The Adventurous Lectionary – Seventh Sunday after Pentecost – July 24, 2022

The Adventurous Lectionary – Seventh Sunday after Pentecost – July 24, 2022 July 17, 2022

The Adventurous Lectionary – Seventh Sunday after Pentecost – July 24, 2022
Hosea 1:2-10
Psalm 85
Colossians 2:6-19
Luke 11:1-19

Today’s readings are challenging. Though their ultimate message describes divine generosity and recovery, they are wrapped in difficult language, especially the words from Hosea and Psalm 85, both of which describe God’s behavior in problematic imagery for those who believe God’s nature to be defined by love not vengeance.

There is an ethical calculus in the universe: though injustice often reaps rewards quickly, eventually those who are unjust will experience, as Amos says, a famine of hearing God’s word and will reap the whirlwind of social chaos and disorder. Eventually unjust leaders will be deposed from positions of power and authority. Those who forget to consider the well-being of future generations, inspired by power and greed, will suffer alienation from nature and will see their profits swallowed up and their children at risk from human-caused climate change. Politicians who foment hate will strut and fret at political rallies, but their legacies will be consigned to the ash heap of history. A church that aligns itself with racism, political intrigues, and conspiracy, will lose credibility in the eyes of seekers. While these are not direct results of divine punishment, in order of things, both personal and social, we do reap what we sow. The victims of the immorality of institutions and their leaders are not to be blamed, nor the poor and vulnerable maligned. In fact, the greatest danger to the soul is to be rich and powerful, and heedless of God’s way. Injustice and racism destroy the souls of perpetrators, even as it stunts the prospects of victims.

In the interdependence of sin, recovery, and divine care, the lens through which through which I am focusing is Jesus’ description of God’s relationship with the world found in Luke 11:13: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” These words point us toward healthy theological reflection and serve as an antidote to demonic images of God, even those which come from Christian ministers. These words chart a relational theology that gives birth to relational and affirmative ethics, embracing the vulnerable and giving voice to the voiceless.

“God gives good gifts to God’s children!” Jesus asserts that “evil” [read “imperfect” or “ambiguous, loving and sometimes impatient”] parents want the best for their children. Accordingly, won’t the perfect Parent, God, want to give you more? When I ask students and congregants what God is like, most respond with words like “loving,” “forgiving,” “creative,” “universal.” Few say, “punitive,” “angry,” “vindictive,” or “hateful.” Yet, such descriptors are regularly spewed forth from local church pastors, televangelists, and major figures in conservative Christianity. They dominate conservative white Christianity, whose quest for political power, is reflected in incivility and persecution of those perceived to be “other” than themselves. Some of these religious leaders have identified war, pestilence, AIDS, natural disaster and even mass shootings as divine punishment for America’s waywardness. These preachers suggested that God was behind storms or mass shootings that leave dozens injured or dead, even though they oppose meaningful firearms legislation and see guns and God as intimately connected, and are willing to sacrifice school children at the altar of the Second Amendment. Their congregants or media listeners nod their heads without recognizing the theological inconsistency of talking about God’s love, on the one hand, and God’s ruthless destruction, on the other. Today’s scripture would say such comments are blasphemy and should never be invoked from the pulpit, political rally, or social media. In fact, many people glibly assume God would perform certain actions – let loose viruses, destroy cities with storms, or initiate massacres – that would be considered hate crimes, punishable by imprisonment, if performed by a human. Their God is more like a narcissistic demon than the sacrificial and welcoming healer from Nazareth. Their God inspires violence and ostracism of anyone who differs from them doctrinally or politically.

It is important that we ask the question, “Is your vision of God as moral as you are? Is God as good as you are?” “Of course,” they respond. And then, I ask them to review the sordid and violent images associated with divine power and punishment. Once again, they are surprised that demonic images of God supported in scripture as well as popular dialogue. As theologian Thomas Oord asserts, many theologians exalt power over love in describing God, and if they had to abandon one concept, they would jettison love before they would let go of power.

In Luke 11, Jesus describes God as the Loving Father. It is fully appropriate to use the term “Mother” as well. There is an implicit – perhaps, explicit – ethic in divine parenting. God seeks a world in which God’s will or vision be enacted on earth as it is in heaven. In other words, God wants the world to be defined by loving, welcoming, going the second mile, and accepting diversity spiritual habits. If God is loving, then our calling is to be as loving as God. When we hear the cries of 100,000,000 refugees, the pain inflicted on species due to human-caused climate change, or the pain of parents burying the school age victims of school shooting, we must respond. They are the “friend at night” whose needs must trump our comfort.

Despite their harshness, the readings from Hosea and the Psalms recognize, as I noted earlier, that there is cause and effect in the universe. Bad lifestyle habits increase our possibility of life-threatening illness. Materialism and greed make us oblivious to beauty and diminish our spirits. Injustice leads to social unrest. Trusting in guns not God for our ultimate security leaves in its wake unprecedented violence in our homes as well as neighborhoods. Still, despite the justice built into reality, God wants us to aspire to become as much like Christ as possible. God’s ultimate aim is healing not harm. Made alive in Christ, we can embody Jesus’ message and mission. We can become “little Christs,” as Luther said. This is the spiritual-ethical meaning of the passage form Colossians: “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him.” We are “full of Christ” and our vocation is to let that fullness, that never ending stream of love, flow from us to the world.

This week’s readings challenge us to invoke God’s name only in ways that bring greater beauty and love to the world. There is too much loose talk about divinity in our time, especially when we assume God is on our side or reflects our values and prejudices. Such a God is compassionate to us, but violent to our foes, and justifies good Christian people telling those who disagree with them “to go back where they came from” and blithely accept racism and cruelty in our government’s policies. A Loving Parent inspires loving actions in the personal and political realm. We become like the God we worship. Let us claim a Loving Parent, Mother and Father, and mirror our Parent in our personal and political lives.

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Bruce Epperly is a professor, pastor, and author of over sixty books, including THE ELEPHANT IS RUNNING: PROCESS AND OPEN AND RELATIONAL THEOLOGY AND RELIGIOUS PLURALISM; PROCESS THEOLOGY AND POLITICS; RESTLESS SPIRIT: THE HOLY SPIRIT FROM A PROCESS PERSPECTIVE; PROPHETIC HEALING: HOWARD THURMAN’S VISION OF PROPHETIC ACTIVISM; MYSTICS IN ACTION: TWELVE SAINTS FOR TODAY; and 101 SOUL SEEDS FOR PEACEMAKERS AND JUSTICE SEEKERS.

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