Third Sunday after the Epiphany – January 27, 2013

Reading 1: Reading 2: Reading 3: Reading 4: 
Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10Psalm 191 Corinthians 12:12-31aLuke 4:14-21

By Bruce G. Epperly

Today’s lectionary readings reflect on the relationship of order and novelty on the micro and macro levels of cosmic and human existence. While evolving and contextual in nature, the “law” of God is the ground of value and wholeness and not imposed from without. When we are in tune with the flexible visions of divine wisdom for the large and small, and the long-haul and momentary aspects of life, we experience joy and fulfillment.

Imagine, a whole crowd crying at the discovery of God’s commandments. Well, that’s what happened when the people recover God’s laws in the context of rebuilding the city. After years of chaos, they are overcome with joy on the return to order and the possibility of national sovereignty. Apart from appropriate order and stability, no creativity and beauty can occur whether in personal life, worship, or the nation. When we follow the “laws” of our being—what Tillich describes as “theonomous” existence—we experience ourselves as aligned with the universe and our deeper selves. From a process perspective, these “laws” emerge as inspirations for social order and creativity and moment-by-moment beauty of experience.

Psalm 29 connects cosmic and individual order and beauty. The heavens are telling the glory of God. Each day praises the creator. This is the day that God has made, and we will rejoice and be glad in it! Non-coercive in nature, divine wisdom guides all things, giving birth to galaxies and evoking praise in the cries of infants and their parents.

The law of God in its cosmic perfection gives life and light to the human spirit. Cellular order and beauty reflect cosmic order and beauty. The harmonies of the spheres are also reflected in a life of harmony and wholeness. Whitehead notes that the “teleology of the universe” is aimed at the production of beauty. Beautiful cells, souls, and galaxies alike mirror one another. In aligning ourselves with the micro and macro patterns of life, “the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts” add to the beauty of life and contribute to God’s vision of beauty.

The words of I Corinthians 12 speak of the order and beauty of the dynamic body of Christ. God loves diversity in the universe, human body, and fellowship of the faithful. Diversity contributes to beauty and intensity of experience, when it is mated with graceful interdependence and unity. In the body of Christ, unity contributes to variety rather than uniformity. Following last week’s reading from I Corinthians 12:1-11, today’s reading notes that everyone matters within the body of Christ. Even the “least important” or “ordinary” members of the body are essential to the wellbeing of the totality. Without their contribution, the body would not be whole—whether the human body, the community of faith, or the body politic.

In a healthy body, no one can be neglected. All parts need to be affirmed and nurtured. If one part is diseased, the whole will eventually break down. As Jewish mysticism asserts, when you save one soul, you save the universe, for universe cannot be complete until every part is fulfilled. The passage from I Corinthians 12 begs the questions: What is the state of our personal wellbeing? How do we evaluate our congregational wellbeing? What words describe our community or national wellbeing? What parts are neglected or diseased and how is this reflected in the overall health of the organism? The body of Christ described in I Corinthians 12 has political and economic implications: there are no rugged self-made individualists, requiring no one else’s support nor are there any persons whose wellbeing can be neglected in a healthy society.

Luke 4 contains one of Jesus’ mission statements. Along with John 10:10, “I have come that you might have life in all its abundance,” this passage describes what Jesus thought he was up to in his ministry of healing and wholeness—good news, liberation, healing, freedom, and Shalom. Following the spirit of Isaiah, it is clear that this passage portrays a holistic spiritual vision, embracing person and politics. The transformative power of God’s good news changes everything: all dimensions of life pertain to God’s vision of shalom, wholeness, and liberation. Today’s gospel reading challenges us to reflect and act on the social dimensions of God’s good news. In our communities, who needs liberation, healing, restoration, and renewal? What are we going to do about it? 

Beyond the platitudes of politicians, no child can be left behind—no child of God can be neglected, homeless, undernourished, impoverished, and without the diet and health care necessary for overall wellbeing. None of these are optional in the USA or abroad. While we must find ways to live within our means as congregations, institutions, and governments, the “preferential option for the wealthy” characteristic of tax codes and the legal system must give way to a “preferential option for everyone,” most especially the vulnerable. In aligning ourselves with God’s vision and priorities, the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts are acceptable—supportive—of God’s vision for us and the universe.

Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, pastor, and author of twenty three books, including Process Theology: A Guide to the PerplexedHoly Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living, Philippians: An Interactive Bible Study, The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age, and Emerging Process: Adventurous Theology for a Missional Church. He also writes regularly for the Process and Faith lectionary. He recently served as Visiting Professor of Process Studies at Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Lincoln University.  Contact him by email for lectures, workshops, and retreats. His latest book is Healing Marks: Healing and Spirituality in Mark’s Gospel (Energion).