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Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Proper 8), Year B

2 Samuel 1.1, 17-27
Psalm 130
2 Corinthians 8.7-15
Mark 5.21-43

In a wonderful book titled All Our Losses, All Our Griefs, Kenneth Mitchell and Herbert Anderson work with this basic premise:  All change is loss.  All losses must be mourned.

All change is loss.

All losses must be mourned.

We can experience relational losses, functional losses, material losses, intrapsychic losses (losing images of one's self or losing future possibilities), role losses, and systemic losses (someone changes offices or a family member moves out of the house or a person leaves an important position in a church).  Losses can be both avoidable and unavoidable.  We can lose things that were important to us and we can loose things that were painful to us.  Whether we liked them or not, when something changes a hole is created.  All losses must be acknowledged and mourned.

This week's lectionary readings show folks being confronted with and processing (mourning) different kinds of change in their lives.

The text from 2 Samuel is the beginning of a new chapter in the history of Israel.  David is receiving word of Saul's death.  This military defeat is seen as a defeat of the God of Israel -- David had respected Saul as "the Lord's anointed."  Upon word of his death, David lashes out and has the messenger killed.  Then he "intoned this lamentation" -- he sang a song of mourning and lament.  He praised Saul and his son and called the Israelites to mourning.  He pours out his own pain and anguish.  If you read past the selected text, David then goes on to seek the Lord's wisdom for his next act, and after he is anointed king, he praises the community that had collected Saul's body and respected it with burial.
 
Psalm 130 is also a lament.  The Israelites understood deep within their culture the importance of looking at their grief, speaking to it, naming it and laying it before God.  In their laments, there is also hope.  They look forward to a return to normal - not a normal that was, but a new normal that will be.
 
From the Gospel of Mark, we have intertwined tales of 2 miracles.  Jesus has just gotten off the boat in which he calmed the stormy sea, and he's almost immediately approached by Jairus, who is beside himself because his daughter is dying.  He has sought out Jesus because he believes that this man can do something.  Imagine the scene - Jesus agrees to walk along with this man.  Jesus is attracting crowds and people are curious about the rumors they are hearing.  It would seem by now that there might be sort of a non-stop stream of miracle seekers stalking Jesus.  As the crowd follows along, a woman reaches out in desperation and touches his garment.  And in a moment, she is cured of a lifelong bleeding problem and Jesus is somehow aware that healing power has just gone out from him.  He speaks briefly to to woman, and assures her that it is her faith that has made her well (can you imagine?....what would you have left to talk / complain about if a pain you had known all your life was suddenly gone?).  He then proceeds to Jairus' house, where the gathered are already in mourning for a dead girl.  But Jesus shocks them all, sends them away and gathers the girl's parents to her side. "Wake up, little girl."  And she wakes.  Now these are stories not about seeming loss, but about restoration and gain.  But how quickly everyone's circumstances changed.  Things that people were living with - that they thought they knew - were changed, and all of them left the scene having to integrate these changes in to their lives.

Finally, in Paul's second letter to the church and Corinth, he is appealing to the community for money, a collection, to help the "poor."  It's actually a stewardship Sunday speech that he's giving them, reminding them that Jesus humbled himself in death so that they can have life in abundance (grace). Out of that abundance, they can provide others with abundance in times of need.  Not really about loss so much, right?  Well, this letter was written late in Paul's ministry in the Mediterranean.  That means that the early church is approaching a second generation of members past the death of Jesus.  There are few left, if any, who would have known Jesus' teachings directly.  What sort of loss do organizations experience when a leader goes away, dies, or changes?  The epistles are largely Paul's counsel passed on to communities trying to find their way in changing circumstances.  There are persecutions going on around them.  There are false prophets claiming to have the next answer.  There is the unfulfilled expectation of Jesus' return to set everything to rights.  Change and loss are everywhere.
 
When something changes, a hole is created. 

All losses must be acknowledged and mourned.
 
Where do you hide losses that you are unprepared to mourn?
How do you mourn?  Who do you invite to mourn with you?  Why?
 
