Posts Tagged 'community'

For October 7, 2012: Proper 22, Year B

The Reading            Genesis 2:18-24

In last week’s Old Testament reading, Moses cried out for relief in dealing with the Israelites, and God sent a committee. Today’s reading takes us back to the beginning of all things: in God’s view, it is no better for the first human to be alone than it is for God. Interestingly it is the creation of woman that makes humans unique.

The Response            Psalm 8

The Epistle            Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12

The letter to the Hebrews, which we read over the next few weeks, is less a letter than it is a tract that sets out demonstrate to first-century Jews how Jesus is the Messiah and fulfiller of the promises in the Old Testament. The quotation in today’s reading is from Psalm 8.

The Gospel            Mark 10:2-16

 

Further thoughts

Divorce—the ending of a marriage by a legal process—has become more and more common in today’s society. The scars that it leaves are properly to be lamented; most of us know and perhaps have sided with a spouse who has been left; some of us have been the spouse who was left or the spouse who left, and too many among us have been the children of a divorcing couple who could not keep their bitterness and anger to themselves. Jesus reminds us that neither marriage nor divorce is to be undertaken lightly, and, though the reminder can be painful, it is salutary.

It is both familiar and appropriate to take the Old Testament text and the gospel together as explaining and approving marriage as part of God’s design for human life. Perhaps, though, they and the epistle are also making a larger point. When the Old Testament tells us that woman was created from man, it tells us that God prizes our distinctivenesses: to hark back to the earlier account in Genesis, God has created each and every one of us in God’s image. It may also be telling us that each of us is created part of all the others. I am a part of you and you are a part of me, and you and I are each a part of people we will never meet, because through God every human being carries the imprint of all human beings. From this it follows that it should matter to me if you are hungry or cold or sad or fearful or in the dark, and it should matter enough to me to do what I can to feed you, warm you, cheer you, or bring you light. For me to turn my back on you amounts to a kind of divorce: you will learn from it, as children of bitter divorces do, that there are questions that are not to be asked and kinds of help you deserve that are not to be gained in your interaction through me, and this closed door may well hamper you in your other dealings.

To turn and seek and serve Christ in someone who has ignored or even scorned me can be painful. To turn and seek and serve Christ in someone I have ignored or scorned can be both painful and shame-inducing. Nevertheless, Jesus whom we all crucified calls me to do exactly that. In so doing I help build up the body of Christ, grace by grace and soul by soul.

For Sept. 30, 2102: Proper 21, Year B

The Reading            Numbers 11:4-6,10-16,24-29

The book of Numbers is named that because it begins and ends with a census or enumeration of God’s people en route from Egypt to the land of Canaan. In Hebrew it is called (רבדמב) Bemidbar, ‘in the wilderness’. In today’s reading the people’s bitter complaint—instead of manna, they want meat—frustrates Moses profoundly. The lectionary selection omits part of God’s response, which is to send so much quail as to make the Israelites literally sick of it. The rest of God’s response is echoed in today’s epistle and gospel.

The Response            Psalm 19:7-14

The Epistle            James 5:13-20

When Moses bemoaned the burden of bearing the Israelites, God responded by creating a committee to share the ministry and the spirit. It is hard not to be skeptical of groups as solutions, especially groups that we regard as “not us”—but the letter of James, which we finish today, is emphatic: healing and forgiveness come in community.

The Gospel            Mark 9:38-50

Further thoughts

“It is in the shelter of each other that people live.” –Irish proverb

It’s fairly easy, given the vivid language in today’s Old Testament reading and gospel, to get distracted by the distance we may perceive between us and the people in them. When the people of Israel bellyache about the cuisine on their march through the wilderness, it’s hard not to smirk a little, and the masterwork of kvetching by Moses emphasizes our sense that these Israelites have just plain got it all wrong. Likewise, when John proudly announces that the disciples tried to stop someone who wasn’t one of them from casting out demons, only to have Jesus tell him that was uncalled-for, we roll our eyes a little; the brimstone-scented hyperbole Jesus employs to drive the point home, following as it does on the heels of that little disagreement about who was greatest, reinforces the impression that John and the disciples were rather silly.

Let’s hesitate before condemning or sneering, however, because the behavior of the Israelites, the disciples, and the contentious ones that James addresses is simply human. They—we—respond to change and stress in entirely human ways: by complaining, by critiquing, by working out pecking orders, and by seeking to identify and exclude those who don’t belong.

God’s remedy for human obtuseness and sin is, surprisingly, more humanity, laced with the Holy Spirit. Moses and the Israelites get not a miracle but a support group made up of humans—including two guys who weren’t even at the tent. In James’s community, those who are in the old Book of Common Prayer’s “trouble, sorrow, need, sickness, or any other adversity” obtain comfort through the prayer of fellow humans. Jesus takes on humanity to save us, and welcomes the good done even by those who are not part of the in group.

In telling me to have salt in myself Jesus means me, I think, to focus my zeal for purity and high standards firmly on my own small and sinful self; what I am called to extend to and solicit on behalf of the rest of God’s children—all of them—is grace, aid, and peace. To live into this requires that I work consciously to create a space in which others can safely disagree, be different, and confess to brokenness and need. Creating that space for any of us creates it for all, and that is the space in which the Kingdom of God comes and is.


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