Saturday, October 14, 2017
19th Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 23A October 15, 2017 “We become like the God we adore.” I read this line many years ago in a book titled Good Goats: Healing our image of God. “We become like the God we adore.” We see this writ large in our Old Testament reading for today. The Children of Israel have become restless because Moses has been away for too long conversing with God and receiving the 10 Commandments. (A new translation that is closer and truer to the original Hebrew says it this way: “Now when the people saw that Moshe was shamefully-late in coming down from the mountain…”) So the people rise against Aaron and challenge him to “make us a god who will go before us.” Because Moses has been absent from them for so long, the people begin to grow anxious and clamor for a god that they can see, who is physically present with them in Moses’ absence. Aaron acquiesces and makes them a golden calf or a young bull—modeled on a Canaanite symbol of fertility. And then they begin to revel before their newly minted fertility god. “We become like the God we adore.” Paul reminds the troubled community in Phillipi of this truth in this portion of the letter where he is addressing a conflict that he has learned about between two women--Euodia and Syntyche. He urges them to “be of the same mind in the Lord,” and then he reminds the whole community of the virtues of Christ that we are all called to model and share: “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” “We become like the God we adore.” And in the gospel reading for today, we have another violent parable from Matthew’s stern Jesus. Many scholars are tempted to read the parable as an allegory with the king being God and Jesus being the bridegroom, but others are not so sure about this interpretation. What if Jesus is actually aligning himself more with the man at the wedding feast who is thrown out because he does not have the proper wedding garment? Well, that throws the whole parable into a totally different perspective. Then the violent king becomes aligned with those in Jesus’ day who are aligning themselves with the institutions of power. The Jewish New Testament scholar Amy Jill-Levine says that the parables of Jesus are meant to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable. If this is true and it is true that “we become like the God we adore” then what does this parable say about who we believe God to be? I want to share with you and extract from the book 'Good Goats - Healing our image of God by Dennis Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn & Matthew Linn. In this extract, Dennis is writing: I am half German. Although I don't want to stereo-type all Germans, like many of my ancestors I was born a self-righteous German. ... I saw all the mistakes and errors in every one but myself. For years I tried every kind of healing prayer in order to be rid of my self-righteousness. Although these prayers healed me of many things, my self-righteousness did not change. I often wondered why, when I prayed so hard, God did not heal me. Then one day, I noticed that my self-righteousness had nearly disappeared. Why, I asked, after so many years of struggle, was there suddenly and almost automatically such a wonderful change in my life? I changed when my image of God changed. Most of us recognize that we become like our parents whom from early on we adore, even with all their faults. We may not realize that we also become like the God we adore. Unfortunately, the God I grew up adoring was German. My God was a self-righteous German who sat on his (at that time my God was all male) judgment throne. Being a self-righteous German, my God could see all the mistakes and errors in everyone else. If my self-righteous God did not like what he saw in others, he could even separate himself from them by sending them into hell. And if my God could be a self-righteous German, then no matter how many healing prayers I prayed, I would probably never change. I became like the God I adored. In every aspect of our lives, we become like the God we adore. One day Hilda came to me crying because her son had tried to commit suicide for the fourth time. She told me that he was involved in prostitution, drug dealing and murder. She ended her list of her son's "big sins" with, "What bothers me most is that my son says he wants nothing to do with God. What will happen to my son if he commits suicide without repenting and wanting nothing to do with God?" Since at the time my image of God was like Good Old Uncle George, I thought, "God will probably send your son to hell." But I didn't want to tell Hilda that. I was glad that my many years of theological training had taught me what to do when I don't know how to answer a difficult theological question: ask the other person, "What do you think?" "Well," Hilda responded, "I think that when you die, you appear before the judgment seat of God. If you have lived a good life, God will send you to heaven. If you have lived a bad life, God will send you to hell." Sadly, she concluded, "Since my son has lived such a bad life, if he were to die without repenting, God would certainly send him to hell." Although I tended to agree with her, I didn't want to say, "Right on, Hilda! Your son would probably be sent to hell." I was again grateful for my theological training which taught me a second strategy: when you don't know how to solve a theological problem, then let God solve it. So I said to Hilda, "Close your eyes. Imagine that you are sitting next to the judgment seat of God. Imagine also that your son has died with all these serious sins and without repenting. He has just arrived at the judgment seat of God. Squeeze my hand when you can imagine that" A few minutes later Hilda squeezed my hand. She described to me the entire judgment scene. Then I asked