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- Creative Transformation
July 14, 2002
Psalm 65:(1-8), 9-13
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Kinship and Creation are complementary concepts in the lessons for this week. Because God (Yahweh) is the Divine Author of all creation, everyone and everything that acknowledges its debt to God for the mere fact of existence is related to God and all other aspects/elements of creation.
The poetic exultation in the closing chapter of II Isaiah is both inspiring and evocative. Even as the poet enthuses, exiles are making their way back from exile in Babylon to a feast in Jerusalem (Zion). By issuing an edict enabling the captives to return to their homeland, Cyrus of Persia became for II Isaiah a messiah, a savior of his people. To celebrate that liberation and return, however, the prophet issues an invitation but not to things as they were, not to a fantasy of a restored Davidic monarchy, and certainly not to whoopla over the return of freedom.
No, the invitation the prophet issues is to transformation. He challenges the people to reconsider Israel, its meaning and place among other nations and not as if the Exile never happened but in the light of the Exile. A restored Israel must be a reconceived and a reconfigured Israel. The special bond between God and Israel must now be seen in terms of how it facilitates realization of God’s purposes for the world, not how it protects Israel in the world. The Covenant must now be viewed as universal in scope not private in applicability. For Israel to accept this invitation is for it to become a light to the nations and a witness to the connectedness of all people and all things through the God who is Creator of all. To accept this invitation is to demonstrate the faithfulness of God’s promises and the power of prophecy at work in the world.
In some ways we could say that the very existence of the Psalter attests to Israel’s acceptance of the invitation. Sometimes referred to as the hymnbook of the second Temple, this song of praise acknowledges that the bounty of the harvest itself comes from God’s creative use of the natural rhythms of the earth. God’s sovereignty over all the earth is affirmed, and the awesomeness of God’s natural handiwork is recognized by people everywhere-from east to west. Israel’s developing awareness of the divine unfolding in all of life gives voice to that consciousness II Isaiah was urging upon the returning exiles.
The notion of kinship and our connection to God is taken to greater depths in Paul’s address to the Gentile and Jewish Christians in Rome. The Spirit of God so obvious in the works of creation (nature) is now discernable in the lives of people. Using the metaphors of flesh and spirit Paul argues long and hard that to be in the spirit and to allow the spirit access to the self is to know unmistakably that we are truly children of God.
To ignore or deny the spirit is to be captive to the flesh, that is, to that way of thinking that persuades us that we are on our own out here in the world. To believe ourselves to be on our own is to be at the mercy of the malevolent forces at work in the world and to have limited resources for facing those forces. To believe that we are connected to everything and everyone through the spirit of God that gave life to all of it, is to face life’s terrors, if not fearlessly, at least confidently, knowing that even death will not defeat the spirit of God. To know that we are children of God is to know that the same destiny awaits us as awaited God’s own son-resurrection. Now that’s connection.
Much of the power and life-giving significance of Jesus’ resurrection is eroded by focusing exclusively on what God did for Jesus. Probably out of some fear of trivializing the Incarnation or risking some “works righteousness” mentality, far too much of Christendom remains resistive to considering the relationship between how Jesus lived, how he died, and how he lived again. Or perhaps, more importantly, we continue to avoid a careful consideration of those early communities of Jesus’ friends and followers and the processes by which they came to value what they valued and, therefore, attributed to Jesus what they did.
No where is that process more clearly discernable than in the style of teaching ascribed to Jesus. And of course, central to that style was Jesus’ deft use of storytelling, aka, the parable. Sometimes I think our efforts to interpret the parables, to ferret out meaning, desensitize us to impact they are designed to make. The story about the seeds and their various destinations seems so obvious. Of course seeds landing on top of a foot path, or on a rock or among thorns are not going to take root. And the sower seems so careless. From the details of the story it does not appear that soil was tilled, or furrows dug, or the bag itself inspected for holes or leaks. Nor does it seem that the sower had much of a plan for the work of planting. Martha Stewart he was not.
It seems likely to me that all of those details are important and included in the story not for their informational value but for their intriguing possibilities-to get the audience involved with the storyteller in the work of creating an experience. The storyteller weaves the tale so that long after the story is ended, the storyteller has left town, and everyone is back home doing life, the intrigue of the story remains. Meanings easily acquired, importances glibly explained not only rob the story of its impact but also defeat the very purpose of the story-to linger, to echo, to reverberate.
In the lingering, in the echoing, in the reverberating we remain connected to the story, the storyteller, and those with whom we shared the experience of the story. The story is always bigger than any of its meanings and accumulated interpretations.
At the heart of the Gospel is the need to tell the story, Jesus’ story. In the telling it becomes our story and the God whose work we recognize in Jesus becomes the same God now at work through us. Kinship and creation-passed on through story, preserved by and creating community.
The Rev. Dr. Tari Lennon is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and holds degrees in theology, ministry and psychology. She retired from parish ministry after 43 years and now convenes Open Gatherings which draws people together from all faiths and nonfaiths to explore topics of spirituality, relationships, and personal ethics.