In the language of "left brain, right brain" constructs, the scriptures for the weeks of August call upon our right-brain gifts. We leave the world of what we can see and touch and document and enter a world of imagination and creativity, a world of poetry and emotion.
We pass from the last vestiges of the wilderness and the prophet of the wilderness, Samuel, to the courtly chronicler and the beginning of the record of the Kings. We had begun such a transition last month with the movement from the swift action and immediacy of Mark to the leisurely contemplation of the meaning of it all in John.
There is a world of human experiences in the scriptures and many ways in which those experiences are shared. Let us be open to them all. This is our Story. These are our spiritual ancestors who are speaking to us. What can we hear from the Hebrew record, from the gospel, from the epistle that will speak to us today so that we can, in our own voice, pass the Story on?
Between Heaven and Earth
Psalm 130; 2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33; Ephesians 4:25-5:2; John 6:35, 41-51
The sins of the fathers are visited upon the children." No more graphic example of that proverb is given than the household of David the King. David, the winsome, fearless, gifted shepherd boy grew up to be a powerful leader who could rule kingdoms but not his sons or himself.
David did nothing to prevent the rape of his daughter Tamar by one of his sons. But her brother, Absalom, the half brother of the rapist, took his wretchedly used sister into his household and for years plotted revenge. With revenge accomplished, he then conspired against his father, making it necessary for David to flee for his life. In pursuit, Absaloms glorious hair was caught in a tree, and he died as he had lived, hanging between heaven and earth.
Our lectionary gives us the matchless Psalm 130 to express Davids grief for his son, as it offered to express Davids grief for Saul and Jonathan. But the words in the book of Samuel have entered history as an eloquent expression of a fathers grief: "O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son."
From that dark, tragic scene, it is a relief to turn to the sixth chapter of John, where we will stay for the rest of the month to meditate on one of Johns great "I am" passages. John has Jesus identify himself as the bread of life while speaking in a synagogue. He reminded the gathered learners that their mothers and fathers had eaten manna in the wilderness and had died. He offers them himself, which they can eat of and not die. Understand-ably, they were confused. "How can this man give us himself to eat?" they asked.
The epistle for the week describes the new life of the eucharistic community, that, week by week, eats the bread and drinks the wine and experiences the bread as flesh indeed and the wine as blood indeed.
The Beginning of Wisdom
Psalm 111;1 Kings 2:10-12, 3:3-14;Ephesians 5:15-20;John 6:51-58
The king is dead. Long live the king. We move to a new king and a new court reporter. "So Solomon sat on the throne of his father David, and his kingdom was firmly established."
Near the beginning of his reign, Solomon had a dream that God had appeared to him and asked what Solomon should be given. Solomon replied, "Give your servant an understanding mind to govern your people" (New Revised Standard Version); "an understanding heart" (King James); "a heart with skill to listen" (New English Bible); "a hearing heart" (American Standard Version).
What rich implications for the word wisdom! Its not just piles and piles of facts. It recalls, "The heart has reasons of which reason has no knowledge."
There was a time in ancient Israel when this kind of wisdoma union of heart and head and willwas highly valued. The responsive psalm chosen for this passage is Psalm 111, which contains the verse: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." The word "fear" means the attitude of worship that takes a first measure of who I am, that I am creature not Creator. Walter Brueggemann, in his commentary on the psalms, sees that fact as an occasion for doxology.
An easy transition this time to the Johannine Jesus and Ephesians guidance for the new community of the Eucharist. There is much repetition in the John passage; it has mesmerizing effect. Prose cannot do it justice. The spirit longs to sing the music that is so present there. Brian Wren has given us the words, and an American folk melody has given us the tune:
I come with joy to meet my Lord/Forgiven, loved, and free/In awe and wonder to recall/His life laid down for me.
I come with Christians far and near/To find as all are fed/The new community of love/In Christs Communion bread.
As Christ breaks bread/And bids us share/Each proud division ends/That love that made us makes us one/And strangers now are friends.
And thus with joy we meet our Lord/His presence always near/Is in such friendship better known!/We see and praise him here?
Together met, together bound/Well go our different ways/And as his people in the world/Well live and speak his praise.
An Army of Equals
Psalm 84;1 Kings 8:(1, 6, 10-11), 22-30, 41-43;Ephesians 6:10-20;John 6:56-69
These meditations may be difficult for us who are weary of impressive monuments of stone and precious jewels built by slave labor; who grow utterly weary of wars and rumors of wars, so that even the armor of God may have little appeal. Then we hear a wistful Jesus saying, "Will you also go away?" And we hear Jesus in the garden, "Can you not watch one little hour?" And we return to find what, in our haste to judge, we may have missed.
All the elaborate work for the building of the temple is finished and now all is made ready for the ceremony of dedication. The temple had been made so that it was more beautiful as you approached the place where the ark would rest. Now it rested there in a place of thick darkness. And then the amazing prayer of dedicationa house of prayer for all people. Not only the prayer of the Israelite will be heard, but "likewise the foreigner." The king prays that his prayer will be heard "that all the peoples of the earth may know your name." Such is the vision of this house.
"How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of Hosts!" (Psalm 84:1). The Johannine meditation on the living bread goes on, but it becomes too much for many and the report is that because of it, many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. Jesus asked the Twelve, "Do you also wish to go away?"
Peter, the spokesperson for us all, replies, "Lord, to whom shall we go?"
Those who stayed are provided with the whole armor of God. The talk of shields and swords and breastplates and helmets may not be appealing to us who prefer the image of beating swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. But Marcus Barth, who spent years working on the Anchor Bible commentary on Ephesians, researched every item of equipment mentioned here and found that every item was the equipment of an officer. There is no one of low rank in Gods army. All Gods soldiers are equal!
Psalm 45:1-2, 6-9;Song of Solomon 2:8-13;James 1:17-27;Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
The heading for this weeks meditation is from the New Revised Standard Versions Hebrew scripture passage.
The voice of my beloved!/Look, he comes/leaping upon the mountains/bounding over the hills.
Look, there he stands/behind our wall/gazing in at window/ looking through the lattice.
Song of Solomon 2:8, 9b
Its wonderful and exciting poetry, pulsating with youth and vigor. One wonders what form of denial was operating that made the old King James version caption these exuberant frolics of young love as "Churchs Love for Christ" and "The Love of Christ and His Church." That Christ and that church were hardly a part of human experience when these wedding songs were written. The ancient Hebrews knew what they were about when they acknowledged sexuality the full range of the body as worthy to be celebrated, a fit offering for God.
Perhaps a pale glimpse of this experience lingers in the Havergal hymn we sang in Sunday school:
Take my hands and let them move
At the impulse of thy love:
Take my heart, it is thine own
It shall be thy royal throne.
The responsive psalm is an ode for a royal wedding. The colors and the odors excite.
The gospel passage shows the evangelist in a strangely didactic mode that, though not intended, can give us food for reflecting on how we have been reluctant to enjoy our bodies. Jesus is calling into question the scrupulous tradition about washing before eating. "Listen to me, all of you and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile."
The Bard of Avon remembered that. There is "nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." 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).
Correction: In Julys "Living The Word," we incorrectly listed the readings for July 31. The New Testament readings are Ephesians 4:1-16 and John 6:24-35.