The Adventurous Lectionary – September 28, 2014 – Pentecost 16

The Adventurous Lectionary – The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost –September 28, 2014
Exodus 17:1-7
Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16
Philippians 2:1-13
Matthew 21:23-32

God is faithful, providing a way where there is no way, and giving us the energy to grow in freedom and creativity at every stage of life. Faithful agency opens the floodgates of divine refreshment and energy, enabling us to do what we previously imagined as impossible. In redefining power in terms of relationship, God in Christ invites us to extend the scope of creativity and freedom in our world. Faithful creativity answers God’s call and embodies God’s vision for the world. God doesn’t compete with us, but wants us to live abundantly, doing greater things than we can imagine. (John 14:12)

How difficult it is to be patient when you haven’t immediately gotten what you want! Despite previous examples of divine care, we want God’s responses to our requests right now without delay, or else we begin to doubt God’s faithfulness. Once again, the Israelites fear that God has abandoned them. Despite God’s mighty signs, they are ready to turn back to the familiar enslavement in Egypt. They cry out against Moses, who then cries out to God. God responds by commanding Moses to strike the stone with his staff, and an ever-flowing stream bursts forth.

Today’s Exodus reading could easily apply to our personal and congregational lives. We perceive scarcity all around us; in panic, we assume that diminishment and death are around the corner, when we are surrounded by resources necessary for our well-being and mission.
We need to remember God’s wondrous movements in our lives. Where has God made a way where there was no way? Where have divine resources emerged to insure our well-being? In recounting God’s positive actions in our lives, we awaken to streams of possibility and go from scarcity to abundance thinking.

Philippians 2:1-13 is chockfull of theological, spiritual, and practical guidance. It is a wellspring of profound affirmations about God, Christ, and us. First, it proclaims that we can have the mind of Christ. Our whole lives can be guided by Christ’s vision; Christ can be the center of our decision-making process; and indeed with can embody the spirit, energy, and power that characterized Christ’s mission. We can let go of the cramped self-interest of the ego, and awaken to the spaciousness of God’s vision for the world. Second, open to and guided by the mind of Christ, we experience solidarity with all creation and have a sense of unity with our brothers and sisters in faith. Our ego becomes identified with Christ’s spacious spirit and we come to dwell in a world in which abundance and love are the norm for human interactions and decision-making. Third, we discover a divine-human synergy: work out your salvation with fear and trembling – or, as I prefer to say, awe and energy – for God is at work in you to embody God’s vision. We can be the embodiment of God’s vision on earth. We can channel the energy of the big bang and Jesus healing touch. This enhances, rather than diminishes, our agency, freedom, and creativity.

Philippians also makes some of the most profound theological statements about God’s nature. One of my teachers Bernard Loomer spoke of two kinds of power: unilateral and relational. Paul’s Philippian readers would have understood this distinction well as he contrasts the power of Lord Caesar and Lord Christ. Caesar rules by domination and fear; we bow in order to escape punishment and death. Jesus rules by relationship and empathy. Jesus is one of us, experiencing our joys and sorrows. He breaks down the barriers between human and divine to uplift humankind. Jesus wants us to grow in creativity, freedom, and agency. In his solidarity with us, there is no competition. There is no zero sum relationship between God and us; the more we achieve the more God is praised; the more creative agency we embody, the greater opportunity for God’s vision to be achieved in the world. Moreover, when Paul says “every knee shall bow,” this is the obedience of love not fear. I believe there is an implied universalism. If Christ comes in solidarity, then Christ’s reign is all-inclusive and will find a way to embrace even those – like Caesar – who turn away initially from Christ’s Shalom vision.

Matthew’s gospel challenges us to walk the talk. Theological correctness is secondary to fidelity. You can have the wrong theology or a checkered past and yet embody God’s vision in today’s world. Jesus is not intending to undermine solid theology, congregational participation, or spiritual practices, or to encourage lax morality; he is opening the door to serving God at any stage of our lives. Nothing bars the door from faithful discipleship, including past history, theological ineptness, economic status, ethnicity, or gender. Any person can say “yes” to God’s vision and follow Christ’s path. We may find the most unexpected people answering the call of God’s vision of Shalom. Will we be among them?

God is in solidarity with us. God is ready to respond to our needs and inspire us to discover personal and congregational resources beyond our wildest imaginings.

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