God Sets the World Right

EVER SINCE ADAM AND EVE ate themselves out of house and home, we’ve experienced a brokenness in our lives. Rather than offer praise for God’s wondrous acts, we attempt to build God’s kingdom ourselves. Rather than tell of God’s greatness, we whine that religious obligation demands too much. Rather than involve ourselves in the community, we divide into factions over whether we should work or pray, wait or proceed. Still trying to be more god-like than accepting the assignment to bear God’s image in the world, we attempt to make a name for ourselves. The result? Human-initiated plans cast in language that parodies God’s own plan, pitting human counsel against divine. Setting nation against nation.

Pentecost marks a special occasion in the life of the Christian community. This extraordinary record of what we call the “birthday of the church” is less often noted as the 50th day after Passover—a day to pause, gather, and remember the great acts of God. Passover marks the liberation of the enslaved children of Israel from Egyptian oppression, and Pentecost is the moment “the Holy Spirit is poured out by God ... to empower the church to advance Christ’s mission to the very ends of the earth,” as David P. Gushee puts it.

The Pentecost mission involves patience with God’s timing, which is submission to God’s will. Meanwhile, rather than looking up for Christ’s return, we look for opportunities to be evidence that the kingdom has come.

Joy J. Moore is associate dean for African-American church studies and assistant professor of preaching at Fuller Theological Seminary in California.

[ JUNE 1 ]
A Thousand Hints of Hope
Acts 1:6-14; Psalm 68: 1-10, 32-35; 1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11; John 17:1-11

HAVING BEEN promised what the disciples assume will facilitate Israel’s rise to regional power, they almost miss the opportunity for global impact. After experiencing their most traumatic weekend, the resurrection now renews their faith. So they ask the Risen One—is now our time (Acts 1:6)?

Jesus’ response in verse 7—“It is not for you to know times or seasons”—is frustrating, even 2,000 years later. We can fly around the world in the time it took to cross the desert. Surely, by now, we can know God’s divine schedule for setting the world right! Unlike the “miracles” of technology and science, religion requires waiting.

The Acts reading ends with the eyewitnesses to the resurrection no longer gazing heavenward but gathered in prayer. We know the rest of the story. But in this pause, Luke, the author of Acts, finds fault with both overzealous apocalyptic predictions and the uninspired stodginess of a church without hope.

We have this hope: Jesus Christ is risen and has ascended to reign at the right hand of power. This implies that the reign of God has begun. And, like the first century followers of Jesus, we have been promised the power of the Holy Spirit that enables us to be a hint of hope in the world. Has our attention been so heavenly focused we failed to be a force for good on earth? A better question is: What are we doing while we wait on God’s next move?

[ JUNE 8 ]
When God Shows Up
Numbers 11:24-30; Psalm 104:24-34, 35b; Acts 2:1-21; John 7:37-39

WE SHOULD NOT NEGLECT the amazement of the experience of hearing a rag-tag group of underemployed Galilean fishermen excelling in the languages of residents from the broader region (Acts 2). Some imagine a contemporary charismatic explosion that is about as different from many worship services as a Bach performance is from a Lady Gaga concert. Pentecost may have been high energy, high volume, and with a multitude of participants from all walks of life in a rapid-fire verbal exchange that is more experienced than understood. However, it’s not style that signals God’s presence, but substance.

Even more exceptional is the message understood by the various travelers. An anthem from the psalmist’s playlist seems to come over the loudspeakers as “God’s deeds of power” (Acts 2:11) are recited. Psalm 104 recalls that in wisdom God formed all the earth and its creatures: telling the oceans how far to come up on the shore; distinguishing the creepy creatures in the waters from the crawly things on the earth; and pausing from the symphony of creation to donate dignity to a lump of clay (104:29-30).

Together these texts express the words heard from the Galileans by the gathered Jews and Gentiles. Attention is focused on the acts of God. What draws together a crowd, quenches their thirst, and sets their hearts on fire is the rehearsal of evidence of the presence of God. If only all the performances of God’s people testified so clearly to God’s works (Numbers 11:29).

[ JUNE 15 ]
God and the Weary
Genesis 1:1-2:4a; Psalm 8; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; Matthew 28:16-20

WHEN IT COMES to the opening chapters of Genesis, recent debates, scientific descriptions, and theological differences have made the poetic presentation problematic. The ordered account of creation has become muddled to “prove” a 24-hour solar rotation four days before the sun was created. The content of the chapters written in the sixth century B.C.E. disappears behind attempts to make a theological account into elementary school “science.”