her, "Hilda, how does your son feel?" Hilda answered, "My son feels so lonely and empty." I asked Hilda what she would like to do. She said, "I want to throw my arms around my son." She lifted her arms and began to cry as she imagined herself holding her son tightly. Finally, when she had stopped crying, I asked her to look into God's eyes and watch what God wanted to do. God stepped down from the throne, and just as Hilda did, embraced Hilda's son. And the three of them, Hilda, her son and God, cried together and held one another. God Loves Us at Least As Much As the Person Who Loves Us the Most. I was stunned What Hilda taught me in those few minutes is the bottom line of healthy Christian spirituality: God loves us at least as much as the person who loves us the most. God loves us at least as much as Hilda loves her son or at least as much as [my family] love me.” “We become like the God we adore.” This week, I invite you to think about who you think God is, what you think God is like, and to ask yourself if there aspects of yourself you find you long to see change, that are part of the 'image of God' you live with and adore? (The excerpt and the part of the question come from http://www.course.soulspark.org.uk/Soul_Spark_Course/Session_4_files/4-Healing%20our%20image%20of%20God.pdf)
Thursday, October 5, 2017
18th Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 22A October 8, 2017 I’ve really wrestled with this violent parable on this particularly violent week. So I think the best thing for me to do with you today is to walk you through my wrestling with it as I pondered the question: “where is the good news for us in this gospel reading this week?” Full disclosure: some of my wrestlings have involved one very political statement made by another. I think you’ll see as I share my story with you of this week, that it’s important to my own wrestlings but in no way am I suggesting what you should think or believe on this complicated issue. (So try not to be anxious when you hear me start to talk about hot topics of the week.) I awoke on Monday morning, much like the rest of you, to hear the news about the mass shooting in Las Vegas. I read a couple of news reports that morning before coming to the office, and then I engaged with a couple of different things that are important to this conversation. First, I read a daily meditation written by my friend and fellow priest Carol Mead. (She sends these out daily under the heading of her blog Holy Ordinary and they are smart and thoughtful. The meditation for Monday was titled “In the shadows” and Carol writes about how a “recent article about an iconic image of Che Guevara lamented the loss of depth in seeing the man only through that one familiar image. The author wrote that the image encourages us to think of the human being without depth. He said it ‘provokes a sense of sadness’ and asked, ‘What is the consequence of this flattening emotion?’ Carol continues, “Much of our world today prefers that ‘flattening,’ a process of making everything binary: black and white; right and wrong; us and them. We fail to see the shadows that define real human beings; the nuances of doubt, fear, or joy. We find comfort and convenience in labels, because they save us the work and trouble of seeing the multiple dimensions of our fellow human beings.”i Not too long after I read Carol’s thoughtful meditation, I read a post by a college friend of mine on Facebook. Her post first thing Monday morning said “The NRA is a terrorist organization.” This made me deeply sad, and I wanted to comment on it and say to her, Dear Friend, I love you and I respect your opinion. And I also love my husband, who is a member of the NRA.” I wanted to tell her about how when the NRA would call us with some sort of poll or another, my husband would engage the caller in conversation and tell the caller why he had trouble with the way that certain questions were phrased and the way that the poll or the conversation was skewed. I wanted to tell her that my husband struggles with being a member of the NRA but that he feels that it is the best way for him to be a part of the conversation-from within the organization. I wanted to tell her about my friend Carol’s article about flattening, about how we do that sort of violence to each other all the time now and that it tearing the fabric of our communities and our common life just as certainly as other acts of horror and violence. But I didn’t. I just kept scrolling and going about my day. Then, on Wednesday, we celebrated the feast of St. Francis of Assisi at our weekly healing service. I read a meditation to that group that talked about how Francis opted out of the systems of his day, much like Jesus did.ii And that’s really what Jesus’s parable is about this week. It’s about all of us, about the systems that we find ourselves trapped in, about ridiculous, nonsensical violence; and about the dangers of simplistic, dualistic, flattened thinking. The good news that I found this week is that we are not trapped. We can opt out of the system—just like Francis, just like Jesus. And I don’t think it even needs to be such a dramatic sort of opting out of the system as they both practiced. It can start with one small step in our individual and family lives. Because there are so many ways that we all participate in systems of violence—ways that we do harm to ourselves and each other: the flattening out of each other that Carol wrote about—both individuals and groups; the glorification of busy-ness in our own lives and the lives of our children; the 24 hour news cycle that serves to raise our anxiety; our addictive culture around food, alcohol, and buying things. There are small ways we can opt out of participating in these things and others in our systems that do violence to ourselves and others, and in that we will find the freedom of Jesus, the freedom of Francis. So, your challenge this week is to look at your life and to choose one practice that you feel burdens your heart or does violence to your soul. Examine this practice, and imagine how God might be inviting you too live that differently. As a companion on this journey, I invite you to pray the prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi. It is collect #62 in the BCP on page 833. Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen. i. The Rev. Carol Mead. Holy Ordinary post for October 2, 2017 titled In the shadows. ii. Sam Portaro’s meditation on Francis of Assisi (October 4) in his book Brightest and Best
