Adventurous Lectionary: Divine Parenting and Human Well-Being – July 28, 2013

Lectionary Reflections for Pentecost 10 — July 28, 2013

Texts: Hosea 1:2-10; Psalm 85; Colossians 2:6-15; Luke 11:1-13

Today’s readings are profoundly theocentric in their proclamation of a universal God for whom the affairs of humans and nations are of significance. The readings also present the many faces of God – as challenger, restorer, enemy, parent, and transformer. The God of Hosea is morally ambiguous, destroying and demeaning as a prelude to new creation. The Psalmist images God as the source of national restoration.  Colossians speaks of the life-transforming energy of the cosmic Christ and Luke connects prayer with divine agency in the world. Luke’s God transcends the ambiguity of Hosea, seeking only our best and giving us more than we can ask or imagine. Despite God’s life-transforming energy, we need to be willing to ask and in so doing expect great things from both God and ourselves. Our asking and questing opens up new dimensions of divine activity for the well-being of ourselves and others.

The first chapter of Hosea begins what is, at best, an ambiguous vision of divine guidance and morality. Johnny Cash once titled a song, “A Boy Named Sue.” God is equally heartless in the naming of Hosea’s children. Although the passage promises divine restoration, this restoration is symbolized through the objectification of Hosea’s children and later in the text, Gomer herself. I wonder what Hosea, Gomer,or the children felt at the names God chose for the children. I wonder if they ever came to trust a God who saw them as object lessons rather than flesh and blood persons, whose lives may have been scarred by the divine negativity. Was Hosea as comfortable with God’s objectification of his children as the text assumes.

There is no way to get around the divine ambiguity in Hosea. Regardless of her infidelity, Gomer is the object of spousal abuse. The violence she experienced is seen as an object lesson and such objectification reflects the violence committed against women throughout the ages.  No compassionate preacher can let God – or Hosea – off the hook. Divine and human punishment serves no purpose unless redemption is the ultimate goal.  But, even here, traumatization cannot be justified.  Divine goals and divine means must be connected for God to maintain God’s moral identity. Tough love can be described as loving only if it is measured and considerate of those who are the subjects of our discipline. Violence is never justified to prove a point and make an example of another.   We cannot excuse divine violence any more than human violence.  Might does not make right whether the parental might be divine or human. As we examine visions of God, we need to ask:  Is God as moral as we are? Is God merely powerful, ruling through fear, or is love the primary characteristic of God’s relationship with the world?

The Psalmist prays for restoration of the nation.  Apart from God, the nation is lost: only a power greater than the nation itself can restore Israel to wholeness. Friedrich Schleiermacher once spoke of sheer or absolute dependence as characteristic of our relationship with God. Today, a more relational theology might make the same point by invoking sheer interdependence.  Apart from divine care, we are lost; still we are not passive objects, but subjects whose actions can change the world and add or detract from God’s work in the world. Good parenting receives as well as gives and nurtures interdependence rather than passivity among the children.

Colossians continues with its hymn to the cosmic Christ. The fullness of deity dwells in Christ and this deity is conveyed to us in through the ritual of baptism. Baptism is a mystic rite; an expression of a shamanic community in which the divine spirit is shared to us through the rites of the church. We are truly transformed in baptism and the realities of divine forgiveness. The cosmic Christ has overcome all the powers that might imprison us. With Romans 8, Colossians affirms that nothing can separate us from the love of God.  In baptism, we share in death and experience new life in Christ. We are truly transformed in the baptismal waters, becoming a truly new creation, liberated from the past and everything that threatens to overwhelm us.

Luke’s version of the more famous Sermon on the Mount joins prayer and power. Our prayers gain power from our motivation and orientation: when we turn to God, we become godlike in our care for others.  We forgive as we have been forgiven and live in the spirit of God’s realm. Resonating with the divine vision, we can boldly ask, seek, and knock, and are inspired not only to expect miracles but accept miracles at the hand of a generous God.  God gives us the Holy Spirit and with the presence of the Spirit, we receive everything we need to flourish and to serve God.

Luke affirms the loving parenthood of God. God is the best of parents and – in contrast to the vision of God portrayed in Hosea – gives us grace and support long before we ask. If Hosea is an example of poor parenting, then the God affirmed by Jesus is the model for a parent whose love is relational, inspiring, supportive, and nurturing. God does not compete with humankind in terms of power, but wants us to claim our power as God’s beloved children.

An insightful preacher will not perpetrate anti-Judaism or theological superiority by comparing the theologians of the First and Second Testaments. Rather, transformational preaching notes the unique gifts of our religious traditions and invites us to explore positive and negative images of God. While we may rightly follow the way of Jesus rather than the way of Hosea, Hosea speaks as a person of his time, just as we do, with all the limitations and possibilities of concrete theological reflection.  Although there are no guarantees that we will have a life without conflict and failure, Jesus’ words invite us to have great expectations: to trust God for the ultimate issues and see prayer as our natural response to everyday as well as dramatic events in our lives. Ask, seek, and knock is still good advice – not magical thinking – for our quests open us to greater inflows of divine energy and greater openness to experience synchronous moments.  When we pray, as a wise theologian once said, coincidences – life-changing surprises and synchronicities – happen. Thanks be to God!

About Bruce Epperly

Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, and Pastor of South Congregational United Church of Christ, Centerville (Cape Cod), Massachusetts. He is the author of twenty five books, including Process Theology: A Guide to the Perplexed, Philippians: An Interactive Bible Study,The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age, and Emerging Process: Adventurous Theology for a Missional Church. He also writes regularly for the Process and Faith lectionary. He has served as chaplain, professor, and administrator at Georgetown University, Lancaster Theological Seminary, Wesley School of Theology, and Claremont School of Theology. He may be reached at drbruceepperly@aol.com for lectures, workshops, and retreats. His latest book is Healing Marks: Healing and Spirituality in Mark’s Gospel (Energion).


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