If you’re heading into this coming Sunday’s sermon with the intent of preaching on the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, I might recommend that you skip the Revised Common Lectionary readings. If the faith community you serve concludes & dedicates its annual stewardship pledges this Sunday, I might suggest that you find different texts for your preaching. Because this Sunday’s texts, while familiar, portray troubling images of God, which might not be the tone you’re seeking for such joyous occasions as Thanksgiving.
What do you do, as a preacher,
when Scripture portrays God as the bad guy?
We’re accustomed to Scripture that proclaims God’s everlasting goodness. We assume a holy rationale for those biblical moments when God’s intentions seem less obviously righteous. We read the texts for what we already believe about who & how God is.
But what if God isn’t always good?
What if God is capable of being a bad guy?
Sidebar: Generally speaking, I believe that God is simultaneously non-gendered and all-gendered, that God’s pronoun is most appropriately “they.” Nevertheless — and this is just me — when God is violent and unjust, I express God in male-gendered language.
So here’s the rundown of God’s badness in the RCL this week:
God sold the ancient Israelites.
God punished & plundered the people.
(Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18)
God is a thief.
(1 Thessalonians 5:1-11)
God is a slaveowner.
Let’s sit with that last one for a minute: God is a slaveowner. In Matthew 25, Jesus tells a parable about a master who “trusts” those he enslaves with money & property while he is traveling. When he returns, it turns out that he hasn’t trusted them at all but demands an accounting of every cent and insists on evidence that his wealth has multiplied. Two of the men comply. When the third man tells the truth about the slaveowner — that he cheats and makes money off the backs of others — that man is punished.
We say it’s a parable about multiplying our gifts, about stewarding our time & talents to the glory of God, about being responsible to God for that with which we’ve been entrusted. We ignore the language of slavery. We ignore the parallel that places God as a slaveowner.
Now place that image of God on Psalm 123, in which we are said to look to God like someone enslaved looks to their master, like a girl forced into servitude looks to her mistress, and ask yourself: Do we think that these are loving or appreciative looks?
The LORD is our dwelling place (Psalm 90),
but also the one who burns our days like grass.
What do you do — how do you preach —
when God is the scorcher,
not the safe haven?
There are any number of themes and threads around which to unpack this Sunday’s Revised Common Lectionary readings. Share your ideas, your questions, your sermonizing in the comments and encourage one another toward the work of truth & proclamation.
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