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Lectionary Living

Growing Up Begins with Calming Down

8/1 2 Samuel 11:26 - 12:13a and Psalm 51:1-12  •  Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15 and Psalm 78:23-29  •  Ephesians 4:1-16  •  John 6:24-35


In today's reading from 2 Samuel, the prophet Nathan tells David that his mistakes will have repercussions down the line. Well, no disrespect to Nathan, but I could have told David that! Is there a grandmother in the world who has not watched her own children with some awareness that her own mistakes are being repeated to at least the third generation? With some further thought, any grandparent can look back a few generations and find the patterns that have continued through the family since that time – and now we're talking six generations, or more.


Not all of these family patterns are a bad thing. In the Exodus reading, for example, manna has been provided for the people to eat in the wilderness. A few verses later, specific rules were set out for managing the manna on the Sabbath, to avoid any work. A similar religious practice of a Sabbath rest was still going on, at least among the older folks in my extended family, until the 1960s. The Sabbath was a part of my family's way of being. The pattern of honoring a certain day of the week as set aside, as sacred, did not go unnoticed. Actions do speak.


Of course, some remember the Sabbath less fondly. Jesus himself railed against those who were too rigid about observing the day of rest. It's the same with anything a family seeks to make important. Without flexibility, any pattern can have a negative side. A family who values hard work can lose its playfulness. A family who values doing things well can become perfectionistic. And then the next generation may choose the polar opposite behavior, which simply continues the rigidity and the lack of options of the other extreme.


For the person seeking a way out of the mistakes of the past, his own reactivity can get in the way. The inability to see what others were up against keeps him from considering a more flexible response. The idea of finding a middle way, instead of the other extreme, is simply unavailable to him. Here, the Ephesians reading speaks volumes: We must no longer be children… we must grow up in every way (4:14-15).


Growing up begins with calming down. Jesus is saying as much, when confronted by those who want to know about the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand. He tells them that their appetite for bread was getting in the way of finding the food that endures for eternal life (John 6:27).


David's appetite for Bathsheba pushed him towards some terrible choices. I can almost hear my neighbor scolding her dog, Wrong Fido wrong! All of us mammals can let our instinctual drives lead us astray. Growing up involves attending to them without letting them steer the course. A lovely hymn, Dear Lord, creator of us all, (and may I be excused for the liberties I have taken with the title), prays us out of the conundrum. Beginning with a request to reclothe us in our rightful minds, and moving on to orderly lives and Sabbath rest, it concludes as follows: Breathe through the heats of our desire/ thy coolness and thy balm; let sense be dumb, let flesh retire; speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,/ O still, small voice of calm!



Morning: What family patterns am I reactive to? How can I find a middle way?

Evening: When were my appetites in charge of my actions today?

Psalm 51:6 You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.

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7/25: 2 Samuel 11:1-15 and Psalm 14  •  2 Kings 4:42-44 and Psalm 145:10-18  •  Ephesians 3:14-21  •  John 6:1-21


Well, well, what a surprise. Just a few chapters back, David was having a fight with his wife Michal and distancing from her. Now, he's having an affair with Bathsheba, wife of one of his key military leaders. Not only that, but when he discovers that he's gotten Bathsheba pregnant, he seeks to cover it up by bringing her husband Uriah home from the battlefield. David's plan is that husband and wife might sleep together, making Uriah think that he had fathered the child. But the loyal soldier refuses the comforts of home while his comrades are in the field, choosing to sleep with David's servants instead. David's next move? He sends Uriah back to the field, along with directions to the high command to "set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, so that he may be struck down and die" (v. 15).


Even for those with a cynical eye, the utter immorality of David is astonishing. It was predictable, though. When people use distancing as a way of managing their relationships with others, they are signaling a lack of the inner capacity to manage themselves. Eventually, the intellect serves the whims and impulses of the more instinctive and sometimes childish side of oneself, either ignoring or rationalizing every thought which might get in the way. The capacity for emotional reasoning is lost.


David's reactivity to Michal (see more in 2 Samuel 6) led him to cut off. As he licked his wounds, refusing to consider her viewpoint in any way, his own immaturity grew. Later, his lust for Bathsheba took charge. The back-and-forth between his feelings and his thoughts around her became as unavailable to him as his connection to Michal. It is only a few short hops from reacting to others, to distancing from them, to cutoff, to becoming unable to hear other views, to a more confused view of life altogether.


When a person can stay connected with others, while still being her own self, something changes inside. It is like a muscle is getting exercised – developing and holding onto one's own core way of being. Even under pressure, such a person can still act on principles. The inner guidance system, so to speak, is less easily derailed.


The family unit provides a keyway. Reactivity to one's family is an invaluable treasure: automatically steering each of us to our deepest challenges. The chance to notice and manage one's responses more maturely – rather than try to change the other person – is the chance to grow oneself up. The chance to see different views – rather than go down the ever-narrower rabbit hole of one's own perspective – is also a chance to become more adult.


Today's story is often seen as a warning against greed. After all, Michal was wife #3, by my count, anyhow. How many wives did David need?! More than greed, though, the story showed how cutting off from others lessened his orientation to reality. Being able to connect respectfully with Michal, seeing another perspective besides his own, would have taken David towards a larger view of life. Cutting off from her may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but he lost some of himself along the way.



Morning: Where – or on what subjects – might I look for a larger perspective today?        

Evening: When did I become reactive today?

Psalm 14:2 The LORD looks down from heaven on humankind to see if there are any who are wise, who seek after God.

