Yesterday, our staff endured our semiannual long-rang calendar planning event. Every six months, we gather together for several hours to go through the calendar week by week and month by month to make sure we have everything planned for the next year and a half. So, if you want to know when Vacation Bible School will be in 2015, just ask. Before we started our work, Seth Olson led us in a lectio divina reading of this Sunday's gospel lesson (Matthew 5:38-48). The process wasn't new to me, but it opened up powerful insights as I prepare for this week's sermon.
For those who aren't familiar with lectio divina, it is literally a "sacred reading" of a text. In our example, the text was read deliberately three separate times. After each reading, we paused for a few moments of silence before answering a question associated with each reading. First, we asked what word or phrase from the text stuck out to us. Second, we asked where God was in the text. Finally, we asked what God was calling us to do or who God was calling us to be in the text. Simple enough, right? But so much there.
The first question invites initial reflection. As I name a word or phase, I identify what stuck out to me. Perhaps that is what shocked me or disturbed me. Maybe it's something I don't understand or something I don't want to understand. Regardless, the first reading is a way of letting the text speak clearly and plainly and freshly to me. We all offered answers like "be perfect" and "love your enemies" and "do not refuse."
Then, the second question shook everything up. Where is God in this text? As I thought about that question, I realized that that was the point Jesus was seeking to make. Where is God in a text? Do we read these ancient texts and allow God to speak to us through them, or do we read them expecting him to show up exactly where we think he should. Jesus introduces this controversial teaching by saying, "You have heard that it was said." As he transitions from the first part (turn the other cheek) to the second part (love your enemies), he repeats that phrase as if to say, "I'm challenging what you think you've always heard. Don't assume God is saying to you what you've always heard him say. If you let yourself hear it in a new way, perhaps God might say something different." So where is God in this text? He's showering both good and evil, righteous and unrighteous, with his blessings. "Didn't see that coming, did you?" Jesus asks.
And then the third and critical question: what is God calling us to do or who is God calling us to be in this text? Exactly. If we allow God to inhabit our religious text and tradition in a new way, surely he's calling us to something new and unexpected. If God loves the people I hate, maybe he's calling me to change. Maybe he's asking me to do something different. Maybe he's asking me to consider the God-created value of every human being.
As I prepare to preach on Sunday, I find myself drawn to that three fold process: 1) let the text surprise you; 2) ask where God might be afresh in the text; and 3) when you find God where you didn't expect him, how might that change who you are or what you do? Bottom line: if God loves the people I find it most difficult to love, what does that say about me?