In the Wednesday Word I wrote about both my affinity and fear of water. I like being near lakes and oceans. I am mesmerized by waterfalls. But I also won't swim in anything without an edge or that is not heated to 82 degrees. And I will not, in any circumstances, ever go whitewater rafting.
This reflection on water was generated by my daughter who let me know she had stopped at Multnomah Falls on her way to visit her grandparents to have lunch and hike to the top. That got me thinking about waterfalls, rivers, lakes, and oceans and how I like to be near those things. Not only how I like to be near them, but how I have a healthy respect (some say paranoia) for being in and around them. I always wear a life vest when in a boat. I refuse to go whitewater rafting because that's not how I want to die. I never run willy nilly into the ocean. I like being around water, but I also don't want to relinquish control to the point where I'm at the mercy of the river, lake, or ocean.
As it turns out, I was one step ahead of the Sunday lectionary.
Today's gospel is the turning point for Jesus in Luke. From here on out Jesus is determined to go to Jerusalem because “the days drew near for him to be taken up.” What we are presented with from now on is a theological travel narrative. Like the car chase scene in Bullitt or the island-hopping scenes of Hawaii Five-O where what you see doesn't match up to the actual route or scenery, the travels of Jesus to Jerusalem are less about the route and geography than they are about theology. This is why Luke is a gospel and not a tour guide. This is why some geographical locations don't make sense, because Luke is concerned with theology and not geography.
The theological point Luke is making is that discipleship is costly. Jesus is now heading to Jerusalem to confront the powers of this world, endure his Passion, and eventually ascend to the Father. The mission of Christ to restore all people to unity in God and making them/us heirs of the kingdom was not without cost. Jesus tells his disciples several times in several places that he will be handed over to various leaders and crucified. He also tells his disciples and others that if you want to follow him, you must take up your cross.
If you want to follow Jesus, it will lead to Jerusalem. If you want to follow Jesus, you will be mocked. If you want to follow Jesus, you may be persecuted. If you want to follow Jesus you will be asked to give up those habits and desires that separate you from God. This understanding of discipleship, and this understanding of commitment to God, is at the heart of the gospel passage today.
Cyril of Alexandria addresses the first would-be disciple by pointing out the man's apparent selfish, and self-serving, attitude. Notice, he says, that Jesus doesn't call this person to follow him, the person announces he will follow. Cyril writes that the man had seen the great works of Jesus and wanted to be counted as a disciple/apostle to reap the rewards without experiencing any of the cost. Part of the cost of discipleship is knowing you will lose the comforts that even foxes and birds enjoy.
In discussing the last two who were called by Jesus but delayed following – one to bury his father and one to say farewell – Basil the Great, Cyril, and Cyprian all point out that discipleship requires us to forsake any human obligation no matter how noble. The first and greatest commandment is this: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, all your strength. Once we have made the commitment to follow Christ, our turning back to worldly concerns only serves to keep us in place rather than moving toward the goal. As Cyprian said, “Remember Lot's wife.”
The heart of today's gospel is the idea of commitment. How committed are we to following Christ? How committed are we to a life of discipleship? Do we love God with every fiber of our being? Are we willing to go to Jerusalem and sacrifice ourselves for the love of God?
And right about here is where the connection between God and water comes together. I like being around water. I like being around God. I like the calm, peaceful presence water can emit. I like the calm, peaceful presence emitted by being in a holy space. I like witnessing the power of the ocean and of waterfalls. I like witnessing the power of God in so many different ways. I like the feeling of being washed clean, and I like the ritual of baptism.
But I also like enjoying these things and participating in these things from a safe distance where I’m not always challenged or not always in fear for my life. You will never find me in an open-water swim. You will never find me sailing solo to Hawaii. I have no plans to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel. If I get to close to water, or give up my need for control around water, I just might die.
