The Second Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 5, 7 June 2015

I Samuel 8:4-11, 12-15, 16-20, 11:14-15
Psalm 138
Genesis 3:8-15
Psalm 130

II Corinthians 4:13-5:1
St. Mark 3:20-35

Background: Lectio Continua
Apart from the practice in track one of the Revised Common Lectionary, there are other lectio continua (continuing readings) of lectio selecta (select readings in a specific order) in all three years of the Lectionary. This is especially evident during Ordinary Time, the Sundays after the Epiphany and the Sundays after Pentecost. In the first track there is a lectio selecta that marches through the Hebrew Scriptures in an orderly fashion. This allows that the reading may or (usually) may not relate to the other readings for the day. Indeed, the lectio continua that is observed in the second reading allows that it may or may not relate to the Gospel as well. Those not using the continuing reading of the first track will find readings from the Hebrew Scriptures that relate thematically to the Gospel. Even here, however, there are glimmers of a lectio selecta, as the Lectionary marches through the Gospel in an orderly manner. Permit me an opinion about reading the continuing texts from the Hebrew Scriptures. Just reading through these texts without any explication or exposition will not allow for much. It certainly will familiarize parishioners with a wider selection of Scripture, but unless it is unpacked by a preacher or in a classroom that allows for questions, I wonder as to how helpful it really is.

1 Samuel 8:4-11, (12-15), 16-20, (11:14-15)

All the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, "You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations." But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, "Give us a king to govern us." Samuel prayed to the LORD, and the LORD said to Samuel, "Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. Just as they have done to me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so also they are doing to you. Now then, listen to their voice; only-- you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them."

So Samuel reported all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, "These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; [and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers.] He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the LORD will not answer you in that day."

But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; they said, "No! But we are determined to have a king over us, so that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles."

[Samuel said to the people, "Come, let us go to Gilgal and there renew the kingship." So all the people went to Gilgal, and there they made Saul king before the LORD in Gilgal. There they sacrificed offerings of well-being before the LORD, and there Saul and all the Israelites rejoiced greatly.]

We find ourselves in a huge argument here, although it is subtle. Samuel is opposed in principal to the notion of kingship. His preference is more status quo, allowing for leadership to emerge from the community, and for a continuing dependence upon God.  He lays out the problems in comments that speak to the practicality and economics of such a move, “he will take one tenth of your grain and of your vineyards.’ Samuel differentiates between what the expectations of the people are, that the king would rule over them and judge them, while Samuel notes that he will reign over them. One cannot really fault the people; they were in the virtual thrall of the kings that ruled all about them. Perhaps it was the controlled economy and military power that engendered their admiration. It speaks more of their on-going development as an urban people, than it does of their theological deviance. They are not moved and anoint Saul as their king, and so the story begins.

Breaking open II Samuel
  1. Do you think God has a role in selecting a country’s leaders? Why?
  2. What do you think of Samuel’s argument?
  3. Did Israel get what it bargained for?

Psalm 138 Confitebor tibi

I will give thanks to you, O LORD, with my whole heart; *
before the gods I will sing your praise.

I will bow down toward your holy temple
and praise your Name, *
because of your love and faithfulness;

For you have glorified your Name *
and your word above all things.

When I called, you answered me; *
you increased my strength within me.

All the kings of the earth will praise you, O LORD, *
when they have heard the words of your mouth.

They will sing of the ways of the LORD, *
that great is the glory of the LORD.

Though the LORD be high, he cares for the lowly; *
he perceives the haughty from afar.

Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you keep me safe; *
you stretch forth your hand against the fury of my enemies;
your right hand shall save me.

The LORD will make good his purpose for me; *
O LORD, your love endures for ever;
do not abandon the works of your hands.

This thanksgiving psalm pictures well a people in transition and development. The polytheistic reference in the first verse, ‘before the gods I will sing your praise,’ graphically show a people hovering between monotheism and the many gods. Robert Alter, in his commentary on this psalm has an excellent suggestion here, “It is most plausible to see here either a linguistic fossil from polytheism or even an anti-polytheistic polemic gesture: I hymn to You in defiant presence before all those deities that people image to be real gods.”[1]  The Psalmist thanks God for deliverance from either real or virtual enemies. God takes the innate strength and courage of the psalmist and makes of it a real force, “you increased my strength within me.” Here the private and individual becomes a witness to a much wider audience. Even the kings of the earth area aware of God’s presence for those who call upon God, and here we see it as an individual instance. There is a sense of continuation, however, for the relationship with God is not subsumed in this one instance. “The Lord will make good his purpose for me.” The future still beacons with its promises and its disappointments – but ‘your love endures forever.’

Breaking open Psalm 138:
  1. How is your strength made perfect in weakness?
  2. What strengths do you have that only God recognizes?
  3. What are God’s promises to you?


Genesis 3:8-15

The man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and they hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, "Where are you?" He said, "I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself." He said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?" The man said, "The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate." Then the LORD God said to the woman, "What is this that you have done?" The woman said, "The serpent tricked me, and I ate." The LORD God said to the serpent,

Because you have done this, 
cursed are you among all animals 
and among all wild creatures; 
upon your belly you shall go, 
and dust you shall eat 
all the days of your life. 
I will put enmity between you and the woman, 
and between your offspring and hers; 
he will strike your head, 
and you will strike his heel." 

