The Adventurous Lectionary – July 6, 2014 – Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Lectionary Reflections for July 6, 2014 

Romans 7:15-25a
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

“Come to me all who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” These authoritative words from Jesus serve as God’s response to Paul’s, and our own, inner turmoil and ethical angst. Jesus speaks out of his unique relationship with God to provide us with wisdom and guidance as we seek to follow God’s path in our lives.

The Apostle Paul’s words could be spoken by virtually any of us: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” Paul’s confession can be connected to the obvious inner struggles many of us have with substance abuse, food addictions, workaholic behaviors, and personal ambivalence. Yet, in everyday life, we struggle to stay on the right track and often fail miserably to be the disciples we hope to be. No one fully knows our worries and cares and sense of struggle, but they matter to us, and often leave us feeling impotent and spiritually weak. Like Paul, we seek assistance and assurance, and cry out “Who will rescue me from this body of death?”

While we may not share Paul’s understanding sin as an external force that possesses us, warring in us contrary to our highest desires, we recognize the reality of sin, embodied in the interplay of family of origin, genetics, environment, economics, gender and sexuality, and personal decision-making. The heaviness of the past, confirmed by thousands of habitual responses, can seem to overcome our best intentions. We want to lose weight, but we can’t help ourselves from enjoying a coffee roll or piece of cake. We want to exercise, but we can’t motivate ourselves to get up a half hour earlier each morning. We want to stay sober, but the lure of alcohol is overwhelming. We want to reach out to the poor and vulnerable, but we worry about the time commitment it may entail.  And the list goes on; we are a bundle of ambivalent feelings.

Healing of mind, body, or spirit, is never an individualistic enterprise. We need a beloved community of friends and family and the unmerited grace of God.  Paul cries out, “Who will save me?” And, then, responds doxologically, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” We might also add, “Thanks be to God who places us in the body of Christ and among friends who accept and challenge us!”

Today’s New Testament scriptures proclaim God’s life transforming grace. Grace does not diminish our agency but enables us to be active partners in healing the world. We may still experience inner conflict, fear of failure, and fall short of God’s vision for our lives, but we can take solace that God is here to deliver us from evils stronger than our personal will and set us on a right path to wholeness and mission.

Infants understand the realities of grace better than self-made individuals. The “wise” and “productive” believe they can make it on their own and don’t need anyone’s help to change their lives. Infants have no such illusions: they survive on mother’s milk, loving touch, gentle swabs, and caring arms that cuddle, carry, and comfort. Preaching about God’s grace and the importance of a power greater than ours to get us through is not intended to encourage passivity. In fact, the opposite is the case: lived interdependence invites us to a world of giving and receiving. Out of the bountiful grace we receive from God and beloved companions, we gain the wisdom and ability to give gracefully to others and work for justice for the marginalized and forgotten. Grace invites us to become God’s active companions in the work of salvation. Liberated from the paralyzing impact of ambivalence and inner turmoil, we can gracefully reach out to others. The inner angst may never cease but we now have the resources to live with ambiguity, trusting that even our ambiguity can be used for God’s greater good.

About Bruce Epperly

Rev. Bruce Epperly, Ph.D., serves as Pastor at South Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Centerville, MA. Prior to coming to Cape Cod in 2013, he served on the faculties and often in administrative and chaplaincy roles at Georgetown University, Claremont School of Theology, Wesley Theological Seminary, and Lancaster Theological Seminary. Bruce is currently a professor in spirituality, ministry, and theology in the doctoral program at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington D.C. He has served as pastor or interim pastor of congregations in Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. He is the author or co-author of over 35 books in the areas of theology, spirituality, ministerial excellence and spiritual formation, scripture, and healing and wholeness, including Process Theology: Embracing Adventure with God; Finding God in Suffering: A Journey with Job; From Here to Eternity: Preparing for the Next Adventure; and A Center in the Cyclone: Clergy Self-care in the 21st Century.


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