Proper 23

October 15, 2000
See Also: 
Reading 1: 
Job 23:1-9, 16-17
Reading 2: 
Psalm 22:1-15
Reading 3: 
Hebrews 4:12-16
Reading 4: 
Mark 10:17-31
Alt Reading 2: 
Psalm 90:12-17
Alt Reading 1: 
Amos 5:6-7, 10-15
By Mary Ellen Kilsby

The Texts
Job: This fabulous poetry about God and suffering.

Psalm 22: "My God Why have you forsaken me?" often read on Good Friday.

Amos 5: Poetry that is prelude to "Let justice roll down like waters..."

Psalm 90: I often read selected verses at Memorial services. From my study days I read: 0resignation, despair, no room for supplication .. Poetry from the Exile and it is hard to find God. On the other hand there is a sense of a God of eternity who is beyond the limits of history.

Hebrews 4: Another passage of praise to Christ Jesus, here emphasizing Jesus' temptation, yet remaining "sinless" .. often read on Good Friday. Interesting that here in October we have this kind of foreshadowing in several passages!

Mark 10: Jesus teaches about wealth and eternal life. The metaphor about the camel and the eye of the needle.

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 90
Psalm 90 is also great poetry. In it a community laments over the ravages of time, but it does not remain mired in endless misery over time lost and death approaching. The psalmist and the faithful community which joined in singing this lament found their despair eased by faith and their anguish overcome by joy. The psalmist begins from the timeless prospective of the Eternal, from the perspective of the peacefulness of Eden, the infant's cosmic unity the universe, with that perspective that sees no boundaries, with a primal sensitivity to nature, seeing all of creation as the Body of God, alive with the dancing, singing breath of the Eternal. The psalmist experiences a oneness and a fundamental peace with time and eternity. Perhaps we might talk about a relational theology at this point. Just as the author experiences a oneness in tune with the stars and the angels, so we too know that God is our eternal home and that the eternal now is forever, "as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be," but we human beings don't stay with the big picture very long. We know that we also stand apart, differentiated, from creation, as the existentialist loves to remind us. Aware of this and numbering our days here on earth, our psalmist continues, praying for a heart of wisdom.

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

Hebrews
The passages assigned from the letters area all from Hebrews. Were I preaching on these texts, I would again talk about poetry, but essentially I would preach "against the text." That is, we might separate Jesus, the human prophet and teacher, from the image of Christ, from the post-resurrection Jesus. The hymns to Christ in Hebrews come out of a very specific early church, and were helpful to them bearing the brunt of defending their much besieged faith. In some of the passages, the poetry is very much to our purposes: for example, [Hebrews 4:12ff] "For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before God no creature is hidden, but all are open and laid bare to the eyes of the one with whom we have to do."

In Hebrews 4: 14ff, the hymn to Jesus as high priest, we might reinterpret this poetry and struggle with the concept of sin!