Readings for (Proper 13) Tenth Sunday after Pentecost 29 July 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Tenth Sunday after Pentecost Proper 13C / Ordinary 18C / Pentecost +10 Textweek

Hosea 11:1-11;Psalm 107:1-9, 43;Colossians 3:1-11;Luke 12:13-21

Psalm 107 begins with a very clear affirmation: ‘Give thanks to the Lord, for God is good; and God’s steadfast love endures forever’. Alongside ‘God is Love’, ‘God is good’ would have to be one of the primary Biblical and theological affirmations. It’s one of those short bumper stickers that you could hang the rest of the theology off. However, to argue for the goodness of the Creator based on evidence of creation is not that simple or straight forward. It’s easy to appreciate that with the dualism in the forces of light and the forces of dark we can see a fracture, a break where trust and doubt come into conflict with each other. The question we ask is, does the arrow of creation point toward good or evil, light or dark? Is the unfolding of creation moving towards death or moving towards life? Is it good or evil that is the most powerful influence in our lives? ‘Give thanks to the Lord, for God is good’: after that the psalmist provides a litany of evidence to illustrate God’s goodness and the illustrations of God’s goodness are the acts of love, some of which the psalmist captures and what we get in the first reading from Hosea today is very much that same sense – the nature of God, the goodness of God is evidenced in acts of love.

Just a little illustration that goes with that first reading is really quite helpful. The backdrop to that first reading from Hosea, as we said last week, is a backdrop of social turmoil. The northern kingdom – at this point the Hebrew nation is divided into the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah - the northern kingdom is falling to the armies of Assyria. The people of Israel, of the northern kingdom, have turned away, toward other gods and what we find in Hosea is an illumination of God as that of a parent toward a child. It is a love that is committed and unconditional; it is a love that experiences and endures with the other the anxiety when that love appears to be rejected. It is a love torn by compassion in tension with anger. It is very much the dynamic of parent and child, when our children wander off on courses of their own choosing, deliberately taking courses in a completely different direction to the course that we as a parent have suggested, there’s that tension; doesn’t diminish the love that we have but it sets up a tension in that love.

Hosea captures the divine agony of Easter and he makes real the anxiety, the conflict of trust and doubt that is the result of taking the risk of love. Creation is the risk of love that is occasioned by the Creator. We are holders of the divine agony as we too wrestle with trust and doubt and there’s a healthiness in it; there’s a great healthiness of sitting with trust and doubt, feeling and knowing that they draw us and pull us in different directions. And as we’re constantly called by the gravity of the world into the security of our own ego, we might just catch a glimpse or an echo of the divine word that Hosea captures in verse 9: ‘I am God, the Holy One in your midst’. If we can hear that echo then we can hold the tension – not giving ourselves over fully to trust, not giving ourselves over fully to doubt, not allowing gravity to pull ourselves fully into our own ego but knowing that we are called out of ourselves, a light calling out of darkness.

The second reading from Paul - sometimes helpful to think of Paul as my prototype, our prototype: Paul is like the first Christian, the one who actually gets the message of Christ, changes his life and lives it. He hears the echo within the tension; he turns from the darkness of what was a very successful life. Paul was doing fine, really fine; this is someone who had a certainty and a strength of character so clear that he sought to put down the emerging church because it spoke a different way from the religion of his culture. And yet he hears the echo, from the darkness he sees the light flickering. And what he does is he grounds that echo into the everyday: the process of the everyday for Paul is the place where that tension is not just held but is resolved. Paul says, ‘Seek the things that are above’. He then goes on to say, ‘When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory’. ‘When Christ who is your life’: not Christ in your life, not my life lived like Christ. There is no other for Paul: ‘When Christ who is your life’, the two are the same. In that renewal, he goes on, ‘but Christ is all and in all’, and that also is a revelation of ourselves. When we find ourselves our life in Christ, we find ourselves all, fully, whole and in all, a part of the wholeness and fullness of Creation. Those three affirmations of Paul, seeking the things that are above, discovering Christ who is in your life, revealing yourself in glory and the renewal that leads to Christ being all and in all, have got the potential to reshape our whole theology and our whole being, individually and as church.

Hosea uses the analogy of God as parent and God’s people as children; we tend to get stuck with that analogy. We gained our theological understanding at Sunday School or we gained it by osmosis from the culture which got it from the dogmas and the doctrines of the church and so we end up with this idea that the divine image is parent and child. The divine agony, the divine risk is that creation, which is the risk of love, is revealed in Christ, Christ the divine gift; all is given in Christ and Christ is our very life.

Luke explores the dynamic by giving us a very brief, everyday encounter that we can all relate to. The story that we hear in Luke, the question and the parable, I would guess that we have experienced, most of us have experienced it over and over and over. The question in verse 13 seeks to engage Jesus in a conversation: ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me’, seeking to get Jesus to come into and resolve another tension, and it’s all about division. And just that question, the fact that it’s placed following the reading that we’ve just heard of Paul, ‘In that renewal, Christ is all and in all’, what we discover when we then hear the question is, ‘Ah, this must be a question that belongs before renewal’. There is a world in which that question would be ridiculous if voiced; it is a world where all is in all, where the forces move not towards division but rather towards wholeness.

The parable about the rich young man – just cross out ‘rich’ and ‘young man’ and put ‘us’, that’s what the parable is about. It tells of someone who acted prudently - that’s us; this is a modern-day economic rationalist, someone who has listened to every economic forecast and who’s understood the drift of all those financial planning adverts that balance the consumer marketing on the TV. This is a parable about us in the present. The rich man is a prudent man and on the surface he’s not just managing but he’s a good steward, with the gifts that he has. What the parable seeks to identify is that he acts in an isolated way; he’s unaware, completely unaware that his welfare has got anything to do with anyone else’s welfare. He would certainly be at home in our world; he would fit in perfectly.
Love is the power that connects and commits itself to the other and to every other. It risks the divine agony. Love is the arrow of life and it’s an arrow that constantly draws us out of ourselves. We find it in one to one encounters quite easily; the arrow continues to point beyond that. It says the power of life is to reveal a love for all from within. Let’s just be aware as we contemplate the parable that this is the life we live, in the midst of the life we live, not in some faraway place, in the midst of it, ‘I am God the Holy one’. Love draws us together. As we continue - as today unfolds, as tomorrow unfolds from today - to hold the parable, be aware of the arrow of your own life, the arrow of this community, the arrow of our nation, the arrow of our world.

The Lord be with you.
Peter Humphris