Do not be faithless

File:The confession of Saint Thomas (icon).jpgWatching for the Morning of April 8, 2018

Year B

The Second Sunday of Easter

Thomas dominates the readings on Sunday – not a story of intellectual doubt, but a story of allegiance and fidelity. None of us understands what happened to Jesus, but will we be faithful to him?

So the first reading tells us of that early faithful community that held all things in common. They “loved one another”; they showed fidelity to one another as members of a common household. We don’t divide up the refrigerator in our homes to say this food belongs to Dad and this to Mom, and the kids can eat what’s on the bottom shelf, as if we were strangers rooming together in college. Neither did those first followers of Jesus. They lived the new creation. They lived the Spirit. They lived and heralded the reign of God that Jesus brought.

The psalm will sing of the goodness “when kindred live together in unity.” It is the shape of the world before Cain rose up against Abel or Jacob stole Esau’s blessing. It is the world of the Good Samaritan and the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. It is the world of those to whom it will be said, “As you did it to the last of these you did it to me.”

The author of 1 John will speak of “what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands” and the ‘fellowship’ it creates. ‘Fellowship’ is that wonderful word, ‘koinonia’, that gets used in the New Testament to speak of ‘fellowship’ with God, ‘partnership’ (NIV) in the gospel, and the ‘contribution’ Paul gathers for the saints suffering from famine in Judea. It is the ‘communion’ in Paul’s benediction: The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you,” and the ‘sharing’ or ‘participation’ in the body and blood of Christ that happens in the cup and bread. Such fellowship isn’t coffee and donuts after church, but the mutual care and support of lives bound together in and with Christ.

And so we come to Thomas. What happens to those who have not shared in the apostolic vision of the risen Christ? Will they show faithfulness? Will the testimony of others be enough to bind them to Christ and the community? “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet are faithful.”

The translation of Jesus’ word to Thomas, “Do not doubt but believe,” is misleading to modern ears where doubt and belief concern cognitive assent. The Greek is better translated as “Do not be faithless but faithful.”

The Prayer for April 8, 2018

Gracious Lord Jesus,
in your mercy you did not leave Thomas in his unbelief,
but came to him, revealing your hands and your side,
and calling him into faith.
So come to us wherever we are in doubt and uncertainty
and by your word reveal yourself to us anew as our living Lord,
who with the Father and Holy Spirit lives and reigns,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for April 8, 2018

First Reading: Acts 4:32-35
“Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.” – The author of Luke-Acts, commonly called Luke, summarizes the life of the first Christian community as a household, sharing goods and providing for one another. It represents a foretaste of the messianic age when all things are made new.

Psalmody: Psalm 133
“How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!” – A psalm of ascents sung as the community went up to Jerusalem for one of the annual pilgrimage festivals. A faithful people of God as a blessing upon the world.

Second Reading: 1 John 1:1-2:2
“We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life.”
– The author testifies to what they have seen and heard in Jesus – and to the fellowship they have with the Father, the Son, and one another.

Gospel: John 20:19-31
“When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” – Jesus appears to his followers on Easter Evening and commissions them with the gift of the Holy Spirit, then appears again, the following Sunday, to summon Thomas into faithfulness.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AThe_confession_of_Saint_Thomas_(icon).jpg  Dionisius [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Butterflies, June bugs and the Kingdom of God

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Shenandoah National Park

“So Jesus declares that it is the things you say and do that make you unclean, not your ritual purity. And then a Canaanite woman shows up.”

A reflection on Matthew 15:10-28

Several summers ago, as I drove over interstate 80 on my way to my Father’s house in Colorado, I came to a section of the road near the crest of the Sierras where the air was thick with butterflies. It was amazing to see, except that the poor creatures were splatting across my windshield. I was saddened that so many of these creatures were meeting their demise on my car. But there was nothing I could do. There was no way to avoid them, no way to get across the mountains without going through this cloud of butterflies.

Driving across Nebraska at night, on the other hand, I don’t feel any regret about the bugs that splat against my windshield. I wish they didn’t because my windshield wipers just smear the goop around and it takes forever to clean them off the windshield when you stop at a gas station.

