwise receive?
The words of Ephesians affirm that in Christ, God has made peace with all peoples. Although the laws of Moses have been relativized, the covenant with David has not been nullified. God’s covenant with Israel has been expanded to include all humanity. The law is no longer a dividing line, creating a chasm between the clean and unclean, but has been transformed to inspire and shape all humanity. Ephesians affirms that Christ is our peace, our unity, joining diverse and otherwise divided people into one community of love. There are no aliens anymore; all persons are encompassed by God’s covenant of grace.
Mark’s Gospel portrays the interplay of compassion and action. The disciples are so busy doing good works that they barely have time to eat. This is a curious observation by Mark, but I would suggest an important one: the busyness of ministry can lead to burnout. We can wear ourselves down by the tasks of ministry and find ourselves emotionally, spiritually, and relationally drained. Jesus recognizes their needs, and perhaps his own, and gives them time to recover their wholeness. They go on a brief retreat to a deserted place. This retreat may be as much for Jesus as his followers, for the demands of ministry are great and in Mark’s chronology Jesus’ spiritual friend John the Baptist has just been murdered by Herod. Perhaps, Jesus needs to recuperate and regain his own spiritual centeredness in the midst of grief and the demands of ministry. The benefits of retreat for Jesus are obvious. He returns to work with compassion and empathy. His heart goes out to those seeking his care; they are not nuisances but sheep without a shepherd, to be cared for and led to discover their own wholeness.
Our work and Jesus’ work as well is never completed. The work of healing is life-long. In the wake of feeding five thousand, the demands become even greater. The needs are immense and so are the calls for compassion and energy, and peace.
This week’s scriptures invite us to awaken to God’s “covenant of wholeness.” God wants us to have abundant life and provides practices to nurture well-being in the midst of our busy lives. Congregants as well as laypeople need to make a commitment to intentional times of retreat on daily, weekly, and monthly basis. The interplay of action and contemplation, work and rest, commitment and retreat, are necessities for busy pastors and parents, retired boomers and active millennials.
The “so what” in this passage is the recognition that although the demands of our professional and personal lives will continue, we can find wholeness by remembering to pause and rest and open to God’s sustaining presence. The adventurous pastor needs to develop her or his own spiritual practices and provide guidance and opportunities to congregants. Hurry sickness can be transformed into time spaciousness when we open to “thin places” of God’s everlasting grace and holy infinity. (For more on practices of wholeness in ministry that can be translated for lay folk, see Bruce Epperly, A Center in the Cyclone: 21st Century Clergy Self-Care and Tending to the Holy: The Practice of the Presence of God in Ministry; Kirk Byron Jones, Rest in the Storm: Self-Care Strategies for Clergy and Other Caregivers.)