And that, unfortunately, also describes my relationship with God. I often feel as if I'm participating from a safe distance. I still want to be involved in worldly things, refusing to love God with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength. I still want to have some semblance of control, fearing that I just might die if I give it all up.
But that is the point of the life of Christ – that we give it all up for God, dying to the cares and pulls of this world, only to be raised to new life.
I love water. I love God. Too often, though, I am unwilling to let go of my need for control and jump in with both feet.
Maybe that's the point of discipleship – that we're supposed to let go, jump in with both feet, and understand that discipleship isn't an individual endeavor. Because until we give up control, until we jump in with both feet, until we are willing to take up our cross and follow Jesus to Jerusalem, the question remains: How committed are we really to becoming disciples of Christ?
Sunday, June 26, 2016
In the Wednesday Word I wrote about both my affinity and fear of water. I like being near lakes and oceans. I am mesmerized by waterfalls. But I also won't swim in anything without an edge or that is not heated to 82 degrees. And I will not, in any circumstances, ever go whitewater rafting.
Sunday, June 19, 2016
About a week ago, someone asked me, “Do you prefer change or do you prefer the status quo?” Being the good Episcopalian that I am, I answered, “Yes.”
Depending on your experience of me, some will say I prefer and work at change. Others will say I prefer to maintain the status quo. Examples of change include leaving the altar rail open at Communion, instituting the 6 a.m. Easter Vigil, and the impending chancel reconfiguration. Examples of maintaining the status quo include . . . well . . . sometimes you can't recognize that because it's hard to see what you are doing when you've always done it that way. Observing the status quo sometimes feels like being a fish in water – you don't notice the water until it's gone.
I bring this up because today's gospel is all about change and protecting the status quo.
Jesus and his disciples cross over to the country of the Gerasenes. Immediately after getting out of the boat Jesus is met by a demoniac. He is naked. He lives in the tombs. He was often kept chained and under guard. And he knows who Jesus is. Scripture doesn't tell us exactly how long the man had been possessed, we're only told that it was “a long time.” Long enough, perhaps, for the city council to pass a resolution mandating all demoniacs live in the tombs, away from the quiet, orderly suburban housing tracts; or maybe away from the downtown corridor that they are trying to revitalize. Long enough, perhaps, for the people to see this as normal behavior. Long enough, perhaps, for the situation to become part of the status quo.
Part of that status quo was to keep him separated and apart from the “normal” people. Part of that status quo was to keep him chained to behavioral expectations placed upon him by the dominant society. Part of that status quo forced him to live in the tombs, unable to come out into the general society because of who he was. And then Jesus stepped out of the boat.
After his brief encounter with the demoniac, Jesus healed him by sending the demons into a herd of swine that then committed mass suicide. The swine-herders ran off and told everyone in the area what happened. All those people then ran back to Jesus where they found the man clothed, in his right mind, sitting with Jesus. And then the people ask Jesus to leave town.
They ask him to leave not because he healed someone who was a danger to himself and others; they ask him to leave because he upset the status quo. They ask him to leave because Jesus brought change, and the people couldn't handle that.
Two things about change, and the first has to do with church. I was talking with a woman last week about change in the church and we both found it ironic that when people say they want change, they really don't mean it. “We need more people” is often followed by, “as long as I don't have to change pews.” Or a comment about doing something different to attract people is often followed by, “as long as we don't change the music.”
If you want to grow there will be change, because all growth entails change. Just think about the constant changes our bodies go through from birth to adulthood. If it's alive, it changes.
The second form of change and upsetting the status quo has to do with the kingdom of God. I could be wrong, but I think most people have an image or vision of the kingdom of God as supplanting the kingdoms of the world. They see it as competing with and being ultimately victorious over the powers and principalities of the world. But there's another way to think about the kingdom of God.
