Scarcity or abundance

26 July 2009
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 12B (RCL)

2 Samuel 11:1-15
Psalm 14
Ephesians 3:14-21
John 6:1-21

Short blog entry this week. Out of the office Monday and Tuesday, and slow catching up on everything.

David (as Nathan’s parable will tell us next week) had more than enough of just about everything. But he wanted more . . . (In the spring of the year, when kings go out to battle — occupational hazard for kings to want more). Got him in big trouble. Interesting how Bathsheba’s two word speech had the power to bring the most powerful man in the kingdom to a halt (I’m pregnant).

The young boy in the gospel story on the other hand, had enough (and truth be told, probably more than enough for one lunch — I don’t know how big a loaf was, but five would surely have fed him and several others), but was willing to share. David saw his superabundance as scarcity. The kid saw his “just enough” as abundance. The results tell.

The people try to take Jesus by force to make him king (whose occupational hazard is to want more) so they could have more, but he goes up the mountain. The miracle is not the feeding, but the “enough-ness” of a humble offering.

Building a house

19 July 2009
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 11B (RCL)

2 Samuel 7:1-14a
Psalm 89:20-37
Ephesians 2:11-22
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

David, firmly installed as king of Israel and Judah, living in his own palace in the city of Jerusalem, which he won by conquest from the Jebusites (so it belongs neither to Israel nor Judah) and having brought the ark to his city, want to build a fine house for the ark. Such a temple would signal the permanence of the cult as well as the permanence of the kingship. David would have divine imprimatur for his reign. But God declines. God is used to living in tents. Instead, God will build David a house, establish a dynasty. The ark went to war with the northern tribes (recall the scene at Jericho), and so it belonged in a tent. David was a military leader — kept a standing army. The combined kingdom would never be quite secure in David’s lifetime, but only in Solomon’s, and then only for his lifetime.

I don’t like the military metaphor, but this story is a reminder that we don’t live in a stable kingdom. The reign Jesus proclaimed has not been established. We still live “in tents”, working to bring it about. But the story also reminds us that we don’t bring it about, we don’t build the house. God does. We’re in the vanguard.

Jesus sent out the 12, two by two, with staff in hand, no bread, no bag, no extra coat, with power over unclean spirits. They were to accept the hospitality of those who would give it, heal the sick, and preach repentence. By plopping the story of Herod’s court, and the beheading of John down in the middle of this story, Mark is asking, “Which is the Kingdom? Herod, or the twelve?” They were out there doing “hands-on, face-to-face” ministry, welcoming the sick, the demon possessed, the broken to a table they didn’t set, and saying, “this is the kingdom, not Herod’s court.” When they return, they tell Jesus everything they’ve done. And, even though we skip it in this week’s Gospel reading, Jesus has them feed the multitude in the desert. They are on their way to the promised land.

The author of Ephesians talks about Jesus, in his death, tearing down the dividing wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile. Through his blood, both groups are adopted as children of God. And then built into a house for God’s presence. Those crazy christians are making stunning claims for their worship — this is where the God of all creation is present to that creation. This is the house God has built. But any “us and them” means the house isn’t finished yet — there is still a wall to come down.

Our General Convention continued the hard work of tearing down walls this past week. Resolution D025, while insisting that we want to continue as part of the Anglican communion, and acknowledging that not all of our Anglican partners, nor even all of us quite get it yet, said that the call to ordained ministry is a mystery, and God may well call gays and lesbians to all orders, and our discernment process will be governed by our own Canons. It may seem like the whole structure will totter if we tear down that wall (the rest of the communion may think we are ‘walking apart’), but we have to remember, God builds the house. Our task is to get as many people into it as we can.

Dancing before the Lord

July 12, 2009
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 10B (RCL)
2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19
Psalm 24
Ephesians 1:3-14
Mark 6:14-29

These are tough readings to preach. We have dancing, partying, beheading, and if we read the verses left out of the OT lesson, God breaking out against poor Uzzah for steadying the ark. And then the introduction to the letter to the Ephesians, which in Greek is a single sentence. Hmmm.