Thursday, September 28, 2017
17th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 21A October 1, 2017 A monk joined a monastery and took a vow of silence. He was told that he’d be able to say two words to the abbot every 10 years. After the first 10 years the abbot called him in and asked, "Do you have anything to say?" The monk replied, "Food bad." After another 10 years the monk again had opportunity to voice his thoughts. He said, "Bed hard." Another 10 years went by and again he was called in before the abbot. When asked if he had anything to say, the monk responded, "I quit." The abbot replied, "It doesn't surprise me a bit. You've done nothing but complain ever since you got here." All around us, people are complaining. In our public discourse, on social media, in our neighborhoods, cities, families, and churches. People complain. Even in our readings for today, we seem to see an inordinate amount of complaining. In our Old Testament reading, the children of Israel are complaining (for the third time since they left Egypt) that there is not enough water to sustain them in the wilderness. They complain to Moses, and Moses complains to God, and God offers a solution, that God will provide water from the rock through Moses, so that the people may quench their thirst. And so God, once again, takes care of the children of Israel. (Although in this third account of their complaining, we get the sense that even Yahweh is growing weary of the griping….) In the gospel reading, the chief priests and the elders of the temple are complaining to Jesus, “By what authority are you doing these things?” Note that just a little earlier in this same chapter, Jesus has entered Jerusalem and cleansed the temple—running out all the money changers, turning over tables and accusing the temple leadership of being a part of the corruption of the temple. So, they come and lodge a complaint against him the form of a question about his authority. Jesus answers them with a parable about two sons—one of whom complains when his father asks him to go work in the vineyard but then who goes and does it and the other who says he will go willingly but then never goes. When you look at all these instances of when people complain, really, they aren’t wrong to complain. Things aren’t going so well for them. The children of Israel are in the wilderness where they have been lead and they just might die of thirst out there without water. The temple elders and chief priests have had their temple thrown into chaos and their work there challenged. And then there’s us—things in our lives and our world around us can be pretty scary. But here’s the thing. Years ago I read a quote in something I was reading. I think it was something by Richard Rohr, but I haven’t been able to find it, so you’ll have to bear with my paraphrase of it. And let me just tell you, this concept changed the way that I saw myself and the world around me. The notion is that when people complain, it reveals a deep dissatisfaction within their own spiritual lives that is crying out to be tended to. When I complain, I reveal a deep dissatisfaction within my own spiritual life that is crying out to be tended to. When you complain, you reveal a deep dissatisfaction within your own spiritual life that is crying out to be tended to. If there is something going on in our lives, in our church, in our world, of which we find ourselves needing or wanting to complain—what if we stopped and paused, and instead, examine that moment, that inclination, as a possible moment for transformation. Because I think that the opposite of complaint is opening to transformation. Now, I know that transformation can be a scary word for all of us who aren’t crazy about change. But…the goal in the Christian life is and always will be transformation. “Let the same mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus,” we hear Paul say to the Philippians today. The goal of the Christian life is to be transformed--through our relationship with and following of Jesus—more and more into who we are created to be—into the image and likeness of God. But to be open to transformation, we have also be open to the causes or the sources of our complaints—our pain, our discomfort, our fear, our isolation, our loneliness, and our heartbreak. And if we are able to acknowledge that suffering rather than turning our focus outward immediately and complaining then we become more open to transformation—both our own and our hopeful working to being an agent of transformation in the world around us (in our family, our church, our neighborhood, our city, our nation, and our world). I read a story this week that is in Brene’ Brown’s new book Braving the Wilderness. It is actually a transcription from a video from Buddhist nun Pema Chodron’s “Lousy World” teaching that is grounded in an Indian Buddist Monk named Shantideva’s teaching. I’ll share it with you here. “This lousy world, these lousy people, this lousy government, this lousy everything…lousy weather…lousy blah, blah, blah. We’re [angry]. It’s too hot in here. It’s too cold. I don’t like the smell. The person in front is too tall and the person next to me is too fat. That person is wearing perfume and I’m allergic to it.. and just..ugh! It’s like being barefooted and walking across blazing-hot sand or across cut glass, or in a field with thorns. Your feet are bare and you say, ‘This is just too hard. It’s really hurting, it’s terrible, it’s too sharp, it’s too painful…it’s too hot.’ But you have a great idea! You’re just going to cover everywhere you go with leather. And then it won’t hurt your feet anymore. Spreading leather everywhere you go so you can cover the pain is like saying, ‘I’m going to get rid of her and get rid of him. I’m going to get the temperature right, and I’m going to ban perfume in the world, and then there will be nothing that bothers me anywhere. I am going to get rid of everything, including mosquitoes, that bothers me, anywhere in the world, and then I will be a very happy, content person.” [She pauses] We’re laughing, but it’s what we all do. That is how we approach things. We think, if we could just get rid of everything or cover it with leather, our pain would go away. Well, sure, because then it wouldn’t be cutting our feet anymore. It’s just logical, isn’t it? But it doesn’t make any sense, really. Shantideva said, ‘But if you simply wrap the leather around your feet.’ In other words, if you put on shoes then you could walk across the boiling sand and the cut glass and the thorns, and it wouldn’t bother you. So the analogy is, if you work with your mind, instead of trying to change everything on the outside, that’s how your temper will cool down.” Your invitation this week is this: pay attention this week to when your first inclination is to complain about something, and instead, examine the true source of your discomfort and invite God to reveal to you how that might be transformed. And if you’re feeling really brave, invite God to transform you, too.
Sunday, September 24, 2017
16th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 20A September 24, 2017 “It just isn’t fair!” How many times did I utter those words as a child? Often, it was when I was faced with something that one of my brothers got to do or have that I did not. And every time I would utter my complaint to my parents-- “It just isn’t fair!”--you know what my parents would respond? “Life isn’t fair.” Let me just tell you, there’s no more effective way to shut down that fairness conversation (I know, I’ve used it with my own kids before) because even as children we have witnessed and experienced the unfairness of life. We have two different stories today that give us similar glimpses of the nature of God and God’s kingdom and similar glimpses of the nature of our humanity. In both of these stories, the people complain to God (or the landowner), “It just isn’t fair!” and God’s response is even more shocking to us than the one that we parents usually employ. In the gospel parable for today and in the story from Exodus, we see the contrast between the generosity, the providence of God and the grumbling of God’s people in the face of that generosity. The Children of Israel have just been rescued from slavery in Egypt, and almost immediately, they begin complaining [say in an angry, whiny voice], “"If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger." “It’s not fair!” they complain. We could have just stayed in Egypt where we were miserable but at least we knew what to expect. But you know what? God doesn’t say to Moses, “Life isn’t fair; I saved them from slavery and now those whiners are on their own.” Instead God says to Moses, “OK, fine. I’ll give them two square meals a day, which is more than they were able to scrounge when they were slaves in Egypt being forced to make bricks without even straw. And you tell them that they shall have their fill of bread—an abundance of food in the wilderness. And in and through my generosity, you will know my glory.” In the parable, Jesus starts out by saying “the kingdom of God is like a landowner…” He then proceeds to tell the story of a group of day laborers (a really tenuous position in which to be in that world) who are unemployed and who become employed for the day by the landowner. As those laborers work, the landowner keeps going back and hiring other unemployed people to work in his vineyard, until he even finds some near the end of the day and invites them to come work. At the end of the work day, the landowner goes to pay the workers, and he pays everyone the same amount, the amount that he agreed to pay those who worked the entire day. Those workers who labored the entire day complain: “It isn’t fair that those who came late received the same amount that we did!” The landowner answers them, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” And Jesus closes the parable by saying for the third time in Matthew’s gospel, “And the last shall be first, and the first shall be last.” Both groups—the children of Israel and the day laborers in the parable—all have so much to be grateful for. The children of Israel are saved by God once again; the day laborers have had meaningful work all day for which they have been paid an honest wage. And yet, they all are stuck in this mentality of fairness and entitlement—because that’s really what we mean when we say, “That’s not fair,” right? We are saying that we think we are entitled to something that we think we aren’t getting… They are so envious of God’s goodness to others that they are unable to be grateful for God’s goodness to them. And most of us can relate to that. Someone once wrote, “This parable lays before each and all of us a choice that is as clear as can be. When we look at our lives, do we count our blessings or our misfortunes? Do we pay attention to the areas of plenty in our lives or what we perceive we lack? Do we live by gratitude or envy? Do we look to others in solidarity and compassion or see them only as competition? The killer thing about this choice is that it really is a choice as