A reflection on the readings for Proper 14B: 2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33; Psalm 130; and Ephesians 4:25-5:2.
The other night I watched the season finale of “So You Think You Can Dance.” As a dance major in college I tend to be captivated by the show and freely add my commentary along with that of the judges. What really caught my eye this year was the leg extensions exhibited by all the dancers – beautiful, graceful, strong, and high! That kind of leg extension only happens when one is both very strong and very flexible. To have both strength and flexibility one must work to build muscle and stretch muscle. Building muscle will build strength but it also makes muscles tight and prone to injury. Stretching muscle keeps one flexible. But gaining flexibility without building strength can also cause injury. Muscles and bones, along with ligaments and tendons, must all work together to enable a body to move in a healthy way.
I can always tell when I have over worked to build muscle and failed to stretch – I throw out my lower back. It’s a painful reminder that I need to balance exercise in the same way I strive to balance all of life.
Friday a number of us gathered for a retreat to reflect on what we mean by Stewardship. Nearly two years ago the vestry determined that we need to come to a new understanding of who we are and whose we are and center that in year-long stewardship. This retreat was a intended to be a significant step in that direction. By design the retreat was both the culmination of 7 months of preparation and reading, initiated when Canon Timothy Dombek spoke to us in January, and the initiation of a new way of understanding who we are. The retreat was led by our own Doug and Norvene Vest focusing on “The Spirituality of Giving.” Much of what we reflected on was intended to stretch us. To do this Doug and Norvene offered a great metaphor: a rubber band, when stretched has tiny holes in it, which allow it to stretch without breaking. Our spiritual life is similar, it too gets stretched, and holes form, holes which make room for God.
We all go through times in life when we are stretched – physically, spiritually, emotionally. Generally these times of being stretched are uncomfortable. Sometimes the stretching is so painful we wonder if God has abandoned us and we fear we will break. That’s the kind of pain I hear in the agony of the king in 2nd Samuel when he learns of the death of Absalom. As the story of David continues we learn more about the sorrow of his life: in part the consequences of David’s own actions. His deceit, his favoritism of one child over another, murder and violence toward both family and nation, have brought on great tragedy. The consequences of his actions cause David some painful stretching.
Psalm 130 also points us to this painful stretching “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord, Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!” Then the Psalmist, takes a breath, expanding into a place of hope in God. It’s as if the Psalmist is experiencing life like a rubber band – stretching causes expansion, expansion opens up the possibility of God. And into that possibility God comes! Surely the Psalmist understands this, “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope.” When stretched to our limits something inside us opens a space for God. As God fills this space, this opening, the person has the distinct sensation of being loved. This is a well known spiritual reality and the subject of many books.
Thomas A Kempis, Christian mystic, wrote a gentle thoughtful book in the 16th century on this subject called, “Imitation of Christ.” Here is a small portion from the fifth chapter titled: The Wonderful Effect of Divine Love,
“ Ah, Lord God, my holy Lover, when You come into my heart, all that is within me will rejoice. You are my glory and the exultation of my heart. You are my hope and refuge in the day of my tribulation. But because my love is as yet weak and my virtue imperfect, I must be strengthened and comforted by You. Visit me often, therefore, and teach me Your holy discipline. Free me from evil passions and cleanse my heart of all disorderly affection so that, healed and purified within, I may be fit to love….”
Ephesians uses a beautiful Greek word to convey this kind of love, a word that we miss in English: chrēstos, which means kindness, in the manner that Christ was loving and compassionate. The Letter to the Ephesians reminds us that “chrestos” – kindness – is God’s love manifesting as action in our lives – what we do, what we say, and how we treat one another. Scripture reminds us over and over that loving kindness ought to be the foundation of our behavior toward one another.
Perhaps, though, we can understand this better through the words of Plato, a Greek Philosopher who has had a big impact on Christian thought . Plato said, "be kinder than necessary--everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle." [i]
[i] i.ucc blog, Kate Huey