Second Sunday after Pentecost
1 Samuel 3:1-20
It seems that from the very beginning, there was always a group of people watching Jesus closely. From the first miracle at Cana, in Galilee, almost everyone had their eye on him. The religious political leaders of that day were no exception. They thought they knew him, but clearly they didn’t. They were watching and waiting; many scrutinizing and criticizing, and some perhaps even secretly hoping that he would mess up. Have you ever felt that others were doing that to you?
After all, the kind of things and the messages that Jesus was relaying were not easy to the ear. He was literally shifting the paradigm, including people that had otherwise been completely left out; dismantling years and years of tradition; challenging and confronting the powers that be – the powers that were and the powers of all time. Jesus was creating a hot mess, to say the least.
In last week’s gospel, we saw Nicodemus coming to Jesus under the cover of night, curious and interested; the moment pregnant with hope for something new, yet reluctant to be seen in public. But still he came and found his way all the way to the cross, dragging that crucified body through the streets of Jerusalem.
Today, we see more of the Pharisees. They were learned men, whose occupation and preoccupation was to study the law – the scriptures. They knew the Word; the Torah; born into it, shaped by it, feasted on it. They knew the rules. And along came this young rookie, itinerant with new interpretations of things, turning their world upside down, and upsetting the apple cart in every way. And guess what? They were not going to have it. I mean really? Who does Jesus think he is?
We have all been there, have we not? We know the fear and anxiety of change. The instinct to control or to try to shut something down altogether. We know how to weigh a situation, carefully calculating the risks – the pros and cons. What if it doesn’t work out? What if we lose ourselves in the process? And God forbid if a more excellent way is discovered somehow and it was not our idea?
From all directions, Jesus is doubted, scrutinized, questioned, and misunderstood. He is trying to help people, but even his best efforts are circumspect.
Kayla McClurg left us this message:
So in case you have ever wondered if Jesus knows how it feels when things fall apart, when the work you are trying to do and the people you are trying to serve and the foundations upon which you stand start to shake and collapse around you, he knows. When words of appreciation don’t come but words of accusation do, when you feel misinterpreted and misunderstood, Jesus knows. If following Jesus is going to be anything like being Jesus, then the question is not will trouble come; no, the only question is this: to whom shall we turn when it does? At this juncture in his ministry, Jesus is facing multiple crisis of relationship. He is being pressured hourly – by endless crowds seeking his healing touch; by religious teachers who analyze and theorize, wanting proof of his authority; even by his blood family, who grow increasingly concerned about his health and stability. Jesus does not try to dispel the disruptions; he does not try to prove himself a hero against them. He simply pronounces his rightful place in the new family God is giving for the work now at hand.
For any of us, it is an exceptionally low moment when others conclude that we are, in significant ways, not one of them….Jesus knows how lonely and difficult the journey can be. He knows how tempting it is to seek validation from people and systems that have long shown they do not ‘get’ us. Here we are reminded that we do not need to prove ourselves. We are not orphans in the storm…
My brothers and sisters, we are not orphans in the storm. We have a Lord who not only journeys with us, but is Lord of the storm. The psalmist asks:
Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend into heaven, you are there. If I make my bed in hell, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle to the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.
We are known. The question is how might we get to know God better; to know and understand God’s way? And others? Even our own selves, which can be the grandest quest of all: to know one’s self fully in Christ. The person God created us to be from our mother’s womb. And to live into that boldly and radically and to help others live into who they were intended to be.
I think it’s the kind of thing God desires most of all and it takes time. And effort. For each of us is fearfully (which means reverently) and wonderfully made; and anytime you make something, you have a desire for it; your passion about it and the outcome for it. So it is with God and us.
Today, we find ourselves gathered on the Sabbath day, pretty much like that Sabbath so long ago when Jesus was walking through the grain fields with his disciples. And like them, we are invited to keep it holy. We must ask what that means for our time? How are we making today holy when there are those hungry at our feet? When there are those sick and broken, in need of care? How do we make today holy in light of the stranger who yearns to be seen and welcomed? Where is our holiness, our righteousness to those marginalized shut out and shut away and what are we doing about it? Those immigrant people, voiceless, at our borders? How will our worship lead us to personal transformation and transformation for the greater good?
It was the Sabbath day and Jesus was going along trying to help people. And others were angry and upset, criticizing, setting plots, and trying to bring him down. Stuck. Worried about breaking the law; but we know that it was more than about breaking the rules.
Look at what he is doing! Plucking grain on the Sabbath. Healing the withered hand on the Sabbath. Food and healing; life and meaning – readily available but off limits. Can you imagine?
Jesus reminds them and us about real Sabbath work. The real reason why we gather and worship; sing and praise. The real reason why we come to have our souls revived: The Sabbath, Jesus said, was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath, and the Son of Man (Christ himself) is Lord even of the Sabbath. One day at a time; one encounter at a time.
I was at dinner recently with a group of people; there were 9 of us altogether. Three brothers, a cousin, a friend, and a colleague. Some of their wives were present, some not. Mixed ages, living now in different parts of the world. Some meeting for the first time as I was also meeting with some of them for the first time.
Connected by blood but more than that – the blood that never loses its power. The blood that sanctifies and calls us into something deeper, more meaningful. It was beautiful, wonderful, inspiring to say the least. Gathered around a common table, laughing, talking, and being downright silly at times. Imagine that!
In just a few moments we too will gather around the table. We’ll be standing; but imagine that table stretched out wide – far and wide to encompass the whole universe. And there are people from everywhere. Imagine the meal is simple – just bread and drink, but it is a feast. And there are people there – immigrant people from every country and every continent; every tribe and every hue. Short people and tall people; gay people and straight. Rich and poor; Young and old. People who have crossed all kinds of barriers just to sit and stand with us. People who have endured all sorts of insults and deprivations. And all are welcome. And there is enough.
This is what Jesus was trying to teach, and this too is our good work.
But at the end of it, Mark says: “… [they] went out and immediately conspired with others against him, how to destroy him.”
But we know what they don’t, don’t we? Even their best laid plans will not be enough to stop what God has already begun.