unavoidable as it is simple—you just can’t be grateful and envious at the same time. So which is it going to be?” (David Lose workingpreacher.org2011) (Hand out index cards here) So here’s what we’re going to do today. We are going to make our choice for how we want to live this week. Do we choose to be grateful? Or do we choose to be envious or entitled? The ushers are going around, and I want each person to get two index cards. On the first index card, I want you to write something for which you are grateful, in your life or someone else’s. Now I want you to write on the second card some grudge or resentment that you hold in your heart, something that you believe that you lack, something of which you are envious, or something to which you feel that you are entitled that you have not received. Once you are finished, hold each card facedown in each hand. Notice how physically the two cards weigh the same, but spiritually one of the two cards is weighing you down, weighing your heart down with unhappiness and bitterness while the other fills your heart with joy and hope. Today you have a choice as to which of those two cards you will hold onto. We’re going to pass the collection plates now, as I finish the sermon, and you can choose which one of the two cards you keep to carry out of here with you for the rest of the week and which one you will let go of. The one you let go of, no one will see, but I encourage you to put the one you keep someplace so you can see it throughout the week. But you can’t keep both of them at the same time because you can’t really be envious or entitled and grateful at the same time. You have to choose how you’re going to be. Which will you choose to carry with you to God’s altar and out into the world with you today—envy and entitlement or gratitude?
Sunday, September 17, 2017
15th Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 19A September 17, 2017 I’m just going to go ahead and lay it out there today. This parable in our gospel reading for today is especially challenging. I mean, in case you missed it, let me just read the end for you again: “And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” I don’t know about y’all, but I know I am in trouble. (Just this past week, my family and I were talking about how I still haven’t forgiven my brother for using his Mr. T stamp that he got in his Wendy’s Kid’s Meal and stamping it all over my beautiful bedspread 35 years ago!) So what’s going on here in this gospel? Peter and the disciples are clearly embroiled in some drama, so Peter comes to Jesus and asks him, “How many times do I have to forgive?” Peter thinks it should be 7 times, which is considered a perfect number, but Jesus says, nope that’s not enough how about 77 times (or some translations have this as seventy times 7). Either way, both of these are like infinity. And then Jesus tells the parable. But here’s what you need to know about the parable. The amount of wages that the slaves are indebted is really important here and would have immediately jumped out to Jesus’s listeners. The first slave who owes 10,000 talents… well that is the equivalent of 150,000 years worth of wages. It’s not something that slave could have paid back even in multiple lifetimes. But the second slave who owes the first slave 100 denarii—that is the equivalent of 1 day’s wage. So it is something that ostensibly could be paid back over time. It’s pretty ridiculous, then, what the first slave does—how he is forgiven this tremendous debt by the king and yet he cannot forgive this much smaller debt from his fellow slave. It’s ridiculous. So, what if Jesus is telling this ridiculous parable to show Peter, and us, that we are asking the wrong question? The questions shouldn’t be “How many times do I forgive?”. Instead, it should be “How do I forgive?” Because deep down in our hearts, we know that we are much more like that first slave, who has been forgiven so much but for whom it is so hard to forgive just a little bit. And let’s face it. It is so very hard to forgive. So maybe we aren’t asking the right question—not how many times do I have to forgive, but how on earth do I do it? Yesterday, I listened to a podcast as I was running. It’s the Onbeing podcast by American Public Media—where the host Krista Tippett interviews a whole variety of people about different things that mostly have to do with faith and our common humanity. The one I listened to yesterday was an interview between Krista and a Lakota (Native American) poet named Layli Long Soldier and the interview is titled “The Freedom of Real Apologies.”i Long Soldier had written an award winning book of poetry called Whereas, which is an emotional response to the 2009 Resolution passed by the US Government apologizing to the Native American people. As I listened to the conversation between these two women yesterday, I was struck by a couple of things. First, denial is the enemy of forgiveness-both in the giving and in the receiving of it. If we cannot admit that we have wounded someone or been wounded ourselves, then forgiveness cannot be offered or received. (That is part of what is so ridiculous about Jesus’s parable—that the first slave is in complete denial about how much he has been forgiven already when he refuses to forgive the other slave his relatively small debt.) Second, forgiveness happens because of and is completely woven through with grace. Long Soldier speaks about a time when her father apologized to her. She describes it as being the “the most effective and the most miraculous apology that [she]’d ever received in [her] life.” Here’s what she said about that encounter: “…When I was in my 20s, he came to visit one time and unexpectedly, he was sitting at breakfast with me and apologized for not being there. And I think there was something in the way he said it. He cried when he said it. And I could feel