Lectionary Reflection for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
June 19, 2016
Then the people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed an in his right mind. And they were afraid. Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. Luke 8:35-37a
We live in troubling times to be sure. The Internet has been abuzz with horrifying and disturbing news from the Orlando shooting early last Sunday morning that left 49 children of God dead, 54 wounded, and many, many more traumatized and grieving. Then there’s the continued news from the Stanford rape case, and the usual knee-jerk political ramblings–and that’s just in the United States. World news has been no less distressing. Yes, there’s fear a plenty to go around, and it’s easy to lose sight of the main thing.
As people of God we are called to look at life differently, to see the world and its woes through a cross-shaped lens that focuses our sight always on Jesus. That means we have to keep our eyes on our Lord and remain connected to God and to one another in the Body of Christ. It is, however, so easy to become distracted: Just ask the folks from the region of the Gerasenes (in this week’s reading from Luke’s gospel) or Elijah in the alternative Old Testament lesson. They let fear get the way of seeing the good that God was working right in front of their eyes. They allowed fear to bind them and prevent them from seeing possibility and experiencing divine grace and mercy.
Maybe this week we need to remind one another of what it means to be good stewards of faith in times of trouble and tragedy. How can we, as people of faith, change the narrative of woe and shift the focus to love of God and love of neighbor? Can we stand as a counter-witness to the fear and hate that swirls around us daily?
The apostle Paul would say yes, as he reminded the Christians in Galatia, “for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith” (3:26). The distinctions and differences, the need for the disciplines of the law, are removed in Christ. We are clothed in the garment of God, putting on Christ in our baptism and made one.
Yes, friends, God continues to reach out in the spirit of the words of the prophet in Isaiah 65, ready for us to be the fruit capable of being pressed into the wine of mercy and justice, waiting for us to be the blessing we are created to be in pouring ourselves out for the sake of others.
In the wake of tragedy and in the midst of fear, where do we see God doing a new thing through the people we least expect? Even when things seem so shaken up and the swine of our self-interest and complacency are hurled over the precipice of change, even then we must be stewards of the gift of faith by keeping our eyes on the cross, by listening to that still, small voice of God, and by always, always pointing to Jesus.
Don’t let the world be too much with you or let fear blind your vision of grace and mercy. You are heirs of the promise, made new and clothed in divine love. There is no need at all to capitulate to the woes and ways of the world that seek to send Jesus packing and deny the basic goodness and dignity of all God’s children–even the ones that make us squirm.
Listen, do you hear that still, small voice? Go, return on your way to the wilderness of this broken world. Be about the business of loving others in the name of Christ. Be about the work of casting out fear and serving up hope. In doing so, you will be a good steward of the gift of faith.
Blessings on your brave, bold, and hopeful preaching and teaching.
This week’s appointed psalm (22:19-28) is perfect for addressing a time of fear and uncertainty with the reminder that God holds this earth in divine care and that the best response to what the world would foment–hate, fear, isolation, violence, divisions, and all manner of -isms–is to point to God made visible in Christ. Consider an introduction to this psalm, or perhaps sing it using Dale Schoering’s metrical version set to the tune Aurelia (think “The Church’s One Foundation”). Click here to view it.
When the going gets tough the tough–stop and listen to God. Or at least we should. Explore with your youth the alternate first reading for this week (1 Kings 19:1-4[5-7]8-15a). It’s the story of Elijah running into the wilderness after defeating the prophets of Baal and having a price put on his head. He feels defeated and wants to die. God, however, has other plans. He cares for Elijah and leads him to the mountain of God at Horeb. It it here, hiding in the cave at night, that God’s voice comes to him small, still, and in the midst of silence. Invite the youth to consider ways they might incorporate mindful listening to God in their daily lives when things seem overwhelming. Introduce them to some simple prayer and mindfulness practices that can help bring one back to center. Invite them to listen for God in unlikely places–by sitting outside as night falls, in the early morning before others awake, or by using ancient practices like the Examen or walking a labyrinth. Click here for 10 simple prayer ideas for teens from the Rethinking Youth Ministry blog.
Color this world beautiful. For this lesson you will need small boxes of crayons. You can get crayons at craft stores, party goods stores, or dollar stores in packs of 4-12 crayons.
If you have a really big box of crayons, open it for the children to see. Ask them what they see. They will, of course, say crayons. Some might say lots of colors. You can ask them what their favorite colors are, their least favorites, which one they would choose right now to color a picture. Next ask the children what they see that’s the same about the crayons. They’re all crayons, they’re all made of the same thing, they all have paper labels–all possible answers. Next read to them from Galatians 3:23-29.
Explain to the children how these crayons help us understand Paul’s words to the Christians at Galatians. The crayons are all different colors. They make a “different” mark on the world with their own shade and unique color–but they are all still crayons. Likewise, we all look a little different. Some of us have brown eyes, blonde hair, freckles, darker skin or lighter skin. Some of us are tall; others are short. But we are still ALL children of God. We’re made of the same “stuff.” And there is no distinction among us. We are all deeply loved by the same God. We all have the same capacity to make this world a more beautiful and wonderful place. We can all “color this world beautiful” in Jesus’ name.
Give each child a small pack of crayons and a coloring sheet like this one (or a similar one), and tell them that because God loves each one of them and every human we are freed in Christ to color this world beautiful. We start small–with these crayons and coloring sheet–and we grow into more ways to share Christ’s love with others–smiling, helping, encouraging, sharing our resources. End with a simple prayer.
(Photos: Anoop Menan, Anderson Mancini, and Scott Robinson, Creative Commons)