Epiphany 6 C: Rooted for Rough Relations

The lessons for the Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany are…

Old Testament      Jeremiah 17:5–10

Psalm                    Psalm 1

New Testament     1 Corinthians 15:12–20

Gospel                   Luke 6:17–26

Do you like the use of consonance—the three “Rs” in the title of this post? Silly, perhaps, but there is a reason.

What I mean about “rough relations” is what’s going on in all our lives. The pandemic has exacerbated the polarization that has been gaining steam in our world for some time—perhaps for all of human history. But now, as never before, we feel it in our families and close friendships. So many of the people we love now follow different roads in life, making decisions that we find both a threat to much of what we hold sacred, and getting their ideas and inspiration from sources of truth that seem worlds away from our own.

How could they believe the propaganda they get from that party or that politician? How could they not follow vital health advice? What are they thinking?

And the upshot of it all is that relations get rough. We stop sharing confidences, accepting invitations, interacting in any way with those we love. We are afraid of what will happen. And, in extreme cases, these people who were once so close, and who now live across the chasm, come to “hate, exclude, revile and defame” us, as Jesus says in Luke 6.

But Jesus says, “Blessed are you.” He says “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy.”

One must be “rooted” well to so rejoice in rough relations. Jeremiah and Psalm 1 both are in a form that the Old Testament uses frequently: a set of antitheses. We are cursed or blessed, happy or sad, depending on what we are rooted in. Roots are essential for faith to be faith. If we trust in wicked values and wicked people, and build our lives on such trust, our lives will take on the nature of a desert. We become like the green branch that withers and dies. Indeed, if we do not struggle and strive to go deeper in life, and to live for something beyond ourselves—that is, if we “make mere flesh [our] strength,” we will become blind to the help God sends us (Jeremiah 17.5).

Our roots must be sent down through the many layers of good advice and encouraging relationships until we finally find the pay dirt of living and believing in the Son of Man. Our meaning, our lifeline to dependable Truth, comes from our relationship to a loving God, come alive in Jesus Christ.

Jesus says that when we live rooted in him our “reward is great in heaven.” It’s a present reality. Yet Jesus also says that reward, consolation, and the time of laughter, is something that beckons us from the future. And God’s future stretches into eternity, while the benefits of trusting yourself to the works of wickedness or the merely mortal—to self-centered liberties or to the narrow horizons of profits and losses, are oh so fleeting.

It pains us greatly to have loved ones drifting away, giving us sideways glances, and whispering nasty things behind our backs the politics of race, masks, or vaccines. One natural reaction is to see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil—to avoid the issue. But the issue can mean so much. Truth matters. Community matters. The higher truth of the healing, gathering Christ matters.

The starting point for a better way of handing rough relations is to remember to keep rooted. Drink deeply from the endless waters of God’s freely given love. As Jesus says in the next few verses after these blessings and woes, we take up God’s love from our roots and then love even our enemies when they curse or injure us (Luke 6:27-31).

This is the faith that saves us: being constantly rooted in God’s love and boldly sharing it with others—perhaps especially with those who have drifted away and are in danger of seeing themselves as our enemies.

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About John

John is a retired pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America who has served congregations for over 40 years, including in rural, suburban, campus ministry and urban settings. His love of Border Collie sheepdogs has been fortified by his many friendships with shepherds all around the world. Nothing he has ever or will ever accomplish is as significant as the patience God, his wife and his friends have shown in putting up with his deficiencies.
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