So what’s the difference between the insects at the top of the Sierra’s and those in Nebraska?

We think of butterflies as pretty, and June bugs and grasshoppers as pests. Fireflies are lovely on a summer’s evening. Mosquitos are not. The praying mantis we saw in my father’s yard in Virginia were cool. The horde of bugs occupying a Louisiana gas station bathroom late one August night was disgusting.

If a butterfly landed on your hand, you wouldn’t feel an impulse to wash your hand. But if a roach ran across, you probably would.

Some things are ‘clean’ and some things are ‘unclean’.

We’ve talked about purity rules before. And I can’t remember what stories I have told, so I hope you’ll bear with me. But this notion of ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’, of ‘pure’ and ‘impure’, is deeply important. And it is very instinctive. It seems automatic within us. We care about butterflies. We don’t care about June bugs.

But this is important to recognize: although the notion of ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ is instinctive, the things we identify as ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ are cultural. They are learned. When I was a kid and loved to fish, I wouldn’t think of eating a rainbow trout raw. That’d be disgusting. But I love pickled herring. Pickled herring is part of our family tradition. It is part of being Danish. It connects with big family dinners and special lunches with my dad. It connects me with my father’s parents, Farmor and Farfar, and all those memories of Uncle Erik and Aunt Betty and Uncle Dan and cousin Jim – and my daughter, Anna – who loved it. They are all gone, now, we have laid them all in the grave, but the pickled herring is part of us. We are all still connected.

The ideas about purity are about our identity. It defines who we are. It declares to whom we belong. Megan came home from school in the third grade distressed at having learned that people in China ate dog meat. “What kind of people can do that?” she wailed. They are not us. They are them. And we are not even sure they are human. “What kind of people can do that?”

What kind of person can drive a car through a crowd of pedestrians? Our president said he’s “an animal.” He isn’t really human. He’s not one of us.

Of course, the whole thing in Charlottesville was about who is ‘them’ and who is ‘us’. Who are ‘clean’ and who are ‘unclean’. Who are ‘acceptable’ and who are not. And the problem is that we are not talking about whether certain behaviors are acceptable; we are talking about whether the other side shares in our humanity.

Rules of ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ define us. They convey a sense of identity. Sometimes there is goodness in this. Having a Saturday lunch of herring and sardines and aromatic cheeses with my father touches something deep in my dad. And the Danish cookies and the frikadellar and the hakkebøf and the cucumber salad and the red cabbage and the pickled red beets they are all part of my connection to my family.

So when you marry into the family we set before you the family foods. We teach you how to make the toasts and drink the akvavit. It makes you part of us. When you’re born into the family we set before you all these things. When Anna was two years old, at the end of a big family dinner, she was sitting on her mother’s lap and reached out to the table, grabbed an empty akvavit glass, and stuck her tongue in to lick its last drop. When she did that everyone laughed and cheered: Anna was truly one of ‘us’.

For Israel, all those purity rules about foods and blood and dead bodies – they not only reflected the culture, but they helped to preserve Israel from the idolatry of the cultures around them. If pigs are a sacrificial animal in the cultures around you, but you think pork is unclean, then you won’t participate in the worship of those gods. You won’t lose your identity as a people who have been brought out from bondage in Egypt and called to live justice and mercy.

But there’s a dark side to purity rules: it’s when we think that people who don’t share our rules aren’t really human. “What kind of people can do that?”

We turn our enemies into animals so that we can kill them. If Nazi’s are animals, then we don’t have to care about them. It’s why slavery was defended as an institution: these people aren’t really people. It’s why Jim Crow laws were enacted: these people are unclean. We can’t share a bus seat. We can’t share a water fountain. We can’t share a swimming pool or a public park or a hospital – or our neighborhood.

One of the pictures I considered for the bulletin cover was a photograph of a large, elegant sign from Shenandoah National Park – built in that handsome style of all the other national park signs indicating entrances, park boundaries and special areas. This sign reads “Lewis Mountain” and beneath that, in large letters, it says “NEGRO AREA”. The next line says “Coffee Shop & Cottages” and beneath that “campground picnicground” (sic). At the bottom is the word “entrance” inside an arrow pointing the way.

