Motion and Rest

Greetings from Pennsylvania!!!  Seminarian Tammy Witt is our preacher this week - if you missed her sermon you can catch it here on this website, just click on sermons - but, here is my take on our texts for the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost....

1 Samuel 3: 1 - 20

As was the case with our Isaiah last week, we get another ‘call’ story, this time of the boy Samuel. We know the story. God calls to the boy before the moon has set (the notorious hours before dawn, the long dark teatime of the soul) and Samuel thinks it is his master, Eli. After three attempts, Eli realizes that it must be God calling and – since according to the story, the word of the Lord was rare in those days – it must really be important.

We read in the text that Samuel grows to be a trusted prophet, who never let the word of God fall to the ground. And it is those characteristics that make us tend to focus on ‘call’ as the primary thrust of the story. When I was in seminary – the Lutheran Seminary at Gettysburg – I remember having a classmate who was a member of the Little Samuels Society, or a similar title… memory fades. But, it was a group of pre-seminarians who at an early age had discerned a call to the ordained ministry, hence the name – Samuel. (I wonder if that took all of the fun out of adolescence?)

But, I think the more interesting thread – one that winds throughout the OT writings – concerns the fate of Eli and his family. It is an interesting notion that the house of Eli will be punished forever, and that no sacrifice or offering will offset this judgement. Pretty harsh, eh? This system of sacrifice – requiring death to atone for sin – comes under attack by the prophets. In fact, as we have noted in other instances – it was the intent of the law to move Israel away from the practice of sacrificial violence and the notion of a ‘righteous death’. Something went wrong, however, and the desired shift in practice and theology never materialized. Jesus took this on as well.

2 Corinthians 4: 5-12

“For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.”

Not a stretch, I think, from the Samuel lesson. There is once again a sacrificial element lingering here, but we are so steeped in the idea that like the sacrificial offerings of the ancient cults, meant to remove sin or to please or influence the gods (and the primitive Yahwists were born out of that way of thinking, just ask Eli and Abraham), that this is the meaning of Jesus’ death.  There is a plan in place that sends him to death on our behalf and our sins are forgiven. Unlike Eli, we are off the hook.

But, like the prophets before him, Paul attempts to move us into a better way of accessing (a good 21st century word) Jesus’ death. Jesus is not offered up by anyone to be killed to satisfy anybody. The sacrificial element involved is one of self-sacrifice. (How much are you willing to give up in order to give life to something new, something of immeasurable importance and worth?)  As Paul writes, ‘we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake… the kingdom is waiting to be born, how much are we willing to give? Do we have the courage to go all in? Do we really trust that our own sacrificial giving will bring new life? Can we let go of our very lives in order to bring life to all?  Our faith asks a lot of us. Once again, that’s why it’s called faith, not belief.

Mark 2: 23 – 3: 6

Sacred cows. And, an angry Jesus. (Can't blame him)

The gospel of Mark rolls along from Samuel and Paul, upsetting the traditional apple cart. And, while it seems that Jesus is challenging traditional thinking about the sabbath and its observance, sacrifice also simmers below the surface here as well.

The other OT lesson available for this Sunday, from Deuteronomy, is a restatement of the third commandment about observing the Sabbath and refraining from work. Mark’s Jesus frames his questions to the Pharisees around two activities: plucking heads of grain to satisfy hunger on the sabbath, and the healing of a man with a withered hand. What should our treatment of the sabbath be? Do we model the complete shutdown of the 3rd Commandment, or do we allow for activity that sustains or even brings forth new life.

Robert Hamerton-Kelly ( The Gospel and the Sacred) describes Jesus’ ‘work’ on the sabbath as a work of liberation – from hunger, from physical limitation – and as a continuing or completion of God’s work of creation.  He writes: Jesus is “angered and saddened by their hardness of heart” (3:5), a hardness that is precisely the attitude that serves the Sacred at all costs and sacrifices (that word again) the human individual to the system. The climax of the section introduces the prospect of Jesus’ death. He has challenged and exposed the victimage system and now he is to become its victim too. (p. 80)