The Common Good
June 1994

Seeking the New Vision

by Verna J. Dozier | June 1994

The scriptures for our meditations come from first and second
Samuel, the Psalms, the gospel according to Mark, and Paul’s
second letter to the Corinthians.

The scriptures for our meditations come from first and second Samuel, the Psalms, the gospel according to Mark, and Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. The meditations follow a pattern of tracing the Story from its beginning in the Hebrew scriptures to its climax in the memories of the early church as reflected in the gospels, and then on to what sense the first Christians made of the connection between the two, as worked out in the epistles. At each step along the way, the effort is made to glean what the scripture passage may say to us today, either individually or corporately.

The Story continues with us. In our meditations we step into a flowing stream.

June 5
A Different Vision

1 Samuel 8:4-20;Psalm 138;2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1;Mark 3:20-35

Sometimes a light surprises
The Christian when he sings...

went Cowper’s old hymn. That can also be the experience of one reading the disparate texts of a lectionary. Each one is a part of the same great Story, but what single message do they all have for me today?

In the Hebrew scripture, the people of God confront God’s prophet Samuel about their anxiety for the stability of their system of government. They ask for a king "like other nations."

The psalm is one of thanksgiving and joy, secure in the knowledge that "God will fulfill God’s purpose for us."

The gospel presents Jesus’ radical ministry, which causes his family so much concern that they come after him to bring him back to the safety of his home. They can’t get close because of the crowds so they send word: "Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you."

He makes the astounding reply, "Who are my mother and my brothers? Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother."

The biblical record ends with the epistle and the great apostle Paul assuring his little flock, "We look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen."

The message for the week: A different vision.

The caution for the week: Let’s not absolutize the different vision.

Sometimes the different vision can be as cautious as deserting the new thing to be like everybody else. Sometimes it can be as bold and imaginative as Jesus’ new definition of family. We can remember the faith of the psalmist. God will fulfill God’s purpose for us. We can remember the faith of Paul. Look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen.

June 12
The Old Order Changes

1 Samuel 15:34-16:13;Psalm 20;2 Corinthians 5:6-17;Mark 4:26-34

Last week the scriptures invited us to contemplate the new—a different possibility. This week we begin to live into that new possibility: first in the Hebrew scripture, a new king; a prayer for that new king in the psalm; parables about the mystery of growth and change in the gospel; and in the epistle, a salute to the new creation.

The selection of the unlikely David has overtones of the selection of great David’s greater son, "the stone that the builders rejected." The question is asked, "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" But we remember the different vision. "We look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen."

Looking not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen may illumine an often overlooked parable. Two parables are put here close together; the second one about the mustard seed has eclipsed the first one in familiarity. However, the first one, about the process of growth, speaks to our different vision. Someone scatters the seed. That is all she or he does. The earth produces of itself! Jesus was talking about the inevitability of the coming of the kingdom. That is the assurance with which we work.

It was also the assurance with which St. Paul worked: "If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: Everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new."

June 19
Power of God

1 Samuel 17:(1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49;Psalm 9:9-20;2 Corinthians 6:1-13;Mark 4:35-41

After last week’s surge of optimism, even with our deepest wishing that it were so, we find ourselves sinning against the Holy Spirit, doubting the power of God.

We need this week’s scriptures.

We begin with the ancient and beloved tale of David and Goliath. It is an ill-matched battle, as you can imagine. The contest begins with the usual exchange of compliments from the warriors. Goliath promises to give David’s flesh to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the field.

David replies, "You come to me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel whom you have defied." David continues, "so that all the Earth may know that there is a God in Israel."

David, a shepherd lad, prevailed over an awesome warrior.
By the power of God.

The psalm celebrates that power. "The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed." But the psalm, with the realism of Hebrew religion, acknowledges that the events may not always bear this out. While the psalmist sings his faith that God will not forget the cry of the afflicted, this is no Pollyanna refusal to look at the affliction. There is trouble in the world. But it is not the last word.

The gospel underscores this. The last word is God’s. "Peace, be still."

This is a beloved story. Does its attraction for use suggest we sense the words are addressed to us? "Lord, do you not care?" we cry. It is an act of faith. We are in frightening circumstances. We have no resources to help ourselves. We cry out to the only One who can. Has it not been said human extremity is God’s opportunity? Can it be that in the most desperate of circumstances, we are reminded that the last word is God’s? Peace, be still.

The power of God is demonstrated most gloriously in changed human lives, and what better example than Paul of Tarsus. Our New Testament scripture is an excerpt from one of Paul’s letters to a group of people called by his work among them to be saints. As we read the account of what is meant for Paul to continue in his ministry, we have no other explanation for his power to continue than the power of God.

June 26
Out of the Depths

2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27;Psalm 130;2 Corinthians 8:7-15;Mark 5:21-43

For the last week of June, the days of which the poet sings, "O what is so rare...?," our lectionary takes us to the somber halls of death.

We begin with the superb dirge for Saul and Jonathan, believed to be an authentic composition of David, a poem to secure his place among the poets of the world. It is marked by moving repetition and simplicity of language. No trace of bitterness for the man who tried to kill him mars the poem, and the grief David felt at the loss of his "brother" Jonathan is effective in its restraint. "How the mighty have fallen" speaks to many times and occasions.

The mood of sorrow and sadness is deepened by Psalm 130, a masterpiece of a lament for personal sins. Because there are no specifics about the cause of the experience of the depths, the psalm has a universality that speaks to the lost condition of the human race and the grace and mercy of God. What humility and wisdom are in the lines,

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
Lord, who could stand?

And what trust! "There is forgiveness with you."

As we watch for the morning, this psalm is a good companion—whether it is the morning of the next day or of our life!

There is so much gold in the gospel story that one day’s meditation or one week’s or one’s lifetime is not sufficient to mine it. In one story Mark gives us a vivid picture of Jesus the healer and Jesus the teacher.

Jesus responds equally to calls from the high and from the lowly. His healing ministry reaches out beyond the ancient taboos of a religious system. He knows who he is and what he can do and knows when he has accomplished the task. His very being heals. He incarnates the ritual.

Can you imagine the emotions that surged through the leader of the synagogue who saw and heard it all? But then the final word comes. The synagogue leader’s child is dead. There is no more you can do. The depths. But this teacher lives out that there is always something else you can do. Do not pay attention to the counsels of despair.

After this high gospel drama, the epistle seems to plunge to mundane issues of institutional survival. Do what you can, counsels Paul. Your offering is acceptable according to what you have, not according to what you have not. Quoting a later Paul, "You are accepted." Out of the depths. n

VERNA J. DOZIER is an educator and lay theologian in Washington, D.C. She is the author of The Dream of God: A Call to Return (Cowley Publications) and The Authority of the Laity (The Alban Institute).

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