Reconciliation

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Watching for the Morning of September 10, 2017

Year A

The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 18 / Lectionary 23

Our first reading on Sunday sets the wrong background for the words of Jesus we will hear. The prophet takes up the image of a sentinel. If a sentinel gives warning of raiders sweeping down upon the land and the people ignore the warning, the people are responsible for whatever losses come. But if the sentinel fails to give warning, and the people are unprepared for the invaders, it is the sentinel who bears responsibility: “their blood I will require at the sentinel’s hand.” As so often with the prophets, Ezekiel has the crowd’s attention. They are nodding in assent, when suddenly the prophet turns the tables and Ezekiel himself is the sentinel warning the people of impending doom. Suddenly the sins of the nation are at issue; destruction is bearing down on them because of their failure to keep God’s way of justice and mercy. If they do not repent, their blood is on their own hands.

Such a word of warning is far different than the injunction given by Jesus that begins with the words: “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault.” It sounds the same, perhaps, but it is not. Jesus is not calling us to warn the sinner; he is speaking to the one who has been sinned against. And the sins at stake here are not the failure to live God’s care for the neighbor; they are the assaults on the honor of another. Jesus inhabits a culture where every insult or dishonor must immediately be met with a corresponding insult – all very public – in order to right the balance. A person’s job was to defend his honor and the honor of his family in the eyes of the community. Any insult must be matched. Any challenge met directly and immediately. Jesus is not worried about a fellow believer’s transgressing of a moral code; he is concerned that we understand what it means that we have become members of the household of God. We are a single household in Christ. Any insult must be dealt with privately, as in a family.

But it is not the honor of the community that must be maintained. This is the trap into which churches fall when they sweep grave sins beneath the rug in the name of protecting the church. It is the tie between us that matters. It is reconciliation that is the goal, not honor. Secrets are not being kept; relationships are being mended.

Jesus isn’t concerned with the system of honor rankings; he seeks reconciliation. This is where this whole chapter began. The disciples came to Jesus to ask who was the greatest. And then Jesus is putting a child in the midst and talking about taking up the lowest station. He is talking about plucking out your eye rather than diminishing another. He is talking about the shepherd going after the one and leaving the ninety-nine. And in the verses that follow, that we will read next Sunday, he is talking about 77-fold forgiveness rather than 77-fold revenge.

We are not sentinels for one another – or for society. We are brothers and sisters seeking to live reconciliation. We don’t demand that our honor be restored when offended, we want our relationship to be restored. It is a challenging path. And so we will pray with the psalmist “Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes…Give me understanding… Turn my heart to your decrees, and not to selfish gain.” And we will hear Paul write that all the commandments “are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.” And we will realize that, while sentinels matter, reconciliation is the kingdom.

The Prayer for September 10, 2017

Almighty God,
you call us to walk as children of the light
and set before us the command to love one another.
Turn us back when we stray
and lead us in your pathways
that, clothed in Christ, we might bear your grace to the world;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for September 10, 2017

First Reading: Ezekiel 33:1-11
“As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live.” – God compares the prophet to a watchman against hostile enemies and charges him not to remain silent when God has given him a message of warning for the nation.

Psalmody: Psalm 119:33-40
“Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes, and I will observe it to the end.” – Another segment of this magisterial psalm celebrating the gift of God’s Law/Teaching.

Second Reading: Romans 13:8-14
“The night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”
– Paul urges his hearers to live the life to which they have been called in Christ where love (the solidarity of regarding others as members of your own family/kin) is the heart of God’s commands.

Gospel: Matthew 18:15-20
“If another member of the church sins against you…” – Following the Parable of the Lost Sheep and the declaration that God does not want any to be lost, Jesus instructs is followers on seeking reconciliation in the community.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AForgiveness_0001.jpg By scem.info [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0) or CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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Of cisterns and crosses and imperishable life

File:Iran, désert - Yakhchal inside - intérieur d'une glacière - persian cooler (9246947525).jpg

Watching for the Morning of September 3, 2017

Year A

The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 17 / Lectionary 22

Faithfulness, suffering, deliverance – troubling truths rattle through the texts for this Sunday. Jeremiah, who experienced great opposition, shame and humiliation for his message, cries out against God at what feels like God’s betrayal or abandonment. The poet of our psalm declares his innocence in his call for God’s deliverance. And Jesus lays out the path before him through torture and crucifixion, asserting that all who would be his followers must also take up the cross.

