Invited to Become Like God

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Seventh Sunday of Epiphany 2022, Year C — 20 February 2022
The Reverend Canon Professor Scott Cowdell

Genesis 45: 3-11, 15; Psalm 37: 1-11, 40-41; 1 Corinthians 15:35-50; Luke 6: 27-38

+In the Name of the Father & of the Son & of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.

Yesterday in the news we heard the outcome of yet one more trial of a white police officer for killing an African American. Daunte Wright, aged 20, was shot dead in his car by Kim Potter during a traffic stop—a middle-aged policewoman with little firearms experience who in the heat of the moment thought she was using her Taser and not her sidearm. She received a two-year sentence for manslaughter, which is rare enough in American police shooting cases.

But the really sad and telling thing for me was the reaction of Daunte Wright’s mother. She resented the light sentence and accused the court of bias, because the judge had sympathised with the luckless policewoman more than the victim’s traumatised family. Despite Kim Potter’s heartbroken apology to the family and declaration of profound regret, there was no forgiveness. And in this a larger tinderbox of American political culture flares up, at a time when white privilege is everywhere being both anxiously protected and angrily called out. Only forgiveness can break through all this festering bitterness. I’m not blaming Daunte’s mother, and God knows how I’d react in similar circumstances but, still, I’m reminded of Prince Escalus’ line at the tragic end of Romeo and Juliet: “All are punish’d.” “All are punish’d.”

This tragic story got me thinking about forgiveness in the wonderful tale of Joseph and his brothers from the end of Genesis, which we heard from this morning. Joseph is unrecognised by his brothers, who sold him into Egyptian slavery out of bitter resentment and didn’t realize that this grand vizier of Egypt was really their long-lost brother, remarkably delivered and risen to great power. You know the story: Joseph had tested his brothers and had satisfied himself that they’d abandoned their former scapegoating ways, and that they regretted how they’d treated him. Then comes the great reveal.

No wonder we hear that the brothers were dismayed. But instead of punishment and just deserts they received forgiveness and a lavish welcome. Joseph proved today’s psalm true, that patience and trust in God win out in the end, as injustices are righted and as peace comes to settle even on traumatised hearts. It’s quite intentional that Genesis, which begins with God’s peace and lavish generosity declared in creation, ends with God’s peace and lavish generosity reigning in human affairs. This is how things are meant to go in God’s world.

Friends, the mystery of human transformation—hard to imagine, but genuine nonetheless—is taken up by Paul in today’s rather convoluted epistle reading about the resurrection. Paul’s point is that nature moves from the dead seed to the living plant and likewise, thanks to the resurrection, the physical, the fragile, the weak and dishonourable in human existence are all being transformed into something glorious, and unimaginably so. As Paul puts it, regarding our earthbound condition, “It is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power.”

And Jesus is the key, whose resurrection the baptised are bound to share. “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust,” Paul tells us, referring to Adam and our fraught human condition, “we will also bear the image of the man of heaven.” And here we’re pointed to the true measure and revealing of our human condition, in Jesus alive from God, exploding the biological, cultural and historical constraints of what Paul calls the flesh.

So, humans don’t look back to Adam and his mythical troubles to find their identity, as Paul tells us, but forward to Jesus Christ, risen from the dead and alive with us from God. And next week, as our Sundays after Epiphany come to an end with the Feast of Transfiguration, we see this divine-human glory revealed in advance. Jesus is transfigured before his witnesses in the Gospel, revealed in his risen glory to orient and sustain them for their difficult journey ahead. This is why the Church’s tradition summons us weekly to the Eucharist: so that we can witness this transfiguration in word and sacrament, have our Christian orientation renewed, and give public witness to this new creation.

In light of that transfiguring discovery, God’s lavishness overflows into our hearts and all sorts of unlikely things become possible, such as being able to forgive. And that’s the point of our Gospel today. Forgiveness doesn’t mean going soft, however. Jesus’ first advice is to stand up to bullies, trolls and slanderers, those who curse us or strike us or rob us, but to do so without any spirit of payback, otherwise we become just like them and a great opportunity is lost. In such moments of powerlessness against the hurtfulness of others, and paradoxically, Jesus puts us in charge and makes us God’s agents in the situation. So, contrary to all prudential wisdom, and beyond the unforgiving chorus of social media, God calls us along a different path. “But love your enemies, do good, and lend,” Jesus encourages us, “expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

The invitation here is to begin discovering Jesus’ resurrection life beyond every anxious, self-serving, self-justifying, mean-spirited response to being wronged, under-appreciated, or shamed. Jesus invites us to share in his hope and freedom, and so the shackles of self-preservation are loosened. Otherwise, we’re left with all those others who spend their lives crying foul, wedded to perpetual victimhood, forever angry, and demanding a freedom that they’re in no position to ever discover—many of whom, sadly, claim to be Christians.

Today’s Gospel has a sting in its tail, which we typically hear as telling us that being willing to forgive is the price of our receiving forgiveness from God. But what if this is simply a plain statement of how the world looks, and how God looks, from the human perspective? Because, friends, there’s plenty of evidence that the bitter and unforgiving attitude, judging and condemning, relentless in its disapproval and habitually scandalised, turns our world into a terrible place. No-one can be trusted, and everything is spoiled by the jaundiced attitude we bring to it. Nothing in life will ever satisfy our sense of frustrated entitlement.

And what of God, if we think that way? God will only ever be known as the thin-lipped, disapproving, sexless moralist that I daresay some of you, like me, were brought up to believe in—or disbelieve in, since many atheists have had the good sense to offload this awful, false god. Yet this is the only god that a sclerotic spiritual imagination is able to conceive of: a God of tit-for-tat, nursing grudges, and delighted to see communities at each-others’ throats, anxiously divided and fearful. The alternative is learning to see God from the perspective of Jesus and his resurrection. Easter applies a lavish balm to our hurts and fears, making us confident enough to be loving, merciful and forgiving—like our God, who issues us this invitation here in the Eucharist.

The Lord be with you . . .

St Philip's Anglican Church,
cnr Moorhouse and Macpherson Streets, O'Connor, ACT 2602.