Doing the good

File:Maximilien Luce - Le bon samaritain.jpg

Thursday

Galatians 6:1-16

9So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.

I don’t know why this translation chose “doing what is right” instead of “doing the good”. Yes the word can mean what is right and proper and good, but the phrase “doing what is right” tends to make me think about rules, whereas “doing the good” makes me think about people and relationships. “Doing what is right” is about social and ethical norms. “Doing the good” is about being a gracious and healing presence in the world.

Paul has spent his whole letter arguing against the a definition of righteousness based on the observance of social and legal norms. He has argued fiercely that it is fidelity to the mercy of God and a life governed by the Spirit to which we are called. In this very passage he declares that “neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything!”  Social customs and laws belong to the tribe of Israel. Fidelity to the God of Mercy and Life belongs to us all.

It’s very important that we not get confused about what God seeks. Even the Mosaic Law is more a collection of examples and precedents for the just and faithful life than a legal code. Legal codes invite us to parse and define them. So we read that we are to love our neighbor and set off on a discussion about who, exactly, falls in that category of neighbor. Are people from the next village neighbor? Are the elite families in Jerusalem neighbor? Are the Romans neighbor? Are the Samaritans neighbor? And we know how Jesus answers this question – or rather steps beyond it. He tells the story of the Good Samaritan and simply asks who showed himself a neighbor.

The translation “doing what is right” is grammatically acceptable – maybe even grammatically proper. But it is theologically misleading. Our responsibility as human beings is not to be right, but to be good.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AMaximilien_Luce_-_Le_bon_samaritain.jpg  Maximilien Luce [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Stirred not shaken

File:Seventy Disciples.jpg

The Seventy

Watching for the Morning of July 3, 2016

Year C

The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 9 / Lectionary 14

I watched a James Bond move last week and learned that the designation ‘00’ was given to agents after two kills – when they have proved their hardness of heart. Maybe we need a designation for agents who have brought God’s healing to two lives and proved their tenderness of heart. Stirred, not shaken.

Sunday centers on Luke’s account of the sending of the seventy. Earlier, Luke had recorded Jesus sending the twelve ahead of him to heal and proclaim the reign of God. Now Jesus sends “seventy others.” The reading contains Jesus’ familiar phrase that “the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few, and the injunction that they are sent “like lambs into the midst of wolves.” The mission is urgent (don’t pack a bag) but God will provide through the hospitality of those who are “sons [and daughters] of peace.” Where they are welcomed, they should heal the sick and say, “The kingdom of God has come near you.” And where they are not welcomed, they should “shake off the dust” as a warning of God’s judgment for “Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me.”

As a new king coming to claim the land sends out representatives to prepare for his arrival, dispensing his benefactions and warning those who resist – so the followers of Jesus are sent. And they return with joy. The realm of Satan was falling.

Our other readings on Sunday pick up the themes of deliverance and joy. The text from Isaiah contains a promise of that day when Jerusalem is restored and the world brought to peace. The psalmist sings God’s praise for his work of deliverance in the exodus from Egypt. And our reading in Galatians comes to its final chapter where Paul urges the community to remember that we will reap what we sow – urging them to sow to the Spirit (the new creation, the reign of God) and not to our “flesh” (the passions and desires of our fallen nature).

The mission of the seventy is not just for the seventy. It is the mission of the church, of the people, of each and all of us. Having gifts that differ we are sent as heralds of the kingdom, bearing the gifts of the kingdom. There are plenty of contentious, divisive, and angry voices rending lives and the body politic. But Christ has his agents, bringing healing and life.

The Prayer for July 3, 2016

Eternal Father,
whose heart is ever searching
to gather your world to yourself,
help us dwell in your mercy
and make us faithful in our calling to bear witness to your love;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for July 3, 2016

First Reading: Isaiah 66:10-14
“As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you” –
A song of Salvation containing the promise that the nation, broken by war and exile, will be restored.

Psalmody: Psalm 66:1-8
“Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth” – a song of joy at God’s deliverance, recalling the exodus from Egypt.

Second Reading: Galatians 6:1-16
“Whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all.” – Exhortations from the closing section of Paul’s letter contrasting those things “sown to the flesh” (our “fallen” nature, our innate self-centeredness) with what is sown to the Spirit.

Gospel: Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
“”The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”
– Jesus sends out seventy as heralds of the reign of God and instructs them about their mission.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ASeventy_Disciples.jpg  By anonimus ([1]) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Living without stones

Saturday

Galatians 6

English: Stones

English: Stones (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness.

Wouldn’t it be nice?  Wouldn’t it be nice if a mistake didn’t mean you were stupid, incompetent or worthless?  Wouldn’t it be nice if failure were met with understanding and help instead of criticism and whispers in the parking lot?  Wouldn’t it be nice if a choice weren’t necessarily regarded as a mistake?  So a new hymn turned out to be harder than expected and didn’t get properly introduced; wouldn’t it be nice if that were laughed at instead of criticized?

My first year I preached a sermon to which the senior pastor made no other comment than to reprimand me for using a term for a prostitute he thought improper in church.  I think I said ‘hooker’.  I know it had something to do with that remarkable spirit of love in Jesus that made him willing to consort with those folks whom good religious people regarded as unclean.

Is it so hard to be kind?  Is it so hard to wrap our words in true care and concern for the other?  Is the Spirit of Christ so far from us that there is no spirit of gentleness?  Why do family members treat each other in ways they would never treat strangers?  Why are Christians so widely seen in society as mean and judgmental?  Pretty odd for students of him who said “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

When the woman caught in adultery is tossed to the ground before Jesus, all were ready with their stones.  I marvel at Jesus’ ability to restore her in a spirit of gentleness.

And this is the point to consider: what we cannot do, Jesus does.  In our own human spirit, we cannot speak to a fault in another without that taint of condemnation and self-righteousness that gives rise so quickly to anger and defensiveness and a rending of relationships – but we have been given the Spirit of God, and we can choose to let that Spirit be the one at work in us when we speak, and when we listen.

7Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. 8If you sow to your own flesh [our humanity in its fallen condition, our innate self-centeredness], you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit.

9So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.

10So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.

2Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.