The Adventurous Lectionary – Pentecost 11 – August 21,2022
This week, we ponder God’s providential love that breaks through every barrier and challenges the limitations we place on our abilities and God’s gifts in our lives. God is willing to give us more than we can ask or imagine. We need to open our hearts, minds, and hands to receive the fullness of divine blessing for ourselves and others. This week, we are invited to experience a deeper naturalism, that embraces mysticism and healing as spiritual dimensions emerging from the interplay of divine providence and human openness. “Miracles,” acts of divine presence and power, occur in the context of the predicable processes of cause and effect.
God’s word to Jeremiah is addressed to all of us as an invitation to move from scarcity to abundance and tap into the potential of divine-human synergy. The young prophet is anxious about the reception he will receive. The prophetic task ahead for Jeremiah is too large for his abilities, and he compares himself unfavorably to others who are older and more experienced. God, however, has a different vision. This passage is not about predestination or prenatal experience, and certainly has nothing to say about abortion as some suggest, but about God’s faithfulness, which includes a vision of possibilities that stretches backward before our birth. It is about divine inspiration in the here and now: God who was there at your conception and birth will never abandon you. God seeks your abundant life. While it provides no ethical guidance for the dilemma of abortion, it alerts us to God’s movements in our lives within our DNA, family of origin, and mother’s womb.
In contrast to Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life and the theologies of many evangelical spiritual leaders, I don’t believe that God fully determines our DNA, life circumstances, or personal characteristics. Divine providence operates in a world of chance and human creativity and fallibility. I do believe that from the very beginning God’s creative wisdom providentially guides our cells and our souls. There is a lot of free play in the universe, but God moves wisely through accidents, encounters, cellular structure, family of origin, and so forth to bring forth the highest good for all of us, leaving it up to us and others to embrace or decline God’s vision. (For more on my response to Rick Warren, see Bruce Epperly Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living, Parson’s Porch Books, second edition and for alternative visions of God’s movements in our lives see Bruce Epperly, Process Theology: Embracing Adventure with God, Energion, and Process Theology: A Guide for the Perplexed, Bloomsbury)
Jeremiah holds back, protesting his youth and inexperience, and God presses forward. We think small, God thinks big. We diminish ourselves, while God wants us to spread our wings. This applies to congregations as well as persons. What dreams are being stifled by fear in our congregation? Where is our sense of limitation thwarting new possibilities? As the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead avers, the limitations are the womb of possibility. Within the concreteness of life are immense possibilities for those who train their eyes to discern the subtle movements of God and take chances with their own agency. God seeks the well-being and fulfillment for us and our congregations as inspiration to heal the world.
Psalm 71 also describes the gentle and liberating providence of God. Whether a child is conceived via the union of her or his parents or IVF, God’s providence is at work, seeking to bring forth beauty and wonder in this child’s life and to inspire her or his parents to loving support. We can bless God with our whole souls for God’s ongoing and often unnoticed movements in our lives.
The gospel reading focuses on a religiously inconvenient healing, at least for the legalists among us. It is Sabbath, the day of rest, and yet Jesus heals an infirmed woman. Jesus calls her forward, takes the initiative, and restores her to well-being. Rather than rejoicing in the healing of this woman, at least one religious leader is irate. Speaking for the theologically and liturgically orthodox, he criticizes Jesus for going to work on the Sabbath. Jesus responds that whenever someone is in great pain and suffering, we embody the meaning of the Sabbath when we become agents of healing. The Sabbath is made for rest, and it is also made for showing God’s love through acts of care and hospitality.
Jesus touches her, releasing her from the power of disease. Does Jesus challenge an “infirm spirit” within her or does the Healer mediate God’s healing energy that softens her cells, calms her muscles, and restores her bones to wholeness? Or do the exorcism of negativity and blessing of goodness go together? Regardless, Jesus is living out his vocation, transcending legalisms, to bring this woman abundant life. Worship is an adventure of spirit (Whitehead) that supports the healing of body, mind, and spirit. Gospel healing transforms cells, souls, relationships, and social structures, and every moment is the right moment to embrace and share God’s healing touch. (For more on Jesus’ healings, see Bruce Epperly, Healing Marks: Spirituality and Healing in Mark’s Gospel, Energion, and God’s Touch: Faith, Wholeness, and the Healing Miracles of Jesus, Westminster/John Knox)
God’s grace breaks through self-imposed and other-imposed barriers. When others – including us – say “no” to grace, God says “yes” and invites us on a holy adventure to heal ourselves and the world.
Bruce Epperly is a pastor, professor, and author of over sixty books: THE ELEPHANT IS RUNNING: PROCESS AND OPEN AND RELATIONAL THEOLOGIES AND RELIGIOUS PLURALISM; GOD ONLINE: A MYSTIC’S GUIDE TO THE INTERNET; MYSTICS IN ACTION: TWELVE SAINTS FOR TODAY; PROPHETIC HEALING: HOWARD THURMAN’S VISION OF CONTEMPLATIVE ACTIVISM; and PROCESS THEOLOGY: EMBRACING ADVENTURE WITH GOD. His most recent books are RESTLESS SPIRIT: THE HOLY SPIRIT FROM A PROCESS PERSPECTIVE and FROM CRADLE TO CROSS: MEDITATIONS ON THE INCARNATION.