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.
(Judges 4:1-7)

God punished & plundered the people.
(Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18)

God is a thief.
(1 Thessalonians 5:1-11)

God is a slaveowner.
(Matthew 25:14-30)

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.

Rachel G. Hackenberg is a United Church of Christ minister, soccer mom, blogger, and author. She encourages the practice of prayer-writing in Writing to God: 40 Days of Praying with My Pen.

RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.

8 thoughts on “Revised Common Lectionary: When God is the Bad Guy

  1. My first reading of the parable this week had me wondering why we assume that the master in the story is God. If we turn the thing upside down, then the third slave becomes the hero. He knows that his master is harsh and also corrupt – reaping where he didn’t sow – and his refusal to participate in the corrupt business of his master becomes an act of righteous defiance.
    Which doesn’t deal with all of the other readings, but …

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Why must what the ‘servants’ have been entrusted with be ‘money’? – What if it was people ie; ‘the Church’, ‘the people of God’. What if this this is a message for the disciples once Jesus has left. I am coming back and in the meantime I am entrusting my people to you? What the first two have done is taken risks to spread the Word and grow the people of God, the third has just left the people of God to survive on their own without support.

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  3. Love the two different views on the parable! Definitely will file them away for next time. I am sticking to comfort/good news this week and going with the Thanksgiving texts of Psalm 65 and 2 Corinthians. How much I’m choosing this to be “easy” on myself vs. easy on the congregation I’m not sure.

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  4. My thought is that the third person thinks of the master this way. No one says the master actually is this way. The way we live our life often reflects our view of God. If we trust that we are loved, we live much differently than if we think God is going to judge/punish us.

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  5. What I’m wrestling with is that I just read that in the historical context, the hearers of this parable all the way until just a couple of hundred years or so ago (while usury–interest was considered a bad thing) would have considered the first two very immoral. For them, the righteous one was the third one. He is the one that followed the rules. His treatment would have been shocking, disturbing to the disciples and Christians through many centuries. The master, as perhaps the bridegroom in the previous parable about the oil & the party, could indeed be a bad master and not God…that the third slave is like Jesus. Could this say to those early listeners that there will be authorities who will call good “bad” and bad “good”? It could fit with the surprise that all the sheep and goats have in the next parable.

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  6. I’m coming to this a bit late as seems to be the usual lately. I realize that most of us are not going to be preaching on transgender issues, but Monday is Transgender Day of Remembrance and we host a service at the church I serve. The parable also hit me differently this time. So I’ve combined the two. Here’s what I’ve got if it’s helpful to anyone else: https://rachaelkeefe.wordpress.com/2017/11/16/mind-your-own-talents/

    Liked by 2 people

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