Creator...
I think sometimes that creation
is always about generation...
about new emerging from old or void.
And perhaps it is.
Perhaps new holes in my heart
are indeed new creation. 
But it hurts
and you feel so far away.
Everything feels
so far away.
Help me find rest in this space
and time and emptiness.
Amen.


Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Proper 7), Year B

Job 38.1-11
Psalm 107. 1-3, 23-32
2 Corinthians 6.1-13
Mark 4.35-41

Wouldn't it be great if we could at least have a list of all the things we did not know?  It seems like it would somehow be helpful to at least know what it is we don't know.  Most of us have a decent grasp on the fact that we do not know everything, but it is often hard to specifically know exactly what it is we don't know at all or what we don't fully understand about the things we do know a little about.  Maybe that would be a step in the direction of a little more humility in the world and in our relationships.

And speaking of things we do not know....maybe there are some things we just cannot know.  No matter how deep or how far the methods of science and discovery can take us, maybe there are just some things that we as humans to not have the ability or capacity to grasp.  Maybe we are not meant to fully understand how the univerise was created, maybe we are not capable of identifying genetic causes of all diseases, maybe it will always remain a mystery why there are so many single socks in our laundry room.

And, traditionally, in most belief systems when faced with a mystery, the response is often (some version of) "Only God Knows" or "Let Go and Let Yahweh" or "It is all in Allah's Hands", etc.

This week our lectionary readings have us look at some of the things we don't know and some of the things folks in the stories didn't even know they didn't know.

The first scripture is such a great example, we could stop with it.  The story of Job is one that lots of folks swing around for a lot of different purposes.  Often people want to focus on the topic of Job being "tested" or on how Job lost everything and then was returned to material wealth, but (for us) the important part of Job comes in the last three chapters.  Chapter after chapter recount Job and his friends questioning each other and questioning Job as to why he lost his family and material success.  And then we get to chapter 38 where it says "and God answered Job out of the whirlwind..."  Job and his friends spent a lot of time trying to answer a question it was not theirs to answer.  God responds to Job and reminds him that there are some things known only by God.

In Psalm 107 we have several verses that describes God Redeeming people from a variety of trouble and distress.  It is a description of folks being "saved" from situations and contexts in which folks normally perish...it is a description of things happening that are not explicable by any human logic...some things are only possible and only understood by God.

In Paul's letter to the followers of Jesus in Corinth he offers many examples of the reasons he and his fellow followers of Jesus should have been killed or changed their minds, but somehow and for some reason they have made it through.  Verses 2-10 are a beautiful testimony by someone who knows what he doesn't know.  Paul knows that he shouldn't have survived those tests and trials and that it is only by the Grace of God that he is still there.

In Mark we see another Classic Bible Story.  Jesus and the disciples get on a boat to cross the sea, a violent storm blows in, the disciples get frightened and ask Jesus to do something, Jesus speaks directly to the storm and the sea, and then Jesus points out to the disciples something that they did not know they did not know.  Jesus stops the wind and the waves in a way that no human can do.  And then he points out to the disciples a lesson they had not really been faced with so far--they did not know that Faith was something that they might not have fully developed, that they could develop and that with their faith, they might be able to overcome the fear instilled by a violent storm out on the sea.
 
The scope of what we do not know - what we cannot know - is sometimes too hard to comprehend and maybe (just maybe) our pride gets in the way of our admitting to what we cannot know.
 
Have you identified unknowable mysteries in your life? What do you do with those mysteries?
Are there things that you cannot accept not knowing?  Why? 
For you, what is the difference between knowledge and belief?
 
God,
There is so much before me every day -
so much that I cannot understand,
so much that I cannot know.
And what I cannot know,
I cannot control - and that is hard.
Help me to relax
to be still
and to know that
You are God,
for some days,
that is all I can know.
Amen


Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B (Proper 6)

Ezekiel 17.22-24
Psalm 92. 1-15
2 Corinthians 5.6-17
Mark 4.26-34

Have you ever noticed the prevalence of Growth imagery in our Holy Scriptures?  When we think about why that might be, one of the first responses (from your average contextual critic of the bible) cites the fact that the folks who wrote the scriptures and the audience that was listening were all really rural and really agrarian.  And that is true....except for the folks that lived in places like Jerusalem and Babylon and Rome.