What does it say about us as human beings that we should be so resistant to the voice of the eternal? Why does a simple call to love God and neighbor evoke such passionate hostility from a nation’s leaders? Why do we so clutch at privilege, power or position that we would throw a prophet into the mud at the bottom of a dry cistern? Why does Martin Luther King, Jr.’s call to nonviolence end with a bullet? How is it possible to wish to purge Europe of its Jewish citizens and enlist nations in the enterprise, driving the trains, guarding the gates, issuing the orders, carrying them out?

Why does the call to feed the hungry and clothe the naked evoke scorn and derision? I remember my stepfather exploding in derision and anger after I related a high school church retreat that involved a trust walk. Would I let a black panther lead me? He would lead me out into the street before a speeding car. I was a fool for imaging there was goodness in others, that they wouldn’t harm the vulnerable. Maybe I was. It’s quite clear that we as human beings have the capacity to plunder the weak. It might be hard to do face to face; but not so hard from a distance. Yet even still, consider how many men, women and children are bruised and battered by their most intimate companions.

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So there is a cross to carry for those who would live compassion and faithfulness to neighbor. There is a scorn to endure. There are cisterns waiting. There are Golgothas. It is sweet to hear Paul say: “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good,” but he doesn’t stop there.

14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

It is a noble life. But it is not simply a noble ideal; it is our true humanity. It is the life for which we were created and the life of the age to come. It is what Jesus means about being born from above. But there are hammers and nails waiting for those who dare to be so “weak.”

Only this is not weakness. It is courageous and difficult work to live such a life. We do so – or try to do so – because of the promise that “those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” We do so because this life is eternal. We do so because we have felt the breath of the Spirit. We do so because, on the third day, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and found it empty.

The Prayer for September 3, 2017

Gracious God,
the mystery of your redemption is revealed
in the life, death and resurrection of your Son.
Grant us the will and desire to follow where you lead
and to give our lives in the service of your perfect love;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for September 3, 2017

First Reading: Jeremiah 15:15-21
“Truly, you are to me like a deceitful brook, like waters that fail.”
– Faced with persecution and imprisonment for his prophetic word, Jeremiah cries out against God, and God answers with a promise: “If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless, you shall serve as my mouth…I will make you to this people a fortified wall of bronze; they will fight against you, but they shall not prevail over you.”

Psalmody: Psalm 26:1-8
“Vindicate me, O Lord, for I have walked in my integrity.” – The poet prays for deliverance and declares his innocence.

Second Reading: Romans 12:9-21
“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good.” – Paul continues his exhortation to the community in Rome, urging them to faithfulness in their life together.

Gospel: Matthew 16:21-28
“From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” – Following Peter’s confession at Caesarea Philippi that Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed of God, Jesus begins to teach them of the destiny that awaits him in Jerusalem. His followers, too, must be prepared to take up the cross, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

Image 1: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AIran%2C_d%C3%A9sert_-_Yakhchal_inside_-_int%C3%A9rieur_d’une_glaci%C3%A8re_-_persian_cooler_(9246947525).jpg By Jeanne Menj [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Image 2: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AColina_de_las_Cruces%2C_Lituania%2C_2012-08-09%2C_DD_12.JPG Diego Delso [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Garden

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“Say what you want about ‘all the killing in the Bible’, the Bible begins with two narratives about relationship with God and relationship with one another and a world in perfect peace.” – from today’s sermon.

We looked at Genesis 2 in worship this morning, the narrative about the creation of Adam and Eve. What follows is the content of the booklet that was handed out following worship explaining the images used in our sanctuary today. The sermon series is designed to help us understand what Jesus was telling his followers on the road to Emmaus about the fundamental witness of the scripture to the sacrificial, redemptive love of God.   (For more information about this series, see the explanation in the post for week 1.)

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ANevuas.jpg By Géder Abrahão (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Genesis 2:4-25


“The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground,
and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.”


File:Épaule musée archéologique de Naples.jpg

The creation narrative in the first chapter of Genesis is a sweeping and majestic portrait of a God who speaks and whose speaking brings order, goodness and beauty, calling all things into being. The creation story in this second chapter gives a more intimate portrait of a God whose first creation is a human. Where Genesis 1 views humanity as the crown of God’s creating, Genesis 2 presents humanity as God’s first thought. Where God speaks with a royal we in chapter 1, and like a great king his word effects what he speaks, in chapter 2 we meet an artisan forming humanity from the earth and breathing into him the breath of life.

And since the Hebrew word means both ‘breath’ and ‘spirit’, something is happening that is far more than mere respiration. Again we are in the realm of intimacy. God is not just our creator; God is our breath. And we are bound together even as God’s speaking (in Genesis 1) begets relationship.

