Petition and understanding

6th Sunday after Pentecost (July 24, 2011)
Common Lectionary Readings:
I Kings 3:5-12; Ps. 119:129-136; Rom. 8:26-39; Matt. 13:31-33, 44-52

This week we said tearful good byes to five SALT workers (Serving and Learning Together) who spent the last 11 months in Jordan, Palestine, Iraq and Syria. Janae, Joanna, Sara, Trisha and Jordan have volunteered with MCC partners across the region – assisting in classroom settings, teaching English, applying for grants, editing newsletters, conducting research, managing English-language correspondence, translating documents and performing a host of other activities. They have served with distinction. We have been bolstered by the youthful energy and vision which have punctuated their presence here. We will miss them.

Sara (MCC Palestine), Joanna (MCC Iraq), Jordan (MCC Syria), Janae (MCC Palestine) and Trisha (MCC Jordan) at airport in Amman

We celebrated our 30th anniversary, July 18, with a quiet dinner at one of our favorite restaurants. We have so much to be thankful for in these 30 years – three wonderful children, a great daughter-in-law (and a grandchild on the way!); happy memories of years together in Mississippi, Virginia, Maryland, Washington, D.C. and now the Middle East. Across these years, God has provided generously for us.

Demonstrations continued across the region on Friday this week. Protesters in Amman burned a U.S. flag, complaining of unhelpful U.S. interference in the reform movement in Jordan. While the number of demonstrators in Jordan has been small compared to surrounding countries, the protests appear to be intensifying in their demand for reforms that will increase power sharing and end government corruption and cronyism.

Jordanian protesters burn U.S. flag in downtown Amman (Mohammad Hannon/Associated Press photo)

Protesters also took to the streets in Syria and Egypt.

The Common Lectionary readings this week focus on petition and understanding.

In the Old Testament reading God appears in a dream to the young king Solomon and says, “Ask what I should give you.” (I Kings 3:5) To God’s delight, Solomon does not ask for riches or long life or harm to his enemies. Instead Solomon asks, “Give your servant . . . and understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil . . .” (v.9)

The psalmist writes: “The unfolding of (God’s) words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.” (Ps. 119:130. The psalmist makes six requests of God: “Turn to me and be gracious” (v.132); “Keep my steps steady according to your promise” (v.133a); “Never let iniquity have dominion over me” (133b); “Redeem me from human oppression” (v.134a); “Make your face shine upon your servant” (v.135a); and “teach me your statutes” (v.135b)

In the Epistle reading Paul writes that even though we do not understand how to pray as we ought, God’s Spirit helps us in our weakness, interceding on our behalf “according to the will of God.” (Rom. 8:26-27) This same Spirit helps us understand that nothing can separate us from God’s love (vv.27-39).

In the Gospel reading Jesus tells parables to help his followers understand the essence of God’s kingdom (Matt. 13:51). God’s kingdom is like a small mustard seed that grows to become a great tree (vv.31-32); like yeast that leavens a large amount of flour (v.33); like a treasure or pearls — so valuable that one is willing to sell everything in order to buy them (vv.44-45); and like a net that catches every kind of fish in the sea (vv.47-50).

While many protesters in the region feel that their petitions are not heard or understood, the Lectionary readings remind us that God is not distant, secretive or unsympathetic to our situation. God’s will is revealed clearly in the Scriptures, in the life and stories of Jesus, and through God’s Spirit who lives in us. God responds favorably to our petitions for help – even when we don’t know how to ask or what to ask for. These are hopeful assurances for unsettling times.

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