This is a blame game. Adam redirects the blame of their disobedience not only to his wife Eve, but also even to God, “The woman whom you gave me.”  We blunt the several divisions that occur here in this story, but painting the serpent as “Satan”. This is a boldly drawn division between humankind and the rest of Creation and the Creator as well. A template is set here, a pattern that can only be seen in retrospect. The curse to the serpent will be realized to the woman and the man as well. If there is a gift that comes from the eating of the fruit, it is the gift of enmity, and it curses us yet today.

Breaking open Genesis:
  1. Do you ever think God is responsible for bad decisions in your life? Why?
  2. What are the blessings of your life?
  3. What are the curses of your life?

Psalm 130 De profundis

Out of the depths have I called to you, O LORD;
LORD, hear my voice; *
let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication.

If you, LORD, were to note what is done amiss, *
O Lord, who could stand?

For there is forgiveness with you; *
therefore you shall be feared.

I wait for the LORD; my soul waits for him; *
in his word is my hope.

My soul waits for the LORD,
more than watchmen for the morning, *
more than watchmen for the morning.

O Israel, wait for the LORD, *
for with the LORD there is mercy;

With him there is plenteous redemption, *
and he shall redeem Israel from all their sins.

The description of this psalm is ironic consider the first line of verse from the psalm. It is a song of ascents, and the first line reads, “Out of the depths.” What are these depths? Are they psychological or figurative? In the ancient near east, at least among the Hebrew, there was a healthy fear of the sea and its depths. The depths of water become an image of death and fear of death. The psalmist states his situation, and then begins his supplication, which relates to a situation greater than the verge of death. The psalmist is keenly aware of his misdeeds, but is also aware that such a situation is widely shared in creation. There is a promise of forgiveness but there is an understanding that there is also a period of waiting and longing. What was personal now becomes universal, “O Israel, wait for the Lord.”  There is a new role. Now the psalmist is a watchman who models the behavior of waiting for the Lord, “for with the Lord there is mercy.”

Breaking open Psalm 130:
  1. What are the depths of your life?
  2. How do you wait on God?
  3. Where has God shown mercy in your life?

II Corinthians 4:13-5:1

Just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture-- "I believed, and so I spoke" -- we also believe, and so we speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence. Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

We are still encouraged to give witness and testimony, “I believed, and so I spoke.” There is an imitatio Christi here. We speak, just as Paul believed and spoke, and we are raised just as Christ was raised. A master of contrast Paul compares the decay of the world with the renewal that is given our inner nature. It is the kingdom of heaven rather than the world that should draw us.

Breaking open II Corinthians:
  1. How do you imitate Christ in your life?
  2. How do you talk about Jersus?
  3. What are you tempted by in the world?

St. Mark 3:20-35

The crowd came together again, so that Jesus and his disciples could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, "He has gone out of his mind." And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, "He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons." And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, "How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. But no one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.

"Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin" -- for they had said, "He has an unclean spirit."

Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, "Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you." And he replied, "Who are my mother and my brothers?" And looking at those who sat around him, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother."

What or who is a family? Who is the true family, and which family is not to be trusted. These are the questions that concern Mark in this pericope. Two traditions are preserved here, one the tradition of the rejection of Jesus, by his own family, and the second a tradition of Jesus as a sorcerer. The immediate contest a healing followed by a calling of disciples to whom is given the charge to “cast out demons”, gives Mark a marvelous backdrop against which to sketch the properties of Jesus in the human community. When unfairly characterized by family, “he has gone out of his mind”, and questioned by the Scribes, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons”, Jesus responds with logic – why would Satan allow the casting out of Satan? Jesus goes further in equating the behavior of the scribes to the sin against the Holy Spirit. This sin of blasphemy will be the charges that are made against Jesus later in life. We must be clear about this sin against the Holy Spirit – it is not misunderstanding or refusing to accept divine teaching, but the outrageous effect of seeing the Divine Presence as evil.

What follows is a request by his family (mother and brothers) to come out – their request being made by an intermediary. This allows Jesus to make comments, almost soto voce, to those gathered with him. It is here that Jesus makes the contrast between the family and the true family. Here he describes a genuine family that is made up those who have voluntarily gathered to be with him. It is those “who (do) the will of God.” So we have a mixed theme here: 1) who is Jesus, really, and 2) who is his true family? What follows in the following chapter are a series of parables that investigate how the kingdom of God is revealed to humankind. In a left-handed way, Mark has us deal with Jesus authority so that we can, in the coming Sundays, appreciate his teaching.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. How do you recognize the presence of God in Jesus?
  2. How has your family backed you up or discouraged you in your life?
  3. What do you think of Jesus’ saying about family?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:

O God, from whom all good proceeds: Grant that by your inspiration we may think those things that are right, and by your merciful guiding may do them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2015, Michael T. Hiller

[1]Alter, R., (2007),  The Book of Psalms, A Translation with Commentary, W.W. Norton &    Company, New York, location 10409.


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