The Adventurous Lectionary – The Second Sunday after Pentecost – June 3, 2018
I Samuel 3:1-1
Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18
2 Corinthians 4:5-12
Today’s readings are about divine revelation in space and time. The world is God-filled, yet some times and places, and some persons, more fully reveal God than others. Some persons seem more permeable to divine inspiration, or perhaps are more attentive to it. The church can be a laboratory of revelation, where people anticipate God showing up in their personal lives, political involvement, and congregational worship.
Samuel doesn’t expect a divine revelation. Despite his unique birth and dedication to the Holy One, Samuel perceives himself, I suspect, to be the spiritual inferior to his mentor Eli and Eli’s son’s, groomed for spiritual leadership. Perhaps, the people have even given up on hearing a world from God, as “the world of God was rare in those days, and visions were not widespread.” Like most of us, Samuel goes to bed, hoping for a gentle sleep after the ardors of the day. To his surprise, he hears a voice whispering, calling out his name. The voice Samuel hears is common, nothing supernatural, and so he suspects it is Eli, asking him to do a temple task. But, Eli himself is fast asleep, and sends Samuel back to bed, twice. The third time, Eli suspects that the voice may have something special to say to Samuel, and so he sends him back. If he hears the voice, he is to respond, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” The voice comes again, Samuel responds, and receives a revelation.
Though he does not receive a revelation himself, Eli has an important role in the process. He identifies something special going on and tells Samuel to be prepared. Eli’s mentoring is that of listening to Samuel’s experience without judgment, and as a result of that listening, guiding Samuel to prepare for God’s message. Samuel appropriately follows his mentor’s guidance. When God speaks, he listens, letting God’s vision guide his path rather than superimpose his ideas on God’s revelation. He is receptive, not passive, taking in God’s vision and then responding. Receptivity has an agency of its own, the willingness to get out of the way, to hear revelatory voices without editing, and then act on them, taking responsibility for his response to what he has heard. Following God’s vision is always an active process and challenges us to let God’s voice sound through us as a prelude to our own agency. In our own lives, we would do well to ask for God’s inspiration, and more importantly to commit ourselves to listening to what we hear. (For reflections on mystical experiences, see Bruce Epperly, “The Mystic in You: Discovering a God-filled World,” Upper Room Books.)
Psalm 139 speaks of divine revelation in space and time. First, God is present as our most primordial reality: we are wonderfully made, our very being reflects divine wisdom and creativity. No original sin here but the original wholeness of divine presence. Second, we are fully known. God is aware of who we are without judgment or condemnation. Divine knowledge is protective, supportive, and inspirational. Third, wherever we go, we are in God’s care: no emotional, spiritual, or geographical state can take us beyond God’s presence. To use the language of Celtic spiritual guides, all places are “thin places,” all times are “thin times, and all persons, including myself, are “thin persons.” This is good news for us when we are overwhelmed by feelings of shame, guilt, alienation, and depression. We are touched by God even when we feel most bereft of presence. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. To be known by God is to be willing to know ourselves, embracing our whole experience as the medium of divine disclosure, personal growth, and healing.
The reading from 2 Corinthians continues the theme of divine presence. In all the vicissitudes of life, we are God’s. Our crosses are encompassed by Christ’s cross. Our afflictions are healed by Christ’s afflictions. Perplexed and feeling lost we can depend on a wisdom greater than our own to help us find our way. We are given a “treasure,” God’s presence and truth; and yet we must remember that we do not possess the truth, it comes to us in fragmentary form. There is no place for theological ideology or absolutism here. Our faith is not in our finite doctrines and institutions – even religious institutions – but God’s loving energy moving through but not limited to our institutions or religious experiences. Yes, God is speaking to us. Yes, we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Yes, we are always touched by God. But, our “yes” is always finite; others may experience God and find solace in other encounters with God. Trusting Christ, we can be both bold and humble in sharing our faith.
The reading from Mark affirms revelation, while pointing us beyond our interpretations of revelation. The Sabbath is at the heart of the Jewish tradition. It is even ordained by God. But, even as we honor the day of rest, we need to be flexible. Human need supersedes religious prescription. Perhaps, in the timing of life, this is the only moment the man with a withered arm can be restored to wholeness. Jesus and the man may never meet again, and now is the moment of healing. Jesus challenges the hardness of heart of those who want Jesus to put religious ritual over personal well-being. Our rules and practices – even those emerging from scripture are treasures but in earthen vessels – and subject to modification and transformation when new possibilities emerge. Jesus the healer places his vocation ahead of human religious artifice. God’s healing vision must come first – the wholeness of people and communities must come first – ahead of religious doctrine and practice. (For healings in Mark’s Gospel, see Bruce Epperly, “Healing Marks: Healing and Spirituality in Mark’s Gospel,” Energion Publications.)
Sabbath keeping is important, but its importance always reflects our ultimate loyalty to God’s vision being worked out in time and space. This moment is a holy moment, and we need to listen for God’s guidance, which at times may force us to go against the traditions and mores of our culture and congregation.
God is present in all things. All places can be scenes of revelation and all persons can receive divine guidance. God’s presence and revelation is always historical, flexible, novel, and challenging us to do new things as God’s companions in healing the world. Let us listen to God’s voice in us and in the world.