Lectionary Reflections for Sunday, August 4, 2013
Texts: Hosea 11:1-11; Psalm 107:1-9, 43; Colossians 3:1-11; Luke 12:13-21
How we view God shapes our faith and values. Today’s readings describe a good whose relationship to the world is almost too personal. We can relate to Hosea’s words, because many of us have been parents and, for good or ill, all of us have been children. Hosea’s God woos, rejects, grieves, pines away, and ultimately loves without condition. God is perceived as both a husband and mother, and while Hosea’s divine husband is ambiguous at best, driven by love’s passion to harm as well as heal, the divine mother loves her children fiercely and unconditionally. She will die for them, mourn for them, and – dare we say – sacrifice her own life or another’s, should it be a threat, to insure the children’s well-being. (For a response to the specific texts, see the Process and Faith Lectionary – http://processandfaith.org/resources/lectionary-commentary/yearc/2013-08-04/proper-13)
Bonhoeffer asserted that only a suffering can save and Whitehead proclaimed that God is the fellow sufferer who understands. Hosea’s God exemplifies this vision of divine pathos (Abraham Joshua Heschel) and empathy. God is involved in the smallest details of our lives, responds to our behavior, and cares intimately about what happens in the world, especially in terms of institutional justice-keeping. God suffers or celebrates, depending on how we live our lives.
Divine pathos inspires ethics and axiology (theory of value). God’s concern compels believers to do something beautiful for God, to love mercy, walk humbly, and do justice. Injustice is an affront to God; it literally pains God and leaves in its wake divine sorrow and anger. While we may not feel comfortable with images of divine retribution and recognize that they can lead to retributive justice, meted out by fallible and self-interested humans, this is the risk of taking divine personality seriously.
While Colossians does not forsake personal images of God, it places them in a global – indeed, cosmic – perspective. Christ moves in our lives and Christ is also the moral and spiritual energy moving through the universe, not limited or confined to a particular religion, nation, or planet. God’s transpersonality is the foundation of God’s intimacy. God is the circle whose center is everywhere, that is, God is the inner movement and energetic force within all things. God’s circumference is also nowhere, unbounded and unlimited in care and activity. The transpersonal nature of divine omnipresence is the complement to divine presence in this passing moment. It keeps us from absolutizing our relationship to God to the detriment of others’ well-being.
Such affirmations may be too erudite for many congregations, especially in the context of the Sunday sermon. But, the perceptive pastor needs to balance intimacy and universality and presence and omnipresence to promote both humility and ethics. The Galilean vision of God (Whitehead) is profoundly intimate. God is here. Every spot is holy. Revelations abound in daily life, personal experience, and mortal embodiment. And this is good. Congregants need to be reminded that God is right where we are and that our cares are near to God’s heart. God’s eye is on the sparrow and we know God’s watching us. This is central to our faith.
Our faith also notes that the One who observes the sparrow’s fall equally observes the flight of the osprey, the dance of the dolphin, the flight of meteors, and the circuitous journey of galaxies. We are not alone; God is with us and everyone else. No one else is alone. God loves us and also our enemies and those who continually push our buttons. God is not an amoral force, but God’s energy encompasses us all – Obama and Boehner, believer and atheist, pacifist and terrorist, humankind and the non-human world.
Healthy visions of God always affirm that God loves others, including those whose otherness is problematic. Anything less than this leads to theological tribalism in which our God battles the gods of our opponents. Transpersonality encourages humility and the recognition that revelation occurs often where we least expect it and are tempted to deny it. Transpersonality is the antidote to the possessiveness described in the gospel reading and points us from our self-interest to the well-being of the whole.
Thank God that we can “know” God; but thank God also that God is shrouded in unfathomable mystery. In the liveliness of faith, we need both intimacy and prophetic distance.