The Eighth Sunday after Epiphany – February 27, 2011
|Reading 1:||Reading 2:||Reading 3:||Reading 4:|
|Isaiah 49:8-16a||Psalm 131||1 Corinthians 4:1-5||Matthew 6:24-34|
By Bruce G. Epperly
Divine intimacy and care are at the heart of today’s lectionary readings. God is near: as near as our breathing and present with us in every season of life. God feels our joy and sorrow, and lovingly responds to our life’s challenges. God will not forsake us, and God’s awareness of our condition enables us to courageously follow our vocation to share God’s good news in healing ways. Such confidence is the foundation for courage and confidence in our quest for personal growth and healing and our commitment to be God’s partners in justice-seeking and global healing.
Isaiah 49 will remind some readers of the popular poem, “Footprints,” in which a person laments God’s absence at critical moments of life only to discover that the lone set of footprints belong to God who carried her across the beach. Isaiah’s community feels forsaken by God in its time of distress. But, God reassures them that God’s covenant is non-negotiable and everlasting: “Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child in her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands.”
We are intimately related to God. God is not fully God without us. Our identity on the “palms of God’s hands” defines God’s ongoing experience. All creation finds a home in God, shaping and being shaped by the one to whom all hearts are open and all desires known. God’s knowledge is not abstract or eternal; God does not plan moments of desolation and tragedy. In contrast to Rick Warren’s God who plans all the important events of our lives without our input, God works within the challenging circumstances of life as our companion and healing partner, supporting our creativity and freedom. This is amazing and good news: in the fourteen billion year, one hundred billion galaxy cosmic adventure, God still intimately experiences us and moves lovingly to bring wholeness and joy to us.
Even if we forget God, God will not forget us. With the Psalmist we can quiet our soul, because God, like a loving mother, holds us at her breast. God answers our cries and provides guidance, illumination, and comfort for the journey.
Paul’s words to the Corinthian community assert that God’s knowledge is both intimate and loving. Paul does not imagine God knowing the future or plotting out the events of our lives. Rather, God knows us as we are with a bias toward love. Because of God’s intimacy, we don’t need to judge ourselves or live by guilt or shame as we review our mistakes and misdeeds. Knowing that we are known by God – and that love is God’s way with humankind – we can accept ourselves and open to new possibilities for personal and communal transformation.
The reading from the Sermon on the Mount responds to our feelings of anxiety about the present and future. God takes care of things large and small, including birds and flowers, won’t God take care of us? Our ultimate destiny is in God’s care: we have a home in God’s loving intimacy. God knows our deepest needs and will work within our decisions and the circumstances of our lives to provide pathways toward wholeness. When we are caught up in the prison house of the present moment’s struggles, we can see no further than our own stress and anxiety. But, when we see our lives from God’s perspective, the things that frighten us lose their power to control us. Though issues of economics, employment, and relationship are still important, they are not all-important. As Paul says in Romans 8, none of things that we perceive as threats to our survival can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
The Sermon on the Mount invites us to live in this present holy moment. While we can still plan for the future, our future planning is conditioned by our trust in God’s ultimate care. We can place our anxiety and care in God’s care, knowing that God’s love for us is everlasting. As we move toward the contemplative season of Lent, it is important to know that mindfully facing our temptations is possible because we are loved, accepted, and cared for by God.
Bruce Epperly is Professor of Practical Theology and Director of Continuing Education at Lancaster Theological Seminary. He is the author of seventeen books, including Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living and Tending to the Holy: The Practice of the Presence of God, written with Kate Epperly, and selected as the 2009 Book of the Year by the Academy of Parish Clergy. He can be contacted for conversation, lectures, seminars, workshops, and preaching engagements.