The Adventurous Lectionary – The Second Sunday after Pentecost – May 29, 2016
I Kings 18:20-39
What is your ultimate concern? Will you choose life or death, God or idols? Will you follow the path of Jesus or the wayward meanderings of materialism, individualism, and xenophobia? Will you open your heart to the stranger or mire in wall-building fear and self-interest? We have choices to make, and while they are seldom as stark as those facing the Israelites in the contest between Ahab and Elijah, moment by moment we choose beauty or ugliness, life or death, abundance or scarcity for ourselves and the planet.
In the war among deities, God wins the battle. Baal has no power. God’s fire consumes and purifies. While this is not a scripture against honoring the earth and its spirits, and should not be used to rail against today’s wiccans or pagans, whose earth care often humbles consumerist Christians – after all the true God embraces the seasons and earth as well as the sky – this scripture asks us what we place first in our lives, the gods we can control or the God who challenges our prejudices and way of life in light of God’s vision of Shalom. Too often, as subtle and not so subtle political machinations indicate, God trumps our faith in the political arena. Our political agenda shapes our image of God and not the other way around. This is certainly the case among those such as Jerry Falwell, Jr., who supported Donald Trump, whose knowledge, interest, and lifestyle apparently embrace Christianity only when it politically expedient. But, as we critique conservative Christian evangelicals, we progressives need to ponder the areas where we have baptized our politics as Christian without appropriate criticism.
Sing a new song and declare God’s glory, so chants the Psalmist. The earth and sea flourish when we give God glory and place God’s vision ahead of the devices and desires of our own hearts. The Holy God is the One whose love nurtures the earth. Damage and devastation come from turning away from God’s vision. We know that we cannot sustain life on fossil fuels or coal mining alone, but must render to a higher energy. We know that self-interest will destroy our nation – along with xenophobia and militarism – and yet we persist in our wayward ways. We can love our nation, but we must put God first; not the God who sanctions our prejudice or chauvinism but the God who challenges us to balance love of nation with love of the earth and its peoples.
In this election year, what does it mean to put God first? Surely it isn’t about public restrooms or building a wall or profiling Muslims or banning refugees. Prudence is important, as is safety, but God puts these in the larger perspective of loving hospitality and care for the vulnerable and marginalized.
Paul’s words in Galatians are militaristic in tone. He is demanding a choice, no theological waffling. He sees the disenfranchisement of the Gentiles as an attack on the Gospel, even when it is justified by religious purity and return to the old time religion. Jesus did not die for “separate but equal” Eucharistic feasts. Jesus lived and died to break down the barrier between Gentile and Jews, outsider and insider, sinner and self-proclaimed righteous. Grace overturns every human division. Before grace, we stand as equals – all deserving love, all sinners turning away from love. God makes no distinctions: God wants to save everyone. Any diminishment against God’s unbounded love is an attack on the Gospel. Only grace, not ritualistic purity or liturgical correctness, can save us.
The healing of the centurion’s beloved slave is a distant healing. God can heal energetically regardless of boundaries of distance, ethnicity, gender, or economics. Divine love knows no distance. It is present here and everywhere, embracing all things, enlivening all things, transforming all things. Prayer connects us with God’s graceful interdependence. Even a centurion, an agent of the oppressor can have faith. Faith emerges in all sorts of disguises and all persons of faith must be reckoned as righteous, despite our differences. Like the Syrophoenician woman who comes to Jesus seeking her daughter’s healing, the centurion crosses borders to seek healing for a loved one. Like her, he recognizes he is among the unclean and unworthy, but those distinctions ultimately do not matter to God. God breaks down walls, eliminates boundaries, and welcomes otherness.
Grace abounds, and we cannot defeat God’s desire to save all humankind. We need to choose moment by moment to embrace, welcome, and share the grace that saves us and all creation – moment by moment and day by day.