The Adventurous Lectionary – The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost – August 11, 2019
Isaiah 1:1, 10-20; Psalm 50:1-8, 22-23; Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16; Luke 12:22-30
Get your spiritual GPS on track. Synchronize and calibrate your time pieces. Get your house in order and your values in line. The time is coming when values and actions, our relationship with God and neighbor, will go trump financial success, secular power, or material consumption. God invites us to be the change we want to see in the world. We need to be people of the future, God’s future, and not defenders of the status quo. Too often, we have let the world squeeze us into its mold, allowing our imaginations to be stifled by concrete limitations, and our becoming tranquilized by the familiarity of what has been. God calls us to a new thing, economically and spiritually. God calls us to alternative visions of reality and challenges us to become partners in healing the world.
Confession and hope belong together in the prophetic vision. Speaking for God, Isaiah proclaims God’s distaste for worship that denies the realities of poverty and injustice. Aware of the realities of injustice and the disparity of the wealthy and poor, God is “tired of hearing your damned songs of praise and smelling your damned incense.” Quit trampling through my Temple, God roars, unless you first expend your efforts seeking justice. There is hell to pay for those who forget that God is God and they aren’t! Trouble is on the way for the 1% of the population who focus on amassing wealth while others lose their homes and barely scrape by.
Reading this in church without preamble could get the preacher in hot water – the preacher will be accused of being a socialist or not sufficiently patriotic!
For Isaiah, ethics matters and character matters. A nation can be wealthy yet spiritually bankrupt, and now amount of MAGA hats can recalibrate our nation’s spiritual GPS if we willfully go off grid, economically and ecologically, or stoke the flames of nationalism or racism. The cries of traumatized and caged children drown out any pretense to greatness.
Still, there is hope for the nation. Repent, seek justice, set things right, and forgiveness is possible. If you mend your ways and seek justice in the marketplace and the halls of Congress, God will no longer hold your sin against you. We still may have to face the consequences of our earlier injustices, but God welcomes us to be part of new and healing vision of reality.
The Psalmist continues God’s critique of worship that neglects the vulnerable. True worship involves walking the paths of compassion and mercy, not opulence or fanfare.
The Epistle of Hebrews proclaims the life-changing power of faith. Faith is in the unseen, what seems impossible to the “realist.” Yet, faith opens us to a “deeper reality,” in which God’s presence makes a way when there is no way. The author of Hebrews proclaims that the great people of faith lived with the vision of another country, God’s country that lay beyond the limitations they were currently experiencing. Childless Abraham and Sara trust God’s promise, even though they initially cannot see this coming to fruition. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, confidence in things unseen.” What great thing – beyond your current understanding or reach – is God calling you to?
This faith, however, is not unrealistic, nor does it deny the real limitations and challenges we face. Faith emerges from recognizing the concreteness of reality, including the forces of entropy and injustice. Faith sees the concrete world as the womb of possibility and imagines that God is presenting us with provocative images of the future, even when these seem unlikely at the moment. Trusting God’s vision, the widest horizon of hope, faith trusts that the moral arc of history will come to pass, despite our current waywardness. God’s vision is more powerful than our recalcitrance.
In the reading from Luke’s Gospel, Jesus tells his followers and us to be “ready!” We never fully know what time it is and the Kairos moment in which we are challenged to respond to God’s vision of salvation in life-changing ways. Accordingly, we should assume that each moment is a Kairos moment, each encounter is salvific and each place is holy. “Don’t be afraid,” Jesus assures us. Trust God, and then act sacrificially for the well-being of others. Fear is grounded in lack of faith, in our inability to experience God’s future shaping our present. Filled with faith, we plant mustard seeds, unsure that they will germinate, but trusting that within the seed is a field of flowers that will bring spice to our lives and the world. There is always “more” to imagine in God’s gentle providence in our world, and God’s providence comes to us filled with possibilities and the energy to embody them.
Faith opens us to deeper and wider visions of reality. It gives us greater perspective and energizes us to be God’s companions in transforming the world, enabling our world to embody on earth God’s heavenly dreams.
Bruce Epperly is a Cape Cod pastor, professor, and author of fifty books, including “One World: The Lord’s Prayer from a Process Perspective,” “Jonah: When God’s Changes,” “Ruth and Esther: Women of Agency and Adventure,” and “Become Fire: Guideposts for Interspiritual Pilgrims.”