by Bruce Epperly
Lectionary Relfections for June 27, 2010
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14; Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20; Galatians 5:1, 13-25; Luke 9:51-62
One of the most important theological questions is: “What can I expect of God and what can I expect of myself?” I believe that trusting that God can do great things in our lives and in the world inspires us to do great things to transform our world. God is not competitive with humankind, and in the spirit of John 14:12 wants us to do “greater things than we can imagine.” Sadly, moderate and progressive Christians have often expected too little from God and ourselves when we need to call out for a “double share” of God’s blessings to respond to the apparently unsolvable economic, environmental, and political issues we face. This is not magic or supernaturalism, but awareness that God is present in our lives and the world, providing us with possibilities for personal and communal transformation and the energy to achieve them.
The story of Elijah’s blessing of his disciple Elisha is a study in persistence. When everyone else falls back, Elisha continues to follow his mentor and teacher. He disregards his teacher’s insistence that he turn back like the others, and when Elijah asks how he might bless him, Elisha boldly asks for a “double share of your spirit” and then receives it!
Today, only a holy imagination will save us: we need to dream big and then follow our dreams, if we are to survive and flourish congregationally, denominationally, and spiritually. While we need to be cognizant of our current situation, we also need to pray and act boldly on God’s behalf, recognizing that realism includes possibility as well as limitation. Elisha’s request is not a matter of greed or superiority, but a way of realizing his vocation as God’s spokesperson in a difficult time in his nation’s history and religious life. Openness to divine possibility and energy in difficult times is not denial of life’s challenges, but a deeper realism that recognizes that God is at work within the limitations of our lives.
Paul captures the same spirit of abundance and expectation in Galatians. “For freedom Christ has set us free” is a call to creativity, imagination, and action. In the spirit of Romans 12:2, we are to seek a transformed mind, rather than being conformed to the divisive and deathful ways of the world. The ways of the flesh constrict our hearts and minds, while the ways of the spirit open us to a world of possibility and relationship. Like a good parent, God wants us to excel, that is, to do new and unexpected things. Guided by the moral compass of “love, joy, peace, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control,” we will use our freedom wisely, yet adventurously.
The gospel reading explores the temptation to respond with violence – either in word or deed – when others turn their backs on us or disparage our deepest values. Inspired by God’s presence, the disciples do not have to succeed, nor do they use coercive methods to achieve their spiritual goals. When we have failed to achieve our goals, we are called to trust that God’s grace continues and will eventually open the hearts of those we presume hard-hearted. There are no God-forsaken places; and even though a group of Samaritans ignore the disciples’ message, God will continue to work in their lives, inviting them day by day to claim their place in God’s realm.
Violence and coercion are the manifestations of fear and scarcity; of our fear that God will abandon us if we do not succeed. While our thoughts and actions shape to greater or lesser degree the nature of God’s activity in our lives, God will constantly seek our well-being whether we succeed or fail in sharing God’s good news in our world. This enables us – and the disciples – to let go of rejection and failure, trusting that will bring new possibilities from every life situation.
Today’s passages invite us to choose to expect great things from God and ourselves. In opening to divine abundance and creativity, we go beyond polarizing thinking and discover new ways to transform our world. Today, the preacher might invite his congregation to dream big, that is, to ask for a double share of grace – of divine empowerment – so that we might become God’s partners in transforming the world.
Bruce Epperly is Professor of Practical Theology and Director of Continuing Education at Lancaster Theological Seminary and co-pastor of Disciples Community Church in Lancaster, PA. He is the author of seventeen books, including Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living and Tending to the Holy: The Practice of the Presence of God in Ministry.