Seek the Lord while he wills to be found; *
call upon him when he draws near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways *
and the evil ones their thoughts;
And let them turn to the Lord, and he will have compassion, *
and to our God, for he will richly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, *
nor your ways my ways, says the Lord. (BCP 86)
Today, we see in the lessons, canticles, and collects of Morning Prayer three examples of the upside down ways of God.
It was only a question … gosh!
In the OT reading we have the beginning of the story of David and Goliath, which we may remember from childhood as the victory of the small over the great. David with his slingshot (and his faith) triumphs over the strength and weapons of the giant Philistine.
David, the youngest brother, is only supposed to be bringing food to his older brothers, but he hears around the camp that the king will reward whoever kills Goliath.
His eldest brother Eliab heard him talking to the men; and Eliab’s anger was kindled against David. He said, “Why have you come down? With whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your presumption and the evil of your heart; for you have come down just to see the battle.” David said, “What have I done now? It was only a question.” (1 Samuel 17:28-29)
But there’s also a subversive political strain to the story, since the shepherd boy David is being groomed by God to supplant the king of Israel. The anointing of God is being taken away from Saul and giving to David instead.
God shows no partiality
We see that same subversive streak in the lesson from the Acts of the Apostles.
Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ– he is Lord of all. … While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (Acts 10:34-36; 44-47)
The anointing of the Holy Spirit, which the disciples had assumed was an additional gift to the Chosen People — the Jews who believed in Jesus as Lord — is now falling on anyone who hears the good news.
Even Gentiles are receiving God’s spirit. What next?
You stretched out your arms of love
What’s next for the disciples is the conviction that in Jesus, God was acting to save all people.
Paul’s letters crisscross the Mediterranean world, reminding new Christians that grace, not law, is their guide and salvation …
The Gospel writers begin to compile their chronicles of Jesus’ life and teaching, four accounts that together draw out just how upside down his message was, for those with ears to hear.
John, writing later than the others, even recounts Jesus saying “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them in also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:16).
The religious rules and the political order both turn upside down in the face of God’s grace and truth, seen most clearly in Jesus’ last gift of love.
A Prayer for Mission
Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen. (BCP 101)