Rose Park Sunday School (Adults and Children) at 8:45 a.m. / Worship at 9:45 a.m.

Madison Sunday School (Adults and Children) 10:15 a.m. / Worship at 11:15 a.m.


Based on Jeremiah 17:5-10, 1Corinthians 15:12-20, Luke 6:17-26

          In Jesus’ day, the Roman Empire had a defining principle that worked to keep the conquered in line and the empire intact.  This governing principle was “divide and rule”.  This guiding policy kept the conquered people from uniting against the Romans and rising up (at least until the 5th Century).  We still live in a world defined by arbitrary divisions (e.g., this or that, conservative or liberal, fast or slow, us or them, blue or red, white and non-white).  We humans tend to think of these choices as mutually exclusive – we must choose one or the other, not both.  However, settling for binaries always produces winners and losers and God offers us a way to discover win-win situations.

          Over the course of living our lives most of us come to realize that the world is complex, and as much as we try to simplify it, life is often neither all one way nor all the other.  Rather, life experiences tend to show us that life tends towards diversity and towards a subtle blending of our polarities into something less all or nothing.  It is true that the world would be easier to live in if every choice was truly either-or (and if all people thought like me or you), but it would also not be as thrilling, mystifying, inspiring or challenging. 

          Our scriptures today challenge our all too human practice of trying to simplify complex systems and relationships and instead offer us both…and scenarios.  The prophet Jeremiah paraphrases the text of Psalm 1 – once again trying to call the people back to God before it is too late.  Paul is arguing against those in Corinth who are teaching that Jesus did not really die and was not really resurrected as the Christ – and what that means for their faith.  Jesus gives his “Sermon on the Plain” an abridged version of the Beatitudes contained in Matthew.  Here we have both blessings and woes to use to evaluate the choices we are making in our lives.  Before we go farther, let us go to God asking for the willingness to live into the expansive miracle of “both…and” thinking…

          Jeremiah brings God’s prophecy to the people in today’s reading.  Mirroring in some ways the teaching in Psalm 1, Jeremiah speaks to the people about what will happen to them if they keep worshipping pagan gods at God’s altars.  Placing their trust in the God who delivered their ancestors is like tapping into an ever-flowing stream, says the prophet.  No matter whether it rains or not, the people will thrive and bear fruit as is true to their nature.  Following the idols of human creation will cause them to lose the land that God gave to them, and they will become servants of other humans in a foreign and strange land.

          Paul is continuing his rhetorical argument about the resurrection of the Christ and how important it is to understand that Jesus did in fact die AND he was resurrected as the Christ (the Messiah).  Both parts of the statement must be true otherwise we are just fooling ourselves, states the Apostle.  Paul is arguing as strongly as he can against those in the congregation who do not believe in the resurrection.  At the end of this section of the letter (verses 33 – 34) Paul reminds us of an eternal truth, “…Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals.’  Come to a sober and right mind, and sin no more; for some people have no knowledge of God.  I say this to your shame….”

          Jesus has just called the Twelve according to Luke’s Gospel.  He comes down with the twelve to a level place and begins teaching to “a great crowd of disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon”.  They came to hear him and to touch him in order to be healed of their diseases and unclean spirits.  Jesus utters words of blessings for those who the world was neglecting and offered curses (aka woes) to those who were benefitting from the current business and social climate.  Jesus makes it clear that a person cannot have the best of the world while neglecting God and God’s children and expect to experience the kingdom of God.  Blessings come to those who choose to follow God and to believe that God’s promises will be fulfilled.

          The greatest problem with the 38,000 different expressions of Christianity, to my mind, is the dualistic mindset (us vs. them).  When the gospel according to Jesus gets parsed out into ever smaller and more exclusionary doctrines, we limit the expansive and ongoing revelation of God’s creation.  Father Richard Rohr has the following for us to ponder writing, “…Is there any evidence to show where, in all creation, that God prefers uniformity? But we consistently confuse uniformity with spiritual unity. The mystery that we’re talking about is revealed in the Trinity: the three are maintained as diverse, different and distinct, and yet they are radically “One”! The foundational philosophical problem has been called the problem of the one and the many. How can there be one and how can there be many? In the Trinity, we have the paradox at least metaphorically resolved. But most of us don’t easily know how to be both diverse and united. We want to make everybody the same. And the church has become more and more an exclusionary institution, instead of a great banquet feast to which Jesus constantly invites sinners and outcasts. 

          The ego is much more comfortable with uniformity, people around me who look and talk like me, and don’t threaten my boundaries. But in the presence of the Trinitarian God, God totally releases (lets go of) boundaries for the sake of the other. Each accepts full acceptance by the other…It took them [early church fathers] three centuries to make full sense out of Jesus’ often-confusing language about what he named ‘Father,’ how he understood himself, and what he named the ‘Holy Spirit.’ Our common form of dualistic thinking just could not process such three-fold and one-ness evocations at the same time…The Godhead itself maintains separate identity between Three, with an absolutely unique kind of unity, which is the very shape of Divine Oneness.  God’s pattern and goal has never been naïve uniformity but radical diversity (1 Corinthians 12:4–6) maintained in absolute unity by ‘a perfect love’ that infinitely self-empties and infinitely outpours – at the same time….”

          Bottom line…it is never either-or with God, but always both-and; never division but always unity through diversity.  God tries throughout the whole of the Bible to get our spiritual ancestors and us to realize that the barriers we put in place to make our version of belief in God distinct are arbitrary and get in the way of building the kingdom.  It would be much better for us to pile all 38,000 different versions of Christianity together and see how little substantive differences there are.  Certainly, like the believers in Corinth, there will be some big issues to correct and to leave behind, but what would it look like for the Body of Christ to finally come together as Jesus the Christ envisioned it?

          God never excludes – God is always looking for the non-Israelite who has what God is looking for to move the God-plan further along the path.  Think about Ruth, the Syro-Phoenician woman, Balaam, the Roman Centurion, the Ethiopian eunuch, to name just a few.  God has always been trying to knit us all back together like it was originally meant to be in the Garden of Eden.  Even when God disciplines the people of Israel, God continues to be with them – as God promised Abram so many thousands of years ago.  God says yes you will get punished for following foreign gods of human making, AND I will still be with you to bring you back to the land I gave your ancestors.  God says yes, I will allow my Son to be killed by human treachery and falseness AND I will then defeat human death through resurrection so that all who follow the Christ can experience heaven on earth.

          Following the teachings of God in the Bible will give you the win-win or both-and life for which you have been searching.  It means that you will have to learn how to live in the world but not be divided and ruled by it.  It will mean saying ‘no’ to the many ways that the many different tribes, powerful marketing folks and influencers try to pull you into their preferred vision for ruling and limiting your life.  If, however, you choose to continue your journey with God, you will discover that God both cares for you AND loves you abundantly and well.  That God is both loving parent AND provider of grace, peace, healing and wholeness.  That God is both eternal AND as near as our next thought, heartbeat and breath.  That loving and following God is both the most challenging thing you will do AND the most beneficial to you and the world around you.  Thanks be to God for both-and…amen!