The Prophet Versus the Establishment
2009-07-09 by Pat Harbison
I’m first struck by God’s words: “I will never again pass them by.” Does this mean that God will NOT ignore them/ neglect them/ walk by them again? -OR- as in the Message, does this mean that God will not ‘spare them again’ -OR- does this refer to a theophany as when God passed by Elijah when the prophet was in the cave or when Jesus was about to pass by the disciples when they were in the boat and Jesus walked to them on the sea?? The latter two fit the rest of Amos’s prophetic words. It seems that God has had enough of the people’s unfaithfulness. God will no longer spare them and will no longer favor them with God’s presence. Furthermore, their ‘holy’ places will be destroyed.
Amos and his prophecy come in direct conflict with the religious establishment which seems to be telling the people what they want to hear. The established priest of Bethel, Amaziah, informed the king of Amos’ message and sent Amos away so that he would no longer speak such difficult words. Amos retorted with, ‘I’m only doing what God has called me to do. Amos does not claim the role of prophet for himself, but identifies himself as one who was minding his own business, doing his own thing as a hersdman and dresser of sycamore trees when God gave him the words to speak. Ironically, his obedience to God put him in danger as he clashed with worldly powers.
Several issues arise:
1. Places designated as ‘holy’ by the people may not be considered holy by God.
2. Amos is a prophet by God’s calling not by his own self-identity.
3. The ‘established’ priest was in tight with the king.
4. Obedience to God requires risk (cf. John the Baptist, Amos)
Might this narrative be morphed into a message for the church today? Could the mainline, American church be in decline b/c the high places we have established for ourselves are being torn down by God so that we might hear the prophetic challenges of God’s desire for God’s people? Has God decided to not ‘pass us by’ - that is, not show us God’s presence - until we act according to the prophetic word of justice and true holiness?
Holy God, help your church hear the prophetic word then give us courage to respond in fiathfulness.
Speaking and Silence
2009-07-08 by Rosemary Beales
Thank you, Pat, for your fruitful meditations on the psalm. This is an especially challenging gospel since we have barely a glimpse of Jesus, and we hear nothing from him or for that matter, from John in the present tense. But it comes after the deeds of power that disciples were doing, the deeds that stirred up Herod's anxiety. So Jesus' power hovers over this passage whic,h as you rightly remind us, is about politics and power.
I have a little grandson who is 3 years old. These days, we can have a conversation on the phone. Just the other day, i was struck that now he knows how to talk, he is learning to say something. There is a difference. It takes 2-3 years to learn to talk. It takes a lifetime to learn to say something. John, and Jesus, had learned to say something that mattered, and it cost them their lives. When do I have the courage to say what really matters? And when, equally important, do I silence others who are speaking hard truths -- not by beheading, surely, but by easy dismissal, ridicule or hasty counter argument? These are what I'm pondering as Sunday draws near.
Good and Evil
2009-07-08 by Pat Harbison
The psalmist prays for the ability to hear what God will speak to God’s people. The psalmist is confident that God will speak peace to those who are aligned with God’s purposes - ‘to those who turn to God their hearts.’
God’s speaking, then is made real/ is incarnate in god’s actions. I remember learning in Hebrew class that dabar = God’s word = God’s deeds/ action; either translation is accurate in Genesis. God’s word and God’s acting is one in the same. God is the One of perfect integrity of word and deed.
The result of God’s word/ deed is God’s salvation which is described in the poetic language of verses 10 & 11: steadfast love and faithfulness meeting - righteousness and peace kissing each other - further emphasizing this aspect of God’s being. The psalmist acknowledges that it is God who gives what is good.
Herod did not hear God speak peace and as a result, John was beheaded. This psalm may contribute to a theodicy discussion when read with the gospel lesson. Understanding John to be among the faithful of God’s people, the question arises, ‘why do bad things happen to good people?’ Why did John not experience the goodness described in Ps 85:12? (I could also ask , ‘Why was Jesus crucified?) The answer doesn’t have to do with God but with Herod who did ‘not turn to God in his heart.’ Herod w as attracted to the gospel message of John but was too caught up in himself to let that message rule his life. Instead, his lust, power and ego all lead to John’s death.