Another important reason for the prevalence of Growth imagery is because this is something that is common to all living things.  Every thing that Lives, Grows.  Also, everything that Lives and Grows, Dies; but that is for another day.

Everything that Lives, Grows.

And something that is always Growing is always Changing.

Sometimes things Grow in ways that are not healthy or productive.  But often, living things Grow up to be exactly what they are created to be.  The Growth process is sometimes slow and it is sometimes fast, but any time something (plant, animal, or otherwise) it changes.

We have quoted him here before, but it is good so we will quote him again...the early Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, "One cannot step in to the same river twice".  And this statement could be reframed as "Once cannot climb the same tree twice" (because they are constantly Growing and changing) or "One cannot kiss the same baby twice" (because they are constantly Growing and Changing).  And so on.

All of that is to say, Growth imagery is around every corner in the bible because the bible is primarily concerned with describing / illuminating the relationship between God and Humans and the resources of the Earth.  The stories we find in scripture mostly deal with the ways Humans Grow and change in relationship to one another and to God and to the world around them.

Now, on to this week's scriptures.

In the words from the prophet Ezekiel we find a beautiful passage that talks of how God will restore Israel [need historical context about where Israel was at this point].  Ezekiel was writing during the time of the fall of the Temple and the Babylonian exile.  His writing reflects experiences in exile and upon return to Jerusalem.  He had seen a lot.  No, really, he had seen A LOT...a lot of culture shifting, life changing, irrevocable change.  In this passage, he's writing about God's power and attributing all, good and bad, to the power of God.  And pay attention here, God / Ezekiel does not say Israel will be just like it was before...what is described is a new Growth, a new establishment, a new Creation.

In Psalm 92, the psalmist writes a hymn of praise for God's vindication of the righteous (a group that includes the Psalmist, we assume).  The Psalms are packed with images of growth, and Psalm 92 is no exception.  The Righteous are compared to flourishing palm and cedar trees that produce on and on and on into to old age.  "In old age they still produce fruit; they are always green and full of sap..."  --that is such a great verse.  Here, growth is a good thing, a positive response to God's action in the world. 

In his letter to the people of Corinth, Paul does not directly use imagery of Growth from nature.  He is talking (as he often does) of followers of Christ becoming more and more and more like Christ as the days go by.  He talks of becoming a New Creation.  This idea of "new creation" is an old one in the tradition which formed Paul.  The prophet Isaiah speaks often of a new heaven and a new earth after the destruction of Jerusalem.  That new creation represents all sorts of potential for change for the better in this case.

And in Mark's gospel we find Jesus doing what he does so well--trying to explain such a fantastic idea like the Kingdom of God by using examples of plants growing from seed.  Here, the image is one that would have been very familiar in an agrarian community.  Both the image of grain growing up from the ground and becoming fat with ripe kernals and the image of a tiny mustard seed growing into a tremendous plant provide all sorts of things to think about in terms of what the Kingdom of God might be.  Here, Growth represents potential and reach and depth.

Yesterday, we Grew; today we are Growing; tomorrow we will Grow.

What image of Growth might you draw or describe for your own life?
Where do you see Growth around you today?  Is it good?  Is it scary? 
Do you have expectations for future Growth?

God, we are caught in a society that wants us to produce,
But they do not care if we Grow.
Guide us as we attempt to Grow toward your Light.
Guide us as we trust that our DNA
Will take us exactly where we need to go.
Help us allow the seed you have planted in us
To Grow.
Amen.


Trinity Sunday

Isaiah 6.1-8
Psalm 29
Romans 8.12-17
John 3.1-17


Well, this week's lectionary readings are labeled "Trinity Sunday",
and boy are they ever steeped (when taken together) in Trinitarian
thought!