In his book Christ on Trial, Rowan Williams examines the gospel accounts of Christ’s trial before the high priest and Pilate. His basic argument is that the kingdom of God is a kingdom that does not compete for space in this world. As Jesus told Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world.” Because it is not of this world we have no need to defend it. We especially have no need to defend it through tactics indigenous to this world, i.e. Christians marching off to war, holy crusades, attacking perceived threats to Christianity, and the like. If we fight for Jesus using the tactics of this world (think of Peter taking up the sword), we end up surrounding Jesus with violence and we eventually do violence to Christ himself. Rowan Williams argues that it is precisely this unwillingness to use violence, it is this unwillingness to participate in the violent systems of the world, that infuriates his accusers. Because of his refusal to participate in their game with their rules, they attack his supposed weakness and execute him.
We are all caught up in one way or another in a world system that revolves around violence. Because we are born into this world of competitive violence, into a world of winners and losers, we often don't recognize it as the status quo. It appears to us as water appears to a fish. We see varying levels of violence in the same way the Gerasenes saw the demoniac – something we have to attempt to control, something we force to live in the shadows of the tombs, something with which we would rather not address, and something in which our behaviors toward that other person become the status quo.
Last week a gunman walked into a night club and massacred 49 people, wounding others, and scarring many more for life. The people targeted also happened to be gay. In the aftermath of what has effectively become our national liturgy, the modern-day Gerasenes are fighting to maintain the status quo. They are fighting against change that brings peace. These modern-day Gerasenes are fighting to continue living in a world of violence, where the only solution worth pursuing is more violence. And they are fighting to keep one group of people locked in chains, forcing them to live in the tombs, in deep, dark closets, away from everyone else.
Jesus is waiting to step ashore. But it is our shore and we need to invite him. If we do so, then we are also advocating another way. We are advocating a kingdom not of this world. We are advocating a kingdom that doesn't use the tactics of this world. We are advocating a kingdom of peace. And we are inviting people to do violence to us because we won't play their game with their rules.
Change is hard. But without change there is no growth. Without change, the incident in Orlando will soon be forgotten, replaced by yet another violent incident. Without change, it's all status quo.
Change, however, is what Jesus is calling us to do. Change is what we owe the victims in Orlando, Charleston, Newtown, Roseburg, Columbine, and so many others. Change is what both the Gerasenes and the demoniac needed.
It is the process of change brought by Jesus that leads to peace and sanity. And it is precisely that change that the Gerasenes cannot tolerate – both then and now.
Sunday, June 12, 2016
Before we get into this story of the sinful woman washing and anointing Jesus' feet, we need a little back story. During the Season of Pentecost in Year C all of our Sunday gospel readings come from Luke. For the most part these are sequential readings that follow the life of Christ . . . for the most part. This particular season is 27 weeks long, and Luke has 24 chapters. So unless we want to read one full chapter every Sunday, some things will get left out.
Today we jump from the raising of the widow's son to the dinner at Simon's house. That jump skips over the passage where John sends disciples to ask Jesus if he is the Messiah or not. John, remember, is traditionally considered to be the last prophet of the old age who ushered in the new. Luke, we learned last week, considers Jesus to be a prophet of God, but only in the sense that his prophetic calling is but one part of who Jesus is. He is a mighty prophet who gives sight to the blind, causes the lame to walk, cleanses the lepers, opens the ears of the deaf, and raises the dead. Luke is moving us from prophet to Messiah. So while this skipped-over portion is not necessary for understanding today's story, it certainly helps us begin to understand the totality of who Jesus is.
Today we get less prophet and more Messiah. Jesus is invited to dinner by Simon, a Pharisee. While at dinner a sinful woman appears, washing Jesus' feet with her tears, drying them with her hair, and anointing them with oil. As usual, there is a lot going on here. There is the erotic undertones of her act. Refusing to keep the Sabbath day holy is not why she's identified as a sinner. There's the interplay between Jesus and Simon. There's the contrast between the woman and Simon. And there's the movement of Jesus from prophet to Messiah.
