Proper 9B: Beyond Home

Beyond HomeOLD TESTAMENT: 2 Samuel 5: 1-5, 9-10

Read the Old Testament Lectionary passage

While the spirit of the LORD has rested upon David for some time, the formal coronation takes place in Hebron. David, now thirty years of age, has proved himself as a leader faithful to the LORD.  The coronation happens at Hebron. There is no crown or scepter to pass down. Rather, the people recognized the LORD’s anointing of David, the elders recognized him as king, and David made a covenant with them as their leader. You’ll remember that David was “anointed” as king by the prophet Samuel and at God’s direction. Then he was anointed king by the decision of the people of one tribe, the tribe of Judah.  This rule lasted about seven and ½ years. And now, after the house of David has grown stronger and stronger, all the tribes of North Israel acknowledge David as king.  The tribal leader has become a king. David would rule for a total of 40 years.  Jerusalem would become the City of David and Israel’s capital city.  (When you think about it, that was a choice that did not favor one tribe over another but rather began a unified kingdom in a new place.)

Now, it’s obviously wrong to picture this as some sort of idyllic situation.  David has not been the most compassionate of leaders.  In fact, he has taken Jerusalem by attacking its water system, the very heart of the city.  The verses that we skip contain a reference that sounds as if David is shunning or excluding the blind and the lame.  We’re not really sure to whom this actually refers.  There is a sense that the city was indeed so fortified that it was believed that even the blind and the lame could have fought off the intruders.  So this may be a slur of sort toward David’s enemies.  The point is that David, in spite of it all, has indeed risen to glory.  And he became greater and greater as the years went on.

Now the passage says that God was with David.  Well, that’s right, because, as we know, the Lord is with us all.  We have the assurance over and over in the Scriptures and in our lives.  But is this saying that God was on David’s side, even over and above against the blind and the lame, or David’s enemies, or whoever else is not standing in David’s court?  David was chosen and anointed by God.  He begins as a great leader, even though there may or may not have been some questionable ways of getting there.  A new order has begun.  There has got to be some excitement, some underlying hope for what will come.  After all, David has been given the power to change the world backed by a compassionate and deep love of communion with God.  David’s relationship with God was strong.  And yet, what responsibility does that hold?  David, like so many leaders before and after him, would have his ups and downs.  He would make questionable, if not bad, decisions.  So what does it mean for a leader to claim to be “anointed” by God?  Is it carte blanch to do whatever it takes to further the anointed agenda?  Or is it a calling to be something more?  What does it mean for a leader to be anointed by God?

 

  1. What is your response to this passage?
  2. How would you characterize David’s rise to leadership and the way he carried his reign out?
  3. What does it mean for a leader to be anointed by God?
  4. What message does this hold for our world today?

 

NEW TESTAMENT: 2 Corinthians 12: 2-10

Read the Lectionary Epistle passage

The setting of this part of this Second Letter to the Church at Corinth is a church that is beginning to fracture. There is escalating tension between Paul and this church that he loved. There were rival versions of the Gospel springing up everywhere and they were beginning to take hold. Many probably contained wildly popular mythical and fantastical versions of what heaven or what God looked like. We experience some of the same things today. Drama sells.

And yet Paul stops short of some sort of dramatic explanation. He acknowledges the existence of something beyond but also acknowledges that he does not and cannot know exactly what this is. Rather than finding God in some sort of mystical ecstasy, Paul claims that we find God in our weakness and our vulnerability. In fact, Paul seems to quash the idea of a divine justice where God rewards the faithful and punishes the weak. Rather, Paul lays out a scenario where God comes to us not in spite of our weakness but because of it. In fact, for Paul, our weakness and our vulnerability makes us stronger in the faith. It is not a test from God; it is a gift from God that even in our weakness we might be strengthened.

Sally A. Brown makes the point that “the culture is eyeing the churches these days, testing our credibility. Congregations may imagine that they cannot think about public witness until their internal problems, doctrinal and budgetary, are all resolved. But it may be precisely our internal challenges that press us into the kind of engagement with each other and with the Spirit that can turn us, sooner rather than later, away from cloying self-absorption and outward to the world God loves. Even in our weakness, maybe even because of it, we become credible witnesses of saving news in this frantic, fearful world.” (Available at http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?lect_date=7/8/2012&tab=3, accessed 4 July, 2012.)

The truth is, the first Christian witnesses were completely counter to the culture, the society, and, for that matter, even the religion of the day.  They were considered unpatriotic and unfaithful.  They were fools, seemingly uninformed and unaware of the “right” view of God, the sure view of God.  And yet Paul’s message here essentially tells us that being “right”, being “sure”, is not the witness to which we are called.  Rather we are called to let God be God and in our vulnerability, our weakness, and our profound need for God in our life, to somehow try to listen to the voice that is calling us not to rise above the world but to witness to it.

