7th Sunday after Epiphany

February 20, 2000
See Also: 
Reading 1: 
Isaiah 43:18-25
Reading 2: 
Psalm 41
Reading 3: 
2 Corinthians 1:18-22
Reading 4: 
Mark 2:1-12

Verses 16 and 17 must be included in the reading for this Sunday, because they are important in setting up the impact of the statement of verse 18. Verses 16 and 17 are a divine introduction, a reminder of what God has done in the past. The first readers would recall the Exodus story upon hearing such words. The memories would be familiar and reassuring and there would be a sense of wistfulness about the "golden past" when God delivered their forefathers and foremothers from slavery in Egypt. The first readers were in Babylon, and pinned away for the old times. Then, in stark contrast to the introduction, the writer announces that the reader should not remember the past, which seems like a contradiction of the call to remembrance elsewhere in the Bible. In many of the stories of the Bible, when events seem hopeless and all seems lost, and God seems to have forgotten, the words often used to turn the events of the story are "Then God remembered." These words were pivotal in the Noah story, the Abraham and Sarah story and others. The call to remembrance was not only meant for worshippers to remember God's steadfast love, but a call to God to remember and make good on promises. So then, why this call not to remember the things of the past?

The call is meant to shock the readers and shake them loose from the hold of a dead past over a living present. When all eyes are reminiscing about the past, pinning away for what no longer is, wallowing in nostalgia, then it is difficult to notice the present and what is happening in the now.

The writer announces that something new is being done, followed by a poignant question: "Do you not perceive?" This is followed by similar language as used to describe the Exodus. "I will make a way in the wilderness..." What is new is another Exodus.

The acts of remembering and forgetting play upon one another in the scriptures. The reader wants God to remember promises, but to forget sins. The reader is asked to forget the past, but to perceive God in the present. But in order to perceive God in the present, the past has taught the reader how to perceive God in the present moment.

The warning of the text is to not be lulled into thinking that God acts only in the past. God is doing something new now; don't be blinded by this newness by focusing exclusively on the past.

A sermon could focus on remembering the past in order to perceive God in the present moment. The preacher could talk about nostalgia, and how people get locked into past memories of glory or pain. Freshness comes only in the present moment. The value of the past is in teaching us how to read the moment, how to perceive what God is doing now. The past trains us on how to open our minds, hearts and souls to what is happening in the present moment.

In terms of process theology, the present emerges from the past, but is not fully determined by the past. God's call is a determining factor in the formation of the present moment, or the emerging actual occasion of experience. God is fully involved in the emergence of actual occasions of experience. Process theology would understand the tension between the value of the past and the importance of the emerging present.

2 Corinthians
Paul says that they have not given mixed messages in their preaching, saying things that are both yes and no, because God always says Yes. "For all the promises of God find their Yes in Him." The implication is that God's stance toward creation is one of invitation. God invites the unfolding of creation. This idea ties in with the passage above. The emphasis is upon the present moment and how God is continually inviting each emerging actual occasion into becoming.

The story of Jesus healing the paralytic can be seen from the interpretation of the passages above. Jesus is seen as exhibiting God's inviting stance toward all. Those who were sick, poor, on the outside, etc., were continually invited by Jesus into God's care. "I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home." (verse 10) This is a story not only about healing, but about homecoming. The point could be made by this story that Jesus, in preaching the gospel, issues an invitation to healing, homecoming and inclusion in God's realm. This story dramatizes Paul's words about God saying Yes.

All three texts could be taken together in a sermon to make the point that the value of the past is in the way it teaches us how to perceive God's presence in the moment, and how that presence is a Yes, an invitation to full becoming now. And this invitation is extended to everyone; no one is excluded.

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