Proper 9 (14) Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10; Psalm 48; 2 Corinthians 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-13

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen

The short reading from 2 Samuel this morning provides us with two or three opportunities for reflection and this is done again through the person of David, the house, the line that according to the gospel, is the house and the line of Jesus. As we look at the narrative, we see that David’s leadership was ‘as shepherd of my people’. There was also a covenant leadership, a covenant, it says in verse 3, ‘that was made before the Lord’, and then the reading finishes in verse 10 with, ‘David became greater and greater, for the Lord, the God of Hosts was with him’.

We can leave it there as a story of David, one of the old stories of little relevance in the Old Testament, or we can take look at our own Davidness - that part of us or that whole of us that is of the line, or in line with Jesus. Both individually and as community, we are invited through David to reflect on ourselves: what are we, what am I, a shepherd of? What do we care about, what do we give direction to, under what covenant made before the Lord do we, do I, build and continue our lives’ becoming?

We don’t use ‘covenant’ much any more: what are the relational agreements that give shape and orientation to our actions? Because they’re there. Some people have a covenant relationship with Big Brother that will enable them to come home at a set time, to remain still in one place and then to move on at another set time. Where are we, where am I, becoming greater and greater alongside and with the Divine? That’s quite a good one, I think, for reflection. As soon as you speak it inwardly – just ask yourself, ‘where am I becoming greater and greater alongside and with the Divine?’ - and it’s quite likely that the first thing that happens is everything about you cringes and shrivels: ‘Surely not me? Not supposed to be great.’ Made in the image of God.
When we move on to the psalm, it’s as if the poetry and imagery of the psalm again invite us to a similar reflection. The psalm itself becomes a vehicle for us to look at ourselves, to look at our community. If we just take the last three verses:
‘Walk about Zion, go all around it, count its towers,
consider well its ramparts, go through its citadels,
that you may tell the next generation that this is God, our God forever and ever.
He will be our guide forever.’

Let us again bring that from the past to the present. Walk through your life, look at it, all of it, from every perspective. Count its towers – identify that which stands out, that which can be seen by others; consider well its ramparts - consider well your strengths and the walls you have built up; go through its citadels – visit and revisit the places within where you offer shelter and hospitality. ‘That you may tell the next generation that this is God’ – from your being, what is it that you tell the next generation? Where within do you proclaim, ‘This is God, our God, my God forever and ever?’ Where, like Zion, do you make real the divine guide of life?

I think it’s these and/or similar reflections, or at least I imagine, that they’re reflections that inspired and informed the ministry of Paul, because surely these are the contemplations, as it says in 2 Corinthians, of the third heaven. Paul discerns the place between boasting and being a fool, he discerns the place of truth. He is grounded, stunningly earthed in his activity, kept from being too elated, it says in verse 7, ‘by a thorn given to me in the flesh’. Let’s just consider where we go or what we find when we look at the thorn or the thorns that we have – our wounds and our woundedness. Let’s just pause for a minute and list them off – don’t do it out loud, otherwise everyone’s going to look at you. ‘A thorn was given me in the flesh to torment me, to keep me from being too elated.’ What is your thorn(s)? I wonder if like me when you first look for your thorns or when you start listing them off, it’s somewhat sobering. However, if we look again what we might find is that the thorns or the thorn that we’ve identified has been given by others, by our culture, and some of those thorns have even been self-inflicted – we went out and collected them oursleves. If we go back to the text we find that Paul is not talking about those human wounds, rather about the torment ‘to keep me from being too elated’. I wonder if we might see this thorn as the wound that comes from the crown of Christ, the paschal crown. It is a thorn, a wound, a torment that the Lord seeks not to remove, but rather to use as the opening for grace, a Christ-like infliction that keeps us from self-inflation, from over-emphasising our worldly greatness. It is a thorn that enables us to be and to become grounded in the grace and the power of the Divine, power made perfect in weakness. And I think as well that the same wound, the same thorn serves to draw us away from being elated in our human weakness - it calls us away from being victims, into the realization that we had in verse 9, ‘that the power of Christ may dwell in me’ - not in the church, not in the archbishop, not in the pope, not in those people that we sit near that do good every week - but that the power of Christ may dwell in me.

Now if we move on to the gospel of Mark we do a slight injustice because the gospel reading today almost deserves a sermon in its own right, but in the context of what we’ve just looked at, the previous readings, it serves to underline and I think also to give us permission to step outside the cultural contexts that hold us in slavery, the things that shape us and ensure that we do not reach the power inherent in us, in each other and in all: in your own house, with your own family, in your own community, your prophetic power will not be realized. I’ve always had the thought that that awful notion of ‘family first’ is a conservative and pharisaic worldly oppression to keep us from realizing the fullness of Christ. We see in Christ, in the readings today, a call, a call to grow up, to look beyond the blood of family, to a universal family. It is a call that asks us to go beyond home, to leave home, to establish a covenant relationship with all. Take no tunics, you won’t need a bag for this or a money belt, do not be waylaid by the fears of financial insecurity. And also don’t leave and go and blindly establish a covenant relationship with all. There’s a beautiful nuance in the gospel: Christ is the one that accepts all and asks us to have the same orientation - to be open to and giving to all, but at the same time to discern. In verse 11, ‘if any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet’. Do not become grounded where the Divine is not welcome.

The Bible is a book of life; it is a pool in which we can see life reflected. The readings today give ample reflection to realize ourselves with the Divine, to know that the word is enfleshed, not in the past, but in us. We are, and if we are not, we are called to be and to become, the Body of Christ.

The Lord be with you.

Peter Humphris

Proper 9B/Ordinary 14B/Pentecost 5 July 9, 2006 Textweek