The Adventurous Lectionary – Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost – July 31, 2016
Psalm 107:1-9, 43
In his classic text on the prophets, Abraham Joshua Heschel asserts that the prophet’s passion is energized by her or his vision of the divine pathos. The prophetic God is passionate for justice and God’s passion for justice is grounded in God’s intimate care for the world in all its wondrous messiness. God not only loves humankind, God loves individual persons and grieves when one of God’s children is homeless, abused, unjustly treated, or neglected. God is equally passionate in God’s response to those who commit injustice. God still loves them, but God’s passion may sound like what Hosea describes as a lion roaring in the wilderness.
Hosea’s words epitomize the divine pathos. God’s people are bone of God’s bone and flesh of God’s flesh. God mourns, laments, struggles with mixed feelings of love and rage, and vows to be faithful to God’s people despite their infidelity. God sees the people suffering as a result of their injustice and mourns for them, knowing how painful the consequences of injustice will be them.
Hosea’s God is literally mad as hell at these wayward people. But, love tempers God’s anger at their behavior. Like a parent whose child has gone astray, God is angry and anguished, but this cannot nullify God’s love. While we may have more “rational” and “dispassionate” understandings of God’s love, we need to ask ourselves imaginatively questions such as “What would anger God about our nation’s behavior? Where have we brought pain to God?” We must ourselves, “Where are we turning away from God? Where are we oblivious to God’s call through the experience of those persons who, to use Howard Thurman’s words, have their backs against the wall due to poverty and injustice.
Hosea is speaking to the nation, and of course this also includes individual decisions as well. We are the nation and we cannot evade – those of us who “have” – our complicity in our nation’s waywardness. The prophetic God would be rightly angered by the vast gulf between the rich and the poor, our destruction of the environment, our abandonment of children, our voicing family values and yet supporting business policies that destroy family life, our failure to provide sufficient incomes for the working poor, and the institutionalized injustice inspired by for profit prison systems.
The Psalmist proclaims that God’s steadfast love endures forever. This steadfast love is global and yet, as activists have recently noted, this love also focuses on whoever is in need at this moment. Black lives matter, GLBT lives matter, refugee lives matter, children’s lives matter. Like a good parent or grandparent, God loves all the children, but addresses at this moment, the one who needs love most. God’s love for the vulnerable does not mean God does not love those who are “sitting pretty” and enjoying privilege, but that right now, they don’t need to experience God’s care as fully. Perhaps later they will. Contrary to those who seek to maintain the status quo by asserting that God loves universally and abstractly, the prophetic vision of God proclaims that God’s love is always personal and intimate, always contextual and relative, for all but more importantly for each one.
Colossians counsels us to set our minds on what is above, to focus on what is congruent with God’s wisdom embodied in our lives. The author’s list of lower things reflects whatever turns us away from God and our neighbor. God wants us to address one another with love and respect, not objectify, manipulate, and defraud. You are a “little Christ,” as Luther would say. God is “hidden” in you as your deepest reality; Christ is alive in you. Let the Christ in you be incarnate in your daily interactions and values.
Paul Tillich spoke of this in terms of “ultimate concern.” Is our ultimate concern what we say it is or have we succumbed to the values of the world? Over ¾ of conservative Christians say they are planning to support Donald Trump for President. While they are entitled to do so, their one-sided support suggests that faith has little or nothing to do with their political preference, especially as it concerns the biblical welcome to strangers and refugees, concern for justice for all, and provision of a safety net for the most vulnerable. That being the case, we who are progressive have to ask ourselves the same question, “Where does our faith enter into our political and business decisions? How does faith shape how we spend our time and the focus of our activities?” Many of us place family first, and yet act as if family is less important than our professional lives and support systems that make it impossible for many families to enjoy decent quality of life.
How are we to be rich toward God? This is a matter of time, talent, and treasure. It is also a matter of public policy. While we love the world best by loving God, we also love God best by loving the world. In light of the prophetic vision of divine pathos, we need to ask ourselves where we are going astray as persons and as a nation. Where are we causing pain? For some, it may be the use of abortion as a method of birth control; for others, it may be the abandonment of our poorest children at birth through unjust economic and governmental policies. The God of Jesus and the prophets feels the pain of the world and also recognizes that virtually every choice we make has a variety of implications, positive and negative. God’s passion inspires us to be passionate about healing the nation and the people in front of us. Wealth toward God may mean a greater commitment of resources to our church and a willingness to support governmental programs that may raise our taxes; it is never about profit above all else. It will mean sacrifice, and the recognition that opulence is robbery from the poor and the God who loves them.
Today’s scriptures invite us to breathe deeply the divine passion. They invite us to “keep calm and be passionate about justice.” The call us to change our lives and encourage institutional change, while not polarizing. They call us to listen deeply for God’s stirrings in the events of the day and in our own passion for human and non-human well-being.