It’s a nice sign. And I’m sure it’s a nice area. But what the sign really says is that “you people are unclean.” “You are less than.” “You can’t mix with us.”

I read an article about the life of James Fields, Jr., the young man who drove his car into the crowd in Charlottesville. I felt sorry for him. His life has been troubled for a long time. It doesn’t make his actions any less hateful, any less a crime, but his story makes him a human being instead of an animal.

We shouldn’t do to them what they do to others. We shouldn’t forget their humanity. We should be trying to help us all remember our humanity.

It’s so easy to forget. So easy to fail. We curse an idiot driver on the road. We look away from a homeless person on the street. We look disapprovingly at a mother who has taken her young child with her to the grocery store at 11:00 at night. We roll our eyes at a clerk in the store who is moving too slowly. We yell at family members. It is so easy to forget the humanity of others. So easy to abandon our own humanity.

Jesus’ attack on the purity system in Judea was fierce. What renders you unclean, Jesus declares, is how you treat other people, not whether you have done the proper ritual pouring of water over the hands before you eat. The good Samaritan is willing to touch the bleeding body of the victim at the side of the road because – unlike the priest and Levite – he isn’t concerned with outward ritual purity but with the well-being of the wounded man.

Jesus is willing to heal on the Sabbath because mercy and compassion are more important than an outward purity. Jesus is willing to touch a leper because true purity is fulfilling our obligations to one another rather than protecting our own purity. Jesus touches the dead girl to lift her up to life. Jesus touches the bier of the dead young man to give him back to his widowed mother. Jesus eats at the home of Zacchaeus because he sees his humanity. He sees him as a brother.

Jesus is willing to forgive your sins because he sees your humanity.

In the world of Jesus, we are the outsiders. We are the ‘them’. Few, if any of us, are descendants of Abraham by blood and soil – but we are the descendants of Adam and Eve.

We have become descendants of Abraham because we are descendants of Abraham’s faith. We are descendants of Abraham’s trust in and allegiance to the God who fashioned us all, and redeems us all, and calls us all to lives of compassion and faithfulness to one another.

So Jesus declares that it is the things you say and do that make you unclean, not your ritual purity. And then a Canaanite woman shows up.

She’s not just a gentile; she’s one of those people God warned the Israelites about. One of those people who polluted the land twelve centuries ago and made the land vomit them out. One of those people that Israelites were not supposed to marry lest their hearts be led astray to worship the Canaanite gods. One of those people like Jezebel who would teach greed and injustice in the name of her gods. And, if you are offended by what Jesus says to the Canaanite woman, you should be. It is deeply offensive. It is tribal. She is one of ‘them’, not one of ‘us’. God owes her nothing. She has no right to ask. You cannot take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs – the dirty mongrel dogs scrounging the wastes of society.

The woman is unclean. But she understands that God is a god of mercy. She sees that God is a god of all. She clings to the confession that God is god who will show faithfulness to his whole creation. “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”

She understands that what renders you unclean is what you say and do, not what you eat, or what you touch – or who your parents were.

And Jesus says, “Here is faith.” “Here is great faith.” Here is true allegiance.

And lest we miss the implications of this encounter: if what renders us unclean is what we say and do, then none of us is clean. None of us is pure. None of us is deserving.

If what renders us unclean is what we say and do, then all of us are dependent on God’s mercy.

If what renders us unclean is what we say and do, then none of us is welcome at God’s table – except that God has welcomed us in his love and mercy.

And maybe that’s our avenue back to our humanity. It’s when we think we are clean and others are unclean that lines get drawn. It when we think we are “better than” that others become “less than”. It’s when we think we are the good people and others are not that evils happen.

But when we can see that we are welcomed only by God’s mercy – maybe then we can see others with mercy.

Sermon from Sunday, August 20, 2017
Proper A 15, Lectionary A 20
Los Altos Lutheran Church

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ALewis_Mountain_Negro_Area.jpg By National Park Service (http://www.nps.gov/shen/images/20070117113507.jpg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The way of life

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Once more on last Sunday

Luke 10:25-37

25Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

I am not ready to leave behind the texts for last Sunday, but I have trouble pulling just a single thread from the thoughts and emotions that swirl around within me.