Any one of these could be the basis for a good sermon, but the one that intrigued me this year was the contrast between Jesus and Simon. Both of these men were faithful. Both of them wanted to do what was right in the eyes of God. Both of them wanted to live into a form of righteousness. But there the similarities end.
Simon doesn't fit our image of a typical Pharisee. He's not out to get Jesus. His dinner invitation doesn't appear to hide any ulterior motives. If you read this story in the context of the story the Lectionary chose to omit, you might get the idea that, just as John was searching for the Messiah, Simon was also searching and he simply wanted to learn more about Jesus over a good dinner.
But then this unnamed woman showed up. Not just any woman, mind you, but a woman specifically identified and singled out as a sinner. As I said, it's not because she refused to keep the Sabbath day holy that she was labeled a sinner. And it is this woman who draws out the differences between Simon and Jesus, and points us to seeing Jesus as the Messiah.
As I said, Simon wanted to do what was right in the eyes of God. He wanted to be faithful. His idea of righteousness was wrapped up in maintaining a sense of purity and holiness for God. The way to maintain righteousness before God was to avoid having any interaction with sinners. The way to maintain righteousness was to maintain proper boundaries and not let the stain of sin contaminate you. The way to interact with those people, then, was to ensure that they purified themselves before being allowed contact with, or access to, holy people and places. A short way of saying this would be something like, “Clean yourself up and then you can come inside.”
Jesus presents us with another way of seeing righteousness.
Jesus also wanted to do what was right in the eyes of God. He also wanted to be faithful. But whereas Simon saw the path of righteousness as a restricted access toll road, ensuring people made the proper payment before being allowed to enter, Jesus saw righteousness as an open road that everybody has access to. Where Simon saw righteousness as a temple of God where people needed to get cleaned up before entering, Jesus saw righteousness fulfilled in houses of God that invited people in and helped get them clean.
Simon's view of righteousness is an exclusive restaurant, black tie and gown required, where a maitre d' oversees the reservations, allowing in only the approved clientele.
Jesus' view of righteousness is an A.A. meeting.
In Romans, Paul writes, “There is no one who is righteous,” and, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We cannot obtain righteousness on our own. Left to our own devices, we will sin. Left to our own devices, we will be unable to maintain a pure and righteous path to God. Left to our own devices, we will set up our own boundaries, criteria, expectations, and judgments for determining who is in and who should be kept out. This is what Simon is advocating for – a formal way to keep out undesirables so that they don't contaminate or distract the religiously pure.
People still follow Simon's lead today. Whether it is blatant racism, sexism, or homophobia, or whether it's a more subtle version of those, people set up barriers designed to keep certain people out, as well as keep certain people in power. A recent example happened over in England last week.
The Diocese of Liverpool and the Diocese of Akure, Nigeria, formed a companion relationship several years ago. Last year, the bishop of Liverpool invited the Rt. Rev. Susan Goff, Bishop Suffragan of Virginia, to become an honorary assisting bishop in Liverpool. And last week the Diocese of Akure severed their ties with Liverpool because Bp. Goff is in favor of marriage equality. In other words, Akure ended their relationship with Liverpool because Liverpool let that woman, a sinner in their eyes, into the house.
We should be taking our cues from Jesus, not from Simon. The righteousness Jesus exhibits comes from invitation, welcome, inclusion, and compassion. It comes from understanding that we aren't the maitre d' controlling who gets in, but that we are the staff ensuring our guests are cared for. Because it is in the inviting, the welcoming, the including, the compassion, where we show people that God wants them. It is in those actions where people can begin to be cleansed, dying to old ways of living, have their sins forgiven, and live into a new life of resurrection. And it is in this behavior that Luke shows Jesus moving from prophet to Messiah.
Today's gospel passage gives us two ways to understand righteousness: the Simon way and the Jesus way. Simon's way is neat and tidy with clearly delineated rules and regulations, making clear with whom we are and are not allowed to associate. The Jesus way is a bit more messy.
