January 5, 2020
|Reading 1||Reading 2||Reading 3||Reading 4||Reading 1 Alt||Reading 2 Alt|
|Jeremiah 31-14||Psalm 147:12-20 or Wisdom of Solomon 10:15-21||Ephesians 1:3-14||John 1:(1-9), 10-18|
by Bruce Epperly
Today’s passages speak of revelation, recovery, restoration, and being chosen? They invite us to claim God’s love for us and equally bestow that love on others. As process theologians, we can claim unique our own relatedness to God, but not relationships that exclude others’ intimacy with God.
How do we speak of national recovery? When a nation collapses, how will it find a way back to greatness? That is the question the prophet Jeremiah raises. To this, we might add, do nation’s have vocations or does God call only individuals? In the Jeremiah reading, the nation of Israel will be restored to its former greatness. It will be a place of celebration and bounty, and other nations will affirm its greatness and affirm its sovereignty. After occupation and captivity, a new day is coming for the nation and its people!
Is this passage relevant to us today? Does our nation have a vocation for its own history and impact on the world? How can we heal past wounds to bring about a contemporary creative vision? Few of us believe God unilateral decides our nation’s destiny. We rebel against American exceptionalism if this means manifest destiny or supremacy over other lands. Surely God does not put our nation above all others, we assert. We don’t assume that God ordains our national leadership, especially those at the helm these days! We see personal and national transformation as incremental rather than supernaturally initiated. God may have a dream for our nation but most of us believe that if God’s dream is to be birthed among us, then we must be midwives of healing.
The USA and many other nations, including the Jeremiah’s descendants, need national transformation. We have a past to repent and a present to change! We need global and communal healing. We need to be places of transformation and restoration, not only as relates to slavery but to those excluded and marginalized throughout our nation’s history – the first American people, coal mining communities in Appalachia, inner city youth, toddlers separated from their parents on our borderlands, and workers displaced by technology and trade. The author of Adventures of Ideas surely recognized that great ideas drive the historical process and that there is a moral arc whose impact in our communities is partly in our hands. Process theology, like our nation’s founders, believed that a “more perfect union” hovers over our current national life, luring us forward toward embodying truth, beauty, and goodness in our civic life. At the very least, we need to imagine alternative realities to our current national situation, and then find creative ways to incarnate these alternatives in our political life.
The Psalm speaks of national transformation as part of God’s greater revelation. The One who moves through the seasons also moves through our national life and invites our nation to embrace the fullness of life for all, not just the privileged. We live in a world of praise and revelation in which God is intimately related to all creation. Does the divine revelation suggest a covenant with Israel, as this the Psalm implies? If so, what does covenant mean? If God makes a covenant with Israel, can we assert that a covenant exists with our land? Tragically, privilege and covenant status has often caused more harm than good in our nation’s and world’s history. How can we claim God’s care for our affairs and affirm God’s intimate care for others, including other nations’ well-being?
The reading from Ephesians puts the beginnings and endings of all things in God’s care. God has chosen us before the foundation of the world, so writes the evangelist. But who is the “us”? Is the “us” just believers in Christ or “us” refer to the whole earth? Process theology challenges any vision of limited atonement or revelation. Divine revelation and choice must be universal though variable in nature and impact. An omnipresent God must be present and revealed in all things. An omniactive God must touch all things with grace and inspiration.
Ephesians suggests that creation and redemption are interdependent. Within the creative process is a lure toward wholeness. The finitude and fallibility of all things does not mean that God is absent or apathetic. God is present within the world of change and contrast, joy and conflict. Beauty has the final world, but it is, as Whitehead says, “tragic beauty” that does not nullify the pain of life but transforms us in the divine nature (consequent nature, in technical language) and floods the healing back to earth. Ephesians challenges us to keep asking how can we embody the “us” of being chosen? How do who have received grace give grace to the world?
We are all destined to hear the divine message, but the nature of the message is shaped by our receptivity. In the spirit of John’s Prologue (1:1-18), our recalcitrance in responding to God’s call does not nullify the call but may defer or minimize it in our lives and communities. The call goes out, but how will we respond?
Congregants can’t hear and preachers can’t preach John’s Prologue too often. We need the majestic vision of Divine Creativity, of God’s Word and Wisdom, Logos and Sophia, embedded and active in all creation. We need to see our lives as part of God’s grandeur, and to see ourselves as empowered embodiments of this Great Work of God, rather than as thwarted souls, lost in the cosmos. Yet, in the Johannine Prologue is the recognition of tragic beauty: the light enlightens all, John the Baptist reflects and preaches of the light, and yet we turn away from the light. We turn away from abundant life for ourselves and our planet. Our preference for darkness cannot extinguish the light even in ourselves. But it can diminish its impact on our lives. In contrast, those who embrace the light receive power to become God’s children and grace upon grace in the unfolding of their lives.
What does it mean to have the power to become a child of God? How is this power reflected? How do we embrace this power for ourselves and our congregations? Surely when we open to divine possibility, new energies emerge in our lives; we become more creative and hospitable; we are freed from the solitary self to join with God’s ubiquitous and dynamic self, flowing in and through all creation. Let us open to divine power and ask God to guide our use of it as God’s companions in bringing joy to the world!
Rev. Bruce Epperly, Ph.D., is a Cape Cod pastor, professor, and author. A Disciples of Christ and United Church of Christ pastor, he is the author of over fifty books including Piglet’s Process: Process Theology for All God’s Children; Process Theology: Embracing Adventure with God; Angels, Mysteries, and Miracles: a Progressive Vision; and Become Fire: Guideposts for Interspiritual Pilgrims. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.