The whole of Biblical faith is here in this passage where an expert in the interpretation and application of the law rises to a showdown with Jesus. Jesus trumps him with a story we all know as “the Good Samaritan”. But it is never just a smackdown with Jesus. Jesus wants to summon even this lawyer into the way of the kingdom.

The whole of Biblical faith is here in this passage – or, at least, Christian Faith. Here we see the transformative hand of Jesus upon the tradition he inherited. In a world where tribalism reigns, Jesus summons us to live as those who regard all people as members of our tribe, our kinship group, our family. Brothers and sisters. The outcast, the unclean, the Gentiles, even enemies – we are to love them all.

Show fidelity to God with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength and all your mind and show fidelity to your neighbor as to yourself. Allegiance not to tribe but to the God who is creator of all. Allegiance to the God who opens prison doors and blind eyes and gathers all creation to one table. Allegiance to the God who empties the grave to set us all free from our habitation in the realm of death.

The shooter in Dallas became a victim of death. Even as his body lived, death held his mind and heart in its grasp. It promised him relief in killing. In killing cops, in killing white people. It gave him the illusion of power, the illusion that he could affect the world. But it gave him no life, no wholeness, no healing, no liberation, only a bomb attached to the arm of a robot and a name no one wants to remember.

But there is before us another way, a path of life. A way that heals and makes whole. A way that rescues and redeems. A way that is joy and light.

And here is the deep, deep mystery in the parable. We are the fallen wounded. And Christ is the Samaritan who comes to us, who binds up our wounds, who carries us to safety, who pays the price for our healing. For the living. For the dead. For the whole creation.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ASamariter.JPG By Mraz (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Live the mercy

 

Thursday

Deuteronomy 30:1-14

File:Musée du Petit Palais Petit Palais n09.jpg1When all these things have happened to you, the blessings and the curses that I have set before you, if you call them to mind among all the nations where the Lord your God has driven you, 2and return to the Lord your God, and you and your children obey him with all your heart and with all your soul, just as I am commanding you today, 3then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you, gathering you again from all the peoples among whom the Lord your God has scattered you. 4Even if you are exiled to the ends of the world, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there he will bring you back.

These words are not part of the assigned text for the first reading on Sunday, but they should be. They set the context for the promise of prosperity and for the declaration that “Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you.”

The story starts in exile. The exhortation begins in mercy. This is a word of hope. When all is lost, there is yet a future. If we turn back, God will restore. And what God asks is “not too hard” for us. It is not esoteric. The life God wants for us is within our reach.

Justice and mercy are simple things. We may not want to give them, but they are simple and straightforward. God’s commands are not like the tax code. You do not need a legal expert to make them intelligible. You do not need a hero to discern them. God’s commands are really pretty modest: He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

At first glance, Jesus seems to make the commands tougher: You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times…but I say to you… But what Jesus is asking is that we keep the spirit of God’s law not simply its outward form. There is a lust of the heart not just of the body, and an anger that rends the human community though it does not murder.

God has commanded us to love our neighbor. Jesus just wants us to stop limiting mercy. Mercy is not hard. Compassion is not hard. It is our hearts that can be hard.

There are a thousand reasons not to stop and help the wounded man. The priest will be defiled and have to return to Jerusalem to undergo purification. The Levite, too, is surely on some important business and has good cause not to get involved. But this is not a situation that calls for nuanced interpretation of legal obligations; this is a situation that calls for us to live the mercy of God. Pretty simple: Live the mercy of God.

11Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. 12It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” 13Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” 14No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.

 

Photo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AMus%C3%A9e_du_Petit_Palais_Petit_Palais_n09.jpg By jean-louis Zimmermann from Moulins, FRANCE [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

A holy revolution

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Watching for the Morning of July 10, 2016

Year C

The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 10 / Lectionary 15

Jesus is a revolutionary; he turns things around. He turns us around. And if we don’t like the political associations of that word, the “religious” synonym is repentance. Only Biblical repentance isn’t about moral regret. It is about changing directions. Turning around. Jesus is a revolutionary, bent on turning us around, bent on turning the world around.

