Readings for (Proper 26)Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost 14th October 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost Proper 26C / Ordinary 28C / Pentecost +20 Textweek

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7; Psalm 66:1-12; II Timothy 2:8-15; Luke 17:11-19

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Just want to go back to the first reading: Jeremiah speaks to a particular situation at a particular time. He speaks to the Hebrews who have been exiled into Babylon; the promise has been taken away and they now live in exile. The prophetic voice however, reaches beyond the particular and speaks into the universal. The prophet speaks the word of the divine, the prophet utters the word of God, the voice of creation, the voice of life. It’s therefore a word to be heard in every age, and so it also speaks to us to this day and to our particular situation. Verse 7 says, ‘seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.’

Each of us might hear that and contemplate that address of Jeremiah in relation to our own situation; each of us will have a slightly different interpretation, we will hear it from a different inner landscape, but it also identifies a universal, it identifies a principle that fits for all of us. The seeking of our welfare is not about looking after ourself. Jeremiah introduces a process whereby seeking the welfare of the whole is the way to finding our own wholeness. It’s an obvious truth, it’s one that most of us know within us at some base there, it’s almost one of those natural truths. It’s the herd instinct, it’s the safety-in-numbers stuff, it’s the ‘united we stand’, it’s the attraction of community and after all it’s the way we find our belonging, seeking the welfare of the whole and therein finding our own welfare. In the present age that becomes quite a radical concept, it goes against the tide of our booming consumer society. The modern quest to be self-sufficient and to be self-funded actually denies the prophetic voice and so too, the divine word of creation. If we listen to another voice it may the voice of uncreation that we hear.

Paul in writing to Timothy says, ‘Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in all things.’ And then later on in verse 12, he writes, ‘if we deny him’ - if we deny Christ, if we deny God, then Christ/God will deny us. Paul is one of those characters who has grown up, he’s individuated as you might say in the present, he’s left behind the childish things, that’s what the whole road to Damascus is about, it’s got nothing to do with bright lights and falling off horses, it’s to do with growing into one’s truth. He’s moved beyond a God who looks after everything, regardless of what we do. Paul is aware that in Christ there is revealed an intimate relationship between humanity and divinity: we are integral to and we are participants in the divine unfolding of creation. That is not ‘God stuff’: life in Christ or in denial of Christ has consequences, and in the Gospel that we hear today Luke uses a really simple illustration to make the same point and the point that he gets to in the story of the lepers is ‘your faith has made you well.’ Our orientation, that in which we place our faith, determines our creative unfolding, our wellness; where I place my faith will lead to my unfolding, my wholeness or my lack of it. Back to 2 Timothy: ‘You then, my child, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus’ – therein place your faith.

There’s a sense that we could almost pause there, but the readings constantly draw us in; there’s more for us to contemplate. The Gospel lays some emphasis on its context which is set in movement: ‘On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee.’ Obviously was important to Luke that we get a feel for Jesus being on the way from somewhere to somewhere. It suggests that we might contemplate, where are we going? Where are we on the way to? As per the Gospel, it is perhaps in our movement, in our going toward, that we find encounter, and once again the modern world somehow has distorted that process. Encounter can now be found quite comfortably sitting on the sofa by the television; encounter can be found in sport – great example of encounter in movement, but it’s a movement going nowhere, all contained within the field of play where we can keep an eye on it. I wonder, are we afraid of going on the way to? Are we afraid of movement, and I wonder if there is a primal ‘afraid of movement’ that’s got to do with the movement from birth to death? Seems that in the modern world that’s a movement that we constantly wish to deny, the movement from birth to death and I wonder if in our denial of it we actually suppress a fear and so seek to be always where we are, rather than on the way.

Back to 2 Timothy again. There’s a wonderful list of ‘ifs’: ‘If we have died with him, we will also live with him’ – that’s the first one: overcome the fear of death and we open ourselves to movement. ‘If we endure’, ‘if we deny’, if we are faithless’. The ‘ifs’ that Paul writes are there to be explored; they’re there to be explored for us to say where are we in relation to the if’s, to become aware of what stops us from moving; to reawaken, to rekindle the whole idea of life lived in the knowledge of consequences, life that we can grab, life that no longer is controlled by God on his keyboard but rather that is sung into being by us. Life that seeks the welfare of the whole.

The Lord be with you.
Peter Humphris