Saturday, June 5, 2010

Proper 7 Year C

Proper 7 C
(Revised Common Lectionary)

I Kings 19:1-4, (5-7),8-15a; Psalm 42/43; OR Isaiah 65:1-9; Psalm 22:18-27; Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 8:26-39

The ongoing conflict between King Ahab and the Lord's prophet, Elijah, now includes direct confrontation with Jezebel, the non-Israelite wife of the King with devotion to her own god, Baal.  Ahab told her of the incident when Elijah humiliated the priests of Baal.  Jezebel vowed her revenge.  Elijah fled into the wilderness, distraught.  He went to sleep under some broom trees, but was awakened by an angel who "touched him and said to him, 'Get up and eat.'"  He saw cakes and water and the angel told him to eat for the journey ahead. Elijah survived forty days and forty nights on the meal miraculously provided to him from nothing.  He journeyed to Horeb (Sinai), "the mount of the Lord."  When asked why he was tarrying, Elijah explained himself: "I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of Hosts," even though the Israelites broke the covenant with the Lord, destroyed the places for worship, and killed other prophets.  "I am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away."  The Lord tells Elijah to stand on the mountain "for the Lord is about to pass by."  A violent wind arises, followed by an earthquake, and then by fire, but the voice of the Lord is not present. And then "a sound of sheer silence."  Elijah hid his face in his mantle and repeated his explanation of himself to the Lord.  The Lord told him now to resume his journey to Damascus.

(Although separated, psalms 42 and 43 seem to be actually one psalm.)  At a time in his life when the psalmist feels distanced from the Lord and "the house of the God;" he compares his longing to a deer that pants for water.  Although he is weighed down in his current plight, which includes his enemies who revile him, he still hopes in God's "rescuing presence."  The psalmist now makes his request "Send forth Your light and Your truth/It is they that will guide me./They will bring me to Your holy mountain/And to Your dwelling."  There he will sing and acclaim God.


This excerpt from the grand text of the Book of Isaiah counters any notion that  God is disengaged; God will respond to any backslider and will find any way to renew the covenant.  The Lord affirms an eagerness to be heard and involved, even with those who are indifferent or hostile: "I said, 'Here I am, here I am...."  After references to practices of several pagan religions, the text quotes the Lord as promising "payment for their actions."  However, as the aphorism about the potential for new wine from every cluster of grapes implies, so the Lord promises to  "bring forth descendants from Jacob, and from Judah... my chosen shall inherit it...."

The psalmist describes those who despise him as wild dogs, a lion or the horns of a ram.  He counts all "Fearers of the Lord" among the descendants of Jacob and Israel.  The Lord "has not hidden" from them; the Lord has heard when they "cried out."  The psalmist has decided he will renew his vows to the Lord "before those who fear" the Lord.  Together, "those who seek the Lord will, praise the Lord" and be satisfied.

Paul's  confronts a problem vexing the early church-- the status of various groups going into the church-- addressing the thorniest problem first: faith through Christ vis a vis faith through the law.  The Law, Paul writes, was a "disciplinarian," but now "in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith."  Furthermore, "there is no longer Jew or Greek... slave or free... male or female...."  And, if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring as well, heirs according to the promise.

Jesus and his disciples move on to the next community, "the country of the Gersemes," and immediately encounter a man "who had demons."  He lived naked, among the tombs.  The wild man confronted Jesus" "What have you got to do with me, Jesus, Son of the most High?" The man perceived Jesus' command for the unclean spirits to leave him as just more "torment."  Jesus asked the man his name.  He replied "Legion...."  The "spirits" begged Jesus not to be sent back into "the abyss," but rather to enter a herd of swine nearby, which Jesus did.  The herd immediately ran "down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned."  The herdsmen of the swine went into town telling what they had just witnessed.  They looked for Jesus and when they found him they also saw the wild man "sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind."  (Although Matthew and Mark also tell this story, only Luke describes their reaction characteristically, "and they were seized with great fear.")  Jesus returned to the boat to leave, the man begged to join the group around Jesus, but Jesus gave him a mission: "return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you."  Which the man did.

The scriptures are still ahead of human expectations of where, how and with whom God works.  (And always will be!)  That except from Isaiah depicts God as open to anyone; always ready to make more wine from any random bunch of grapes.  The psalmist recognizes that any who "Fear the Lord" are available  to God's goodness.  Jesus moves onto a new town where he pursues a naked, homeless, crazy man who initially is hostile:  "what have you got to do with me?"  But Jesus does not give up on the man who had given up on himself and eventually commissions him to become a witness for "how much God has done for you."  And in one of his most expansive moods. Paul declares that the membership rules for this new community, the church, shatter every barrier that mattered most in the classical world-- race, gender, religious heritage, "slave or free...."  "...[I]n Christ Jesus you are all children of God," Paul writes.

In her 2001 study, Jesus, Humanity and the Trinity, Kathryn Tanner states anew this still bold definition of God's inclusiveness:  "In Christ, God is clearly the God of  sinners as well as the righteous, of the Gentiles who lack God's gift of the covenant as well as the Jews who have the benefit of the law, of the suffering as well as the fortunate, indeed the God especially of the former in that they are the ones in greatest need of God's gifts.  There is nothing we need to do or to be in particular in order for God to be giving to us.  The distinction between good and bad, between Jew and Gentile-- all the distinctions that typically determine the boundaries of human love and concern-- fall away in that God gives simply to those in need, in order to address every respect in which they are in need, without concern for anything they especially are or have done to deserve it."  (p.88)  God is still out front of human expectations.

Western modernity's belief in "progress" wants to render scriptures passe.  Many "postmodern" theologians assume just the opposite; that the biblical texts are still ahead and always will be ahead of human expectations/accomplishments because they give testimony to the radical, total love of God for all persons and all creation.  Every person is regarded as already gifted by God, whether she sees herself that way or not; (What have you got to do with me, the man who no longer recognized his status as a child of God asked Jesus.)  The never-ending task is for each person to discover that claim for himself and to see it equally in every other person.