As we have said in the past, (for us, at least) the concept of The
Trinity is a slippery one. There is no place in the Hebrew or
Christian scriptures where the idea or concept or formula or
instruction manual for The Trinity is laid out. In current (American)
Christian understanding The Trinity is made up of God the Father and
God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. For Trinitarians (folks who
believe in the Trinity....as opposed to Unitarians who believe God
exists as a Whole--a Unity) that pretty much is the line where
consistent similarities end. Some folks put God the Father as the
main player and the other two members of the Trinity are subsequent,
some folks put most of the emphasis on God the Son (Jesus), some folks
put most of their emphasis on God the Spirit, some folks attempt to
hold all three as equally important, and then there are folks all over
the rest of the spectrum. For some The Trinity is an integral part of
their belief system, and for some The Trinity is an unimportant, human-
created side-note.

And then, if you somehow get a hold of who all The Trinitarian Players
are, what do they do? Who is responsible for what? Did they
chronologically show up and chronologically leave? Are they all here
now? Are any of them here now? What are they doing to us or for us
or in spite of us?

And in this week's readings we get to see some fairly diverse views of
what we have come to know as the different members of The Trinity.

In the passage from Isaiah he relates to us a beautiful vision. One
thing to pay attention to here is who does what and what happens.
Isaiah finds himself in the presence of the Lord and the Lord's seraph
attendants and his first reaction is to admit he is unclean and lost.
In the Isaiah passage, at 6:5, "I am lost," is actually a double
entendre in Hebrew that also translates "I am speechless." THEN the
seraphs (not The Lord) bring a coal to touch to Isaiah's mouth and
cleanse him of his sin. And THEN (only then) we see The Lord speaking
to everyone in attendance and Isaiah answering.

In Psalm 29 we get reference after reference after reference to "the
voice of the Lord". The Voice of the Lord does everything--it is over
the waters, it breaks cedars, it shakes the wilderness, etc. It is so
interesting that it is the thing that we humans often depend on for
interrelation with another human (the voice) that is so powerful.
Hearing and speaking...there is a symbiosis and a completeness to
these things. One means nothing without the other and the two
together create powerful and intimate connection and/or division - and
actually, that is sort of a beautiful connection to Trinity...there is
a perfection, a completeness in the whole of the trinity as it is
described and understood by some, and we can be caught up by the
embrace of the three entities.

In this week's short passage from Paul's letter to the church in Rome
we see Paul attempting to do some of the first formal / recorded
fidgeting with the concept of The Trinity...in this case it is
specifically with The Spirit. He is working through some of the
mechanics of how he understands the Spirit of God to work. For
example, in the Romans passage, when we cry out Abba, father, that is
the spirit speaking through us.

And in the passage from John we find the often told story of Jesus
interacting with Nicodemus. Remember, Nicodemus was a teacher /
keeper of the Jewish law, and he has sought Jesus out to talk to him
because he (Nicodemus) believes he (Jesus) is "a teacher who has come
from God." The two of them go back and forth about being born both of
water and of the Spirit. It seems this statement in verse 5 is
something of a Trinitarian Lynchpin: No one can enter the kingdom of
GOD with out being born of water and SPIRIT (spoken by JESUS, emphasis
ours).....and later in John (6:63), Jesus says, "The words that I have
spoken to you are spirit and life." This philosophically and
theologically complicated passage goes deeper and deeper, but take a
few moments and read it with a view toward trying to understand The
Trinity.

Through voices, in our hearing, in our interactions with God, we
identify and relate to God in different ways. It makes us wonder, is
any relationship really one-on-one?

What can the voice of the Lord do in the world?
Have you experienced Isaiah's speechlessness? What changed to give
you voice?
When you relate to God, to whom do you relate? Who do you address?
What connects you?
How do you believe one enters the Kingdom of God?

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
All Thy works shall praise Thy Name, in earth, and sky, and sea;
Holy, holy, holy; merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, bless├Ęd Trinity!