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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Lectionary Scriptures: Isaiah 62:1-5, Psalm 36:5-10, I Corinthians 12:1-11, John 2:1-11

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. may be best remembered for his “I Have a Dream” speech delivered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., in August, 1963.  His life, of course, was about much more than a speech, but his life was rooted in a book full of dreams and visions---the Bible.  The visions he found there inspired him, and a whole movement of oppressed people and their supporters, who knew the innate worth of each individual in the sight of God.  They knew that justice and equality were not just their cause; they were the promise of God.

On this Sunday when we remember and seek to keep alive Martin Luther King’s dream and work, it is appropriate that we ask what our dreams are.  I could have used some form of the word “dream” in the title of my musings, perhaps asking, “What is your dream for the future of society and this world?”  All possibility of positive change is rooted in some kind of dream or vision, conscious or unconscious. 

Instead, I chose a phrase from the epistle lesson---“The Common Good” (I Corinthians 12:7).  The reading tells us that we all have different gifts, given to us by the Spirit of God.  (vss. 4-6 & 11) They are intended to be used “for the common good,” and it takes all of us working together for that to be achieved.

So, I come to today’s readings thinking about dreams and visions and the future and the common good.  Such things may not be the main focus of each of the readings, but there are things to notice in each.

Throughout much of the Bible we see a longing for justice and righteousness.  Things are out of kilter and need to be made right.  It is not right that people should go hungry, live in poverty, be oppressed, etc.  For many of us, it seems almost as if we were born with this longing for a world in which all people are treated with dignity and worth.  Sometimes we feel we have been treated unfairly and there is almost an element of revenge in our attitude.  (Remember Pastor Rick’s sermon last Sunday.)  For others, it’s more a sense that the very fabric of creation is being violated.  In the Bible, it is an expression of people who feel that things fall short of what is truly right.

It’s there in the reading from Isaiah 62, words addressed to people who were feeling oppressed, living in foreign lands, perhaps feeling abandoned by God.  The first two verses promise “vindication,” a word that may sound like it has an element of revenge.  Most translations speak of “righteousness.”  The promise is that things will be made right again.  (Isaiah 62:1-2)  “You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate.”  (vs. 4)

A similar vision is presented in Psalm 36.  It speaks of “righteousness . . . like the mighty mountains.”  (Psalm 36:6)  Biblically, the promise is often of a great feast at which all nations come to dine in the presence of the Lord.  The Psalmist speaks here of feasting “on the abundance of your house” receiving “drink from the river of your delights.”  (vs. 8)  Two declarations particularly catch my eye and tickle my brain.  “ . . . you save humans and animals alike, O Lord.”  (vs.  6)  The peaceable kingdom of God always includes the animals.  Predator and prey live together in harmony.  “ . . . in your light we see light.”  (vs. 9)  If we are to see and pursue dreams and visions of significance, they will be illuminated by the light of God’s righteousness, justice, and love.

The epistle reading, as we’ve already noted, turns our attention to “the common good.”  To be open to, to seek, God’s vision is to focus on the common good.  What is it that we are called to be---together?  God’s kingdom is never just about what is best for me.  God’s love calls us into relationships in which we are all enriched and build up the lives of all around us.  The discussion continues on through chapters 13 and 14, where the emphasis specifically turns to “building up.”  (See I Corinthians 14:12 & 17)  Near the end of the discussion, we find these words:  God is a God not of disorder but of peace.”  (vs. 33)  Would that all our visions be guided by that truth!  In between, chapter 13, follows the discussion of gifts with the observation that love is the greatest gift.  (See I Corinthians 13:13)  Imagine a world in which love and peace were among the central guiding principles---and behaviors!

Actually in our weekly breakfast the discussion quickly took a turn toward gun control.  I’m not sure how we got there, but we all agreed that our hopes and dreams included a world free of the kind of violence that has devastated schools and malls in recent weeks and years.  The discussion was mostly conciliatory, seeking to avoid polarization.  We realize that there are few simple answers and that motives are complex, but the very concept of an “assault” weapon seems like a major obstacle to the achievement of a peaceable kingdom.

Finally, there’s one remaining image in today’s readings.  If last week’s readings included the image of God as a loving parent to God’s children, this week we have God as the loving bridegroom to the bride whom God finds delightful.  Isaiah 62:4-5 says of the ones no longer forsaken, “ . . . you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married.  For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.”

The Gospel lesson is a more extended story about a wedding feast.  It’s a fun story, perhaps even humorous, about the interaction of a mother and son.  This being the Gospel According to John, however, it’s much more than that.  Whoever the actual writer of this late Gospel is, we are dealing with a theological document which uses a series of images (miracles) to explain the spiritual significance of Jesus.  They are called “signs.”  “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him.”  (John 2:11)  In this case, Jesus is the new wine, or perhaps even the bridegroom (as he is in some other stories and texts---the church, for instance, has been seen as “the bride of Christ”).
 
Note here that we also have another "feast" at which two formerly separate families celebrate together.  Is it a small illustration of the feast we saw in Isaiah 36:8?

In thinking about our relationship with God as one of marriage, some of us have to struggle with the male and female imagery.  If we look deeper into the nature of mutual commitments, however, they can apply at any place and time human beings make commitments of love and faithfulness with one another.  Marriage, at its best, is a microcosm of what a relationship of commitment to “the common good” means.  Some speak of the Judeo-Christian tradition as a “covenant” tradition, a faith based on an mutual commitment (agreement or covenant) between God and humanity.  As I meditated upon the imagery of marriage, I came to the question, “What if all humanity acted as if we were all married to one another?”  Jesus, in his teaching, certainly hints at a much bigger understanding of family than the usual lines we draw.  But I guess I’m just a dreamer.  If dreams came true, I would seek a world in which we all lived in one big harmonious marriage.

Maybe dreams come true.  At any rate, let’s keep on dreaming.  Notice that one way to read the Gospel lesson is to see it as a call to focus upon the new rather than the old.  The steward, surprised at the water which has become premium wine, says “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk.  But you have kept the good wine until now.”  (John2:10)  It’s almost as if the story is saying, “The best is yet to come!”  We can hope!

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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