The encounter with Jesus in this reading for Sunday starts as an attack by an expert in the interpretation and application of God’s law. Maybe it’s a personal attempt to make himself look good in the eyes of the crowd by upstaging this peasant healer. Maybe he wants to tear Jesus down as a potential threat to the established order. Either way, his question is intended to show that Jesus doesn’t know the scriptures or understand the tradition. But Jesus is a revolutionary; he turns the tables on the expert, showing that this “expert” knows all the right words and nothing of their significance.

The story Jesus tells is full of shock and awe. The Samaritan is an unexpected character in the story and he behaves in a startling way. Since the wounded man is stripped and beaten, the Samaritan cannot know whether he is “one of ours” or “one of theirs”. The touch of a Samaritan, his wine and oil, are all unclean to a Judean, as likely to elicit rage as gratitude.

The expert knows the answer to the question “Who is my neighbor?” A neighbor is a fellow Israelite. This expert is not looking for information; he is scrambling to save face, hoping still to show Jesus as ignorant. But Jesus is a revolutionary; he turns the question around from “Who is my neighbor?” to “Who showed himself to be a neighbor?” Now we are not talking about who the other person is, but “Who am I?”

What does it mean to be God’s people? What does it mean to be a citizen of God’s reign? What does it mean to be a human being, created in the image of God?

A Samaritan! A hated Samaritan is the example of our true humanity! Our divine calling! Just like the Roman Centurion was an example of true faith! This Jesus who welcomes sinners…he is a revolutionary, bent on turning us all around.

So Sunday we will be confronted again by Jesus telling this familiar but challenging story. And we will hear the preaching of Deuteronomy call us to fidelity. And the psalmist will pray for God to teach us his paths. And the author of Colossians will pray that we may lead lives worthy of the Lord – reminding us that God has “rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son.”  A holy revolution.

The Prayer for July 10, 2016

Lord of mercy,
who gathers up a broken world in the arms of your grace,
teach us to live as you live,
to love as your love,
and to see all people as members of a single human family;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for July 10, 2016

First Reading: Deuteronomy 30:1-14 (appointed: 9-14)
“Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you” –
To a people who have experienced the trauma of exile comes the promise of restoration and renewal and the exhortation to “turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”

Psalmody: Psalm 25:1-10
“Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths” – A prayer of faith for God’s continuing mercy, protection and guidance.

Second Reading: Colossians 1:1-14
“We have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God.” – The salutation and blessing at the beginning of the letter to the Colossians that anticipate the central concerns of the letter.

Gospel: Luke 10:25-37
“But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’”
– Jesus answers a lawyer’s challenge with the story we know as the parable of the Good Samaritan.

 

Photo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AParis_-_Jardin_des_Tuileries_-_PA00085992_-_106.jpg By Thesupermat (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Everlasting friend

Saturday

1 John 3:16-24

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Jesus as the Good Shepherd from the early Christian catacomb of Domitilla/Domatilla (Crypt of Lucina, 200-300 CE)

17How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?

Let’s just skip past this one real quickly.

Why don’t we stay with:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Or maybe:

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

There are so many nice, sweet, comforting thoughts on which we could focus in the texts this week. Jesus is our shepherd. He provides us good pasture. He protects us from the wolves. He is our everlasting friend.

And, yes, he is all those things. But our everlasting friends said, “A new commandment I give to you.” He told that story about the Good Samaritan. He invited himself to dinner at the home of Zacchaeus without asking him to repent first. And then he sends Philip to the Ethiopian Eunuch and Peter to the Roman Centurion, Cornelius.

We don’t get the everlasting friend without the new commandment. Try as you might, we don’t. Israel tried this. Temple. Priesthood. King. Sacrifices. Ritual. Glory. But they didn’t do justice or mercy or even Sabbath, and marching armies came to tear down all those things in which they trusted. Back to the drawing board. Back to eternal love and the commandments.

So here we are struggling with First John’s troubling question:

17How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?