it, I could physically feel that he meant it. And really — and I can say this to this day — in that moment, all of it was gone. Like, all that stuff I’d been carrying around — it was gone. It was lifted. And I feel, in many ways, we started new from that point on. I really have not had the need to go back and rehash things with him and so on. We started from that place forward. We’ve known each other in a different way.” How do we forgive someone who has wounded us? First, we admit that we have been wounded. Then, we pray for God’s grace to forgive. I don’t think it is something that we can really do on our own. For most of us, are hearts are too hardened, too wounded. But God has already forgiven each one of us so very much, and God will grant us a portion of God’s grace to forgive one who has wronged us if we are open enough to ask for that. So, this week, I invite you to reflect on where you are on your journey to forgive one person who has wounded you. If you are ready to begin to forgive, then pray for that one person every day this week, and also pray daily that God will give you the grace to forgive. And then wait and trust that God will give you what you need in God’s time. i.https://onbeing.org/programs/layli-long-soldier-the-freedom-of-real-apologies-mar2017/
Thursday, August 31, 2017
13th Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 17A September 3, 2017 I subscribe to a daily email meditation that is written by a Roman Catholic, Franciscan priest named Richard Rohr. This past week, I was reading the meditation for the day, and I was struck when I read the words that Rohr wrote. He wrote that he thinks that Christians have “not been taught how to live in hope.” Hmm, I wondered, is that really true? Christians have not been taught how to live in hope? In our reading from Romans today, Paul seems to be giving the early Christians in Rome a laundry list for discipleship: “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all…” And while hope is certainly mentioned and is an important part of this lists for disciples, he doesn’t really give much instruction on how to do it. I mean, think about it for a second. Have you ever been taught how to live in hope? In our gospel reading for today, we see Matthew’s gospel focusing on Jesus’s teaching that is specifically for his disciples. We go from Peter’s triumphant confession of last week, when Jesus names him as the “rock” upon which Jesus will build his church, to Peter’s utter failure (of understanding, or nerve) this week when Jesus refuses to listen to him because he will not allow anything to come between himself and his understanding of his mission. We see, in this week’s gospel, the paradox of Peter going from being a “rock” to “a stumbling block.” But what on earth does all this have to do with how Christians learn how to hope? What Rohr is getting at, I think, is that learning to hope involves a cultivation and a strengthening of our ability to live with paradox. He talks about Noah’s ark, and the paradox of all the opposites that were contained therein: animals and people, wild and domestic, the crawling and the flying, the clean and the unclean, male and female. And God takes all those seeming opposites and locks them into the ark all together. Rohr writes, “God puts all the natural animosities together and holds them in one place. I used to think it was about balancing all the opposites within me [he continues], but slowly I have learned it is actually holding things in their seemingly un-reconciled state that widens and deepens the soul. We must allow things to be only partly resolved, without perfect closure or explanation…God’s gathering of contraries is, in fact, the very school of salvation, the school of love. That’s where growth happens: in honest community and committed relationships. Love is learned in the encounter with ‘otherness.’” Each of us, like Peter, is a mixture of light and dark; fear and faithfulness; kindness and unkindness; stumbling block and rock. The wideness of God’s mercy is that all of our paradoxes are contained and held together in God. We cultivate hope when we learn to live with those paradoxes in ourselves and in each other, and we cultivate hope when we learn to forgive reality for not turning out the way that we think it should. I’ve been thinking over the last couple of weeks about a man named Will Campbell. Campbell was a native Mississippian, a Southern Baptist preacher, a writer and a farmer in TN. I’ve been thinking about Will Campbell lately because he was someone who marched and worked with Dr. King in the Civil Rights movement, and later in life, he believed that God was calling him to minister to KKK members. I’ve always wondered how he was able to work with and relate to those polar opposites, and I’ve been pondering that lately in the light of current events. I think that the answer must be that Campbell recognized that we are, each and every one of us, a mix of paradoxes ourselves, and to follow Jesus faithfully in this paradox that is discipleship, we’ve got to learn to love and forgive each other. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” So, this week, I want you to think about what opposites exist in your own soul that you might rather not acknowledge? What opposites can you imagine might exist in the heart of one you might consider to be your enemy or your adversary? What aspect of your life do you need to offer to God to ask God to help you forgive your reality for not turning out the way that you thought it should? In closing, I’d like to share with you a short blessing by the Roman Catholic priest John O’Donohue from his book To Bless the Space Between Us. To Come Home to Yourself May all that is unforgiven in you Be released. May your fears yield Their deepest tranquilities. May alll that is unlived in you Blossom into a future Graced with love. Amen.
