The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 9), 8 July 2018

July 8, 2018 | by Nichole Torbitzky

Reading 1 Reading 2 Reading 3 Reading 4 Reading 1 Alt Reading 2 Alt
2 Samuel 5:1-5; 9-10 [Psalm 48] 2 Corinthians 12:2-10 Mark 6:1-13

2 Samuel 5:1-5; 9-10
Following the news of Jonathan’s and Saul’s deaths, David leaves Ziklag and heads north to Hebron where he meets all of the tribes of Israel who invite him to be king.  The elders of the tribes make a covenant with him and anoint him as king over Israel. He remains in Hebron ruling over Judah for seven and half years. Then, he moves his capital to Jerusalem where he rules Israel and Judah for thirty-three more years.  He renames Jerusalem the city of David and starts building. He gains greater and greater power because God is with him.

Israel now has its second king.  It might be interesting to note that David is king by ‘divine right,’ (due to his secret anointing by Samuel back in 1 Samuel 16:1-13) but also, he has made a covenant with the leaders.  This covenant means that David has some rules set by someone other than God and responsibilities to someone other than God. The elders of the tribes give David his second anointing as king.  The addition of these verses to the story may indicate that the will of the people is also involved in David’s ability to be king.

It takes David seven years to amass the power necessary to take Jerusalem.  Before David’s victory, the Jebusites, the native inhabitants of Jerusalem, controlled Jerusalem.  The Jebusites’ fortress in Jerusalem was relatively easy to defend and therefore difficult to conquer.  David eventually prevailed and moved his capital. The move was important because Jerusalem (ironically) was a pretty neutral city at the time.  No one tribe laid claim to it, and it occupied geography central to both Israel to the north and Judah to the south. It was an ideal place from which to rule, centrally located and easily defended.  His capture of this city was a real victory that sets the stage for a successful (if not perfect) kingship.

The text tells us that God is with David, regardless that David is far from perfect.  Even though he is undoubtedly violent, at times impulsive and self-serving, God remains with David.  Figures like David and Jacob have always given me hope. God does not abandon these fallible and sometimes downright sinful men.  David’s story offers me the hope that in my fallibility and sin God will not give up on me either.

From a process perspective, God will not give up on any us.  In the grace from God that kick-starts each moment into existence, God is there offering us the best possible for our situation.  Regardless of one’s response for the good or the ill, God will be there in the next moment to once again offer us a way forward, a way toward the good.  Even when I fail miserably, God will not abandon me. Even when I succeed brilliantly, God will not let me stagnate but will call me on to the next best-possible.  The love of God is inescapable and perfectly reliable. God is steady and present regardless of my defeat or triumph. God was with David, and God is with each of us.

2 Corinthians 12:2-10
Paul’s Second letter to the church at Corinth may actually be his fourth letter to them. (See the Harper Collins Study Bible for a concise summary of the theories surrounding 2 Corinthians.) What began in First Corinthians with soaring hope and genuine affection has lost much of its sheen by this letter.  This section of 2 Corinthians is often called the “tearful letter.” Paul probably wrote it from Ephesus upon return from his second visit to Corinth where he found the church rejecting his teachings in favor a group of Christians who advocated following the rules of Judaism, contrary to Paul’s teachings. These other Christians performed many signs and wonders and boasted of their Jewish heritage to prove they were legitimate representatives of Christ.  In this section, Paul reverses this logic and boasts of his own weakness and foolishness. In so doing, he sets himself in the tradition of Jesus’ own actions and rests in the power of God.

Many sermon illustrations give heartwarming examples of how a weakness or a perceived flaw turns out to be a strength in the end. (Stories like this can be easily googled.)  These examples can be backed up with sound theology. God amply demonstrates the paradox of strength in weakness in Jesus. God gives up power and becomes human. God gives up the power to answer violence with violence and responds to the violence of the cross with forgiveness.  Weakness is strength. Paul asks us to rethink our views on power. In process terms, God is not the one with all of the power.  God is the most powerful, the unsurpassed in power, but creatures have some power too, however small.  God gains in this so-called weakness. As creatures exercise their power and contribute to the ebb and flow of the world, God becomes richer and more complex by taking in these contributions to existence and harmonizing them in the divine being.  The paradox of God’s so-called weakness of changing and sharing power is God’s strength.