Five star restaurant with a limited clientele, or A.A. meeting?
Which will you choose?
Wednesday, June 08, 2016
This came across my NYT feed yesterday:
Speaker Paul D. Ryan called Donald J. Trump's comments about a Hispanic-American judge "racist," but said there was more "common ground" with him than with his presidential rival.
And it got me thinking about all the other things they have in common, such as:
Blaming the poor for their plot in life;
Blaming rape victims for getting raped;
Taking a stand against paying living wages;
Taking a stand against providing Americans with affordable health care;
Continuing the fight to ensure forced births;
Granting companies the right to discriminate based on "deeply held religious beliefs";
Taking a stand against any non-Christian group;
Taking a stand against any "incorrect" Christian group;
Seeing predatory lenders as good business models;
Standing up for the rights of oppressed white males;
Viewing women as subordinate;
Viewing non-white people as parasites;
Seeing corporate bailouts as good for business, but social welfare recipients as moochers;
Thinking all Muslims are terrorists;
Wanting a national registry for Muslims so we can keep an eye on them;
Opposing giving the same rights and privileges to non-white males that white-males have;
Making "pro-life" claims while supporting the death penalty and increasing access to weapons;
A "shoot first, ask questions later" mentality;
Banning abortion while not providing support for infant care or low-cost/free daycare;
Refusing to research and implement alternative energy sources;
Ignoring the global warming problem;
Ignoring science in general;
A general belief in urban myths over actual facts.
I'm sure there are more, but it would appear Speaker Ryan was correct: he does have more common ground with Mr. Trump than that insignificant fact that Trump is a blatant racist.
Sunday, June 05, 2016
Sunday, May 29, 2016
We made it! We got through the seasonal experiences of Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, and Easter, and we can now begin to live life normally. If by “normally” you mean not having to worry about any special preparations or special sacrifices, you are correct. But if by “normally” you mean plugging along through life following our old familiar patterns, you would be wrong.
Take a minute and think back two weeks to Pentecost. What do you remember as the main point of that sermon being? If you've forgotten, the main point was that you have been anointed by the Holy Spirit and have now officially graduated from disciples to apostles. For those of you who were here that day, you also received diplomas and certificates of excellence as proof of that graduation. You are now apostles, commissioned to proclaim the good news of God in Christ to the world.
But buried within that sermon was the reminder that apostleship didn't negate the need for discipleship. Just because you have officially graduated to the role of teacher doesn't mean you are no longer a learner. Being an apostle means that you are located firmly between Jesus and the world. To the world you are an apostle, sharing and proclaiming the good news of God in Christ. To Jesus you are a disciple, continually learning, continually striving, continually turning to Christ. Another way of saying it is that you take what you learn here and go share it out there.
We have now entered the long green season of discipleship and growth. Instead of focusing on the major events of the life of Christ, we can now focus on the life of the life Christ. We can now focus on our own discipleship so that we can become more effective apostles.
But before we begin, I need to do a little explaining and provide some backstory for you. First, the explanation. Because the Sundays of Ordinary Time are numbered sequentially (a sequential list being ordinal in nature), and because Easter moves around, we don't always get to begin where we might logically think the beginning is. This is why, when the gospel today begins, “After Jesus had finished all his sayings . . .” you could be forgiven if you had no idea what sayings were being talked about.
Now the backstory. I said Ordinary Time allows us to focus on the life of the life of Christ. To recap the story so far: Luke has given us the nativity stories of both John and Jesus, the ministry of John, the baptism and temptation of Jesus, and the beginning of his ministry. He has been kicked out of his hometown, healed demoniacs, and called Peter, James, John, and Levi. There have already been a few confrontations with Pharisees, and the twelve disciples have been named. The Sermon on the Plain (Luke's version of the Sermon on the Mount) has just been preached and it is here, after “all his sayings,” where we pick up today.