  1. How does this passage speak to you?
  2. So what does it mean to become witnesses of the Gospel in our weakness?
  3. Why is it so difficult to admit our weaknesses in the face of our call to witness?
  4. What message does this hold for our society today?
  5. What message does this hold for our churches today?

 

GOSPEL: Mark 6: 1-13

Read the Lectionary Gospel passage

This story is told in all four Gospels. So to be told in all the Gospels, it must, then, have meant something. It must be a story to which we should listen. Leading up to this, Jesus was really having a good week. He had done three miracles in three days. That is a pretty good success rate. First, he had calmed the sea. Then he had healed the woman that had been bleeding incessantly for twelve years. And then he had raised a child in front of her grieving parents. Yes, things were going well. And so now he was coming back to his hometown, to those who knew him, to those who had “known him when”. And he began to teach.

The truth was that Jesus wasn’t seen as a prophet or a Messiah by this crowd. He was just one of them, this little kid that they remembered tagging along after Joseph as he did his carpentry work that had made good and of which they were very proud. They probably thought that his ministry would be a reflection on them. But Jesus was not cooperating. Jesus was standing there, calling them to change, calling them to look at things differently, to step out of their carefully constructed boxes and away from their earthly temples and actually become the people of God. Who did he think he was? God?

The truth is, Jesus was asking them to open some doors in their lives. As hard as it was for them to fathom, God was not some far-off inaccessible entity to which they could go when it was convenient and from which they could turn when it was not. This ordinary, earthly man standing before them was God—Immanuel, God-with-us—calling them to serve others, to put themselves out there, and to unlock all those closed doors in their lives.

We can identify. There are places that we view as “safe”, places that everyone agrees with us for the most part. So we go home expecting unconditional acceptance and full support of whatever it is we’re doing. But “prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown…” The problem is not that things at home are different. The problem is that we have changed. If we’ve done what God has called us to do, we’ve actually gotten in the way of our own lives.

I don’t really think that Jesus was shunning his family or leaving them forever. I think he was realizing that he was a different person than the one that had left. He knew that what was around him had to change too. He loved his family, but you really can’t go home again. Not because home has changed, but because you have.

That’s the way life is sometimes. Think of yourself like water in a river. The free, uninterrupted flow of life is fine until it encounters some sort of obstacle. It does not go back the way it came but instead it either turns its course or waits until it is filled enough to overcome whatever is in its path, making it a part of itself.

So, Jesus used it as a teaching moment. He called the disciples and sent them out in twos. After all, everyone needs a sounding board, a community, small as it may be. Everyone needs someone to support and affirm them. Jesus knew that. And he told them that they, too, would encounter rejection. But there was work to be done.   After all, those doors are not opened merely to welcome people in. They are also opened to call us out into the world.  Those open doors connect the world to life as we know it in Christ; but they also take that life into the world. And sometimes that’s a whole lot harder for us.  It means stepping out; it means putting ourselves into a place that is not the way we know; it means leaving what is safe and familiar and following where God leads.

 

  1. What meaning does this passage hold for you?
  2. What does it mean to essentially say we can’t go home again?
  3. What message does this hold for our world today?
  4. Where do you find yourself in this story?

Some Quotes for Further Reflection:

Any society which does not insist upon respect for all life must necessarily decay. (Albert Einstein)

I claim credit for nothing. Everything is determined, the beginning as well as the end, by forces over which we have no control…We all dance to a mysterious tune, intoned in the distance by an invisible piper. (Albert Einstein)

 

I think we can say that democracy is a form of government that demands more virtue of its citizens than any other form of government…So let us term freedom of choice less a virtue than a necessity, a precondition to real freedom, which is the ability to make choices that are generous, loving, and wise. Our wills are not free when they will what is bigoted, narrow, ungenerous. Our wills are only free when they can will the will of a loving God. “They will be done on earth.” (William Sloane Coffin, Credo, 80-81)

 

 

Closing

 

We know well the “honor roll” of nation states and mighty empires that run all the way from Egypt and Assyria to Britain and Japan and Russia—and finally us. We know about the capacity for order that they have and the accompanying capacity for exploitation and violence. We know that the great powers, while held in your hand, are tempted to autonomy and arrogance. In the midst of war, we ponder modern empire.

 

In these moments, we hold our own resource-devouring empire up in your presence. For the moment, we pray for it: forgiveness for its violence, authority for its vision of freedom, chastening for its distorted notion of peace.

 

We pray, for the moment, that our very own empire may be a vehicle for your good purposes. Beyond that, we pray the old hope of our faith: that the kingdoms of this world would become the kingdom of our God and of his Christ. We do not doubt that you will reign forever and ever. Along with all waiting powers, we sing gladly: Forever and ever, Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

 

O beautiful for patriot dream that sees beyond the years thine alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears! America! America! God mend thine every flaw, confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law. Amen.

(“On the Oracles against the Nations”, in

Prayers for a Privileged People, by

Walter Brueggemann, p. 177-178

and “America the Beautiful” (vs. 3),

by Katherine Lee Bates, UMH # 696)

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