Readings for Second Sunday after Pentecost (Eighth Sunday after Epiphany) 25 May 2008 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Epiphany 2008 used 2 after Pentecost in 2008 25 May 2008 A Textweek

Isaiah 49:8-16a; Psalm 131; I Corinthians 3: 18 - 4:5; Matthew 6: 22-34


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

I’ve just heard those readings all over again, so I want to start writing all over again! There’s a good chance that we’re going to start off on one track and wander all over the place. The Gospel creates a question – it asks us to look at ourselves, for we’re told in verse 24, "No one can serve two masters”, which is quite a challenge for us when we live in a culture that promotes self-service. There’s another question raised in the Gospel and that calls us to consider the perspective of life, our life. In verse 27, ‘can any of you add a single hour to your span of life?’ There are voices inside your heads saying, ‘Yes of course I can, that’s why we’ve got health insurance.’ The question’s much deeper. And at the end of the Gospel we’re then encouraged in the light of these questions in verse 33, to ‘strive first for the kingdom of God’. In the old language that was ‘Seek ye first the kingdom of God’ - strive for the kingdom of God, strive first.

Now to just frame those questions and to underline the encouragement we’ve got the first two readings. First from Isaiah, and Isaiah has this wonderfully affirming theological view – a God who helps, a God who frees, a God who feeds and a God who guides. And when we are forsaken by that God or when we feel that we are forsaken, there’s that beautiful reminder that says that we are inscribed on the hands of the Divine: ‘I have carved you in the palm of my hands’ and so always we are in touch with the Divine, and forever we are touched by the Divine. If you read again the image, just that narrative in Isaiah, there really is this wonderful sense of divine rightness in the world. The people of Zion feel forsaken, and then the Divine says, ‘Makes no sense, because look, you’re carved on my hands.’ It’s good to maybe just pause and let go of that old worldview that divides everything up into states of being – either the world is good and divine, or it’s not, it’s fallen, it full of sin. I don’t think there’s a movement from one state into another state; rather both are there. And it’s why we get that reading at the beginning of the Gospel, ‘the eye is the lamp of the body’.

There’s a lot in the readings about what we see, and maybe we need to contemplate that the reality that we see, that’s what we’re being directed to discern in the readings today and it’s not really the cup half-full or the cup half-empty, it’s more than that. The Divine is forever touching us, and forever we are in touch with the Divine. If we can hold that and then seek a path through life, we will actually start looking beyond a lot of the everyday, we’ll be seeing through it, we’ll be seeing where there is life. As the reading was going on I thought of this image, the image of [Rublev’s] Trinity. The garment that the Divine wears – Jesus and the Holy Spirit, they’re dressed in firm clothes, you can see what they are; look at the Divine - is it gold or is it blue? You know that material that changes as the light catches it? You can get cars like that now – imagine, divine cars. I think the world is like this. The Christian call is not to get out there and stamp out evil at all. There is no ‘us’ and ‘them’ in the world; there’s an us and them in ourselves, there’s an us and them within, there’s no us and them out there. Read Isaiah and see what the world looks like – seek ye first that world. As I seek, if I look for the Divine my journey through life will be different, my journey through life will be quite different: I will add the world up differently and therefore create the world differently. It’s not one or the other, they’re both there.

That was one of those ….. [tangents]. I’ve got to try and find where we are. Paul, my reading of Paul is that Paul is trying to ground what we’ve just said. He’s trying to take those questions from the Gospel and ground them into the church with the church in Corinth. He’s taking the affirming theology that we find in Matthew and Isaiah, and so he speaks, he sees that material and its shimmer, he speaks of the wise and the foolish, questioning the standards of the world. He talks of human leaders and servants of Christ – not different people, different ways of being. He talks of judging and of being judged, and he understands that in Christ the Divine is revealed and so too, he finishes off in verse 5, so too ‘the purposes of the heart’. The purposes of the heart are revealed in Christ.

So where do we then go with it all? We’re going to step out into the busyness of the day; can we even hope to hold the words that we’ve heard, let alone the divine word that’s revealed? When we go into the world we will be bombarded with other messages. Can we reflect on these readings, can we keep our sight and our orientation in such a way that we can look through and beyond what we meet face to face? It’s a difficult one. I’ve heard a fair bit of preaching this week, which makes a change. At the consecration of Kay Goldsworthy, I listened to the Primate of Australia – I was describing it to someone as like watching a beige Volvo, stunningly uninteresting. I listened to a bishop from New Zealand. She saw something beyond what others saw and named it, and changed the shape of what was happening, brought it into the Divine. Then I heard Barack Obama’s ex-spiritual guru speaking and then McCain’s two ex-spiritual gurus speaking, absolutely stunning. I share the planet with these people! And of course in the papers we also got a few words of wisdom from Bishop Harry Entwhistle. I give thanks that I can see beyond most of that. Look for something else.

Look to our leaders maybe? At the Federal level, the issue of the week, for this nation, the issue of the week is 5cents on the price of petrol, the benefits of taking it off or leaving it on. That is amazing, it’s absolutely amazing that at this point in the life of the universe, that’s the thing that we really need to get on top of. At the local level, it’s a matter of who can stay in pole position with the least naughty activities. It’s not even in the frame! Globally, Australia like many other nations is seeking to offer aid for the traumas and tragedy occurring in Burma. Admirable. At the same time, it is trying to defend the purchase of cluster bombs and wiggle out of an international treaty banning them. We need to look through, look beyond. Seek ye first the kingdom of God: identify a path towards creation, towards life.

So come back to where am I in all this. Where am I in the word of God, where am I? Where do the readings provide me with a point of reflection? And what is the image that is reflected back from the word of God when I look into it? Strive first for the kingdom of God: where have I striven for the kingdom of God this week? What contributions have I made toward this community, toward the unfolding of life in its wholeness, to the realization of the divine in the world? There’s an easy exercise here: divide your week up and just do the numbers. OK, see how it goes – put in those things that the eyes have taken in, and those things that have taken in your eyes. To what have I attended? My guess is each of us will be surprised by how little; we’ll also be surprised by how much. And what we might discover also is how valuable whatever time, however the numbers come out, how valuable it is to seek the kingdom of God. We responded to the psalm this morning with ‘Our hope is in the divine now and forever’. Consider the lilies of the field: like all plants they seek, they strive for the light in order to blossom, in order to bare fruit in order to recreate. In each moment and every moment we invest in tomorrow. Hope is not a passive wish, hope is not the investment we make, it is an orientation that in turn determines who we are. So as we consider the lilies of the field, let us seek to find in ourselves that process that they illuminate for us.

The Lord be with you.
Peter Humphris