1Samuel 3:1-10, 16-20 Psalm 138 2 Corinthians 4:5-12 Mark 2:23-3:6
A man hated his wife’s cat, Mr. Peepers, so he drove the cat to a park and left him. When the man got back, Mr. Peepers was walking up the driveway. The next day, he drove Mr. Peepers to another town and booted him out. The man arrived home to find Mr. Peepers asleep in his chair. Finally, the man drove 20 miles away, turned right, then left, over a mountain, down into a valley, through a river, into a thick forest, and dumped the troublesome cat. Hours later, he called home to his wife: “Jen, is Mr. Peepers there?” “Yes,” said his wife. “Why?” “I’m lost, and I need him to give me directions home.”
What happens to us when we get lost on our faith journey? The church year offers us opportunities to refocus and reaffirm our faith. The season after Pentecost is not actually a season with a single common focus, but is simply the weeks between the Day of Pentecost and the First Sunday of Advent. These Sundays are sometimes called “Green Sundays” or “ordinary time.” Joan Chittister says that “ordinary time translates the life of Jesus into the very marrow of life itself.” These weeks hold the slower pace and peaceful quality of the summer months and the quicker pace and flurry of activity of the early fall. These are our “ordinary” days in which we live the Christian faith in our daily lives. Nora Gallagher says, “In Ordinary Time we are in our lives living out the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.” Living out the gift of the Holy Spirit….
Things are not always what they seem. Paul is saying that the glory of God or the risen life of Jesus reaches us only through the dying of Jesus that the apostle proclaims. He is reminding us that our participation in this glorious life comes only through our participation in this death, that is, dying daily in service of the gospel. And that only in this way does the church confidently experience “daily renewal” or the anticipation of the final glorification which will verify the truth of Paul’s apostolic gospel and ministry.
Since Paul lacked the sort of glamorous gifts and celebrity credentials much of the Corinthian church prefers in its pastors and pulpits, usually in the name of “spirituality” told and sold with spellbinding eloquence, what compelled Paul to keep on preaching “the word of the cross” amid such opposition in the church? And what could keep us doing the same?
Paul believes something – something not seen by everyone, but something that compels him to proclaim it. Here in verse 13, he quotes from Psalm 115:1a: “I believed and so I spoke.” To which Paul adds, probably embracing his coworkers: “we also believe, and so we speak” – a reference to speaking the gospel. Paul doesn’t preach on the basis of success or glory, but is rather impelled by the “Spirit of faith.” He is clear that the faith given requires oral confession, and it requires proclamation.
Hear the Corinthians reading from the Message: We’re not keeping this quiet, not on your life. Just like the psalmist who wrote, “I believed it, so I said it,” we say what we believe. And what we believe is that the One who raised up the Master Jesus will just as certainly raise us up with you, alive. Every detail works to your advantage and to God’s glory: more and more grace, more and more people, more and more praise! So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever. For instance, we know that when these bodies of ours are taken down like tents and folded away, they will be replaced by resurrection bodies in heaven – God-made, not handmade – and we’ll never have to relocate our “tents” again.
In this passage, Paul suggests that amidst the troubles of life and ministry, we can take comfort that a resurrected Christ lives in us – lives in us. Out in the world, when we ask people of faith “Where is God?”, we get different answers. Hindus and Buddhists in the East, typically point to their hearts while Jews, Christians and Muslims in the West point outside of ourselves to the heavens. This brings to our consideration – where do we believe we find the intersection of our lives and God. We find comfort in Paul’s words that our inner nature is being renewed. This renewal will draw to a close when we die – when our earthly tent has been destroyed.
We know through Paul’s words and our own experiences that we all will die – that in time everything human will crumble and perish, whether it is a city, a home, or even our own lives. In the face of our death, and struggles in life and ministry, Paul steers us to the hope found in “eternal” things. What does he mean? Like an inner nature grounded in the resurrected Christ, there also exists divinity “outside of us,” another reality to restore us – one that is not easily seen. To the question, “Where is God?” Paul might have first pointed to his heart, and then with the other hand to the world and the stars above.
Have you ever thought of someone right before the phone rings and then you hear their voice? Have you ever woken up before the alarm goes off? Or before the baby started to cry? In this passage, Paul indicates that just as Elijah heard a still small voice, and Moses climbed a mountain to see God’s glory, we can discover God’s presence all around us – inside and out – if we have the eyes of the heart to see. Paul’s teachings tell us that God’s presence and triumph are both internal and external – as the resurrected Christ renews us from the inside out, but also as God continues to birth in our midst, and before our very eyes, a new heaven and a new earth.
In the Gospel reading, Jesus takes seriously the realities of Satan and other demonic powers, including Beelzebub, whose name means “lord of the flies.” Did Jesus believe that a personality named Satan actually existed? He likely did, and that presents a challenge to us. Satan does not necessarily mean a personality with horns and a red tail, but it does name a demonic power that is actively engaged against the compassionate and reconciling love of God. This is the reality that Jesus names here, and whether we believe in a person named “Satan” is not as important as knowing of our vulnerability to the powers of evil, aware of those things that continue to pull us away from God.
Why are we so spun-in when tragedy strikes? Is it that we have given “Satan” a foothold into our lives? Is it a lack of faith that God is in control? Is it anger at our own humanity? Most of us approach the world with some core assumptions gained from our own experiences. Do we not think about where God is in the midst of all that is going on? The people saw God in Jesus’ actions. Perhaps some can see Jesus in our actions. Perhaps, our stopping in the busyness of our day to listen to someone’s pain - to touch a shoulder or embrace their fears – they may see Christ in us. Some folks may see us as “Jesus with skin on.” That means that we continue to be the hands and heart and feet of Jesus. We can’t do the miracles Jesus did, but we can be present to tell them about God’s open arms of love for them. We can remind them of the joy of the Easter resurrection that is there for all of us. We can share our faith with them in placing their grief, doubt, pain and hurt on our shoulders to ease their load.
It is not about us, but about the grace of God, the compassion of God. Grace is defined as any undeserved gift or help freely and lovingly provided by God. Grace is God pursuing us. Grace and mercy are frequently used together in scripture. David Jeremiah says that mercy is God withholding what we deserve and grace is God giving us what we don’t deserve. Jesus connected to so many people in compassionate ways. That is our example!
One of the most basic and powerful ways to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention, our time, and especially if it’s given from the heart. When people are talking, there’s no need to do anything but receive them. Just take them in. Listen to what they are saying. Care about it. Most times caring about it is even more important than understanding it. When we hear someone’s story, we realize our connection. We are all one story - the story of the family of God.
God speaks to us in a language we can understand. At the same time, the mystery and compassion of God continue to be beyond our understanding. But we can stand firm in knowing that God wants to be in relationship with us. God is pursuing us. That we experience God’s grace every day, even when we forget to use our gifts for the glory of God. God’s compassion is present. God’s grace is present…God’s love carries us.
When we worship, we respond to grace. We praise God not to celebrate our own faith but to give thanks for the faith God has in us. To let ourselves look at God, to feel God’s compassion and let God look back at us. And to laugh, and sing, and be delighted because God has called us God’s beloved. Jesus has given our lives back to us – lives full of hope and healing. Thanks be to God. Amen.