We can play games with the text. We can duck and weave and try to avoid its direct and pointed word. But I was never very good at dodge ball as a child, and surely not now. And I don’t want to dodge this word either.

Christian faith is about abiding in God’s love and God’s love abiding in us. This is easier for some of us than others, I know. We all have our wounds and scars. But sometimes it seems like some of us aren’t trying. We are content to gossip, judge, condemn, and go about our lives hidden among the masses, making no difference, bearing no witness, adding no grace or healing to our wounded world. It’s what makes Christianity to be despised in the culture around us, especially among the young.

There is an everlasting friend for us. But he is friend also to our neighbor. And he wants me to treat others not only as I want to be treated, but as he has treated me.

A surprising and unexpected mercy

Sunday Evening

Luke 10

The Parable of the Good Samaritan by Jan Wijna...

The Parable of the Good Samaritan by Jan Wijnants (1670) shows the Good Samaritan tending the injured man. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

33But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity

Moved with pity.  Luke uses this Greek word two other times in his Gospel.  Jesus is moved with pity for the widow of Nain as she carried her son to burial, and the father of the prodigal son was moved with pity for his hungry and broken son.  Outside of Luke, Jesus has compassion for the crowds who were like sheep without a shepherd, for the crowds who are hungry, for the leper who is cleansed, and for the boy with an unclean spirit that convulses him.  It is a word used of God’s compassion for us, God’s suffering love.

When the Samaritan is moved with compassion, we should see Jesus.

We need to hear this message that we are neighbor/kin to others.  They are not our neighbors, creating an obligation for us; we are neighbors to them, creating an identity in us.  We are those who see others as members of our family.  We are those who, like Christ Jesus, are moved with compassion for the wounded of the world.  We are members of the royal household sharing the love of the king for those of his realm.  We are the body of Christ in the world, the agents of Grace.  It is not about which of my neighbors has claim on me; it is about God who has claimed and inspirited me to live his compassion in the world.

We need to hear this message.  But, in the Samaritan, we also need to see Jesus.

Jesus is the Good Samaritan.  He pays the price to rescue a broken and beaten world.  And he is our Good Samaritan.  He finds us at the side of the road beaten by life, and tends our wounds with wine and oil.  He carries us to safety.  He stays at our side through the darkness of the night.  He provides for our needs.  And he returns for us, paying any debt.

So, we are Good Samaritans not because we should (though we should), but because we have been brought into the reality of the true Good Samaritan.  We have lain at the side of the road and been met with a surprising and unexpected mercy.  We have tasted his goodness.  And he has given us his Spirit.

 

 

Kin

Saturday

Luke 10

The Good Samaritan by Aimé Morot (1880) shows ...

The Good Samaritan by Aimé Morot (1880) shows the Good Samaritan taking the injured man to the inn. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

36“Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”

Notice that Jesus asks which man was a neighbor “to” the wounded man.  Jesus twists the question around so that it is no longer “Who is my neighbor,” but “Who showed himself a neighbor?  Who acted as a neighbor?”

And please understand the assumption underlying Jesus’ question:  they we’re all neighbors, though only the Samaritan acted like one.

They were all neighbors. Though they came from different tribes, though they occupied different social positions, they were bound together by their shared humanity.  They were not enemies.  They were not competitors.  They were not elite and common laborers.  They were members of a single human family.

Love in the world of the scripture is the care and concern and solidarity you show for members of your family, your clan.  You have obligations to family; you don’t have obligations to strangers.  Jesus says everyone is your family – or, more profoundly, you are family to everyone.

There are manifold forces at work in our world to divide us from one another.  Tribalism abounds.  Red state and blue.  Gay and straight.  Religious and secular.  Christian, Muslim and Jew.  Conservative Christians and Liberal Christians.  Creationists and Evolutionists.  Pro life and pro choice.  Vegan, vegetarian and omnivore.  Tree huggers and tree cutters.  And then there are those truly deep divisions over race, culture, language and history.

