Sunday Stretch: Vol. 44
Start off your week with a grounded take on Bible, prayer, the world, and your life ...
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
NOTHING IN ALL CREATION.
If you’re like me, maybe you’re feeling the dog days of summer (in the Northern Hemisphere) right about now. You’re loving the long days, the warm nights, the creation teeming.
And maybe, too, you’re sweating. So much. And you’re itching bug bites all over, especially on your feet and ankles, skin rubbed red and raw.
You’re wondering how it will be that this world can possibly endure, as our climate gets hotter and people suffer, and there seems to be no unified collective will to care for our planet in any real, meaningful way.
So you water, and you drink water, and you work, and you pay bills, and maybe, this morning, you read your Bible.
Nothing in all creation.
Notice that God’s promise is not even explicitly of salvation, or restoration, or freedom. Paul asserts God’s promise in the language of connection. God is here with us. Here in this place. God goes with us. We go together. Maybe, just maybe, with the help of God, we can find such a collective will for life that our planet desperately needs.
Here’s hoping. Let’s get to (all) the texts …
1 Kings 3:5-12
1Kings 3:5 At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I should give you.” 6 And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today. 7 And now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. 8 And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. 9 Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?”
1Kings 3:10 It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. 11 God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, 12 I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you.
This story of King Solomon reminds me of an audiobook I’ve been listening to lately, called Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing by actor Matthew Perry. I don’t often read celebrity memoirs, to be honest, but Perry apparently wrote this without a ghostwriter, and I’ve found his honesty around addiction and the emptiness of fame to actually be quite profound. Early in the book, Perry recounts a prayer he offered to God, promising anything in return if God would just make Perry famous. Solomon’s story is the somewhat rare Biblical account of this popular “wish-fulfillment” idea of God. And while Solomon did not wish for the popular requests of wealth or power, according to the Bible, he received both in addition to wisdom. God looked kindly upon Solomon’s desire for wisdom. Perhaps it meant an inborn desire to look outside himself.
Questions to Ponder
What would you have asked for? Why?
Solomon’s request for wisdom seemed to come from his awareness of his lack thereof. Maybe instead of being ashamed of your shortcomings, you could see them as an opportunity to ask for God’s help. Say a prayer asking for God’s help in places where you struggle.
How does one become wise in the absence of an experience like Solomon’s? Who do you know who is wise?
Rom. 8:26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27 And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
Rom. 8:28 We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.
Rom. 8:31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
As I read over this passage again and again, I am struck anew by verse 37. More than conquerors. The history of Christianity, particularly white European Christianity, in the world, has often been one of conquest and colonialism. But Paul suggests here a different path for the followers of Jesus. As we read verse 37 in combination with verse 38, I have to wonder: what if Christians saw ourselves as called not to conquer but to coexist?
Find a way to commit this Bible passage to memory: either by writing it down, saving it to a Notes app, or memorizing it. Romans 8:26-39. This is a passage that I have often read near the bedside of suffering and dying parishioners, friends, and family members. Keep it near to you so that you have it close in times where comfort is needed.
Paul could have just said “Nothing can separate us from God.” But instead he goes down a lengthy list of extremes. Why do you think Paul took his time to make this point so emphatically?
Take a moment to think about the things and relationships in your life that weigh on you most heavily, for which you sometimes don’t have the words to offer prayer. Breathe in, slowly, counting to 4. Breathe out, slowly, counting to 6. Invite yourself to experience the presence of the Holy Spirit, interceding into these places and relationships, with sighs too deep for words.
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
Matt. 13:31 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32 it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”
Matt. 13:33 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”
Matt. 13:44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
Matt. 13:45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; 46 on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
Matt. 13:47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; 48 when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. 49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50 and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Matt. 13:51 “Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” 52 And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”
It’s a bit jarring to read these somewhat cryptic words from Jesus after the sweeping Pauline rhetoric of our second reading. And you have to laugh a little in verse 51, where Jesus asks:
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