The Adventurous Lectionary – Pentecost 14 – August 21, 2016
This week, we ponder God’s providential love that breaks through every barrier. God is willing to give us more than we can ask or imagine. We need to open our hands to receive the fullness of divine blessing for ourselves and others.
God’s word to Jeremiah is addressed to all of us. The young prophet is frightened. The task ahead is too large for his abilities, and he compares himself unfavorably to others who are older and more experienced. God, however, has a different vision. This passage is not about predestination or prenatal experience, but about God’s faithfulness, which includes a vision of possibilities that stretches backward before our birth. It is about divine inspiration in the here and now: the God who was there at your birth will never abandon you, but seeks your abundant life.
In contrast to Rick Warren, I don’t believe that God fully determines our DNA, life circumstances, or personal characteristics. I do believe that from the very beginning God’s creative wisdom providentially guides our cells and our souls. There is a lot of free play in the universe, but God moves wisely through accidents, encounters, cellular structure, family of origin, and so forth to bring forth the highest good for all of us, leaving it up to us and others to embrace or decline God’s vision. (For more on my response to Rick Warren, see Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living, Parson’s Porch Books, second edition.)
Jeremiah holds back, and God presses forward. We think small, God thinks large. We diminish ourselves, God wants us to spread our wings. This applies to congregations as well as persons. What dreams are being stifled by fear in our congregation? Where is our sense of limitation thwarting new possibilities? As the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead avers, the limitations are the womb of possibility. God seeks the well-being and fulfillment of us and our congregations as a way to heal the world.
Psalm 71 also describes the gentle providence of God. Whether a child is conceived via the union of her or his parents or IVF, God’s providence is at work, seeking to bring forth beauty and wonder in this child’s life and to inspire her or his parents to loving support.
The gospel reading focuses on a religiously inconvenient healing. It is Sabbath, the day of rest, and yet Jesus heals an infirmed woman. Jesus calls her forward, takes the initiative, and restores her to well-being. Rather than rejoicing in the healing of this woman, at least one religious leader is irate. Speaking for the theologically and liturgically orthodox, he criticizes Jesus for going to work on the Sabbath. Jesus responds that whenever someone is in great pain and suffering, we embody the meaning of the Sabbath when we become agents of healing. The Sabbath is made for rest, and it is also made for showing God’s love through acts of care and hospitality.
Jesus touches her, releasing her from the power of disease. Does Jesus challenge an “infirm spirit” within her or does the Healer mediate God’s healing energy that softens her cells, calms her musicals, and restores her bones to wholeness? Or do the exorcism of negativity and blessing of goodness go together? Regardless, Jesus is living out his vocation, transcending legalisms, to bring this woman abundant life. Worship is an adventure of spirit (Whitehead) that supports the healing of body, mind, and spirit. Gospel healing transforms cells, souls, relationships, and social structures, and every moment is the right moment to embrace and share God’s healing touch. (For more on Jesus’ healings, see Bruce Epperly, Healing Marks: Spirituality and Healing in Mark’s Gospel, Energion, and God’s Touch: Faith, Wholeness, and the Healing Miracles of Jesus, Westminster/John Knox)
God’s grace breaks through self-imposed and other-imposed barriers. When others – including us – say “no” to grace, God says “yes” and invites us on a holy adventure to heal ourselves and the world.