Monday, October 1, 2012
First cup—Sunday morning
An amazing, sweet, delightful conversation
• Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29
• Psalm 19:7-14
• James 5:13-20
• Mark 9:38-50
There are weeks in the lectionary when the readings hang together in obvious ways with clear connections. The conversation among the readings and the manner in which they talk about, comment on, and speak to each other is transparent. Then, there are other weeks when the response is “Huh? What in the world did these folks have in mind when they brought these readings into the same room?!”
It was that kind of week for me—at least, initially.
The problem for people like me who were not raised with the lectionary is that I keep forgetting the big picture. The big picture is represented by the Christian calendar. These are not random passages chosen to fill blanks on a chart; they are prayerfully selected readings that fit into a larger scheme. I think also that we tend to forget the historical context as well.
(Far too many of us free church Protestants were raised in “Bible believing churches” that acted as if there were only a few passages that we preached about, taught about—maybe even knew about—most of those were Pauline, and most of those operated in some weird kind of ahistorical time. “Bible believing churches” seemed, well, selective in which part of the Bible they were going to believe—easier that way.)
So, the lections invite us to back up a bit, take another perspective, and remember that there is this calendar. It is a Christian calendar; some call it the church’s calendar. It has its own beginning and its own end that have little to do with the calendar that governs the dailiness of our lives. The latter calendar, as we all know, begins January 1 and ends December 31. The church’s calendar ends this year (Year B) on November 25 or the 26th Sunday after Pentecost or Reign of Christ Sunday; it begins (Year C) December 2 or the First Sunday of Advent.
The point of this is that Christians live in two worlds and two different perspectives—at least, we do if we hear what the lectionary and this calendar are trying to teach us. It's another kairos / chronos paradox. All of which brings us back to this week’s readings that are in the season the church named Pentecost, which begins with Pentecost Sunday and ends November 25—after which the whole cycle re-boots. In fact, November 25 is the last day of the Christian year. Sometimes we act as if the church has always had it all figured out. Why we think that is a mystery since we’ve been fighting about it all for, well, for the church, the last roughly 2000 years. We forget that something pretty dramatically different happened (Incarnation), and we forget that pretty dramatically different happening (Jesus) pretty much upset the whole apple cart.
What began then is an on-going conversation about what it means to be a follower of Jesus and what “church” means—a conversation that continues to this day and, likely, will continue, at least, to the second Advent. What we are reading in these passages today is some of that conversation—what does it mean to be the people of God? Since the Old Testament and Psalm readings are here, we should understand that also means the conversation has been going on even longer. The church puts its own spin on the conversation, but when Joshua ran to Moses and said tell them to stop it, Moses, fresh from a conversation with God, said, who am I to stop this conversation? What a strange God this one is! The Psalmist says, Oh my! Isn’t this rich? This conversation about the heart of things. And James to the church says: This is what you need to understand! Then, Jesus says to his disciples: This is what you need to understand! And they are each still at the table and we get to be there with them, marveling at the honey richness of it all—enjoying the simple truth that we are at the table with each other and Moses, the psalmist, James, and Jesus. We continue that long time conversations at table with Moses, the psalmist, James, and Jesus and say: What does this all mean? How do we live with each other as the people of God in our time and place?
When we newbies join the conversation, we start too deep and way too detailed. We want to do what we always do: argue about the details and ask the American question—what does this have to say to me?—rather than the biblical question—what does this have to do with us?
Really amazing, you know, to think of this all as a wonderful, difficult, challenging, life-giving conversation!