Lectionary Reflections for the Sixty Sunday after the Epiphany – February 16, 2014
I Corinthians 3:1-9
Joy and wholeness are not accidental in the biblical tradition. While some people do enjoy the accidents of good fortune, over the long run well-being is related to the quality of our spiritual lives and commitment to personal and relational integrity. This Sunday’s readings turn us toward health of body, mind, and spirit, and assert that personal and communal well-being are the result of integrating our inner and outer lives, and our values and behavior.
“Choose life,” proclaims Deuteronomy 30. What we do shapes the future, our own and those who follow us. While this passage is best not read in terms of linear acts-consequences causation, that is, God rewards the righteous and punishes the unrighteous in clear and obvious ways, it points out the importance of what we do right now for our futures. In an interdependent universe, in which dynamic interdependence involves individuals and communities, cities and ecospheres, and cells and souls, everything we do matters in creating a positive or negative future for ourselves and others. Nothing is lost in forging the future. The smallest acts of kindness can be catalytic in transforming a community in positive ways. Conversely, the life of the ecosphere depends on both small and large acts of stewardship, embodied by individuals, corporations, and political institutions.
Deuteronomy 30 asks preacher and community alike, “Are we choosing life?” The author clearly sees God at work in the relationship of acts and consequences. I would suggest, however, that God’s involvement is not found in linear rewards and punishments, but in the relationship between our actions and the intensity and nature of God’s involvement in our lives. When we turn away from God, we diminish God’s impact on our lives: God is never absent, but God’s voice and vision can be drowned out by our own self-centered value systems and actions. When we turn toward God, a whole new array of possibilities and the energy to achieve them becomes available to us. We receive an abundance of blessings because we find ourselves rooted in God’s vision and open to God’s movements in our personal and corporate lives.
Psalm 119 speaks of the joy of walking according to God’s law. Once again, the lectionary is not speaking about some form of killjoy, linear, and external rule, but our alignment with God’s vision for us and the world. When we align with God’s vision, we are in synch with our deepest desires – our heart beats in rhythm with the heart of the universe. Law, then, becomes “written on the heart” and not some external judge or limiting force. We may feel dissonance, at times, between our concepts and God’s. However, over the long haul, a life in harmony with God’s vision for persons and communities reflects God’s “peaceable realm” internally and externally.
Paul presents a vision of unity in diversity to the otherwise polarized and fractured Corinthian community. Paul imagines a joyful community grounded in our affirmation of the diverse gifts of spiritual teachers and their disciples. Paul and Apollos nuance the faith in unique ways, based on their gifts and insights. Yet, these differences can be a source of spiritual wealth rather than division. A personal and intimate God chooses many paths of wholeness, grounded in the uniqueness of context and community. God’s graceful wisdom gives light on our pathways, but the light is reflected through the prism of our experiences and history. There is room for Paul and Apollos and other spiritual leaders, and the various approaches to God can learn from one another. In opening to God’s diversity, we open to the joyful complexity of community and begin to incarnate the wondrous complexity and diversity of the body of Christ in community life.
Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount seem initially harsh and legalistic. They set a standard well beyond that of ambivalent humankind. No doubt, Jesus’ listeners appropriately responded, “Isn’t it enough to do the right thing? Do we have to always have the right attitudes?” Jesus suggests that true wholeness, however, comes from the law written on the heart: alienation can be deadly to us and others; objectification separates us from our neighbors; and inability to forgive harms body, mind, and spirit. We need to cultivate an alignment between our inner and outer lives. We need to do the right things, and also feel in synch with what is best for us and others. On the journey, there is nothing wrong with beginning by the external actions of reducing our carbon footprint, refraining from violent words and deeds, and eliminating sexist, racist, and homophobic comments as first steps. Over the long haul, our actions – our self-control – need to be grounded in a growing sense of kinship with all humankind, including those we perceive as enemies. Joy and health come from alignment of heart and hands, thoughts and deeds, emotions and actions.