Proper 25, Year A ~ The Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost

October 12, 2017 | by Bruce Epperly

Reading 1 Reading 2 Reading 3 Reading 4 Reading 1 Alt Reading 2 Alt
Deuteronomy 32:1-14 Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17 I Thessalonians 2:1-8 Matthew 22:34-46

This Sunday, we celebrate the Protestant Reformation and the spirit of renewal that transforms institutions and faith traditions. Finite and fallible, the Reformation shaped the future of Christianity in positive ways. It infused life into a moribund religious institution that prized power and property over spirituality. It opened spiritual reflection and authority to lay persons. It gave laypersons a spiritual voice. It inspired an educated priesthood and breathed new life in the Roman Catholic tradition. Still, as we celebrate the Reformation, our calling is to look forward and not backward. We do not need to idolize the Reformers or return to their theological positions. Nothing would more betray the Reformation than making an idol of their doctrinal, sacramental, or ecclesiastical perspectives.  As the Reformers themselves asserted, the Reformation is always reforming.  God is still speaking and doing a new thing and fidelity demands that we refresh the streams of faith constantly, joining tradition and innovation in responding to our current cultural, technological, and global context.  What new thing does God call us to in our time?

Deuteronomy describes Moses’ vision of the promised land.  Moses dies on the verge of a land he sought for forty years.  He is not a failure, but a visionary, who reminds us that we need to dream about a world of Shalom, even if we never make it there.  We need to have visions of the future that push us beyond our limitations and challenge us to seek a better world.  The moral arc of the universe is long, as Theodore Parker asserts. Often it takes more than a lifetime to achieve God’s vision for our world.  Still, we must plant seeds for trees whose fruit we will never taste. We must work for justice even though our quest may take decades.  The odds are always against great ideas, but great ideas outlast the bloviations of political leaders and the negativity of skeptics.

The Psalmist contrasts divine faithfulness with human fallibility and mortality.  God is cosmic and God’s vision embraces all creation. God inspires the moral arc of the universe, and we come and go, seeking God’s way embodied in our daily lives.  Our calling is to recognize our responsibility for our time and place, throwing our pebble into the pond of life, letting it ripple forth in world transforming ways.  The Psalmist’s words remind us of Whitehead’s doctrine of objective immortality.  Our finite and temporary achievements live forever in God’s memory, shape God’s future actions in our world, and leave an imprint on history beyond our lifetimes.

The words of I Thessalonians describe the ministries of Paul and his colleagues.  Paul and his colleagues seek to be faithful to God, and not swayed by their community’s preferences.  Leadership is both contextual and creative.  Good leaders seek the “best for the impasse,” which mirrors yet challenges the current situation.  Mere mortals, following God’s vision, can transform the world in their time and place.

In the gospel reading, Jesus shows us what faith is ultimately about.  Doctrine is important, but not all important. Doctrines held too tightly can deaden the spirit and lead to heresy hunting. Orthodoxy provides a framework but it is limited and fallible, and often the source of exclusion, judgement, excommunication, and violence.  Institutions are necessary, but no institution or denomination, whether Roman Catholic or Protestant, fully encompasses God’s truth, and institutions can deaden as well as enliven the spirit.  What matters is our love for God and one another.  This is not a binary love, pitting our love for the Creator against our love for the creature, but a holistic love – we cannot rightly love the world and our neighbors without placing our love of God first; we cannot rightly love God without caring for our brothers and sisters, and the good Earth.  Loving God and the world belong together.

On Reformation Sunday, our challenge is to awaken to transformation in our time. The fact that we not achieve our goals should not limit our visions and quest for God’s realm.  The world is healed and saved one act at a time, and every faithful and loving act enables God to be more active in healing our world with God’s vision of love, truth, goodness, and beauty.  The Reformation is always reforming.

Bruce Epperly is Pastor and Teacher at South Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Centerville, MA. and a professor in the D.Min program of Wesley Theological Seminary.  He is the author of over 40 books, including Process Theology: A Guide for the Perplexed, Process Theology: Embracing Adventure with God, Becoming Fire: Spiritual Practices for Global Christians; and Praying with Process Theology: Spiritual Practices for Personal and Global Healing.