Marbre antique, détail, épaule, musée archéologique de Naples
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3A%C3%89paule_mus%C3%A9e_arch%C3%A9ologique_de_Naples.jpg By photogestion [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“The Lord God planted a garden in the east, in Eden;
and there he put the man he had formed.”


File:Araucárias ao fundo Parque Nacional da Serra da Bocaina - denoise.jpg

Having formed a human, God plants a garden to provide him a home. There are notions of a royal garden in this image. This is a place where God will walk in the cool of the evening (3:8) and the human creature is given the responsibility “to till it and keep it”. We are the royal gardeners, granted the right to sustain ourselves from the fruit of the garden. But we are not hired hands; we are bearers of the divine breath and companions of God.

Sunrise with Paraná pines as seen at the Serra da Bocaina National Park, Brazil..
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AArauc%C3%A1rias_ao_fundo_Parque_Nacional_da_Serra_da_Bocaina_-_denoise.jpg By Heris Luiz Cordeiro Rocha (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground
trees that were pleasing to the eye…


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…and good for food.”


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God provides for the human all the goodness and beauty of the earth. It is God’s first act of faithfulness and love.

Capitol Hill Cherry Blossoms
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ACapitol_Hill_Cherry_Blossoms_-_Flickr_-_treegrow_(14).jpg By Katja Schulz from Washington, D. C., USA (Capitol Hill Cherry Blossoms) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
A wedding cornucopia
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ACornucopia_of_fruit_and_vegetables_wedding_banquet_(cropped).jpg By Jina Lee [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“A river watering the garden flowed from Eden.”


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Four great rivers find their headwaters in the garden – the rivers on whose banks human society will find life: the Tigris, the Euphrates, the Nile (Gihon), and a fourth whose identity we no longer know (though there are satellite images suggesting an ancient river across the Arabian peninsula.) Perhaps it’s just as well we do not know this river: now all the rivers of the world can be seen as arising in the garden.

And it does not matter that these rivers don’t connect with one another. That is not our author’s message. The garden is the source of life for the world. Even when the garden is lost to us, its waters continue to flow, bringing their fertility and abundance to human society.

It is an image taken up by Ezekiel (Ezekiel 47) when he describes a life-giving river flowing from the new temple, by Jesus when he declares that he is the source of the water of life (John 4:13-14; 7:37-38), and by the author of Revelation when the river of life flows from the throne of God and the Lamb in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 22).

Waterfall at Manavgat (Turkey).
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AManavgat_waterfall_by_tomgensler.JPG By Thomas Gensler (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.0 de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/de/deed.en)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“It is not good for the man to be alone.”


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Amidst all the beauty and abundance of the garden, it is not yet ‘good’, perfect, complete. Humans are meant for relationship. It is not good for this human creature to be alone. It is a fundamental truth. It is part of what is meant by the image of God. For there to be love, there must be an other, a beloved. We are meant for community.

Solitude, Louis Rémy Mignot
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ALouis_R%C3%A9my_Mignot_Solitude.jpg Louis Rémy Mignot [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them.”


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And so God continues to create, bringing to the human all the other creatures of the earth.

The creatures of the earth are part of our community, part of our connectedness. We know this in our pets, but also in the birds we hear singing in the morning or watch around a feeder. There is an intake of breath when we stumble across a rabbit or a deer. There is something familiar in sounds of the frogs in the pond or the sight of a lizard sunning on a rock. We talk to them without thinking about it. They are part of our community. And so the sight of a starving polar bear grieves us, or a wounded bird that has hit our picture window.

The creatures of the earth are part of our community, but in all these creatures there is not a companion equal to that first human.

The King James Version translated this as “an help meet for him.” It would have benefited us if they had added a comma after the word ‘help’, (an help, meet for him) for what popularly turned into a single word, ‘helpmeet’, actually means a helper “equal to him”, or “matching him”.

So God takes a portion from the first human and from it makes another.

Adam naming the animals, Folio 5 recto from the Aberdeen Bestiary.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AAberdeenBestiaryFolio005rAdamNamesAnimalsDetail.jpg Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

“And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man
he made into a woman.”


File:Tracy Caldwell Dyson in Cupola ISS.jpg

The woman is not made for the first human but from him. She is separate, but she is of the same stuff as he. She is not made like the animals are made. She is unique. And they are uniquely connected.

The Hebrew words here are tricky to translate comfortably into English. The creature God makes is an ‘adam’. It is a word that refers to human beings. There are other words to refer to male and female. And there are ordinary words for a man and a woman.

