Reflections on the scripture texts for Sunday, August 22, 2010
Today's passages explore the realities of divine providence and inspiration related to the present moment and a person's lifetime. God presents us with many possibilities in each moment. God is moving in our lives, mostly quietly, sometimes dramatically, to enable us to discover the calling of the moment as well as our broader callings for our self-actualization and the well-being of those around us. Each moment has a vocation, a vision, and over a lifetime our long-term vocations emerge through moment-by-moment attentiveness.
By the time you read this, I may be the grandparent for the first time. Our son's baby is due during the month of August. Accordingly, I can appreciate God's word to Jeremiah. We have been praying for our grandson from the moment we heard that my daughter-in-law was expecting. We have followed his progress through doctors' reports and ultrasound photography. We have loved this child from the womb and after he is born, we will love and guide him as grandparents to the best of our abilities.
Jeremiah receives that same promise from God: in the spirit of Psalm 139, God reassures the reluctant prophet that his life has been guided by divine inspiration and energy from the very beginning. God's spirit is everywhere in the young prophet's life. Jeremiah has made decisions that have shaped his life and prepared him for this moment in time. But, beneath it all, working through his unconscious mind and synchronous events, God has also been shaping Jeremiah's life with insights, inspirations, and intuitions. The call and response takes place in sighs too deep for words as well as in words we can articulate and share.
Over the years, I have heard countless pastors -- both new and experienced -- confess their sense of inadequacy about sharing God's message from the pulpit. "Who am I to tell these people what God wants of them? What gives me the right to interpret God's word to this community?" They are all correct in their humility. I have felt this same Jeremiah-like humility as a preacher, teacher, and author. But, despite his (and my) sense of inadequacy and his confession that he is the least experienced person in his cohort, God challenges Jeremiah to be bold in his proclamation of God's vision for this time. "Listen deeply to my inspiration," God counsels the prophet, "and speak the words you intuit that I am saying."
Now, I believe Jeremiah had mystical experiences in which he perceived God's guidance in his life; yet, even these experiences were routed through Jeremiah's conscious awareness and reflected his social location and life-experiences. As H. Richard Niebuhr and today's post-modern theologians assert, revelation always requires a receiver, who shapes and colors even divine revelation. This is good news, for it invites us to be part of the revelation story and to hear God's word, albeit imperfectly and humbly, in our time and place. It invites us to share our good news, knowing it reveals both God's vision and our personal perspective and life-history.
Psalm 70's prayer for protection is grounded in the Psalmist's awareness of God's nearness in each moment and throughout his lifetime: "Upon you I have leaned from my birth; it was you who took me from my mother's womb." God is in this place, as Jacob exclaims -- the place where I live and work and speak, whether I am designated as lay or clergy -- and now I know it! The doctrine of omnipresence means no more -- and no less -- than God's presence in every moment of my life and every place I travel. Christianity has a mystical core, grounded in opening to the one "in whom I live and move and have my being." In our pluralistic, uncertain time, pastors can invite their congregants to "lived omnipresence," that is, to experiencing God's inspiration and companionship in all things. Our humility as laypersons and pastors need not keep us from revealing from our perspective of divine grace and insight in our time and place.
In contrast to the intimacy of God, described in the call of Jeremiah and Psalm 70, the passage from Hebrews portrays the grandeur and majesty of God. God is more than we can imagine. Our words about God are fallible and imperfect, and can never encompass the fullness of divine revelation. This is also, surprisingly, good news -- it calls us to humility in our vocations and in our preaching and reminds us that nothing we say about God can fully describe the divine. We see in a mirror dimly and carry the treasures of our faith in earthen vessels. God cannot be reduced to human desire or aspiration, even though God is constantly inspiring and guiding our pathways. Even though the author of Hebrews describes God as a consuming fire, the divine fire is first of all loving and healing. Love, not power, defines God's relationship with humankind.