Hosea 2, 16-17 and 21-22
- I hear talk of reconciliation for two covenant loves. We
have learned one the hard way, from our ‘better or worse’ experience as spouses.
God reveals the other to us, in an earnest search after the chosen people. In
the background I hear the theme from Hosea, the tender song born in Weston Priory that I have come to identify with this prophet. I will let it flood my consciousness as I read.
- I will lead her into the desert and speak to her heart.
The prophet was betrayed by his spouse, and in like manner God is abandoned by the chosen people. Today God speaks through me, proposing a way to reconciliation. Since
today’s reading introduces the plan immediately, I need to start with the same expansive and inviting voice that I hear
in I will lead her. If love is true,
we will not be crushed when we see it fail, but work all the harder to restore it.
- She shall respond there as in the days of her youth. There is a certain innocence, or purity
of purpose, in any beginning. The prophet is speaking of the noviazgo
and honeymoon when both lovers think as one, but above all the covenant between God and Israel. The words remind us that the hope of renewal, expressed here, springs from the people’s initial acceptance
of the covenant.
- I will espouse you to me forever, in fidelity. Our own living of married love and our life
together as church are inspired by God’s promise of eternal fidelity. The
reading is about both of these promises, the covenant between marriage partners and the covenant of God with the people. And this is not just a single reconciliation in history. It is meant to be repeated, as we are doing today. True love
brings a constant rededication.
- Climax: I will espouse
you to me forever. Not ‘until death!’ As Tony and Maria sang in West Side Story, ‘Even death won’t part us now.’
- Message for our assembly: If we have ever loved another person
deeply, we can identify with this passage, one of only two from Hosea that we hear on the Lord’s Day. Our faith prompts us to know the Lord as intimately
as we do our spouse.
- I will challenge myself: To be bold in using the words God speaks
about the covenant, and to pledge my own lifelong commitment to it.
II Corinthians 3, 1-6
- I hear of credentials in this reading. As someone without
them (as the institution considers), it is easy for me to identify with the apostle.
The Corinthians looked for letters of recommendation, just as dioceses and parishes do today.
- Where did he prove the worthiness of his ministry? You are our letter,
written on our hearts by the Spirit of the living God. The words of Jeremiah
come to his mind: Written on tablets that are hearts of flesh. I will
be careful to say on our hearts, not ‘in’ them.
- The apostle looks not to names and titles upon a resumé but to the achievements of this church to which
he has ministered. A coach is judged by what happens on the court, by the maturity
of her players and the titles they have won. And in like manner the apostle will
not take credit for anything as coming from us.
- I undergo the same challenge to my ministry, and I know how it is validated: Our qualification comes
from God. How would the Corinthians, or my listeners, know this? The force of my own voice may help them discern how God commends his chosen instruments.
- Now how would I or anyone else demonstrate these credentials?
How do we prove we are qualified by God as ministers of a new covenant?
- The Spirit gives life. I have taken this phrase
as my motto, as I look for ways to transcend the typed text and invoke the God present with us today. At the same time I avoid overwhelming the text and the proclamation, so that the Spirit who is present
to the entire church can work new wonders in the church.
- Climax: I hear two. One is spoken in exclamation, raising debate to a
loftier plane: You are our letter. I’ll release all the force of
these four simple words after a dozen or more repetitions. The second, at the
end of the passage, sets new priorities for Corinth and for lectors: The Spirit gives life.
- The message for our assembly: We depend so much on appointments from bishops for the validation of the church in all
its spiritual gifts. We need to learn again that the Holy Spirit blows where
it will, calling up new witnesses every day.
- I will challenge myself: To speak boldly from the same point as the apostle, letting my uncredentialed gift speak for
itself as I challenge my own church.
Mark 2, 18-22
- I hear two stories today, one about a wedding party and another about what could happen at a wedding
party: new wine and old wineskins.
- The stories sound old and people will dismiss them as old, unless I rivet their attention. But how to relate them to our life as a church?
- For a moment I am the best man, and in that spirit I address Jesus the bridegroom at the wedding
party, offering this toast: We shall not fast while the bridegroom is with us.
All of us present celebrate Jesus the bridegroom, and we are well aware that we will fast when the bridegroom is
taken away from us. Of course, this is no ordinary marriage feast, but the
definitive feast in the end time that never ends.
- I present the piece of unshrunken cloth on an old cloak, and I tell the assembly that we need to adapt to the
change, or else the tear gets worse. This is the greatest rebuttal I can
imagine to the argument presented by those now in control of the institution: that our life together over the last half century
can be summarized as an unbroken continuity and that the institution with its prerogatives remains basically in place. The signs of the times, even if they be displeasing to some, cannot be denied. If they are, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the skins are
ruined. That is not Bible theory any more; our eyes and ears note it happening.
- Climax: New wine is poured into fresh wineskins. Once I have made
my point, I will pause a while so that everyone can absorb the wisdom of Jesus.
- Message for our assembly: We have all been to wedding receptions, and so we know what Jesus is talking about. Weddings are a celebration of something new.
- I will challenge myself: To insist on the need for
renovation, for rejuvenation, that our entire assembly become like fresh wineskins.