The 2 Samuel reading seems to me to be about David co-opting the Ark, which belonged to the Northern tribes (all the shrines to date had been in the north), and bringing it to his own city. David was a southerner (of the tribe of Benjamin), and so the tribes of the north wouldn’t necessarily have felt any kinship with him. It’s a marriage of convenience — Saul left no progeny. So David throws an amazing party. The purpose of sacrifice is to establish kinship: who gets meat structures the kinship unit, from family to nation. The stunning thing in this story is that David distributes meat, along with cake and raisins, directly to all the women of Israel. Women only got meat in sacrifice through their men: their fathers if they were not married, their husbands if they were. David, who is dancing so vigorously as to expose himself to the crowd, is essentially marrying all the women of Israel (exposing one’s nakedness to is a euphemism for having sex with). No wonder Michal despised him. And of course, he couldn’t have sex with Michal and run the risk of fathering a grandson of Saul, a stronger claimant to the throne of Israel than himself. And he is essentially adopting all the men, by providing meat to them. An ox and a fatling every six steps is going to be a lot of meat. And of course, God shares in it, since some of the oxen are made into whole smoke offerings. The two kingdoms are united in the person of David by the strategem of his adopting/marrying Israel through sacrifice. Now I begin to see where Paul gets the image of God adopting us a children through Christ’s sacrifice.

Psalm 24 could well have been written for just such an occasion as returning the Ark to Jerusalem after triumph in war.

Ephesians gives us the introduction to a speech, that in weeks to come will talk about uniting Jew and Gentile in one family. Too bad this weeks reading isn’t a little clearer.

And then what to do with Herod’s party? Only courtesans (prostitutes) danced at parties, so one wonders if the point of the story is just to show the utter depravity of Herod’s household. The story gets sandwiched in between Jesus’ sending of the 12 with power over unclean spirits, and their return and report of all they have done. Mark uses the sandwich (called intercalation) to interpret the two stories. So is this kind of depravity the unclean spiritual power over which the disciples have power? The twelve are establishing a kingdom based on healing and a shared meal, rather than a kingdom based on brutality and depravity. How do we do that today? Not any easier now than then.

The power(lessness) of the empire

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 9B (RCL)
2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10
Psalm 48
2 Corinthians 12:2-10
Mark 6:1-13

I’m always suspicious when the designers of a lectionary leave verses out of a reading. In 2 Samuel 5:6-8, David has his soldiers go up the water channel of Jerusalem and attack the lame and the blind (the Jebusites had thought their stronghold so defensible that even the lame and the blind could keep David out). Not a very attractive picture of the new King. There is a strong anti-monarchical strand of tradition included in the books of Samuel; the people reject God as their king when they ask for Saul as king. I wonder if David was too revered for the author of that strand of tradition to come right out against David as a bad king, but we get little tidbits like this to remind us how wicked monarchy is in general. The kings are supposed to protect the lame and blind, and here is David attacking them (admittedly the lame and the blind of the enemy).

In the passage from Mark’s Gospel, Jesus, having discovered his own powerlessness in his home town, begins to send out the twelve with power over demons. It is the beginning of an ongoing process — he doesn’t send them out just once, but begins to send them out. He does not tell them what to preach; only gives them power over unclean spirits. And then gives them a set of negative instructions; take no purse, no coin, no extra shirt. They do get to carry a staff. The requirements for being a disciple of Jesus are even more stringent that for being a cynic. Cynics could carry the stick, for warding off blows and dogs, but also could carry a pouch for keeping the next day’s food they had begged. Jesus’ disciples can only beg food for this day. They are totally dependent on the hospitality of those who will take them in.

We are told the disciples proclaim that people should repent. Jesus didn’t tell them to say that. They cast out demons and healed the sick. These are all the signs of the Kingdom. Jesus begins his proclamation, “Repent. The Kingdom is at hand,” and then casts out a demon. Then Peter’s mother-in-law feeds him. The Kingdom is precisely exorcism in exchange for hospitality. If demon-possession is a social dislocation experienced personally (oppression, e.g.), then somehow the act of giving hopsitality overcomes it. If Roman oppression had rended people marginal, then giving hospitality to these raggedy disciples empowered folks. This, says Jesus, is what the true empire looks like. The Cynics claimed to be living in the kingdom, because no emperor had power over them, but it was a very lonely kingdom, outside the social structures. Jesus’ disciples were building a new social structure that rescued people from isolation. But the heralds of that new empire had to accept their own powerlessness in order to proclaim the power of that new empire. They couldn’t even beg food for the next day, but only bread for today. How unlike David.

I wonder what demons need exorcising these days. Certainly, in this current economic climate, a loss of buying power might be experienced personally and even somatically (tight shoulders worrying about paying the bills). I know folks who feel like the world has changed so rapidly, that they can’t keep up with it, and get grumpy. But, what Mark suggests is counterintuive. We want to fix the problem, pay the bills, get folks into jobs. Mark has Jesus tell us to stay in their houses and accept their hospitality.

Paul suggest that power is brought to completion in weakness. Maybe we have to accept our need of others, even those who apparently have nothing to offer, in order to accomplish anything. Paul could boast of his own revelations and insights, but suggests that the Corinthians only look at what gets done through him. What are we doing?