The Adventurous Lectionary – The Sixth Sunday after Epiphany – February 17, 2019

The Adventurous Lectionary – The Sixth Sunday after Epiphany – February 17, 2019 February 8, 2019

The Adventurous Lectionary – The Sixth Sunday after Epiphany – February 17, 2019
Jeremiah 17:5-10; Psalm 1; I Corinthians 15:12-20; Luke 6:17-26

Today’s readings are about relationships, finite and infinite. There is a Gentle Providence, quietly arcing through our lives, reminding us that we are all in this together. We are the beneficiaries of gifts we did not earn and our lives are our gifts to the future. We are finite, connected to the Infinite, and in this connection, we find peace even in challenging times.

The words of Jeremiah seem apt in the era of Trump. Those who appear to have elevated Trump to near divinity as defender of the faith, including powerful religious leaders, need to remember “cursed are those who trust in mortals.” In trusting finite and fallible mortals for our happiness and wholeness, we disconnect ourselves from the true sources of nurture. We create a chasm – dare we say, a wall – between ourselves and God that eventually will lead to spiritual dehydration. Those who trust in God will connect with an ever-flowing stream. They will bloom despite the aridity of the environment.

Some listeners, including the pastor, will struggle with Jeremiah’s description of the heart as devious and perverse. Isn’t the heart also compassionate and sacrificial? Doesn’t the heart inspire generosity and empathy? Surely it does. Once again, the prophet is reminding us of mortality and finitude, of the need to be aware of our own ambiguity, the potential to baptize our self-interest as morality. We can’t help being self-interested but we need to place our self-interest in the context of willingness to sacrifice for a greater good; what Alfred North Whitehead calls world loyalty.

Psalm 1 speaks of the joy that comes from alignment with God’s law. Although the law can be connected with the Mosaic ordinances, it may also be the law of our nature, the laws of the environment, the deepest presence of God moving through all things. Alignment with God’s vision – righteousness – brings joy and fulfillment, despite the circumstances of life. We do not follow God’s law to be rewarded, however, but to enjoy the fruits of an interdependent – receiving and giving – relationship with God.

Paul’s argument from I Corinthians may be a bit off-putting for today’s listeners, who have little familiarity with his logic or the nature of resurrection. The passage connects our hope for resurrection with the reality of Christ’s resurrection. If we do not rise, then there is little likelihood that Christ rose. We are the proof of resurrection. What does that mean? How can weak mortals be icons of divine resurrection? At the very least, it means that survival after death is relational and connected to the realities of this life. Resurrection is this-worldly as well as beyond this life and proven in our ability to be renewed in times of struggle, stress, and defeat. Given the continuity of Christ’s resurrection and ours, we might say that resurrection is naturalistic, that is, it emerges from our mortal and finite strivings, infusing them with everlasting life.

Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Plain connect wholeness, finitude, struggle, and mortality with being blessed. The blessed know their need, the immerse themselves in creative and nurturing interdependence because they have no other choice. They know God is God and they aren’t! They can’t use their privilege to fly over the valley; they must walk through the darkest valley – the valley of the shadow – with God and others as companions and support. In the biblical tradition, the person most pitied is the rugged individualist, needing nothing and no one – not even God – to thrive. Such independence is an illusion – the illusion felt by billionaires, presidents, celebrities, star athletes, and successes – until life confronts them and they discover trusting any mortal, including themselves, will lead to personal and communal ruin. Creative interdependence nurtures, rather than blunts, personal agency.

Today’s scriptures challenge us to embrace interdependence. The virtues of interdependence are humility, gratitude, compassion, empathy, generosity, and love. Connected with one another, the energy of the vine flows through us, we are nourished as we nourish each other, and there is always room for one more at the table.
Bruce Epperly is a pastor, professor, and author of over 45 books, including “Become Fire: Guideposts for Interspiritual Pilgrims,” “The Mystic in You: Discovering a God-filled World,” “Process and Ministry,” and “Process Theology and Celtic Wisdom.”

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