Monday, June 29, 2015

A Different Kind of Greatness- Lectionary readings for July 5

I'm going to try blogging again. I never made the decision to stop, but for about the last two years I've been so stressed and overwhelmed I just never had enough energy to flesh thoughts out enough to post. But now I'm in a new ministry context, part of a great staff team, and I don't have to solve every single problem that comes up!

The Staff-Parish Chair here at Christ UMC (who, incidentally I went to seminary with) asked me what was I "worried about" going from a Lead Pastor role to being on a staff. Nothing really "worries" me per say but the biggest change at the outset is not preaching every single week. So to get back in the swing of blogging, each Monday I'll post thoughts on the lectionary texts for the coming Sunday.

The readings for Sunday, July 5 can be found at Vanderbilt's Lectionary site.

In 2 Samuel 5, David takes his place as Israel's king after Saul's death, and as verse 10 tells us, "David became greater and greater, for the LORD, the God of hosts, was with him." God's favor and David's greatness seems intertwined. But what did this greatness get him once he was on the throne? He murdered one of his most loyal soldiers to cover up a fling with the soldier's wife, his children fought him and each other constantly, and he died alone and miserable.

Contrast that concept of "greatness" with what Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12, and how Jesus' hometown neighbors react to his teaching in Mark 6. Paul keeps asking God to remove his "thorn in the flesh", never elaborating on what it is, but God replies, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness." Paul is not impressing anybody on his own. Anything great that comes from him is clearly from God. It may be that Paul is the one who needs that reminder more than anyone else.

The same counter-intuitive definition of "greatness" shows up in this week's gospel reading. Jesus is astounding everyone with his teaching, but the people in his hometown can't get past the fact that he used to play baseball with their little brother, or that Jesus took their cousin to the prom (he brought her home before curfew, of course). In their minds a great rabbi should have his seminary degree from Jerusalem and wear fancy robes. The t-shirt and jeans guy I used to wrestle with on the playground can't possibly be a great teacher.

God's definition of greatness looks a whole lot different than ours. Great things from God come through the means we don't expect. It has to work that way because we human beings are so thick-headed we'll come up with any reason to explain why something happened. "That guy's just really smart." "Wow, what a crazy coincidence. You sure got lucky!" It's easier that way, because if it's all up to us, if our definition of "greatness" really is true, then we have some measure of control.

The scariest thing, perhaps the most faithful thing that we can do when something unexpected happens is not rush to explain it away, but to sit back, look around, and say "huh, maybe God's up to something here..."