Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, July 11th, 2021


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Our readings for the 7th Sunday after Pentecost, for 8 July, are in Track One a continuation of our walk through Samuel, paired with Psalm 48. In Track Two a reading from Ezekiel paired with Psalm 123 and the Gospel of Mark Chapter 6. And the Epistle reading for both tracks from the 12th chapter of Second Corinthians.

With the death of Saul, the drama of the final chapters of 1 Samuel stabilizes so far as David’s own health and safety are concerned. But as with aftershocks following an earthquake, the transition to his own secure rule is not yet here. A son of Saul remains and he has sufficient following to be made king as Saul’s successor. And the military retainers for the House of Saul and the House of David remain on violent auto-pilot—Joab and Abner and their respective camp followers. Saul’s son is killed by treachery and the ringleaders receive the same fate as did the opportunist who claimed to have slain Saul, and for the same reason. David did not seek to eliminate all rivalry, but rather avenged those who sought to end the reign of Saul’s house in the hope David would find that cause for their advancement. Only the lame son of Jonathan, mentioned in passing so as to alert us, remains of the House of Saul. The men of Judah and of Israel are now as one, and David is king over them both, and his long reign in the newly named City of David is here chronicled. We will now wait to see the future unfold, with only Mephibosheth left of the lineage of Saul.

Psalm 48 has been chosen to offer praise to Zion, place of God’s dwelling, place of his special choosing, place where he defends his life with his people against earthly threats. And the place where above all kingship, including that of his chosen one David, he is King.

1 Great is the LORD, and highly to be praised; * in the city of our God is his holy hill. 2 Beautiful and lofty, the joy of all the earth, is the hill of Zion, * the very center of the world and the city of the great King.

As in the opening Psalm 2, paired with Psalm 1, we are reminded of God’s Holy Hill, and of his promises to his Son, the King, who will be protected from assaults, for assaults there will be, only because of God’s infinite kingship and upholding promise.

Our Gospel reading fast-forwards us to just such an assault, now in the fulness of time. Jesus is manifesting power and authority and wisdom such as only God can give. In this is his kingdom come, and yet offense is taken. He can only be who he is as all others are, son of Mary, here is his family, known by a trade. Where did this man get all this?

Jesus responds as did the prophets of old, who were known as different, as prophets, as men of God, precisely to the degree they were impossible to understand on human terms only. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, Zechariah, Hosea and on the list goes. They all had fathers and they all had hometowns yet these remain but footnotes on the depository of testimony they have left to us, which continues to bear witness long after their passing. Isaiah was not heard; he is told his address will shut ears, close eyes, make hearts fat. But his testimony is preserved and opened to a new generation. Ezekiel is given woe and lamentation to eat like Jeremiah, and God yet provides an antacid and fills him with a spirit that sets him on his feet and sends him on his “Thus says the Lord” way. Jesus is provided with a long list of valiant forerunners so that he can be sure his path is well prepared for him to walk in. At another place Ezekiel, anticipating Jesus’s hometown comments here, speaks of having to address his own people, for whom his words are so much foreign babble, unlike the nations who do not know his tongue but who would ironically “get it” by contrast.

Just as there is a lineage of prophets in which Jesus stands, so he now sends forth those who will work in his name and with his authority. They too will encounter push back and refusal to welcome. They could be well equipped with the prayer that is the psalm chosen for the day. To you Lord Jesus I lift my eyes. As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, so our eyes look to the Lord our God. When contempt comes, have mercy. Defend us from scorn and derision. And so it is. They cast out many demons, anointed with oil those sick, and cured them. Looking to the Master.

Paul’s description of his thorn in the flesh can come alongside as well. He gets there however by a very specific route. The super apostles in Corinth claim spiritual visions and experiences. Paul can speak of himself in similar terms. But he does so by means of avoiding his first-person and speaking as if of someone else. For 14 long years Paul kept this experience to himself and never used it to boast. The third heaven is an expression of the day, sky, starry night, and the abode of God. Paradise. The experience was both real and also not for publication. For edification. For an example of how not to puff up, even as it served to place Paul in God’s personal presence.

And indeed Paul speaks, not of special revelations or of boasting, but of his affliction and his weakness. A physical, mental and spiritual thorn, from which Paul prayed unceasingly to be released. His apostleship does not lift him into lofty places of peace and boasting, causing envy, but means rather a constant reliance on the strength of God alone. The only answer to his prayer for relief was in fact the answer he received inside his affliction: my power is made perfect in weakness. That says it all. The presence of the power of Christ is such that it cancels out whatever afflicts and whatever condemns us on account of that very shortcoming in our flesh. That is an answer to prayer. That is a cause for real confidence and empowerment.

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