Moreover, Paul is also getting at something harder to articulate.  Paul is also trying to get at the importance of those weaknesses that we find irredeemable.  Rather than try to find the silver lining, Paul insists on accepting his weaknesses for what they are: weakness.  He can be content in his weakness because when he is weak, he is strong. Some in your congregation may have experienced events that simply cannot reconcile into an unseen benefit.  Let me give a tragic example. One of my parishioners struck and killed his three-year-old daughter with his car as he pulled into his driveway. The details of this tragedy do not matter here.  What matters is that even decades later, there is no silver lining to this story. Life went on to be sure, with its myriad joys and sorrows, but he lives with this still. And, that is what he does.  Some in your congregations may be living with thorns of the flesh, tragedies, and violence that do not bear simple stories of weakness becoming strength. Could a silver lining be found? Perhaps. However, that will be between the person and God.  Our job may just be to acknowledge what Paul says; our weakness is our strength and avoid the temptation to belittle a tragedy by insisting on finding the silver lining. Instead, we can acknowledge that in Christ, God knows our weakness, shares our suffering, and refuses to leave us adrift.

Mark 6:1-13
The text for this Sunday covers two stories, the first is commonly called the ‘Rejection of Jesus at Nazareth,” and the other, “The Mission (or Sending) of the Twelve.”  The story of Jesus’ rejection at Nazareth has garnered a great deal of attention over the centuries. Theologians and preachers have twisted themselves up in mental and theological gymnastics to explain how an omniscient, omnipotent, and immutable God could be hampered by the unbelief of the people of Nazareth.  This story presents a golden opportunity to the process preacher to address these misconceptions about God and gently offer an explanation of God that is relational and engaged with humanity. Charles Hartshorne, in his classic book, Omnipotence and Other Theological Mistakes, makes the point that belief in, “an absolute best, unsurpassable not only by others but by the being itself, is conceivable only in certain abstract aspects of value or greatness, not in fully concrete value or greatness.  And God, I hold, is no mere abstraction.” He argues that if we are to take God seriously, then we have to deal with God and not those cherished ideas about God that make us feel comfortable or secure.  

The ideas that God is all of the omnis and immutable is a deeply held set of beliefs by many Christians.  They are beliefs even more deeply comforting to people who are uncomfortable with a chaotic and changing world.  Be gentle with your people as you offer the possibility that our relationship with God is one that is reciprocal.  In your explanation of how God can feel the influence of the world, you may want to acknowledge that to feel the influence of the world does not mean that God is not powerful.  Hartshorne argues that of everything in existence, God is the most powerful. He asks us to redefine the meaning of powerful. Power is not the ability to coerce and force. Power is not the ability to remain unchanged and unfeeling.  Instead, power means the ability to take in and harmonize influence. God is unsurpassed in this ability.

To make this idea more accessible, take a look at Brene Brown’s TED talk on shame, or her TED talk on vulnerability.  These are simply metaphors from human experience that can help us talk about our relational God. There is not a one-to-one correspondence between human vulnerability and God’s reciprocal relationship with humanity.  Brown offers a way to talk about power in terms that are relational and constructive rather than one-sided and coercive.

This is why the follow-up story to Jesus’ rejection at Nazareth is essential and not to be skipped.  Even though the people who should have been the most eager and willing to love and accept him have rejected him, Jesus responds to rejection and apparent powerlessness by sending out the disciples and instructing them to be vulnerable.  He tells them not to take food, or weapons (a staff), or money, or extra clothing, or even sturdy shoes. He instructs them to stay where they are welcomed and stay there until they leave a town. This is a valuable instruction that gets lost in many sermons.  Jesus instructs them not to go looking for better accommodations, not to socially climb in a town, not to play politics and seek to lessen their vulnerability. He also tells them not to be coercive. If a town is not interested in what they have to say, he tells them to move on.  

Since in Jesus Christ we have the perfect reflection of God, then in these stories we gain a picture of God who is relational, non-coercive, sometimes disappointed in people, and unwilling to leave us alone to flounder, but always willing to invite us to the better and best.

Nichole Torbitzky received a doctorate from Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, CA and her Master of Divinity from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Her current research investigates Whiteheadian notions of subjective form and the internal relations subjective form has on the ordering of eternal objects in the primordial nature of God. Torbitzky is an assistant professor of religion at Lindenwood University and teaches courses on World Religions, Islam, Indian Religions, History of Christianity, and Women and Religion.