Proper 21

October 1, 2000
See Also: 
Reading 1: 
Esther 7:1-6; 9-10; 9:20-22
Reading 2: 
Psalm 124
Reading 3: 
James 5:13-20
Reading 4: 
Mark 9:38-50
Alt Reading 2: 
Psalm 19:7-14
Alt Reading 1: 
Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29
By Mary Ellen Kilsby

Esther 7: 1-6; 9: 20-22;
Psalm 124

The Texts

Esther: The story of Esther's bravery and determination to remove Haman. Indeed, he is removed permanently: Purim is created to honor Esther and Mordecai and the Jew's deliverance.

Psalm 124: A song of Ascents attributed to David, giving credit to God for victory.

Numbers: A story, perhaps late in the tradition, where Moses must deal with the discontent of the people.

Psalm 19: A hymn of praise, attributed to David. Selected verses make a wonderful Call to Worship.

James: More instructions to the early church re: suffering, prayer, etc.

Mark: Jesus speaks of the inclusiveness of the gospel.

 

Themes
All of the Gospel passages assigned are from the 9th and 10th chapter of Mark. Here we have a string of "lessons" that Mark puts together as he has Jesus on the road to Jerusalem. There are several opportunities to deal with Jesus' humanity, certainly a theme of process thinking.

The last story about the "healing" of the blind man is a chance to introduce scholarship about Jesus the healer and the strong tradition of healers during this time. It also lends itself to a discussion of miracles. How do we define "miracle"? What do we believe about the Bible's use of these stories? How does current scholarship help us interpret them without flattening the story? Don't healings, reconciliations, creative insights, transformations, etc. that defy the usual still occur? Isn't that where we often meet God? Isn't prayer a part of these visions and changes?

Perhaps we might talk about this "realm of God" mentioned over and over in Mark. What did Jesus mean by that term? The answer will be different from the process perspective than it would be from a "think positive" "pop-theology" or a fundamentalist perspective. What DOES our faith have to do with happiness? It certainly may be that God's aim for us is the fulfillment of our humanity, but what does that entail? If, in every moment, we sense God with us or know God's spirit to be about us, then the "realm" of God or the joy of the presence of God is immediate, not something that is dependent on my goals. IE: the realm of God or true human fulfillment does not come after I lose 20 pounds or when I find the right job or—The realm of God is found all about us as we live faithfully day by day. "Your faith has made you well."

The interchange with James and John about sitting with Jesus in glory is another opportunity to wrestle with these questions of what we really want. A place in some literal heaven? The ability to "follow Jesus"? What is it we would ask of God? How do we view the "abundant life"?

Here is also a chance to speak of Jesus' hyperbole—common for the time and language. Does anyone "get" poetry anymore? We are all so used to sit-com concrete images that this kind of language throws us. This discussion about the "poetry" of the Bible and of Jesus may not be unique to process thinking, I'm sure it is not, but hopefully process helps us to understand images, metaphors and the exaggerated phrases that make our Biblical stories "sing" rather than get mired in literalism. Then we can look at the truths to which they point, and not fret about the facts or fictions of the tales.

In the first paragraph of the verses 17-31, Jesus looks on this very unhappy petitioner with love. With great insight, Jesus suggests that this rich person with "great possessions" sell it all, give it to the poor, and thereby find treasures in heaven, and follow Jesus' crowd. Not understanding the kind of freedom that Jesus was offering, he refuses. The paragraph that follows embellishes this point. Mark and the early church add the closing sentences about rewards. We might say that our rewards are in working with God who continually urges us toward our/the best possibilities given our situation, and who urges us towards the best possibilities for all humankind and all creation.

As with this rich young man, it is our responsibility to be sure we are not blocking out God's aim or purpose for us. Here it is wealth. Sometimes it is selfish yearning that cuts across "God's will" for our lives. Jesus seems to be teaching a lesson in priorities. What is our agenda—and how much room do we leave for God's urging?

Prayer is one of the opportunities to open ourselves to feel God's love, to "hear" God's call. I would suggest that is what we would call the "abundant life" or happiness.

The role of imagination is important. It enables us to develop a sensitivity to others, a feeling of oneness within this Heart of the Universe that we call God, a vision of and for life that Process Thinking calls RELATIONAL. We support ramp cuts and other improvements that make life fuller for persons with disabilities because of such an outlook. We become involved in all sorts of justice issues—with our gay brothers and lesbian sisters—because of such an outlook. etc.

One might look at the difference between charity and justice. It seems to me that a process perspective leads one to emphasize justice. Not that we don't want to make life better for everyone now, but if we see God's initial aim in enabling "the abundant life" for everyone, then we find God's greatest pull into efforts that improve the structures of life for the long term.

All through the Mark passages, the author gives us a Jesus who insists on talking about the "realm of God." What is this realm? Where is this realm? Christians have answered these questions in very different ways. Is our priority to convert folk to believe that Jesus is God's ONLY son and thereby assure one's position in a "heavenly" realm? That would NOT be the Process belief and hence certainly not the priority. If God's "realm" is here on earth, there are still two major possibilities or emphases. The first is to do what we can for those who cannot fully participate in God's call [or lure] to abundant life because they are hungry, homeless or oppressed in some way. The second option is to change the structures of our economic and justice systems so that fewer are hungry and homeless and oppressed in the first place. Obviously these two foci are not mutually exclusive and perhaps both need attention. I mention them this way because it seems to me the church has given attention to the first almost exclusively and thereby become less effective in responding to God's lure [I think of it as a push!] to build a just society.

Psalm 19
Used to be assigned during Lent. Verse 14 the much used: "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O God, my rock and my redeemer.

Another wonderful opportunity to speak of the "poetry" of our faith. Assigned on World communion Sunday, we might relate to the poetry of the Communion ritual or Eucharist. Faith is not a science, it is art; and it is not, at its deepest, made very clear by explanation. It best communicated by the arts. As in opera, worship is a combination of artistic forms [music, drama, architecture, paintings [often in glass], poetry, story, costuming, pageantry, and so on. The psalms are wonderful examples on one of those forms, the Eucharist is another. Process and Faith would argue that the language in the poetry and the symbols in the drama be congruent with the concepts we are trying to convey. Hence, one might want to use [I would encourage this!] different words of institution for the bread and the cup so that those in the congregation are awakened to our different interpretation of this sacrament from the old "blood atonement" theology. In like manner, sexist language is not appropriate because it diminishes our concept of God [as well as women] in subtle but powerful ways. One might lift up the metaphors in this Psalm or in one of the others, and then brainstorm all of the images that are suggested by and referred to in Communion.

Another possibility is to unpack the word God and lift up the Process Possibilities. We might move from the old anthropomorphic being to love or creative spirit or heart of the universe. John Cobb uses the word "God" in part to represent that which is new and a truly open future. That is, as we make genuine choices, we experience this openness, these new possibilities offered by God, as gifts; and so express this non-determinative quality about the universe as God. I found that using the adjectives "almighty" and "omnipotent" were not helpful. They are misleading if we conceive God as love or creative energy. We are called/lured/influenced by God to share our bread/resources with others, just as God shares creation with us. Perhaps the old, "God has no hands but our hands" is not so far off the track after all! The journey is a process.

Job
The Job passages might also be used in this discussion of poetry and the imates of our faith.