Twice in the last hundred years the whole world has been at war.  In between have been lots of other proxy wars and revolutionary wars and “ethnic cleansings.”   The death toll makes the bubonic plague look tame.  Into this warring world Christ has planted his little community with the message that you are family to every person you meet, to every other person in the whole world – even the guy who’s pounding the nails into your hands and feet.

If this isn’t a stunning thought you aren’t paying attention.

More than rules

Friday

Colossians 1

God the Father 11

God the Father 11 (Photo credit: Waiting For The Word)

9For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God.

“The knowledge of God’s will.”  My will for my daughters and the rules we had in our household are two different things.  My “will” was that they be honest, responsible, compassionate and cooperative.  The rules were specific things that seemed appropriate in order to help them be honest, responsible, compassionate and cooperative.  But the rules are not the point.  I would not be pleased with a child who was home by curfew, cleaned her room, and always had her homework done if she were also manipulative, deceitful or cruel.  God’s will is more than rules.

Paul doesn’t pray that the believers in Colossae will know God’s rules; he prays they will understand God’s will.  The legal materials in the Old Testament are not simply social mores of a forgotten time, nor are they timeless requirements of the divine will; they are attempts to give insight into the will of God for our existence.  It is not enough to observe the rule about only taking the eggs and not the hen from a nest in the field if we do not see in that law the will of God for humanity to respect and preserve the created world.  It is not enough to observe the rule that you not cut down fruit trees when laying siege to a city if you have laid waste to the cropland to punish the people with hunger long after the war is over.  It is not enough to refrain from adultery if your heart desires what belongs to another – or you fail to desire what belongs to you.

Laws are nice and neat, black and white.  And they are also open to sophisticated parsing – just exactly which neighbors do I have to treat as if they were members of my own household or clan?  Once you have asked that question, you are no longer seeking God’s will; you are seeking something else.

I appreciate the need for rules and for careful thought about their application.  But we cannot use rules as tools to control others, as tools to define “us” from “them” or “good” people from “bad,” as proof of our righteousness or the means of meriting God’s favor.  The rules are there to give us examples of what God’s will looks like.  It doesn’t mean we are free of the rules; it means we are seeking to understand and live God’s will.  We are seeking to understand God’s vision for human life – care for one another, care for the earth, care for ourselves; compassion, justice, peace; love of God and love of neighbor.

“What does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

This is Paul’s prayer.  He has not come to Colossae to convert them from one system of religious practices to another; he has come to give them understanding of the will of the one who stands at the beginning and end of time and calls us into the fullness of our humanity.

PS The references above to provisions in the Torah are found in Deuteronomy 22:6 and 20:19

Fruit

Thursday

Deuteronomy 30

English: Fruit stall in a market in Barcelona,...

English: Fruit stall in a market in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

9The Lord your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all your undertakings, in the fruit of your body, in the fruit of your livestock, and in the fruit of your soil.

This is one of those places where it is important to read the scriptures carefully, especially those of us living in the United States where we worship prosperity and use it as a measure of success.

The prosperity God promises is fruit: fruit of the body, livestock and soil – to which I think we should also add the fruit of the Spirit.

If my fields yield an abundant harvest, no one else in the human community has lost anything.  It is not gained by cleverness in business.  It is not gained by taking advantage of anyone’s need.   A rich harvest is not gained by pushing wages down and moving jobs overseas.  It is not gained by creating obscure derivatives and paying others to rate them highly.  It is not gained by underselling the competition until I have a monopoly.  It is not gained by taking advantage of insider information or manipulating the market.  The Biblical image of divine blessing is rooted in the natural world, not the socio-economic one.

This is not an attack on capitalism, only a caution.  We slip so easily into the worship of wealth and power that we can lose sight of Biblical values.  It’s not good business to leave the margins of your fields unharvested – but it is good for the poor.  It’s not good business to leave your fields ungleaned – but it is good for those in need.  It is not good business to give away the first tenth of your harvest – but it is good for the human community.  It is not good business to pick up a beaten man at the side of the road and provide him free health care (unless you can get good media attention from it) – but it is good for the human spirit.

The market does not care about the well-being of my neighbor.  But God expects me to do so.

9For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. (Colossians 1, our second reading for Sunday)