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Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Lectionary Scriptures: Jeremiah 1:4-10, Psalm 71:1-6, I Corinthians 13:1-13, Luke 4:21-30

The readings from Jeremiah and Psalm 71 might turn us to questions of life and destiny. The reading from Jeremiah is about this man being called to his prophetic task. It begins in verse four with the Lord speaking these words to him, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” This and similar verses are favorites of those who call themselves “Pro-Life” or “Anti-Abortion.” At the end of the reading from Psalm 71, in verse 6, the Psalmist says to the Lord, “Upon you I have leaned from my birth; it was you who took me from my mother’s womb.”

I don’t like the labels used by the parties to the “abortion” debate. I have always been on the “Pro-Choice” side, for which many would damn me to hell. Over the years, however, I have become more and more clear that this is not an easy, knee-jerk, issue. Most who face abortion decisions up close and personal do not usually reach easy conclusions, living with the consequences of their decisions, either way, for years to come.

We are faced in this, and in a few other circumstances in life, with the question of what defines life? We’re talking here about more than physical existence. End of life issues sometimes involve similar considerations. Some have noted the inconsistency of those evangelicals who are adamantly “pro-life” on some issues, but slow to oppose capital punishment. At the same time, they say, some who are “pro-choice” seem inconsistent when they oppose the death penalty but not abortion. Some have sought to bring the sides together in a shared affirmation of the incredible value of life—life, I would suggest, full of meaning.

Playing on the old question, “Is there life after death?,” some have asked, “Is there life before death?” In the abortion debate much energy is expended on the nature of life before birth. I would also want to ask, “Is there life after birth?” Some who come into this life have little prospect of a meaningful existence. Others reach the end of life without, apparently, discovering any real purpose and meaning.

Whatever one’s stance on the debates going on around us, it is always appropriate to seriously consider questions about the meaning of life, what it means to be “alive.” Such questions are also often connected with matters of “destiny.” The reading from Jeremiah ends with a powerful commission to Jeremiah, words put in his mouth with the power “to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” His destiny weighed heavily upon him throughout his life, bringing him literally, at times, to tears.

Do we see “destiny” at work in any way in our lives? To what extent are we creatures of destiny? When and where did our destiny begin? Is there a defined path for our lives, or is it something that sort of emerges “on the job”? “Life” and “destiny”—important questions often put before us by scripture—and by life itself.

This week’s epistle is the familiar love poem drawn into Paul’s writing as the thirteenth chapter of I Corinthians. It includes a reference to childhood, one which perhaps expands the images above from Jeremiah and Psalm 71. It talks about growth into adulthood when one has a perspective which moves beyond what is “childish.” (I Corinthians 13:11) We are given an image which is much less fixed than that of a destiny decided while still in the womb. Perhaps destiny is worked out along the way and never finally fully realized or understood until we see God “face to face” in another dimension. (vs. 12)

The Gospel lesson is a continuation of last week’s story from the 4th chapter of Luke. Jesus, you may remember, has gone to his home synagogue in Nazareth. After reading a strong text from Isaiah about a world in which righteousness and justice prevail, he tells them that it is about “today,” not just a historical record or a hope for the remote future. He goes on from there to insult them, implying that they want miracles and magic, but not the hard work needed to bring about justice. He refers them to a couple Old Testament stories, suggesting that they are arrogant and self-satisfied, thinking it’s all about what God can do for them.

The two stories involve God’s blessing reaching out even to those who were not of the “chosen” people. Throughout the Old Testament there are occasions when that happens, sometimes to the consternation of those who think if all belongs to them. I suspect that Luke wants us to see this inaugural appearance by Jesus as an announcement that he is part of the more inclusive approach to religion. At any rate, it can be an occasion to ask what boundaries God might be expecting us to cross, politically, religiously, socially.

The book of Ephesians (not one of this week's readings)describes the work of Christ as breaking down walls that divide. When we join in that task perhaps we are well on our way to discovering the meaning and destiny at work in every living cell and tissue, breeze and kiss and legislative endeavor on this earth. If one wants to go back to I Corinthians, perhaps we can see it as a call to become part of the Love that is, or could be, involved in all of those places.

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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