Here are my thoughts for the Sunday Vespers in the Garden. This should have been entitled “Continuing the Story” but I didn’t think of that until after the Vespers were over.
I have a secret to share with you this evening; I didn’t pick the Scriptures or the theme for this evening’s message or for any of the Fridays or Sundays. They came from a book that I was given when I began lay speaking over twenty years ago. The readings are based on the common lectionary and developed by some group quite a few years ago. I don’t know who the group was or why they picked the particular scriptures, especially for the weekday readings but I do know that the selections were designed so that over a three year period, one will read the entire Bible.
Now, if the readings for today (2 Samuel 7: 18 – 29, Ephesians 1: 1 – 10, and Mark 6: 7 – 13) see a little different than those read this morning, it is probably because 1) the pastor or lay speaker has their own plan in mind (which isn’t all that bad) or 2) they are using the revised common lectionary.
My pastor when I first began lay speaking was John Praetorius and he would set down early one Saturday every August and lay out a series of readings, hymns, and messages for about sixty weeks and then print them out as a booklet for the congregation. Obviously, he didn’t do all the thinking about it in one night, rather writing down his thoughts as they occurred and then putting them together in one long session. And since he was working on a 60-week cycle, he already had some of the weeks already recorded from the previous year’s session. This was the model that he inherited from his father and grandfather, both preachers and bishops in the Evangelical United Brethren Church.
Now, when I began lay speaking I used the basis of this model simply because I would only be preaching a few times a year and it was an easy model to follow. It is also something of the model that we give to beginning lay speakers, pick one or two scripture readings that you are familiar with and write a message that you can use if you are called at the last minute.
When I began preaching every week, it wasn’t easy to use that model so I went to a lectionary based model, first with the common lectionary in my prayer guide and then with revised common lectionary. Following the lectionary is a good idea if because it gives you an outline for the coming weeks and it also allows you to see how other ministers might be using the same three scripture readings. When I was living in Pittsburg, Kansas, back in 1995, practically every pastor was using the same three scripture readings each week but you could easily see that each person had their own take on what the scriptures said.
The downside of the lectionary readings approach is that if you do not read the Bible during the week, you sometimes wonder what or how a particular reading fits into the scheme of things. Also, many of the traditional Bible stories that we learned in Sunday School are not in the lectionary; that is, of course, why we learned them in Sunday School. So, if you only come to a Sunday morning worship and don’t partake in some sort of Sunday School or Bible study, you are likely to miss something. (I bring this up for the most obvious reading and because someone asked me during Grannie Annie’s Kitchen yesterday if there was any sort of Bible study available; the hunger of the soul can be as great as the hunger of the body).
It is not a requirement that the minister or speaker use all three lectionary readings; we encourage beginning lay speakers to focus on one of the three and there are many ministers who will do likewise. I never received those instructions in my beginning classes so I tend to find a way to use all three readings for a Sunday morning service and two readings for the Vespers service on Sunday; it does present some interesting challenges.
I bring this all to you because it helps if you know why we read David’s prayer in Samuel for the first reading this evening. It is entirely possible to read or hear it as it is, without any knowledge about what transpired in the previous section or what is to come in the next section. It sounds as if David is celebrating the presence of God in his life and one might even think, from what he said, that God is going to give a house to David.
I can think of a number of preachers who follow the prosperity Gospel theme that would use that approach.
And while it is a celebratory prayer, it is also a prayer of caution. If we had read the previous section, we would know that the prophet Nathan has told David what God intends to do and that the house of David, David’s family, will play a very important role in the future of Israel and the world. The house that God will build for David is not some physical house but the genealogical house that bring Joseph of Nazareth and his wife Mary to Bethlehem and the birth of Jesus.
If we read further, we will find that David wants to build a house for God, a massive temple to house the Ark of the Covenant and replace the tent structure that the Ark is presently sitting in. But God will not allow David to build the Temple and it will be Solomon who builds the First Temple.
Thus, the beginning of the story is that God’s promise to build the house of David is the announcement of Jesus’ birth and ministry. But it does not end there; the story continues when Jesus sends out the 12 into the world.
Again, we have to understand that this is a post-Pentecostal mission but a mission within the context of Jesus’ own ministry. And it is direct contrast to the attitudes of many of the prosperity gospel preachers and those ministers who feel the Word of God is only appreciated in a $2,000 Armani suit or those who would much rather have some sort of magnificent edifice in which to worship God.
I will not argue against the need for some place where we can meet and worship God but the command of Jesus was to fulfill the mission where the people were not, have the people come to the church.
I think it is entirely possible that we could read the passage from Samuel as if we were the ones who were thanking God. If we have accepted Christ as a Savior, we have every reason to be thanking God for what He is doing for us and for our family. But we also have to know the pitfalls and dangers that will lie before us if we keep those blessings and good fortune for ourselves. We are the ones, who like the 12, have been asked, in fact told that we need to go out into the world, to send the demons packing, to bring wellness to the sick, to anoint their bodies, and heal their spirits.
It is not enough to thank God for what he has given to us if we are not willing to share it with others.