Clearly the Biblical writers imagined the first human as a male, but women are also “humankind”. In Genesis 5:1-2 it says: “When God created humankind (‘adam’), he made them in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them “Humankind” (‘adam’) when they were created.” It is only with the appearance of this other that humanity emerges as ‘man’ and ‘woman’.

Self portrait of Tracy Caldwell Dyson in the Cupola module of the International Space Station observing the Earth below during Expedition 24.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ATracy_Caldwell_Dyson_in_Cupola_ISS.jpg By NASA/Tracy Caldwell Dyson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.”


File:Adam Eve Storonov.JPG

Now come the words for ‘man’ (‘ish’) and ‘woman’ (‘ishah’). These are not the words for ‘male’ and ‘female’; they are words that speak of relationship, words that evoke the connection of men and women in family and community. We are made for one another, even as we are made to be in relationship with God.

Adam and Eve, sculpture by Oscar Stonorov
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AAdam_Eve_Storonov.JPG By Smallbones (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
© Text by David K. Bonde, Los Altos Lutheran Church, 2017

True sons and daughters

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Watching for the Morning of October 30, 2016

Reformation Sunday / Rite of Confirmation

Sunday in our parish we will celebrate the confirmation of three young people who will rise to affirm their intention to continue in the covenant God established with them at their baptism. It brings an added joy and celebration to the tradition of observing Reformation Sunday – a day to remember the insights that lie at the heart of the 16th century Reformation, and the principle that the church is always being reformed by the Spirit of God through the Word read, proclaimed, sung and feasted.

Among the great insights of the Reformation was the recognition that God is not served by the performance of religious works, but by the love of neighbor embodied in the work of daily life. When I create a medicine to save lives I serve God by serving my neighbor. It does not have to have a religious hashtag. But when I buy a medicine and manipulate its price to maximize profit for executives and shareholders the ground gets considerably shakier. Perhaps serving shareholders is serving neighbor, but the truth of that statement would ring truer if the officers and board weren’t themselves major shareholders – and if it weren’t the sick, the “weaker members”, who bear the burden.

This idea of vocation not as a calling from God to serve the institutional structure of the church but as a calling to serve one’s neighbor is one of many profound religious insights from the Reformation that dramatically reshaped the path of western society and the history of the world. Unfortunately we didn’t always embody the genius of those insights. Too many religious wars and burnings at the stake followed in the Reformation’s train. Not that these were new to the human community, but the genius of the Gospel should have called out more from us than changing the team colors and fight song.

But the confirmands who come forward this Sunday rise not to pledge themselves to “the church” – they rise to pledge themselves to the God who calls them to be church, to be a people of God living in the world for the sake of the world, to be a people in whom God’s law/teaching/will is written on the heart. Heaven knows earth has enough religion; we need true sons and daughters of God.

The Prayer for Reformation Sunday, October 30, 2016

Gracious and eternal God,
who by your Word called all things into being,
and by your Spirit sustains and renews the earth,
send forth your Word and your Spirit upon your church,
that ever renewed they may bear faithful witness to your grace and life.

The texts for Reformation Sunday, October 30, 2016 (assigned for Reformation Day)

First Reading: Jeremiah 31:31-34
“The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.”
– Though the covenant formed between God and Israel at Sinai lies broken (what God’s people promised they have failed to do and kingship and temple have perished) God’s promise abides and God will establish a new covenant where God’s teaching/commands are written on the heart.

Psalmody: Psalm 46
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” – A hymn proclaiming the power of God to protect and preserve the people and expressing their confident trust in God’s saving work. It provided the inspiration for Luther’s famous hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”

Second Reading: Romans 3:19-28
“Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” – Paul’s classic expression of his understanding of the function of law and gospel and the idea that we are brought into a right relationship with God (justified) not by the law, but by the free gift of God (by grace) apprehended by our trust in that gift (through faith). This phrase “Justification by grace through faith” becomes a summary statement of the 16th century reforming movement and subsequent Lutheran churches.

Gospel: John 8:31-36
“If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” – This promise of freedom in Christ – freedom from authorities or powers that would prevent their living in service of God – is spoken to followers who do not abide in Jesus’ teaching, and his challenge will reveal their true heart.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Confirmation_blessing.jpg

Bold to command?

File:100409-N-3090M-459 Capt. Michael Bernacchi, Commander Submarine Squadron 4, departs.JPG

Wednesday

Philemon 1-21

8For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, 9yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love

I am not bold enough, in Christ or out of Christ, to command anyone to do anything – though I think about it, though I sometimes wish I were.