There will always be Herods in our lives/ in this world until ‘thy kingdom com, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’ Therefore, this psalm points to an eschatalogical vision of God’s kingdom/ a hope for God’s people.
In the meantime, we are called to strain to hear what God will speak. We are beckoned to turn to God in our hearts so that God’s salvation/ God’s kingdom may be near/ among/ within us as Jesus speaks about it in the gospel.
Holy God, thank you for the tastes of the kingdom with which you bless me each day. For the beauty of the earth, the wonders of creation, your amazing love that I experience through my husband and children, your creativity in the delightful joys of my grandchildren and so much more. Let me hear what you speak so that I may share the good news of your love with others. You do give what is good. May your kingdom grow. Use me to that end to your glory.
Hearing in Mark 6:14-29
2009-07-06 by Pat Harbison
This story revolves around King Herod hearing ‘of it’. I can’t be sure to what ‘it’ refers. NRSV states: ‘King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. REB is more specific: ‘Now King Herod heard of Jesus for his fame had spread.’ The Message offers: ‘When King Herod heard of all this.’ ‘It’/ ‘all of this’ might refer to the disciples being sent out and the results of their ministry (6:7-13) and/or Jesus going about the villages teaching (6:6b) and/or of Jesus’ rejection in his home town (6:1-6a) and/ or all that has happened thus far in the gospel story (reflecting the same ambiguity of the reference in 1:1 to ‘the beginning of the good news...’). Whatever ‘it’ refers to, the result of Herod’s hearing was his conclusion that Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the dead (6:16).
The narrative flashes back to the beheading of John at the end of a story of power and politics. Herod had ‘protected John’ because he ‘feared John, knowing that John was a righteous and holy man’. It is striking that Herod acts b/c he thinks he knows. NRSV presents Herod as greatly perplexed when he heard John, yet he liked to listen to him. REB describes Herod as greatly disturbed and the MSG has him miserable with guilt. But although Herod was attracted to John and his message, worldly concerns over saving face caused Herod to keep John at a distance and ultimately to kill him.
It seems that ‘hearing’ dominates this text. Herod hears John’s message, heard condemnation re. his brother’s wife, heard of Jesus (or of his ministry), heard Herodias’ daughter’s request. Others hearing of Jesus speculate about who Jesus might be. The narrative ends with John’s disciples hearing of John’s fate and taking his body away.
Hearing the good news about Jesus is essential to evangelism. I wonder about what the ‘it’ is that people outside our communities of faith hear. I wonder how Jesus’ name is being made known: many of the ‘others’ hear mostly from the far right and the far left or from churches that claim the name of Jesus but are harshly judgmental or coldly exclusive.
I’m wondering if this text is a parable for the church today. Those outside the church have heard our and others’ preaching - with both words and actions (or lack thereof). Some are greatly disturbed, some miserable with guilt, some greatly perplexed. Some come to their own conclusions about Jesus and about us. Some think they know. Some, even though they know, would be content to continue to hear, but instead respond to worldly issues and pressures to the death of the faithful ministries.
Holy and Merciful God, forgive the failure of your church to faithfully proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ in a way that all might hear and welcome. Forgive me for my contentment with the way things are. Forgive me for how quickly I succumb to the pressures of this world to the detriment of potentially faithful ministries. Open my ears that I may not only share but faithfully proclaim your love and grace in Christ.
The Spiritual Discipline of a District Superintendent
2009-07-06 by Pat Harbison
My name is Patricia Harbison and I am an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church currently serving in my sixth year as a district superintendent. What an amazing experience of learning and inspiration blessed me at the Festival of Homiletics in May! I left Atlanta even more convinced that God was calling me back to the local church where I would be privileged again to preach every week. (Hopefully, next year??)
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