The Adventurous Lectionary – The Second Sunday after Pentecost – June 11, 2023
Genesis 12:1-9; Psalm 33:1-12; Romans 4:13-25; Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26
Today’s scriptures chart a journey toward wholeness. Although it is seldom cited as a healing story, Abraham’s story – like that of Matthew’s – involves the healing of purpose. The wholeness that comes when you discover your life’s vocation for the season of life in which you find yourself.
Abraham and Sarah are people of a “certain age.” In our society, they would be recent retirees and members of the Medicare generation. Retirement involves a transformation of vocation. We ask, “what will we do next? How will we spend the time of our lives? What is our next great work?” Without a vision, retirement becomes dull and humdrum. With a vision, any stage of life can be vital and exciting. (For more on retirement, see Bruce Epperly, “The Jubilee Years: Embracing Clergy Retirement” and “101 Soul Seeds for a Joyful Retirement.”)
With their lives pretty well figured out, Abraham and Sarah are called forward to one more adventure. After considering their life situation – like us in similar circumstances, they may have spent time pondering the nature of the call and whether they should follow it – they go forth toward a new land. They don’t yet know the contours of the new land, but as the Apostle Paul says, they go forth by faith in the future God imagines for them. They go forth “by stages toward the Negeb.” When we ponder a move, we don’t always do it all at once. We take one step and then another, expanding the circle of adventure.
At each step, Abram and Sarah erect an altar. At first, I suspect that their altars were intended to attract the presence of what they presumed was a geographically limited God. Later, I believe the altars were intended to orient them toward the God who called them forward.
The story of Abram and Saria, invites us to ponder, “What are your altars of spirit? What orients you toward God’s presence on your spiritual journey?” Today is a good day for the preacher to explore their own and their congregation’s spiritual practices and suggest ways that we can encounter God on our spiritual journeys.
The Gospel reading presents three healing stories: Matthew’s healing of purpose, the healing of a woman with a flow of blood, and Jairus (the temple leader’s) daughter. Matthew gives a synopsis of what the usually terse Mark describes in greater detail in terms of the two physical healings. (Mark 5:21-43) The woman with the flow finds healing as a result of her faith. Jairus’ daughter depends on the faith of others. In either case, faith is transformative: it changes cells as well as souls. While these are no linear faith healings, totally dependent on the recipients’ faith, they present the vision of faith working wonders in the confluence of human aspiration and divine care. God is not out to get us; God is out to heal us. God wants us to have abundant life, and seeks wholeness of body, mind, spirit, relationships, and politics. (For more on Jesus’ and the church’s healing ministry, see Bruce Epperly, “God’s Touch: Faith, Wholeness, and the Healing Miracles of Jesus,” “Healing Worship: Purpose and Practice,” and “Healing Marks: Healing and Spirituality in Mark’s Gospel”)
In the story of Matthew’s healing of purpose, Jesus crosses the moral and social barriers of his time. Jesus welcomes the outsiders. His love is not contingent on their previous occupation, moral life, or social standing. Once again, his goal is healing. In this case the restoration of vision and spirit. Even traitors can be healed. God loves the oppressor as well as the oppressed, the privileged and well as the impoverished, and their healing involves choosing a new way of life, “following Jesus” into a world of new values and possibilities.
Today, the preacher might invite their congregants to examine where they need healing: the healing of values, purpose, and vocation and the healing of body, mind, spirit, and relationships. We are all, as the spiritual says, “standin’ in the need of prayer,” and God wants to respond to our deepest needs. When we admit that we need God’s vision and energy, new possibilities emerge for persons and congregations. We discover new life and new energy. We are healed.
Bruce Epperly is a pastor, professor, spiritual guide, and author of over seventy books, including THE ELEPHANT IS RUNNING: PROCESS AND OPEN AND RELATIONAL THEOLOGY AND RELIGIOUS PLURALISM; PROPHETIC HEALING: HOWARD THURMAN’S VISION OF CONTEMPLATIVE ACTIVISM; MYSTIC’S IN ACTION: TWELVE SAINTS FOR TODAY; WALKING WITH SAINT FRANCIS: FROM PRIVILEGE TO ACTIVISM; MESSY INCARNATION: MEDITATIONS ON PROCESS CHRISTOLOGY, FROM COSMOS TO CRADLE: MEDITATIONS ON THE INCARNATION, and THE PROPHET AMOS SPEAKS TO AMERICA. His most recent books are PROCESS THEOLOGY AND THE REVIVAL WE NEED and TAKING A WALK WITH WHITEHEAD: MEDITATIONS WITH PROCESS-RELATIONAL THEOLOGY. He is currently serving as Bridge Minister at Westmoreland Congregational United Church of Christ in Bethesda, MD, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.