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Lectionary Living

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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A Tad of Emotional Maturity

7/4: 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10 and Psalm 48  •  Ezekiel 2:1-5 and Psalm 123  •  2 Corinthians 12:2-10  •  Mark 6:1-13


The 2 Samuel reading this week sums up some pretty big changes in a very few verses: David becomes the king; Jerusalem becomes the capitol. Apparently, David made the choice to move the capitol based on Jerusalem's reputation as a secure fortress. Perhaps the availability of water was also a factor. Basic requirements for living – safety and hydration – would be met there, to the benefit of all.


Maybe David's years as a shepherd had made him attentive to location. Where he had led the flock would make a difference in their chances for survival. Fresh water and an ability to spot predators early would have been on his mind, every day. Years of being relegated to the lowest job in his family brought him an automatic, kingly awareness: place would matter to the survival of his tribe.


The importance of place to human health has become increasingly clear. In the U.S., people who live in urban areas tend to be less obese. Why: their daily lives require them to walk more, drive less or not drive at all. On the other hand, less urban environments offer more natural surroundings, which have a calming effect on the entire body, enhancing both physical and mental health. These same effects also happen to cells and tissues within the body. Recent research on cancer, for example, is focused on changing the environment within the body where the cancer cells are thriving, rather than on the cancer itself. Where a cell is located, where a person is living, or where a family finds itself: at all these levels, place matters.


For David, attention to place was somewhat automatic. Concerned about the success of his people, he engaged in tribal warfare, driving out the Jebusites already living there (1Samuel 5:6-8). In the 21st century, humans continue their tribal warfare around the globe, with Jerusalem as a prime example. The alternative, considering what places will allow humans to flourish, and making those places available to all, seems far off. It begins, though, with a page from David's book: intention.


Awareness means little without intention. Turning an insight into action means everything. Figuring out what is actionable, though, is the challenge. Few of us are kings, with our own armies! Two extremes can emerge: a) a focus on trying to change others, to convince them of their wrongness or b) a distancing from others, to avoid airing different perspectives. The third way, that of finding one's own course of action, sharing it with others without trying to please or placate them, can bring one's own intentions to life.


And here, of course, we come to Jesus. In his hometown, just being himself, he is amazed at the unbelief he finds. Does he get caught up in trying to convince them that he's a healer? No. Does he distance from them, cut short his visit and storm away, perhaps calling them toxic as he leaves town? No. Completely disinterested in whether they approve of him or not, he is able to marvel, to wonder, at their incapacity to see what others could see in him.  Emotionally mature, he is able to stand his own ground, wherever he is.


A horrific tragedy of place has occurred this week, with the collapse of a condo building near Miami Beach. May all who died there, rest in peace. For the rest of us, the human need for safety in our environments brings a lot to think about and more to do. A tad of emotional maturity would be a good first step.  



Morning: What are my intentions today?

Evening: When did I manage emotional maturity today? What helps?

Psalm 48:-2 Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised in the city of our God. His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation, is the joy of all the earth, Mount Zion, in the far north, the city of the great King.

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How the Mighty Fall

6/27: 2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27 and Psalm 130  •  Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15, 2:23-24 or Lamentations 3:22-33 and Psalm 30  •  2 Corinthians 8:7-15  •  Mark 5:21-43


Sadly, the lectionary has skipped over one of my favorite heroines – Abigail, a woman whose life is a study in how to manage oneself in triangles, along with how to make a statement through one's own actions, no matter where one is placed in the system (I Samuel 25). Other stories, such as pranks in the enemy camp; a medium and a voice from the dead; throwing of spears at the unarmed; along with the usual raping and pillaging, are also avoided. As 2 Samuel opens, David is making remarks about the death of King Saul and his son Jonathan. Perhaps seeking to raise the vision of the people from the grim circumstances of the time, David skirts the truth, saying that Saul and son had never been divided (1 Samuel 1:23).


Well, while they may have been great warriors, Saul and his son had disagreed. Their disagreements were so extreme that Jonathan and David had worked out detailed, secret plans to subvert the king's intentions. As David continues to cover up the behind-the-scenes facts, he is answering his own lament: how the mighty have fallen. Each of us, to a person, is vulnerable to becoming a Saul-like character: fooled by an unrealistic view of the world, and unable to hear the perspectives of others, who then find themselves using deceit to manage their own lives. In families, tribes, and nations, all suffer as different subgroups start focusing on their own information, which tends to be less than the full picture available if everyone could contribute to a larger view.


At the other end of the spectrum, today's gospel reading is about people with a very realistic view of life and its limitations. There is the leader of the local synagogue, whose daughter was dying, and, in the middle of that story, a separate case of a woman who had suffered from vaginal bleeding for twelve years. In a culture where menstrual cycles were thought of as unclean, a woman with a 12-year period was extraordinarily vulnerable. Rules about avoiding sex before and after a menstrual cycle would have made her not only unable to wed, but also, for as long as she bought into the customs around the 'unclean,' ashamed. The exhaustion of her physical disability may have been crippling in one way; the psychological blow, in another.


Finding her way to Jesus, she touches his clothes and is immediately healed. Jesus, though, notices. He demands to know who has touched him, and although his disciples try to brush it off as just a close crowd, Jesus starts looking around. At this point, the woman comes to him, in fear and trembling, telling him the whole truth (v.33).


How she must have wanted to hide! The courage it must have taken for her to tell the whole truth in front of the crowd! A person can only look on in awe at this story, at Jesus' awareness of her need for both physical and emotional healing; at the self-affirmation that the moment required of her; and her stepping up to do it. In comparison, the healing of her bodily affliction was a small thing. There is no going back, once a person has made herself more fully known – more fully defined – to others. One has become a new self – set free by the truth one has acknowledged. In some sense, each of us – from Saul to Jonathan to David to Abigail to every human – has a similar opportunity to affirm the reality of one's own life. First, though, one must step down from the platform of the mighty.



Morning: Where might it be useful to me, to define myself more fully to others?

Evening: Where do I get stuck, and unable to see the whole reality of a situation?  

Psalm 130:6 My soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.

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