The Adventurous Lectionary – The Third Sunday in Lent – March 24, 2019
1 Corinthians 10:1-13
Today’s readings join grace, challenge, and hope. God is graceful providing us with physical and spiritual nurture. What we need is already around and within us in this Holy Here and Now. Yet, we often – like the children of Israel – feel alone and bereft and forsake divine nourishment for gods of our own choosing, and resources that ultimately fail to satisfy. We can succumb to temptation, we can be unfruitful, and turn from God, but if we repent, God will provide us with expanded transformational possibilities and the strength and fortitude to begin again. Grace is not contingent on our efforts; grace is prevenient but the energy and landscape of grace relates to our openness. God always acts concretely in our lives. We can expand or contract the horizons of grace by our actions and attitudes.
It can’t be true! God is buying into the socialist agenda! Indeed God is the author of a communitarian society! Better not read this passage at a Make America Great Rally. In fact, this could be a blueprint for todays democratic socialists. Everyone gets what they need, especially the “have nots.” God’s ways are not our ways, the prophet Isaiah proclaims. God’s vision is larger and more inclusive than ours. The circle of God’s love includes everyone. You may deserve punishment, but you will receive grace. The lawbreaker and infidel get a second chance and can be restored to full membership in God’s realm.
There’s a little for MAGA supporters here as well: in God’s new realm you will be winning and the nation will flourish. Once forsaken Israel will become a beacon for the nations. In God’s new realm you can even eat rich food, and not suffer the health consequences! (I wish that was true about potluck dinners!) Life is going to be good again. Israel will be reconciled with the world. The day of Shalom is near. Happy days are here again! Israel will be great again! The nation will fulfill its vocation – all will rejoice -and the world will be blessed. No longer bound by fearful nation first; God’s abundance calls us to world first, and to earth care and justice seeking as the pathways to spiritual and economic prosperity.
Call upon God, the prophet counsels. Place God at the heart of every decision. God is near and God will respond. God’s thoughts and ways are higher and grander than ours, and different than we expected. This is not a counsel to silence or to live with mystery, but a recognition that God’s morality is amazing in its embrace of the outcast and the outsider. God’s morality turns upside down our conventional moral conventions and welcomes those we condemned as morally suspect. A spiritual practice from Isaiah is to simply ask throughout the day, “God show me your bounty! Give me your guidance in blessing others through my gifts!”
The Psalmist is yearning for God. God is the heartbeat of his life, and the Psalmist wants to be near the Creator and Parent. Cling to God. Hold on to the one whose love makes life meaningful. Come to God in prayer every hour throughout the day. While this isn’t romantic poetry, like the Song of Songs, it is the poetry of love, of rejoicing in God’s beauty, and wanting to be with the beloved always. We must deal with the low moments when God seems absent, as Renita Weems describes in “Listening for God.” But beyond the low point is the moment when we are reunited with our beloved and life is good once more.
The words of I Corinthians 10 can be perceived as threatening. Those who turn from God, party too hard, slip up theologically, or act out sexually are subject to divine destruction. When God isn’t pleased, you will be punished. Certainly words like these have been invoked to ostracize and threaten persons in the GLBT community, condemn divorced persons who remarry, and judge realistic films and books as immoral. Yet, these words of punishment are bookended by grace: God is giving us spiritual food and drink, and if we partake we will flourish. Our turning from spiritual nutrition leads to spiritual famine, not as a result of punishment from God but as responsive to our own values and choices.
The passage is redeemed with 10:13, which asserts that although all are tempted, God will give you the strength to withstand temptation or the ability to bounce back after you have succumbed. There is redemption even for the imperfect. There is hope for the sinner. The recognition that we can be tempted keeps us on the right path. Let us be humble and practice a spirituality of humility, praying regularly, “God have mercy on me. God, enlighten my fallibility so I may walk your path.”
Jesus’ words in Luke 13 also have a threatening character. There are no guarantees in life. No one is safe solely on account of her or his faith tradition. You are no better than those who suffer from unexpected disaster. Nothing can protect you from happenstance. The reality of chance challenges us to repentance, to get our souls right with God. Although I don’t believe in a linear acts-consequences approach to reward and punishment, what we do makes a difference. We can hurt ourselves badly, creating what Amos calls a “famine on hearing the word of God” based on our actions. If tragedy happens, we want to have the spiritual strength to withstand it. The problem of evil and suffering is solved, not by blaming ourselves or God, but by placing our pain in God’s redemptive care and trusting divine providence in the midst of pain. (For more on the problem of evil, take a look at my book, “Finding God in Suffering: A Journey with Job.”)
Still there are second chances for sinners. The gardener gives the unproductive tree a reprieve. He will nurture and care for it, and perhaps it will bear fruit, and be spared of destruction. Grace is greater than sin and can bring forth fruitfulness out of barren past histories.
In Lent, we need to be watchful. We need to get our values in the right place, aligning ourselves with God in times of temptation and trusting God’s grace in moments of barrenness and brokenness. God will nourish us and prune prune away what’s unnecessary so we might flourish.
Bruce Epperly is Pastor of South Congregational Church, Centerville, MA, and author of fifty books, including “The Mystic in You: Finding a God-filled World,” “Become Fire: Guideposts for Interspiritual Pilgrims,” and “Process Theology and Celtic Wisdom.”