I wish I were bold enough to tell any who come to share in the Lord’s Table that they can no longer forward tweets and emails that are (pick one or more) false, ignorant, bigoted, racist. I wish I were daring enough to command them not to gossip or to give as they should give. I wish I could command them to love their neighbor as themselves.

I’m not.

I’m not sure it would be good were I so bold. My job is actually a tougher one, like being sent from the kitchen into the living room to give instructions to my siblings: “Mom says, ‘Turn off the TV.’”

I’m not making up this stuff about loving your neighbor. God told it first to Moses in Leviticus and Jesus said this little commandment was the chief thing – and the same thing as loving God. He also told us that everyone is our neighbor. But it’s not my authority to command; the obligation falls upon my siblings not to mock me but to obey Mom.

There are no consequences for ignoring me. There are, however, consequences for ignoring Mom. And if Mom really has sent me…

But the Apostle Paul doesn’t just want the grudging, gripping, bitter obedience that turns off the television with whining and annoyance. Paul wants Philemon to understand the love of God that must manifest itself as love for Onesimus. Onesimus is a runaway slave. Onesimus has placed himself in that category with all those who would undermine the established order of ancient Roman life. The owner has an obligation to make an example of a runaway. The owner has the right to punish him in any way he pleases – including crucifixion. But Paul says to Philemon that Christ obligates him to receive Onesimus as brother, to welcome him in love. “I could command you. But I want more from you. I want you to live love.”

So I could try to command those who mutter callous and, perhaps, unreflective bitterness about Muslims, Jews, African-Americans, Gays, Chinese, Obama, the Republicans, or the poor (though I doubt it would do any good since I lack all the gravitas of Paul and live in a very different world where people take offense and go to a different congregation), but what I want, what I hope for, what I pray for, is that the love of God may encompass them. That they may grasp and be grasped by “the breadth and length and height and depth” of the love of Christ and so be filled with all the fullness of God.”

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3A100409-N-3090M-459_Capt._Michael_Bernacchi%2C_Commander_Submarine_Squadron_4%2C_departs.JPG By U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist First Class Steven Myers [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Death and Life

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“Be on your guard…for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

Watching for the Morning of July 31, 2016

Year C

The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 13 / Lectionary 18

Death haunts our readings this Sunday – the power of death to render all our striving meaningless. It is the heart of the reflection in the book of Ecclesiastes from which we draw our first reading. It ripples through the Psalm. It makes mockery of the rich man’s attempt to store his abundance to live out his days in peace: “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’” Even the reading from Colossians speaks of death – but here, it is the death of our inward-turned broken humanity, for there is a life available to us, a true life, a divinely redeemed and resurrected life, a life turned towards God and neighbor.

The rich man of our parable is a ‘fool’. He fails to understand life’s most fundamental truths: we are members of one another. The bounty of my fields provides for those whose harvests were poor so that, when my harvests are poor, their bounty may provide for me. Life, true Life, divine Life, the life for which we were created, the Life that does not perish is life connected, life in communion with God and others.

Such an understanding strains against the modern western notion of the individual. But the wise understand it is a deep and profound truth of all human existence. We are dependent on one another. We do not come into the world able to stand and flee from the predatory wolves. We cannot feed ourselves. We cannot protect ourselves. We are deeply and profoundly communal creatures. What helps the tribe helps me. What hurts the tribe hurts me. No man is an island. And the only meaningful question is who is our tribe? How big are we able to see? The rich man in Jesus’ parable cannot see beyond himself. He cannot see that his neighbors are his tribe.

And Jesus has already spoken to us about who are our neighbors.

The Prayer for July 31, 2016

O God, from whom all good things come,
you have called us to live with open hands,
sharing what you provide with those who are in need.
Grant us humility to receive your gifts with thanksgiving,
and the wisdom and compassion to share them freely with others;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for July 31, 2016

First Reading: Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23
“Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” – The poet reflects on the meaningless of life in the face of death that renders all human striving vain.

Psalmody Psalm 49:1-12
“When we look at the wise, they die; fool and dolt perish together and leave their wealth to others.” – The poet is not troubled by the threats of the wealthy and powerful, for their wealth cannot deliver them from the grave.

Second Reading: Colossians 3:1-11
“So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” –
Paul writes for us to put to death the deeds of our fallen nature and clothe ourselves in Christ.

Gospel: Luke 12:13-21
“Life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”
– asked to arbitrate and inheritance dispute, Jesus warns about the corrupting power of possessions.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AL%C3%A1mparas%2C_Djemaa_el_Fna_–_2014_–_Marrakech%2C_Marruecos.jpg By I.Barrios & J.Ligero (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, 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

Doing the good

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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