The Adventurous Lectionary – The Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany – February 20, 2022
Genesis 45:3-11, 15; Psalm 37:1-11, 39-40; I Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50; Luke 6:27-38
Good theology involves the interplay of vision, promise, and practice, and you can see this interplay in today’s readings. Our vision of reality, our theological perspective – our vision of God’s presence in the world and our lives – shapes our hopes and inspires our practical behavior. Living by that vision inspires us to trust that we will be what we see, if we see the light, we will be the light. How we view the world shapes our values and attitudes toward those with whom we are in conflict and our political perspective as well as in the interactions of everyday life. Our images of God – as loving or as dictatorial – will be reflected in our political involvement and attitudes toward “otherness.” (It may also be the case that our images of God mimic our values – a loving God reflects loving values, a pluralistic God reflects affirmation of diversity, a violent binary God reflects the politics of power and exclusion. 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 at discovering his identity and his willingness to forgive them. Living at their best from the “an eye for an eye” morality, and remembering their mistreatment of Joseph, they expect that vengeance or some form of reprisal might be appropriate and deserved, as it is in our justice system and the justice of their time. 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? How do we imagine something good coming out of a dysfunctional family, racism, attacks on democracy, or incivility in politics and society. 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. 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. If nothing – not even death – can separate us from the love of God, we can life boldly and creatively, we can sacrifice and also choose to stand out from the crowd.
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 relationships, ethics, and politics.
Bruce Epperly is a professor, pastor, and author of over sixty books, including MYSTICS IN ACTION: TWELVE SAINTS FOR TODAY; WALKING WITH FRANCIS OF ASSISI: FROM PRIVILEGE TO ACTIVISM; PROPHETIC HEALING: HOWARD THURMAN’S VISION OF CONTEMPLATIVE ACTIVISM; PROCESS THEOLOGY AND POLITICS; and 101 SOUL SEEDS FOR GRANDPARENTS WORKING FOR A BETTER WORLD.