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What's Mine and Not Mine

7/18: 2 Samuel 7:1-14a and Psalm 89:20-37  •  Jeremiah 23:1-6 and Psalm 23  •  Ephesians 2:11-22  •  Mark 6:30-34, 53-56


Whether you are a person with too much on your plate or too little to do, today's 2 Samuel reading is meant for you. In it, David, a person with a lot on his plate, hears from his chief advisor/prophet that he's supposed to build a temple. That night, though, in his own prayers, he hears from God that it's not time to build a temple. Not only that, he hears that God has someone else in mind for the task!


People who tend to take on too much can forget that there are others who might be more fit for a job. On the other hand, those who tend to take on too little must be given room to gain the experience necessary to succeed. Some take on too much in one sphere and too little in others. Every situation, though, provides the same question: Which comes first?


In the 2 Samuel story, it's clear: David, (and by extension, all those who do too much) must step down so that others can step up. Those stepping down step down must continue to focus on the work that matters to them, resisting the urge to take over what belongs to someone else to do. In equal measure, those who step up must resist the the helplessness that can emerge when trying something new or difficult. When both sides can find a new balance, the entire unit – family, congregation, office, or other – can become more functional.


In this week's Mark reading, Jesus provides an example of what happens when the leader chooses to step back. He had previously sent the disciples out, in pairs, to teach and to heal. On their return, they tell him all they have done. If he thought of how much better he could have done it, it went unmentioned. Neither does Jesus explain the disciples what they should have done. Instead, he listens with interest to all they have to say.


Jesus had a capacity to both listen to others and to love them objectively. While he saw the disciples for who they were, he neither overlooked their flaws nor got judgy about them. Maybe he was aided by his own sense of self. He had his own principles which no one – from his own disciples to his family to the religious elite – could take from him. He was that solid. Even under pressure, he managed to remain himself, choosing to do what seemed best to him. When a person is that clear, the things that matter to most of us – like being agreeable or agreed with – don't even seem to be considerations at all. He could simply listen, being in contact with the disciples without becoming responsible for them.


After the disciples finish telling him about their journeys, he offered no instruction. Instead, he invited them to take a retreat and rest a while. When a person takes the time to rest and reflect, one is more ready to listen to the lessons of life. Once thoughtfully considered, what is one's own to do and what belongs on someone else's plate can become clearer.  



Morning: What is mine to do today? Where might I step up or back?

Evening: When did I find time to rest in my day?

Psalm 23:6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.

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What you don't know

7/11: 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19 and Psalm 24  •  Amos 7:7-15 and Psalm 85:8-13  •  Ephesians 1:3-14  •  Mark 6:14-29


While today's gospel story tells a clear tale of humans (at our worst), the lectionary version of the story in 2 Samuel leaves out so much that the reader has trouble making sense of it. On the way to Jerusalem, the ark of God in tow, David and all the house of Israel were dancing, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals (v. 5). By the time they reached Jerusalem, David was dancing alone: with all his might, but alone (v. 14). What happened?


Well, a lot happened, in the omitted verses. Briefly, Uzzah, responsible along with his brother for driving the cart carrying the ark, died when he touched it. David was angry with God for this and for a while, would not have anything more to do with it. Then he changed his mind, deciding to bring it on to Jerusalem.


Getting it the rest of the way seems to have been quite a process, and this is where the lectionary reading picks back up. After six paces, a big sacrifice was offered – and no wonder, as all must have been terrified to touch it. When they finally reach Jerusalem, David dances, but this time, alone. It is almost as though he is trying too hard. The excitement of the beginning of the journey is gone and cannot be rekindled. The realities of the trip and its consequences are fresh on everyone's minds. The scripture does record that there were shouts and the sound of trumpets: a people glad to have a job done.


Michal, daughter of Saul and one of David's wives, watched David's dance from her window with contempt, despising him in her heart (v. 16). Predictably, (2 Samuel 5:20-23, also excluded in the lectionary reading) the couple fight later about it. She points out that his almost-nude dance lacked dignity; he counters that her dad may have been more dignified but that he, David, was God's choice. Her absolutely wilting sarcasm, and his equally intense response, are vintage material immediately recognizable to any couple in conflict. The insistence that each see it the other's way is classic. While the story involves royalty, the tension routed through the triangle of wife, husband, and father-in-law is all too ordinary, all too common. Often, the outcome is distancing or cutoff between the spouses, which seems to have happened here (v. 23). 


While cutoff and distancing bring relief, they also bring a loss of perspective. Michal's world would shrink without David. And David lost the insight of his wife, who had been the sister of his best friend, and daughter of the latest king, with significant insider knowledge.


When families choose distancing and cutoff rather than mature, open connections and the ability to see a broad range of views, the resulting chaos is all too predictable. In David's case, more difficult times are ahead. In today's gospel, difficulties have already arrived. The scripture gives the back story on John the Baptist's beheading: Herod's marriage to his brother's wife and John's calling him out on it. We are also told the more recent events: the daughter, the drinking, the dance, the deal. All of these facts are necessary to understand what happened. The writer of Mark's gospel – never one to give more detail than necessary – provides the whole story here. Whether with Herod's family or one's own, understanding the bigger picture is the beginning of wisdom. Work on self begins at home.



Morning: What do I not know? What parts of my family history would be important to uncover? How can I connect to other family members to find out more?

Evening: What do I know about my family's challenges? How can I learn from them?

Psalm 24:1 The earth is the Lord's and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it.      

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