The Adventurous Lectionary – The Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany – February 24, 2019
Genesis 45:3-11, 15; Psalm 37:1-11, 39-40; I Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50; Luke 6:27-38
Today’s readings join vision, promise, and practice. Our vision of reality – our vision of God’s presence in the world and our lives – shapes our hopes and inspires our practical behavior. How we view the world shapes our values and attitudes toward those with whom we are in conflict as well as in the interactions of everyday life. If God is trustworthy, moving providentially in our lives and the world, we can move beyond self-interest, polarization, and grudge-holding to reconciling activities.
In the Genesis reading, Joseph has revealed himself to his brothers and they are speechless. Living at their best from the “an eye for an eye” morality, and remembering their mistreatment of Joseph, they expect that vengeance and some form of reprisal might be appropriate and deserved, as it is in our justice system. Three times in the passage, Joseph asserts “God sent me.” As he asserts later, Joseph believes that while Joseph’s brothers intended ill, God intended for the well-being not only of Joseph but of the whole family. Joseph has a strong sense of divine providence: his life story is part of a larger story, God’s vision of a people who will be God’s representatives throughout history. Joseph’s vision propels him from vengeance to forgiveness. His vision of God allows him to transcend his painful past and align himself with God’s glorious future.
How do we, reading this passage, transform the pain and alienation we feel – the traumas we’ve experienced – to life-supporting and reconciling action? The process is not simple and cannot be achieved by denying a painful past or present – surely Joseph experienced PSTD as a result of his brothers’ treachery. Yet, Joseph found possibility within the pain, trusting that God was at work in the “moral arc” of his life and his family’s history.
Psalm 37 also speaks of the relationship between vision, promise, and practice. Trusting God liberates us from fear and anger. Knowing that God is with us inspires us to align our ethics and behavior with God’s way, rather than self-interest or vindictiveness. Spiritual formation involves discerning God’s way and then living in accordance with it. Knowing that we are in God’s hands, we neither need to fear nor conform to the values of our world. Aligning with God’s way provides the greatest joy and is the pathway to true success in life.
In I Corinthians 15 Paul contrasts the perishable and the imperishable. His words are subtle and may be difficult to understand for today’s congregants, for whom the idea of resurrection is seldom addressed and, if addressed, remains in the realm of mystery, having been displaced by images of heaven, hell, and reincarnation. In the course of his presentation, Paul is concerned with the interplay of physical and spiritual and death and life. Resurrection provides an image of hope that death is penultimate and that God’s resurrection spirit will have the final word in our lives. Trusting God’s resurrection life, we can be courageous and faithful in responding to our personal trials and the trials of our time.
The idea of resurrection – of life after death – has been pushed to the sidelines in liberal and progressive theology and preaching because it is felt that it distracts us from the very real life and death issues of earthly life. There is much to say in support of this belief, especially as it relates to attitudes toward earth-care, global climate change, and social justice. Yet, we can be both “heavenly minded and earthly good.” We can trust God with the future and let this trust in the ultimate destiny liberate us from fears in this lifetime. If our lives are in God’s care, then we can risk challenging the powers and principalities of our world.
Matthew’s Sermon on the Plain overturns prudential decision-making. Followers of Jesus are to live by another standard – generosity, forgiveness, economic fairness, reconciliation, love of enemies and strangers, prizing the well-being of others as much as one’s own well-being. Followers of Jesus are to imitate the God, incarnate in their Savior: an all-inclusive, forgiving, welcoming, justice making, relational God. God doesn’t separate the world into good and bad, in and out, saved and unsaved, rather all creation is embraced by God’s loving heart. God’s power in the world is relational and loving, not coercive and violent.
We become like our images of God. What kind of God to you follow? How do you understand God’s relationship to the world, to others, to strangers, and opponents? Does God truly bless the just and wicked alike?
Today’s readings invite us to become large-spirited persons and congregations, who in the scrum of life, build relationships rather than walls and go the second mile to reach out to adversaries and join God in healing the world. Today’s readings describe the moral providence of God. God’s providential presence is motivated by love, healing, abundance, and reconciliation, and this image of divine providence serves as the guide and model for our own relationships and social involvement.
Bruce Epperly is a Cape Cod pastor, professor, and author of fifty books, including “One World: The Lord’s Prayer from a Process Perspective,” “Process Theology and Pastoral Care,” “Becoming Fire: Guideposts for Interspiritual Pilgrims,” and “The Mystic in You: Discovering a God-filled World.”