Today we hear the story of the Roman centurion asking Jesus, through some Jewish emissaries, to come heal a valuable and/or beloved slave. There are some questions that immediately come up in this story: What makes the slave so valuable to the centurion that he is willing to call for a Jewish holy man? Is there more to this relationship that we aren't being told? Why do people forget certain negative aspects of others as long as they are being catered to? But I want to focus on the attitude of the centurion and Jesus.
The centurion seems to be a nice guy. He treats his slave well. He reportedly paid for the building of a synagogue for the Jewish people in the area (his military pay grade must have been exceptional). He probably does his job efficiently and without treating the occupied citizens as insects to be crushed. And he apparently works within and understands the boundaries of a structured hierarchy.
People might think that it was his understanding of that system that caused him to stop Jesus from coming into his house. After all, he is a soldier with people both above and below him in rank and he would seem to be following protocol.
But if you look a little closer, it's not military protocol he's following, it's Micah 6:8 – to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly before God. Part of justice is to enforce laws, and he would certainly be doing that as a Roman officer overseeing an occupied country. But justice also entails not kicking people when they are down. This applies to unjust laws in our day as well as to how this particular soldier treated a conquered and occupied people in his own day. To love kindness is a short way of saying, “respect the dignity of every human being.” You could make the argument that he respected the Jewish people and exhibited kindness by his building a synagogue. If presented with the need or opportunity, would we be as willing to help fund a local mosque? And he walked humbly. Notice that he sent people of Jesus' own ethnicity to request that he come (he didn't send a military detachment “requesting” Jesus' presence). And in the end, he sent his friends (again, not a military detachment) to relay the words, “I am not worthy,” foreshadowing the parable of the Pharisee and the publican at prayer.
As for Jesus, we know about him – miracle worker, great debater, Son of God. But there is something here that I think often gets overlooked, and that is both the placement and the patient.
In both Luke and Matthew, this story comes close after Jesus' sermon (on the mount in Matthew, on the plain in Luke). There are a few healings here and there before this, but they seem to be more of an introduction to who Jesus is. But once his sermon ends, Jesus gets very active, and it's here that his ministry really takes off. We have a tendency, I think, to see Jesus as “going only to the lost children of Israel” in the beginning, and then to the Gentiles as a further extension of his mission and/or as a last resort.
In this gospel passage, however, we have a story of Jesus dealing not only with a Gentile, but with an enemy occupier. He doesn't ignore the request. He doesn't tell the centurion that he has not come to feed the dogs. He willingly goes to heal the slave, and it is only at the urging of the humble soldier that he refrains from entering his house.
As we begin our long journey of discipleship through this long green season of Ordinary Time, this story lays the groundwork for how we are to live a life of discipleship in ordinary times in unordinary ways. First, we can try to live like the centurion. As people who hold the power in society, we can add our voices in support of those who are treated unequally, we can stand up for minorities in all situations, and we can continually remind ourselves that we are not worthy to have God come under our roof.
Second, as disciples of Christ, we can try to live as he lived. In this example that means offering a hand to help include, respect, and/or heal those who might normally be called the wrong people.
For as Jesus and the centurion show us, it's by welcoming, including, and respecting the wrong people that we get it right.
Thursday, May 26, 2016
A Few Words About Comments
1) If you comment, leave a name. If you can't figure out how to log in or register or whatever the system is making you do (which, believe me, I fully understand how frustrating that can be) and you must comment anonymously . . . leave a name in the comment section. Purely anonymous comments will be deleted.
2) Comments I deem to be offensive, irrelevant, or generally trollish will be deleted. I'm mainly talking to the Akurians here. Don't make me get out my flag!
3) If you would like to receive e-mail notification of other comments so you can more easily follow a conversation (yeah, like I ever have those on this blog), you must register with Blogger. Sorry . . . I didn't have anything to do with that one.
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