Inspiration and Vocation: Reflections on Sunday's Scripture Texts
In contrast to the intimacy of God, described in the call of Jeremiah and Psalm 70, the passage from Hebrews portrays the grandeur and majesty of God. God is more than we can imagine. Our words about God are fallible and imperfect, and can never encompass the fullness of divine revelation. This is also, surprisingly, good news -- it calls us to humility in our vocations and in our preaching and reminds us that nothing we say about God can fully describe the divine. We see in a mirror dimly and carry the treasures of our faith in earthen vessels. God cannot be reduced to human desire or aspiration, even though God is constantly inspiring and guiding our pathways. Even though the author of Hebrews describes God as a consuming fire, the divine fire is first of all loving and healing. Love, not power, defines God's relationship with humankind.
The gospel reading describes the vocation of the present moment. Jesus was a healer -- he transformed persons' minds, bodies, and spirits; he mediated divine healing energy to broken, neglected, and ostracized persons. In today's scripture, a woman suffering from chronic illness for eighteen years "appeared" while Jesus was teaching. It was the Sabbath and Jesus could have waited till the next day. But, perhaps, this was the only time that she could be cured; there might never again be the constellation of elements necessary for her transformation -- her faith and courage, a holy place of prayer, and Jesus' healing presence. While this is a "controversy story" in which Jesus is pitted against religious legalists and leaders, it is more than that -- it is a recognition that even though divine healing and liberation can be disruptive of our religious norms, we need to follow the call of the moment.
Obviously this woman disrupted Jesus' lecture. Jesus could have told her to wait, just as we might tell someone to let us finish our sermon. But, Jesus' life and teaching were seamless. Her healing became part of his lecture; in fact, the lecture and healing revealed God's words made flesh in that moment of time. He changed his topic because she showed up in need of God's healing touch. Jesus' healing was surely the embodiment of the maxim: comfort the agitated and agitate the comfortable. Jesus let his message be interrupted for a greater good -- the vocation of the present moment -- for Jesus came for "just such a time as this." (For more on the healings of Jesus from a 21st-century perspective, see my books, God's Touch: Faith, Wholeness, and the Healing Miracles of Jesus and Healing Worship: Purpose and Practice.)
Now, it is generally appropriate to follow the principle, identified with Presbyterian polity, "decent and in order." But, the gospel invites us to ponder the power of chaotic, novel, and disorderly moments to transform our lives. Healing is, like disease, always novel, transformative, and unsettling of the status quo. I recall another maxim, based on the favorite hymn, "Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine" -- it goes "blessed disturber, I am his." God's inspiration always calls us to go further than we expected; it does not sanctify the status quo, as good as the present moment may be; it affirms what is and calls us to be grateful and affirmative, but it also challenges us to take the next steps of creative transformation in God's realm of shalom.
Divine inspiration undergirds our sense of vocation -- in the present moment and over the long haul. Vocation always takes us to a new place, inviting us to new possibilities and potentially upsetting the norms of the community and our personal rituals. But, in the midst of creative and chaotic transformation, God is with us, inspiring, guiding, and supporting.
Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, pastor, and author of twenty one books, including Process Theology: A Guide for the Perplexed, Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living, and The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for lectures, workshops, and retreats.