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Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Lectionary Scriptures: Genesis 28:10-19a AND Psalm 139:1-2, 23-24 OR Wisdom of Solomon 12:13, 16-19 OR Isaiah 44:6-8 AND Psalm 86:11-17, Romans 8:12-15, Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Most of this week’s readings touch upon our internal state of mind and how that is affected by God. I thought about using the title of a popular religious song, “My God and I.” What drew me to that title was the connection between our understanding of God and our understanding of ourselves (the “I” or ego or self). One of my seminary professors did his doctoral studies at the University of Chicago on the relationship between one’s God’concept and one’s self-concept. It’s not clear which comes first (although the self-concept clearly develops earlier in life), but there is a strong connection between a healthy self-concept and a belief that God is loving and accepting. There is much more guilt and judgmentalism in the self that believes in a demanding, judging, God.

The question, “Who Do We Think We Are?” might well be accompanied by the question, “Who Does God Think We Are?”

The first reading, from Genesis, records one of Jacob’s dreams. I love these Old Testament family stories. They’re so earthy. They’re told, of course, to show the unfolding of God’s promise that Abraham will be the father of many nations (and, it turns out, more than one religious group). Jacob is now the one to whom the promise is renewed.

I think I’d have nightmares, not just ordinary dreams, if I went to sleep with a stone as my pillow. (Genese 28:10-11) The dream includes a ladder reaching to heaven with angels on it, a common way in those days of understanding the connection between heaven and earth. Who are we in our dreams? Do we soar in the sky, dream of almost unimaginable places? Do we have visions of the kind of mark we will make in history? Jacob did. (vss. 12-15) The dream is attributed to God. (vs. 13)

There are many theories about the origin of dreams, some based on scientific research. I tend to think there is some truth in most of the theories. However the synapses of the brain trigger the images in our dream, I think some of those images are drawn from our participation in a wider consciousness. Hints of this are in Carl Jung’s treatment of the “collective unconscious,” although he was mostly very careful not to claim much theological significance for that term. I’m willing to see the “collective unconscious” as a way of talking about God.

Many things (experiences) affect dreams. Some dreams are, I believe, planted by God, and shape how God understands us and how we understand ourselves. Perhaps we can all reflect on how the divine is at work in our dreams, what they say about God’s, and our own, understanding of who we are.

Psalm 139 calls us to think about God searching us and knowing us. (Psalm 139:1 & 23) To think of someone knowing us fully can be kind of scary. After all, that means my dark side will be exposed. Maybe we even want to “flee” from one who would know us that thoroughly. (vs. 7) In the Psalm, though, it seems to be a “wonderful” experience. (vs. 6) The Psalmist is, I believe, reporting what it is like to have God know and accept us without condition. “ . . . even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.” (vs. 12) Who do we find we are when we open ourselves believing that we are fully known and accepted by God?

The “Wisdom of Solomon” (often called just “Wisdom”) is a writing from about 100 B.C.E. It was written in Greek (not by Solomon) and is included in the Catholic scriptures, but not in the Hebrew or Christian canon. It presents a concept of a powerful God who is the source of all that is right with the world. (Wisdom of Solomon 12:13 & 16-17)

Many in the history of the church have hardened the powerful God into one with unyielding, unchallenged, “omnipotence” (all powerful). Last Sunday’s video presentation mentioned Charles Hartshorne, a theologian who has challenged that formulation in a book entitled, "The Divine Relativity: A Social Conception of God.” If we speak of being in “relationship” with God, God cannot be unaffected by that relationship. God cannot be solely hard and unyielding. (Read the book if you want Hartshorne full argument. Warning: It’s tough going.)

In Wisdom of Solomon notice that this is not a hard, judgmental, God. “ . . . you judge with mildness, and with great forbearance you govern us . . . you have filled your children with good hope, because you give repentance of sins.” (vss. 18-19) What do we think we are if we believe we live and move and have our being in the presence of such a God?

The reading from Isaiah lifts up a similar image of God. “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.” (Isaiah 44:6) Somehow, though, even this God is not one before whom we are cringe. “Do not fear, or be afraid,” we are told. (vs. 8)

The second Psalm looks to God to teach us, show us the way. “Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth.” (Psalm 86:11) The writer gives thanks “with my whole heart . . . For great is your steadfast love toward me.” (vss. 12-13) He speaks of a God who is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” (vs. 15)

In the reading from Romans we again see God’s presence at work in our inner being reminding us that “all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” (Romans 8:14 &16) The spirit does not fill us with a spirit of fear, but of hope. (vss. 15 & 24)

In this passage, the Spirit is at work not only in our inner being but in all creation. It is not just “My God and I.” God is at work all around us, in all of creation, seeking to overcome the decay that has set in. We are not alone in this. Who are we? We are partners with God in the saving of all creation? Only then will we know full freedom. (vss. 19-23)

Finally, the Gospel lesson is another parable about sowing and harvesting. Some suggest that it not really one of Jesus’ parables, that it was added later by the church. Either way, here it is. Somebody wanted us to look at it this week. Being a parable that looks to a judgment day, it includes an image of a judging God which differs from the image in the others of today’s readings. “Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and the will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire . . .” (Matthew 13:40-42)

In the parable, the householder sows good seed and an enemy sows weeds. They come up together. The question is whether the weeds should be pulled. “No,” the householder says, “for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them.” (Matthew 13:24-29) I was just down in the garden this morning—pulling weeds. Sure, sometimes a good plant gets pulled along with a weed, but I also pull good plants to thin them out and let others thrive. Sure, there are those who obsess about having a weedless garden. Not me! Nature lets all kinds of plants grow together, but entirely ignoring the weeds makes it likely that the good stuff will never thrive.

One has to look beyond these details for the overall point of the parable. It is a parable that instructs Jesus' followers to leave the judging to God. Don’t be judgmental. Don’t keep an “enemies” list. Don’t try to keep the church so pure that you uproot the good while trying to draw lines of exclusion. So, whatever we decide to believe about final judgment, this parable answers the question, “Who Do We Think We Are?”, by reminding us that we are not to set ourselves up as judge and jury. Whatever God is trying to do in and through us, God has not called us to that task. God has, rather, I believe, called us to be channels of divine love, and, in Jesus, has given us a model for what that means in our human and holy selves.

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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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