Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Tuesday Thoughts on the Readings for Sunday, June 3rd, 2018

After a week of vacation and a national holiday, we are back to discuss the readings for June 3rd, the first Sunday in the long stretch between Pentecost and Reformation Sunday.  We may pick up one or two small celebrations between now and the end of October, where we will have Reformation Sunday, All Saints Sunday, and Christ the King Sunday in a span of 4-5 weeks; otherwise, we are in the portion of the liturgical calendar referred to as either "Ordinary Time" or "Time after Pentecost."

The good news is that the readings in the Revised Common Lectionary will build off of one another from week to week.  The second reading each week will work through some of the letters within the New Testament.  The Gospel reading each week will pick up where the previous week's reading left off or will pick up after a short jump in the story.  Therefore, it will be easier to follow what is happening in the second readings and the Gospel readings from week to week.  (Note: the first reading is either a) chosen as a connection to the Gospel reading and the psalm is chosen as a response to the first reading, or b) a series of semi-continuous readings (working through books of the Old Testament with large gaps between readings so that we get the high points in the larger story) with psalms chosen as a response to the first reading.)

As always, I will share the readings with my responses (in italics) to each reading.  If you have a response of any kind (affirmation, question, thoughtful criticism), start the conversation in the comments below.

Deuteronomy 5:12 - 15

12Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. 13Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 14But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. 15Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.

Deuteronomy is a longer reflection on the Sabbath and the purpose for the Sabbath.  The Sabbath is meant to be a day of worship and rest.  In our modern society, what does it mean to rest?  What does it look like and feel like to truly unplug from everything and relax?

Psalm 81:1 - 10

Sing aloud to God our strength; shout for joy to the God of Jacob.
 2 Raise a song, sound the tambourine, the sweet lyre with the harp.
 3 Blow the trumpet at the new moon, at the full moon, on our festal day.
 4 For it is a statute for Israel, an ordinance of the God of Jacob.
 5 He made it a decree in Joseph, when he went out over the land of Egypt. I hear a voice I had not known:
 6 "I relieved your shoulder of the burden; your hands were freed from the basket.
 7 In distress you called, and I rescued you; I answered you in the secret place of thunder; I tested you at the waters of Meribah. Selah
 8 Hear, O my people, while I admonish you; O Israel, if you would but listen to me!
 9 There shall be no strange god among you; you shall not bow down to a foreign god.
 10 I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide and I will fill it.

Psalm 81 focuses on the worship portion of the Sabbath.  The psalmist speaks for God, calling the Israelites to worship the Lord in thanksgiving for the Lord rescuing the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.  Verses 11 – 15 set a context in which the Israelites have turned away from the Lord, so that Lord released them to follow their own desires, and the people wandered their way into trouble.  The Lord promises to sustain the people of Israel and defeat their enemies, but this proclamation seems to be conditional, depending on the people of Israel returning to the Lord.

2 Corinthians 4:5 - 12

5We do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. 6For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
  7But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. 8We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. 11For 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. 12So death is at work in us, but life in you.

2 Corinthians 4 is a popular passage for its imagery of clay jars and its certainty that we will face hardships but they will never destroy us.  For this community, which has faced a lot of hardship over the last 3.5 months (now up to 7 funerals since Ash Wednesday), the image of carrying the light and life of Christ in clay jars may resonate.  In our combined grief and sorrow, we may feel our clay cracking or even feel like pieces have fallen out of place.  But a light in a whole clay jar will never be seen because the light cannot get through the clay.  The light and life of Christ shines through those cracks and gaps in our jars.  We can try to patch up these cracks and gaps and act like nothing is wrong, or we can acknowledge where we are broken and point to where Christ and the Holy Spirit are at work within us so that others may see and believe.

Mark 2:23 - 3:6

23One sabbath [Jesus] was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” 25And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? 26He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.” 27Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; 28so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”
3:1Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. 2They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” 4Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.

In Mark 2 and 3, we see that the invitation to observe the Sabbath has become oppressive under the leadership of the Pharisees.  The definition of “work” is so limited that life-giving actions from foraging for food to healing a deformed hand are considered sins against God.  Jesus invites us to see a difference between that which is work and that which is life-giving for ourselves and/or others.  The Sabbath is meant to be life-giving for us, so engaging in life-giving activities on the Sabbath is encouraged.

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