Sixth Sunday after Pentecost Lectionary Reflection
July 5, 2015
Our soul has had more than its fill of the scorn of those who are at ease, of the contempt of the proud. Psalm 123:4
Here in the United States, there has been a call for a period of national lament, for a time of confession and a period of mourning. By the time Sunday, July 5 rolls around, 19 days will have passed since the horrific shooting and murder of nine members of an historic African Methodist Episcopal congregation in Charleston, South Carolina. It will also be the July 4 holiday weekend, a time when a majority of Americans are celebrating our nation’s independence from foreign rule. Granted, for some the holiday has turned into not much more than another backyard summer cookout and an opportunity to kick back and relax. Will this July holiday weekend be any different, or will we be back to “normal” and trying to get on with our lives as usual?
Is it possible that some of us who are called to be preachers and teachers, especially those of us that enjoy places of racial and economic privilege, will be looking for something different, for a chance to begin the hard conversations that might actually chip away at our national sin of racism and begin to dismantle the political, social, and economic structures that have stratified and segregated our country? Add to this the decisions handed down by the United States Supreme Court on same-sex marriage, health care, and death penalty drugs, and you have a lot of potential for conversation starters, prophetic proclamation and challenging study.
Maybe you’ve already preached about crossing over to the other side and moving beyond our places of comfort (Pentecost 4) and/or about healing and wholeness or sharing of resources, or having hope in the Lord in the midst of struggle (Pentecost 5). Dare you continue with the theme of something has to change? It would seem that the lessons for this week certainly extend that invitation.
Author and humorist Finley Peter Dunne, writing in the 1890s, accused newspapers of taking on and over-reaching in a dual role to “Comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable.” Our Lord also seemed to employ this same radical and sometimes subversive behavior throughout his ministry, ensuring that the “first” come in last place, and that the most marginalized get a better seat at the banquet table. There is always the risk of playing it safe with the lessons, of preaching an “acceptable gospel” that is palatable and predictable. Yet perhaps, in light of world, national, and even local events, these lessons call us to rethink, reevaluate, and even realign ourselves with God’s purpose for this troubled world.
Christians are called to stand for something more, to pattern ourselves after the model of Jesus’ ministry and way of life. We are called to love our neighbor, to act justly, to pursue justice and lift up the marginalized and downtrodden, to speak for those who have no voice, to be merciful, and to share our resources freely and generously. We are called to speak a hard word of truth in a spirit of love, and we are to go out into the world to speak a prophetic word and be a healing presence in Christ’s name. Nowhere does it say to play it safe, or mince words to be “nice,” or to go only where we are welcome. True, we don’t have to stay where folks don’t want us, but Jesus never says “don’t go there.”
What might it look like to challenge congregants to speak boldly in the name of Christ, and to utter a prophetic word of hope, peace, justice, and love to the residents of Charleston and all who suffer grief and oppression? Are we willing to risk our own privilege and power to make a difference? How will we be sent into the world this week from worship? Will it be to make a difference, to raise our voices and lend our hands, or will it be to go on with business as usual?
Jesus sent his disciples out in pairs to minister, heal, and proclaim the good news. Consider inviting congregants to pair up for accountability, prayer, and partnership for ministry. Have a commissioning of the congregation for ministry and invite each pair to hold each other accountable over a period of time, perhaps through Christ the King Sunday. Do this right before the sending from worship.
Use Psalm 123 as an example of a practical prayer that youth can use today. Invite them to rewrite it in their own language using their own context, or invite them to write a similar one. Use this exercise as a springboard for discussion about using the psalms as a spiritual discipline and faith formation tool.
Today’s gospel lesson provides a good opportunity to talk to children about what we need to share the gospel. We don’t need to pack an enormous suitcase. We don’t need to worry. But we do need to work together. Remind children that it’s a lot easier to work together than alone. You could use the example of a three-legged race or how two people can form a simple “seat” with their arms to carry another person that they could not carry alone. Give thanks to God that we are not supposed to do everything alone but rather working together for the good of all in Jesus’ name.
(Photos: James Trosh, Peter, and Dennis Hill, Creative Commons. Thanks!)