Isaiah 43, 18-19, 21-22 and 24-25
- Second Isaiah is repeating what he heard from God. I hear
three snippets that, as I reflect on them, could fit into a Hegelian thesis-antithesis-synthesis framework. This is what I am hearing: God is proposing something amazing. But
the people don’t care. So God does it anyway despite the people. I am going to read with pauses between the sections so that my listeners may better follow me.
- Here are a people in exile that remember their humiliation in defeat, as if it were yesterday. They are resigned to their fate of exile. God
attacks such self-pity at the core: Remember not the events of the past. My
own congregation is filled with men and women who pride themselves on remembering, retelling and commemorating their past
disgraces. How can I draw them into the ancient oracle, to help them not just
overhear it but to hear it as addressed to them?
- Israel doesn’t expect such wonders as this promise: See, I am doing something new. In the desert I make a way. The
God of Israel – our God – wants to transform their world – our world.
According to the prophet, God wants their praise not in exile but in glorious return to their Promised Land! Let the idealism in my soul burst out as I read.
- A warning to myself: I don’t want to sound like a politician selling an irrigation project to
voters. God only sounds like a politician when the interpreter does not know
God, when we do not beg in prayer for the authentic voice of the interpreter of God inside us.
- How do they respond? They don’t care; they doubt
and go on as before. You did not call upon me. You grew weary of me. You have burdened me with
your sins. Every visionary knows how hard it is to convince others. It even happens to God! Let me imagine
how deeply God will feel a disappointment, to the level of billions of stars in billions of galaxies, and rehearse over and
over as I expand my own feelings of disappointment to their limit.
- It is I, I, who wipe out, for my own sake, your transgressions. Could this be the same God who just now
was cosmically disappointed? We have heard this message throughout the New Testament:
The ever-faithful God first loved us, and we have not deserved the life of grace that is offered us. We see this forgiveness reflected, naturally, in today’s Gospel.
- Central point: God will act to reveal an infinity of goodness
and love, greater than even our expanding universe, whether we embrace it or not.
- Message for our assembly: Let us also dream of things
that could be, and truly believe that they will come into being.
- I will challenge myself: To reveal in my limited but experienced voice
a God firm in intention, who does not wait for understanding from this or from any congregation but who is ready to act on
their behalf for my own sake.
II Corinthians 1, 18-22
- The apostle speaks his mind frankly, as he does throughout the second letter, because some in Corinth did not understand
how he could be “all things to all,” so they accused him of having it both ways.
His phrases here do not translate well, and the word-for-word rendition in the present lectionary only further obscures
the meaning. I must work harder to tease out the right interpretation.
- This passage begins with a mild oath: As God is faithful, and states his position:
Our word to you is not ”yes” and “no.” “Yes”
has been in Christ.
- He seeks to model his behavior on Jesus. For however many are the promises
of God, their “yes” is in him. Speaking of promises, we heard
one very strongly in the first reading for today. Here the word “yes”
could mean “fulfillment” or “realization.” I’m
thinking of Marv Albert at courtside when I say my “yes!”
- And then our public prayer, in which we give a unanimous Amen, is also carried through him
to God for glory. I think the clearest way to go is to emphasize the Amen
from us, especially the “us,” to remind the assembly that our own prayer together is being referred to here.
- He testifies to the God who is faithful, who gives us security with you in Christ. I hear several references to our confirmation: God anointed us, put his seal upon us and
given the Spirit in our hearts.
- Climax: Christ is the center of our prayer, our evangelizing and our aspirations as church. The apostle repeats in him and through him three times in the middle of the passage.
- The message for our assembly: Let us keep in mind our union in Christ through our common prayer and through the confirmation
we all have received.
- I will challenge myself: To speak with firmness of the Christ who bears our prayers and shows us the way to the Father.
Mark 2, 1-12
- The Gospel reading begins with a simple gathering that grows in size as the word spreads: he was
at home. I think of the foreign nationals here who gather at their favorite
restaurant to celebrate an election back home or welcome a famous visitor. There
was no longer room for them, not even around the door.
- Each time I hear this story, I can’t help noticing that Jesus, and those who gathered around
him, felt greater joy over radical conversion of the sinner than over a merely physical improvement. He saw their faith and said to the paralytic, Son, your sins are forgiven. It says their faith, which also shows the way in which the whole believing community brings its
infirm and its healthy members to the Lord.
- At first, the words of forgiveness sound out of place, but ancient cultures noted deep bonds between a life of evil
and sickness of mind and body. We are rediscovering the bonds today. I should read in a seamless fashion, with a pause before the first words of Jesus so that the church pays
more attention to them.
- Strictly speaking, we are not forgiven because of our faith, but because
God first wishes to forgive. This passage has many layers of understanding that
I want to help to indicate in my voice.
- Climax: So that you may know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive.
- Message for our assembly: Which is easier? I say it as if I am
also posing the question to them. We know so many people who have turned from
a life of crime or addiction, but why do we place more store on physical healing?
- I will challenge myself: To challenge the church
to attain such faith and win the approval of the Lord.