RCL Scriptures: 2 Samuel 6:1-5 and 12b-19; Psalm 24; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:14-29;
Complimentary texts: Amos 7:7-13, Psalm 85:8-13
Let us pray: Illumine for us these texts, O Lord, that the words I speak might bring light instead of shadow; that your will and your word for us might be discerned. Amen.
The revised common lectionary did not leave us with easy texts this week. Let me share with you part of how I prefer to go about discerning what to preach on; and perhaps we can discover together what the Lord wishes to say to us this day. I prefer (although not always successfully) using elements of lectio divina scripture study as practiced in Group Spiritual Direction. For example, consider the following:
As you think about the passages we just heard, is there a specific text, word, or phrase that seems to tug at you more than the others? If you were to match one of the texts for today with contemporary situations among your relationships here in this community and/or further afield, does something leap out at you or shimmer as you read it? Does something nag at your heart concerning current events that one of these passages illuminates? A response to any of these could be God’s way of nudging you to pay attention, in preparation for faithful action.
Listen again to some of the themes offered today:
Two of the pericopes include, on the one hand, King David’s dancing before God as the Tabernacle is brought to Jerusalem. His wife peers down from her window and despises him in her heart. On the other hand the New Testament describes the beheading of John the Baptist, ordered so by Herod, despite his attraction to John’s preaching.
A sharply contrasting reading from Psalm 24 gives us a hymn to the beauty of Creation mixed with awe of the Lord as ultimate King of glory. The Epistle reading comes from Ephesians, waxing eloquently philosophical on issues of destiny, spiritual adoption, the gathering up of all heavenly and earthly things in Christ and our inheritance in him – the gift of the Holy Spirit.
What are we to make of all that? I don’t know about you, but what I need today is a good and practical word, something to nurture my spiritual life while matching it with practical action in a world that needs to hear, see, and taste that the Lord is good. Perhaps, if I am lucky, I will also find something to assist with my own inner transformation toward more Christlikeness; characteristics I need to develop to be more of the kind of servant that the Lord wants me to be.
When I read through the texts for today and listened for what might be needed for preaching a good word from the Lord, I was initially at a loss. Sometimes that lostness persists, and makes for a little bit of an anxious week as Sunday approaches and no sermon has evolved. This week, prompted thus, I moved on to check through the complimentary texts for the day instead of the semi-continuous texts I usually confer in the revised common lectionary.
In so doing, I found some interesting passages that spoke to me. The passage from the prophet Amos, for example, talks about God holding a plumb line up against an existing wall made by an earlier plumb line, which tells Amos,
“God will lay waste Israel’s religious and political establishment, for it is warped and has fallen beyond repair. But there is also the note of God’s faithfulness to God’s people—God still calls them, after all, “my people.”
Amos is sent to prophesy to Israel, (not his home nation in the then current split between Israel and Judah), and the word is not good: Israel will fall and be scattered into exile. The established “wall,” as it were, needs to be removed and rebuilt. This means the nation of God’s people, Israel, needs to be drastically reformed.
I wonder, would Amos have something to say to us in the United States today? It wouldn’t be too hard to connect the contemporary social and environmental justice issues around the border between Mexico and the US, to current political policies being played out, would it? Not to mention the overall institutionalization of our country’s pendulum-swinging two-party democracy. Taking it a step farther, perhaps there is a connection to religious institutions of the contemporary Christian Church as well.
These walls were built over a hundred years ago; how much longer has the Church catholic been in existence striving to be Christ’s body in the world? The spirituality of the people of long ago has been passed down to us; albeit without much wiggle room for the Holy Spirit to work – that same Holy Spirit which was the initial gift of freedom given to us in Christ in the first place! None can contain the wind, the Holy Breath of God, much less these or any other walls set by a plumb line. The Spirit blows where it will, it is our place as adopted heirs to discern its movement and join its dance across the face of God’s good earth and in the hearts of God’s people, including ourselves and our political neighbors, regardless of their religious persuasion.
The message in Amos is clear: God wants to re-make Israel. The theocratic monarchy as originally established had warped away from the form of its intent. I wonder what God would have Amos say to our nation – and into our hearts – today? The established theocracy of the northern kingdom of Israel tried to send Amos back south to Judah; but Amos stood firm as God’s holy messenger.
Perhaps that passage and interpretation is a bit to political and close to home for some of us present today. What about the complimentary Psalm reading for today: Psalm 85:8-13?
8 Let me hear what God the Lord will speak,
for he will speak peace to his people,
to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.
9 Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him,
that his glory may dwell in our land.
10 Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
11 Faithfulness will spring up from the ground,
and righteousness will look down from the sky.
12 The Lord will give what is good,
and our land will yield its increase.
13 Righteousness will go before him,
and will make a path for his steps.
Ah, now pair that to the Amos passage, and I think there may be an additional message for us on a more personal level. Do you ever feel like you are slowly deteriorating into rubble like the wall God shows Amos in his vision? Yet God is setting a plumb line out next to it; “Surely [The Lord’s] salvation is at hand,” writes the Psalmist. If the wall is our own selves, our own beings; then we were made originally with a good straight plumb line. Whatever the cause or causes, we may find ourselves not so straight anymore; not holding up so well perhaps. Maybe we are tarnished or deteriorating into rubble spiritually. Christologically, then, we may view ourselves through Christ, whose, “incarnate image itself reforms us; the draw of its life reframes the very construction of our lives…”
What might be the plumb lines God has set in our midst today? Commentator Stephen Edmondson writes,
“God’s call of a herdsman and tree-tender suggests … that we must be aware that we not only are being plumbed by God’s measure, but that we may be called to be that measure, ourselves. We, in some ways, are called to be Christ to one another in the measure of our lives by God’s presence among us.”
Such is the way of Christ, the way we follow, the way of our Teacher, our Guide, and our Friend. Do ye see the way to go? Dare ye take on the full mantle of Christ and step into the day, serving always as Christ’s hands and feet in the world? Let this be our prayer!
May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us, with us, and in us; even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.
 Stephen Edmondson, “Theological Perspective, Amos 7:7-13” in Feasting on the Word – Year B, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0
Questions for Reflection
To experience one’s self as God’s beloved is a gift beyond compare. For some, it is difficult to receive such a gift; for others, such grace comes more easily. How can we deepen our experience of that gift in ourselves? How might we encourage this gift in others?
Household Prayer: Morning
O God of steadfast love and faithfulness, as I awaken this day in expectation, I turn my heart toward you, for I am your beloved.
Fill me with your wisdom and insight, and guide my feet into the way of peace as I walk your righteous path. Amen
Household Prayer: Evening
Recounting both the blessings and challenges of this day, I give thanks to you, O God, for my hope is in Christ who makes all things new, and so I rest this night. Amen.