The Adventurous Lectionary – The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost – June 12, 2016
1 Kings 21:1-10, (11-14), 15-21a, Psalm 5:1-8 (and/or 2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15, Psalm 32)
Today’s lectionary readings combine grace and challenge. The powerful and self-proclaimed righteous often forget their need for grace and, in consequence, use their power to destroy and exclude, thinking that their actions are “not personal, just business” or “just collateral damage,” or “part of the cost-benefit.” They cannot fully experience grace because they are shielded from the radical life-changing grace of interdependence by their wealth, security, and goodness. The wealthy and powerful, along with the rest of us, need a “conviction of heart,” a sense of our own brokenness, sin, and interdependence to get right with God and experience the grace that transforms. Grace does not render us passive or shame us, but invites us to align ourselves with God’s realm as companions in healing the world.
Today’s Old or First Testament offerings might be described as “occupy the Bible” passages. They describe the machinations the wealthy and powerful use to get their way. The powerful think nothing of killing their opponents to achieve their goals. They risk their souls for a plot of land or a moment of pleasure. They harm others simply because they can! This text convicts today’s economies and the barons of Wall Street. Walter Rauschenbusch once said that many people who have orthodox doctrines of the devil wouldn’t recognize him walking the halls of the Stock Exchange or in the language of a political candidate. The powerful and those worried about keeping power are waging war against those who stand in the way of their schemes – the war against women, the war against refugees, the war against immigrants, not to mention the battle for the bathroom! While many people are indeed frightened and fearful about losing their way of life, or hold sincere biblical positions, others use fear as a means of control, a type of “opiate of the masses” to prevent masses from seeing the true threats to their well-being and those who are ultimately the source of these threats, the often hidden powers and principalities.
The accounts of Naboth, Uriah, David, Ahab, and Jezebel are often seen as idiosyncratic and individualistic critiques. In so doing, they take us off the hook, and hide the fact that the primary prophetic critiques are against economic injustice and exploitation and the widening gap between the rich and the poor. The hubbub about homosexuality, transgender issues, and abortion is grounded in a few vague, or non-existent, verses while literally hundreds of verses, including the words of Jesus can be invoked to support economic justice and equality. But, dare we preach about such things? Will we be accused of “feeling the Bern” or being socialists? Will we convict ourselves, for most preachers also have an investment in the unjust social and global order that insures the value of our pension plans, and answer the call to conversion? We are all, as Thomas Merton notes, guilty bystanders.
How will these passages be heard? At the very least, if we preach one of them – or both, and simply opt out of the other readings for brevity and focus sake – we must use them as an opportunity to ponder economies of grace that help all people and honor the earth. Can we as a church be a headlight, to quote Martin Luther King, and not a tail light in speaking for justice and equity? Can we go beyond self-interest to world loyalty?
Psalm 5 and 32 portray the importance of ethical behavior and confession in the spiritual journey. God is on the side of the justice seekers. The wicked – the unjust, the oppressor – will eventually receive her or his reward, and it will not be good, so says Psalm 5. Psalm 32 invites us to look at the mirror of our lives and see if there are any evil ways in us. Self-awareness supports spiritual, emotional, and physical health. Hidden guilt, the Psalmist suggests, may be a factor in sickness. Confession liberates us from destructive burdens and may be a factor in recovery.
Grace abounds in Jesus’ encounter with a sinful woman. Aware of her own brokenness, she knows she needs grace. Her sins are real, she knows them, and they have placed her at odds with her community. In contrast, Jesus’ host and his friends assume they are righteous, although we can suspect they are complicit in much evil. This woman has sinned boldly – her sin is ever before her, whether it is occupational, behavioral, or health related – and she knows that only grace can make her whole. Jesus accepts her because she knows her need and cannot hide behind the mask of ethical righteousness and individualism.
This Sunday, we affirm that grace abounds, and that grace embeds us in structures and economies of grace. Grace calls us to confession – “twas grace that taught my heart to fear” – and conversion – to a transformed mind and way of life. Sinner and saint alike are “standin’ in the need of prayer” and totally dependent on God’s graceful interdependence.