The Adventurous Lectionary – Pentecost 16 – September 9, 2018
Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23
Today’s readings reflect the concern for hospitality and affirmation as essential to faithful living. God’s realm breaks down the barriers of friend and stranger and rich and poor and invites us to do likewise. All of God’s children deserve our reverence and respect, and this is revealed in our political advocacy and personal relationships. Following God’s way challenges us to question our cultural values, sense of propriety, and ethnic and religious boundaries.
Wisdom literature, as exemplified in the passage from Proverbs, is grounded in the discovery of God in the ordinary affairs of daily life. A good name, fairness, and justice are not abstractions but lived out in each day’s adventures. Having a good name suggests the interplay of the inner life and external behaviors. As we cultivate holiness in the spirit, the natural fruits are consideration for all people regardless of their social standing and economic situation. Rich and poor alike deserve respect, and to shun the poor leads to alienation and diminishment of the soul, not just the souls of the poor but our own.
As I read the reading from Proverbs, I was reminded of John Lennon’s tune, “Instant Karma,” the sense that we what we sow we will also reap. While we may not affirm the strict act-consequences theology of cause and effect suggested in the Proverbs passage, we can connect blessedness with justice and compassion. Generosity expands the spirit and frees us from the prison of self-interest. Injustice may very well lead to calamity on a personal and national level. But, sadly the impact of injustice falls disproportionately on the marginalized and vulnerable. The wealthy appear to get away with murder by asserting “it’s just business” or “it’s all about the bottom line.” Still, Socrates’ notion that committing injustice is the greatest evil and that is better to suffer injustice than perpetrate it is insightful. Those who commit injustice may experience a famine of hearing God’s word, as the prophet Amos asserts. Their world shrinks to the size of their personal well-being; their spirits atrophy rather than grow. Certainly, we see this in a nation whose primarily governmental priorities are financial, while jettisoning any moral compass to guide the nation’s spirit.
Psalm 125 connects trust in God with personal endurance. Trust in God or another suggests a reliance on grace and a willingness to follow God’s pathways regardless of immediate reward. Like the attitude of a young child toward its parent or grandparent, trust roots us in relationship to the source of safety and blessing. We can endure trials because our interest embraces God’s vision and not just our own idiosyncratic and narrow self-interest. Walking God’s path leads to the joy of a clear conscience and the comfort of knowing that God will supply our deepest needs, including our need to sacrifice for the well-being of our community and the planet.
We can be patient with problems because we trust a deeper providence working within the affairs of our lives.
The Epistle of James invites us to an embodied and egalitarian faith. Our vision of God as the lover of all creation inspires us to welcome the stranger and uplift the impoverished. Beneath the exteriors of wealth and poverty and power and weakness, God’s Spirit lives. In the spirit of Matthew 25, we treat the poor with grace and hospitality – with equality – because our care for the creature and the Creator are one and same reality. As we have done unto the least of these, we have done unto Christ. So, with the Benedictines, we seek to treat everyone as Christ, experiencing God in all of God’s varied and sometimes distressing disguises. This passage also challenges our cultural values, placing those at the bottom end of society at the center of God’s love and our care. Privilege is given to the poor, not just wealthy benefactors. Christian charity is about compassion and fidelity, not reward. (For more on the Letter of James, see Bruce Epperly, Holistic Spirituality: Life-transforming Wisdom from the Letter of James.)
Jesus’ miraculous power is revealed in a distant healing. First, Jesus heals the alienation between Jews and Gentiles. All are deserving of God’s grace. There are no outsiders in God’s healing realm. Second, Jesus heals the child at a physical distance. Prayer is not limited to those beside us, but shapes the lives of whom we pray, regardless of distance, creating a field of force that enables God to be more effective and energetic in their lives.
Our faith can transform the world and challenge us to leave our comfort zones behind. The stranger also deserves reverence and is entitled to the same well-being as we seek. God wants us to embrace the joy of a good name cultivating the inner and outer journeys and seeking for others what we must desire for ourselves. (For more on the healing stories in Mark’s Gospel, see Bruce Epperly, Healing Marks: Spirituality and Healing in Mark’s Gospel and Mark’s Holy Adventure: Preaching Mark’s Gospel for Year B)
Bruce Epperly is Pastor, South Congregational Church, UCC, in Centerville, MA, and a professor in the D.Min. program at Wesley Theological Seminary. He is author of over forty five books, including “The Mystic in You: Discovering a God Filled World,” “The Gospel According to Winnie the Pooh,” “Becoming Fire: Spiritual Practices for Global Christians,” and three volumes of an ongoing series of short books on process theology: “Process and Ministry,” “Process Spirituality: Practicing Holy Adventure,” and “Process Theology: Embracing Adventure with God.” He can be reached for lectures, retreats, and seminars at firstname.lastname@example.org.