Biblical scholar Elizabeth Achtemeier invites a confessional reading of these texts. Such a reading provides an effective rejoinder to gnostic claims that pit a material world against a spiritual one. We need not limit God’s setting the world right to an otherworldly salvation. This God remains committed to the original intention of a creation that is good. The priestly interpretation of the creation story in Genesis 1 centers on God’s involvement in this world, and that involvement helps us understand God’s investment to set the world right again. It is not a simple claim. But it enables the assessment that what’s wrong in existence is not a disadvantage of human finiteness but a consequence of sin.

Since we are created in the image of God, we are called not to seek divinity but to imitate the divine one. Justice takes root not in our arguments but in our actions. When we confess the transcendence of God, we claim the transforming power of the One who both “spins things in orbit,” as musician Nicole C. Mullen sings, and walks among the “weary, worn, and weak.”

[ JUNE 22 ]
Truth and Consequences
Genesis 21:8-21; Psalm 69:7-18; Romans 6:1b-11; Matthew 10:24-39

TODAY'S EPISODE in Genesis displays the consequences of not waiting on God. Sarai and Abram had received a promise from God for descendants, but the waiting became unbearable. So Sarai initiated a plan, giving her slave Hagar to Abram. It seemed reasonable and expedient, until she saw how Abram responded to the child of the other woman—the same child for which Sarai had arranged.

Then jealousy overshadowed complicity. When Sarah’s own child was born, she no longer had use for Hagar or Ishmael. Enslaved persons are merely tools, disposable when past use. Except, enslaved persons are people. And God affirms this in the promise to Hagar.

God does not abandon the ones who are abandoned—even when God’s own people are responsible for their abandonment. Those we exclude still hold a position in God’s reality. Those we declassify have an identity in God’s world. Those we ignore have a place in God’s heart. Those we forget are remembered, always, by God.

Sarah thought she had privilege and status because she was the recipient of God’s promise and of her son, Isaac, with Abraham. In the kingdom of God, however, privilege and status are not defined in terms of citizenship, ethnicity, or heritage. “We are members of God’s covenant people, yes,” writes Achtemeier. “But that does not mean that God loves or favors us any more than [God] loves other people, of whatever race or status. ... In fact, the status to which we are called is to be a servant people to the rest of humanity.” This truth demands we include those whom we have decided no longer fit in our plans.

[ JUNE 29 ]
Difficult Words
Genesis 22:1-14; Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18; Romans 6:12-23; Matthew 10:40-42

THE SACRIFICE OF of Isaac (Genesis 22) seems an ancient precursor in the genre of stories where child sacrifice is sport for adults. Our enlightened minds reject Abraham’s silent obedience and deny the divine instruction that some today use to excuse child abuse. “Our God would never ...,” we say. Historical criticism gives us a way through, suggesting that this text marks Israel’s rejection of the pagan practices of child sacrifice.

Except if we read the text, the words we wish weren’t here are here. God, our God, asks of Abraham the unthinkable. And Abraham, who bargained for the lives of a city of strangers, offers no opposition for the life of his own longed-for and promised son. How does this test provide today’s readers a moral example of one who practices justice?

It doesn’t. This episode does not pre-sent a moral principle. Rather, it describes the required relationship between God and humanity, who (at best) participate in God’s purpose to restore justice in our broken world: submission. The requirement to do justice and love kindness is tied to walking humbly with God (Micah 6:8). Hebrew Bible theologian R.W.L. Moberly explains it as the way “human repentance or faithful intercession matter to God and can elicit responsiveness within God.”

Ellen F. Davis describes gutsy and submissive Abraham as totally committed to God and totally compassionate toward humanity (see Genesis 18). The essential tension in which we, too, are called to stand is a love for God that withholds nothing of self and a love for neighbor (Leviticus 19:18). Such “faithful human action,” writes Moberly, “is dignified with enduring significance in God’s purposes.” 

“Preaching the Word,” Sojourners’ online resource for sermon preparation and Bible study, is available at sojo.net/ptw.

Image: shining dove with rays, Molodec / Shutterstock.com

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