this Sunday's Readings
by John G Gibbs, PhD
Among the insights of texts for
Epiphany 5 & 6 in Year B for 2009 these stand out for me
in today's situation: Prophetic action works within suffering
creation against death, disease, and demonic power. The apostolic
tradition "frees" the Church to do "all for
the sake of the gospel," thereby bringing boundary-breaking
"blessings" to "all people." "A
deserted place" can be made, as Jesus made it, a home
for prayer. Runners in the race of life focus, aim, exercise
"self-control in all things," but the "imperishable
prize" comes as unearned gift.
We need a Church that is prophetic
in practical, effective action. Filled with vision of "the
Creator of the ends of the earth," a prophetic Church empowers
people to act against death, disease, demonic power, and any
other threat to the Creation. We long for a creation restored
and a Church renewed. Prophetic eco-justice aims for both. A
prophetic Church does not construct her mission from balancing
acts between her party-spirits. Her liberating mission comes
from the God who acts against the groaning and bondage to decay
that pervade creation and community alike (Rom. 8:22-23).
We need a Church in the apostolic
tradition that brings boundary-breaking blessings for all
people. Following Jesus' initiatives ("you have heard,
but I say to you"), the apostolic tradition "jazzed
up" scripture as it improvised creatively for its own time.
The great themes of God's grace nourish variations beyond precedent.
That symphony has not been completed. The mystery of God remains
ahead of us no less than the cloud by day and the fire by night
remained ahead of the great Exodus pilgrimage.
The Bible of a prophetic and
apostolic Church is not a code-book of "dos and don'ts,"
nor a singular statute that is frozen in time by a misplaced
"strict constructionism." Our Bible functions instead
"for the sake of the gospel." Like a living constitution,
it is a framework for further interpretation and discernment.
[W. Stacy Johnson contrasts statute and constitution in The
Mystery of God (WJK, 1997), p. 190.] The Bible as written
Word points beyond itself to the living Word in whom alone our
faith is placed. It does that by displaying the trajectory of
God's acts in cosmos and community. It is for us to discern
where and how that trajectory impacts our own time. It is for
us to discern how we can "let the same mind" be in
us that was in Christ Jesus (Phil. 2:5).
A prophetic and apostolic Church
leaves behind "a pattern of misusing the Bible to justify
oppression," as Jack Rogers suggests in the title of Chapter
2 in his book Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality (WJK,
2006). We have seen that oppression in use of the word "dominion"
to justify ecological irresponsibility while ignoring humanity's
calling to "image" the Creator. Oppressive also is
use of "prooftexts" to justify slavery, patriarchalism,
anti-intellectualism (including attacks on science, stem-cell
research, evolution), homophobia, and the addition of heterosexual
orientation to prerequisites for ordination. In such oppressions,
in such misuses of scripture, there is blessing for no one.
We need a Church whose prayer,
like that of Jesus, is portable. Far beyond synagogue or church,
genuine prayer (whether spoken or silent) is at home in wilderness
and deserted places, at home on mountains and plains. Since
"the earth is the Lord's, and all that is in it" (Ps.
24:1), we feel enough at home on it to pray there. Far from
hoping to escape it, we delight in it, and make ourselves at
home on it. We need a Church at home on earth - enough so to
seek restoration of the Creation and repair of earth (tikkun
olam), and enough so to be "keeper" (safeguard)
of all our brothers and sisters. The Church's intercession embraces
this earth and all that are on it.
We need a Church that focuses
beyond some races now being run. Our Church has not yet
arrived; her goalpost remains elusively far away. We are "on
the Way" that leaves behind childish "grasping"
and leads toward adult service. We do not control life. We receive
it. The race we are called to run extends beyond the horizon
of our sight. Its complexities confound our brightest minds
and best spirits. Accordingly, we need a Church whose focus
and aim "in all things" is on the Lord of history,
the One who rules by serving, and who creates humanity to share
this dominion of service and repair.