Time after Pentecost Lectionary 10 Reflection
June 9, 2013
You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever. — Psalm 30:11-12
I have this problem–or maybe it’s just the way I work–of getting songs stuck in my head while studying the lectionary texts. Sometimes these songs are classic hymns, their melodious meanderings through my mind usually sparked by a verse of phrase from scripture. Other times, however, a lyric will pop seemingly out of nowhere and get stuck like scratched vinyl in the synapses of my thought processes. This week it just happened to be the late 90s ditty “Tubthumping” by the recently disbanded British group Chumbawamba. Before you think I have taken complete leave of my reason and modest mental faculties, hear me out. I am convinced that music and lyrics teach us much about conveying a message concerning the nature of God, the amazing and all-encompassing good news of Jesus Christ, and the untamable ways and wiles of the Holy Spirit.
During the long green season of the lectionary year we get to talk about “church,” about what it means to be people of God and about how God works in, through, and with us in the world. For the Third Sunday after Pentecost (Lectionary 10), we have stories of dis-ease and restored health, death and life, praise and thanksgiving, and trust and faithfulness to the call of the gospel. There’s a lot of stuff going on in these brief lessons, really good stuff that gets at some of life’s toughest questions and quandaries. A preacher can “sing” many songs based on this week’s offerings.
In both Luke’s gospel and the lesson from 1 Kings, we encounter the in-your-face reality of death. Two only sons of widows have been struck down, leaving their mothers hopeless in a society and era that does not treat poor, widowed women on the margins kindly. God shows up–in the form of Jesus and in the prayerful and distraught prophet of God (Elijah)–and restores the hope of the hopeless. The sons return to life, and yes, life goes on in the land of the living, at least for now.
Psalm 30, an individual and corporate hymn of thanksgiving and praise, acknowledges this tidal wave of grief and joy, the pull of sadness and the return to gladness. It reminds me of what folks say about the weather in North Dakota: “If you don’t like it right now, hang around. It’ll change.” Life is not a smooth, linear path to ultimate success. Life is peaks and valleys, rain and stars, gravel and sand, love and ambivalence, sun and wind, bitter and sweet. Life is also the flip side of death, this thing we all face but hate to contemplate, and lessons where grieving mothers experience resurrection hope remind us that although our death is certain, it is not all. There is more, there is hope and promise experienced as resurrection, and faith is the vehicle that carries us through it all.
Galatians, Paul’s urgent message to the young community about this fragile freedom in Christ of which they are full heirs and participants, carries the cadence of death and life, bondage and freedom, destruction and hope. He is in the process of sharing his turnaround story, how he was knocked down and restored and how he now can do nothing else but share the simple story of the good news of Jesus, a pure gospel without the complications and distractions of legalism. There are no hoops, hurdles, or stumbling blocks in Paul’s proclamation to clog the way to Christ.
And this, dear friends, is where I come back to Chumbawamba’s song. Sometimes you have to tweak the word to the song to get your message across. Instead of singing, “I get knocked down, but I get up again. You’re never gonna keep me down,” I’ve tweaked the lyrics to reflect my faith: “I get knocked down; God gets me up again. This world’s never gonna keep me down.” We’re not merely “tubthumpers,” you know. We have this incredible message of hope and healing contained in fragile vessels and cracked pots. We may sing off-key and dance awkwardly, but our job is to point to the One who holds it all together, to pour out our offering of praise and thanks, to fall down seven and get up eight by the grace of God. So tell me…how will you sing of God’s goodness this Sunday? How will you proclaim the promise and hope of resurrection in the face of this world’s lies about death and destruction? What song is stuck in your head?
We do a good job of trying to deny death in our culture. One good thing the church can do is give people safe space to talk about death, to examine their fears, and to prepare for a good death from this life to the newness of eternal life. Perhaps a good way to start is to talk about “little deaths”–events in life where we die to one way of being and doing and rise to a new way of looking at life and living. We face plenty of “little deaths” over the course of a lifetime: the loss of loved ones, the loss of a job, serious illness, moving, divorce, and the passage of old familiar ways into strange, scary new ways of being and doing. Some people will even experience the death of a congregation when a struggling worshiping community closes its doors. How can we honor these little deaths and celebrate the resurrections that follow and enable us to keep on living? How can we echo the psalmist’s words: “You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever” (Psalm 30:11-12). Invite the gathered community to share with one another some “little deaths” they may have experienced and ways they have seen resurrection at work in God’s actions in their lives and in the life of their community.
If your congregation is not comfortable with times of general sharing during the sermon, consider inviting a few people you know have experienced a little death and a mighty resurrection to share their stories. If you have simple video capability, consider recording their stories (with appropriate permissions). This could also provide a powerful witness for your website.
Take some time to think about the story from today’s gospel reading (Luke 7:11-17). Look particularly at the last two verses and how word of Jesus spread “throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.” Think about how the word of Jesus spreads throughout your city and state today. What word is spread? Is is positive or negative? What reputation do Christians (literally “little Christs”) have in their contexts and among their friends? How are we part of bearing the good news of Jesus to our world? How difficult is it to spread good news about Jesus today?
If you have a parent of a toddler in your community who uses Twitter’s Vine app (producing looping video), ask that person to capture his or her child toddling about, falling down and getting back up. Show the video to the children on your phone, or project it for the congregation if possible. Use the Japanese proverb “fall down seven; get up eight” to talk about our faith journey is a series of falling-downs and getting-ups. We learn to walk by falling down and getting back up. The image of a human maturity is used frequently in scripture as a comparison for how we mature in faith. God’s strong arms are there to guide us and teach us, just like the parent is there to help the child get back up again. Here’s an example from YouTube: “Jasmine Trying to Walk.”
Finish with a simple prayer like this one: Dear God, thank you for giving me legs to walk, arms to balance, a heart to love, and mind to follow you. Help me to grow strong in faith, to walk in your path, and to trust that when I do fall, you are there to lift me up again. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Photos: © raywoo – Fotolia.com, © Melanie DeFazio – Fotolia.com, and © GalinaSt – Fotolia.com.