The Adventurous Lectionary – Tenth Sunday of Pentecost – July 24, 2016
The lens through which on which I am focusing today is Jesus’ description of God’s relationship with the world found in Luke 11:13: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” These words point us toward healthy theological reflection and serve as an antidote to demonic images of God, even those which come from Christian ministers. These words chart a relational theology that gives birth to relational and affirmative ethics.
“God gives good gifts to God’s children!” Jesus asserts that “evil” [read “imperfect” or “ambiguous, loving and sometimes impatient”] parents want the best for their children. Accordingly, won’t the perfect Parent, God, want to give you more? When I ask congregants what God is like, most respond with words like “loving,” “forgiving,” “creative,” “universal.” Few say, “punitive,” “angry,” “vindictive,” or “hateful.” Yet, such descriptors are regularly spewed forth from local church pastors, televangelists, and major figures in conservative Christianity. Some of these religious leaders have identified war, pestilence, AIDS, and even the recent Orlando shootings as divine punishment for America’s waywardness. These preachers suggested that God was behind the Orlando terrorist attack that left dozens injured or dead. Their congregants or listeners nod their heads without recognizing the theological inconsistency of talking about God’s love, on the one hand, and God’s ruthless destruction, on the other. Today’s scripture would say such comments are blasphemy and should never be invoked from the pulpit or on Facebook. In fact, many people glibly assume God would perform certain actions – let loose viruses, destroy cities with storms, or initiate massacres – that would be considered hate crimes, punishable by imprisonment, if performed by a human. Their God is more like a narcissistic demon than the sacrificial and welcoming healer from Nazareth.
In Luke 11, Jesus describes God as the Loving Father. It is fully appropriate to use the term “Mother” as well. There is an implicit – perhaps, explicit – ethic in divine parenting. God seeks a world in which God’s will or vision be enacted on earth as it is in heaven. In other words, God wants the world to be defined by loving, welcoming, going the second mile, and accepting diversity spiritual habits. If God is loving, then are calling is to be as loving as God.
There is cause and effect in the universe. Bad lifestyle habits increase our possibility of life-threatening illness. Materialism and greed make us oblivious to beauty and diminish our spirits. Injustice leads to social unrest. Trusting in guns not God for our ultimate security leaves in its wake unprecedented violence in our homes as well as neighborhoods. Still, despite the justice built into reality, God wants us to aspire to become as much like Christ as possible. God’s ultimate aim is healing not harm. Made alive in Christ, we can embody Jesus’ message and mission. We can become “little Christs,” as Luther said. This is the spiritual-ethical meaning of the passage form Colossians: “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him.” We are “full of Christ” and our vocation is to let that fullness, that never ending stream of love, flow from us to the world.
Today, let us vow to invoke God’s name only in ways that bring greater beauty and love to the world. Let us claim a Loving Parent, Mother and Father, and mirror our Parent in our personal and political lives.