Lectionary Commentary

July 22, 2007
16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
8th Sunday after Pentecost

Commentary by Bruce Epperly

See also: [Year C Archive]

Amos 8:1-12
Psalm 52
Colossians 1:15-28
Luke 10:38-42

Amos presents the image of a famine of hearing the word of God. In a nation where the word “God” is glibly announced in political campaigns and entertainment programs, and invoked to support violence, economic exploitation, empire, sexism, and heterosexism, Amos reminds us that our familiarity with divine language may eventually threaten our experience of God, if we do not connect our words with actions that promote justice and wholeness.

The threat is obvious. If you turn from justice and exploit the vulnerable, you may enter the “dark night of the soul.” You may call upon God and experience no response. Has God withdrawn from us or has our failure to be faithful made it impossible, at the moment, to experience God in our lives? Can we limit God’s ability to “speak” by our idolatrous words about God? Our attempts to satisfy our hunger for God with “fast food” and injustice may thwart our ability to feast upon the “soul food” we truly need.

Although God is present in every moment of experience as the source of guidance and inspiration, our ability to experience God and, conversely, God’s ability to become the center of our lives, is conditioned by our faithfulness and focus. God’s aim toward wholeness is never abstract, but always concretely present in the events of our lives. If we have confused the God of possibility and beauty with gods of our own making and our own prosperity, God’s whisper may be drowned out by the shouting of the false gods of our own contrivance. In the spirit of Paul Tillich, if our “ultimate concern” is finite and self-serving and used as a means of injustice toward others, then when that “idol” collapses, we may have nothing upon which to stand.

Amos asks those of us who live comfortably to consider whether we have co-opted God to justify our own projects and quest for security, power, and affluence. Virtually all of us in Canada and the United States are implicated in social and economic systems that contribute to injustice abroad - and at home – and destruction of the biosphere. If we don’t experience God in the “least of these” in the human and non-human worlds, we may not be able to experience God when we truly need to encounter God in a healing and transforming way.
Colossians 1:15-28 gives us an ancient vision of panentheism, that is, God or Christ in all things, and all things in God or Christ. Dynamically present in all things, Christ is the principle of creativity and reconciliation alike. When we recognize the universality of Christ, then the only appropriate response is to “practice” openness to Christ by remaining steadfast in the faith. Christ who seeks reconciliation in all things inspires us to become ministers of reconciliation, choosing unity and healing in the midst of diversity.

God’s aim toward wholeness is also toward unity in diversity. In practice this means, a commitment to experiencing the unity of life without dissolving its diversity. Even when we struggle for justice, our calling is toward unity, not polarization. God’s reconciling aim is especially challenging to those whose attempts at justice only produce more alienation, even for just causes such as marriage equality, economic justice, ending the war in Iraq, or gender equality.

The gospel reading describes Jesus’ meal with Mary and Martha. Martha’s meticulous work is compromised by her anxiety, her worry about many things. Martha forgets her true purpose in this encounter is to lovingly listen to Jesus, rather than to plan the perfect meal. Jesus calls her to experience God’s vision for this moment – a feast that joins faith and food. Like Mary, we need to remember the “one thing,” our calling for each and every moment. God’s vision is global and intimate; each moment and each encounter has a vocation, and alignment with God’s vision enables us to join beauty and creativity with effectiveness in our daily tasks.

Process spirituality calls us to “practice the presence of God” (Brother Lawrence) moment by moment. This practice leads to peace, abundance, and reconciliation even amid the politics of our congregations, denominations, and countries. God’s presence calls us to experience and bring forth beauty in the midst of strife and holiness in the midst of everyday tasks. Practicing God’s presence by attending prayerfully to God’s vision enables us to become “green” in our faith and actions. As Psalm 52 notes, the righteous ones will become like a “green tree in the house of God,” trusting in the “steadfast love of God forever.”

Today’s scriptures call pastors and parishioners alike to commit themselves to practicing awareness of God. We may choose to join today’s worship with a seminar on contemplative prayer or faith and stress. At Kirkridge Retreat and Conference Center in Pennsylvania, one of the benches proclaims, “picket and pray.” We can cultivate a holy awareness of God in all of God’s “distressing disguises.” (Mother Teresa)  Accordingly, we can not only experience “something beautiful for God,” we can also “do something beautiful for God” (Mother Teresa) as we join our visions of God with practices of reconciliation and beauty-making.

Bruce Epperly is Professor of Practical Theology and Director of Continuing Education at Lancaster Theological Seminary. He is the author of twelve books, including God’s Touch: Faith, Wholeness, and the Healing Miracles of Jesus (Westminster/John Knox) Healing Worship: Purpose and Practice (Pilgrim), and Walking in Light: A Jewish-Christian Vision of Healing and Wholeness (Chalice). These books are available from Flux Books.

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