Thursday, August 24, 2017
12th Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 16A August 27, 2017 When I was a little girl, my father would drive me to school every day on his way to work. We were often running late, but my dad developed playful rituals to help manage our worry about my being tardy, and these playful rituals were infused with magic and fun. He convinced my 6-7 year old self that I had the power to change the red light that would slow our progress to school by saying, “Light, Change!” And we were both delighted when it would work (often with cues from him for the timing). When we would finally arrive at school, as I would get out of the car, Dad would usually say to me, “Have a great day today, and pass it on!” I thought about this daily encouragement this week, as I found myself saying these same worlds to my children as they walked out the door one day on the way to school: “have a great day today, and pass it on!” At our best, this is what we, as parents, impart to our children: their belief in themselves that, no matter how little they may feel at times, they have the power to change the world! But many of us lose this confidence as we age (or perhaps we never had it to begin with). Think about it. When was the last time that you thought that you had the power to change the world? As we grow up, the world knocks us down and around, roughs us up a bit, and we may stop believing that we can create any kind of change for the good. But I am here to tell you today that you CAN change the world. In our reading from Exodus today, we get a glimpse of two ordinary women, Shifra and Pua’h. Up until this week, I had never given these women a second thought. But in our story for today, we see that these two women, these two midwives, make a choice to defy the decree of the Pharoah, and by their actions, they changed the world. Because they refused to kill the Hebrew boys when they were born, Moses was able to be born, and he was used as God’s instrument to free God’s people who had become enslaved in Egypt. Shifra and Pua’h, two ordinary women, changed the world. And then there is Peter. In our gospel for this week, we see Peter making his confession before Jesus and all the other disciples that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus calls Peter blessed and tells him and the others that this truth has been revealed to Peter by God, and he tells Peter that he will be the rock upon which Jesus will build his church. In this one moment, Peter sees clearly, and he proclaims boldly who he sees Jesus to be. His confession changes and will continue to change Peter and the world. I remember the first time I heard a person’s confession. Now I’m not talking about a confession of sin, like in our rite for the reconciliation of a penitent. I’m talking about who that person believes Jesus to be and why she follows Jesus. It was in my first parish, in the middle of a Wednesday night Lenten study. I don’t remember all the words that this woman used, but I remember her passion, and it just about brought me to my knees. And I remember that she did say that she chose to follow Jesus because she was a much better person when she was trying to follow Jesus’s teachings than she would be otherwise. Her confession of faith change me, and it helped me to understand that this old church is alive with the power of the Spirit (as one of our hymns puts it—the spirit’s power shakes the church of God) when we are serious in pursuing God as revealed through Jesus “the Messiah, son of the living God.” So, I have an assignment for you all this week. I challenge you to pay attention, to try to find at least one person whose world you can change by your attention or your kindness this week. (For you overachievers out there, like me, you can try this practice daily, if you’d like!) Find one person whose world you can change for the better by your kindness---the grocery store clerk who you actually look in the eye and smile at; the child to whom you offer kindness or forgiveness when you could offer frustration; the person who cut you off in traffic who you could give an angry honk to but choose silence and a forgiving wave instead; praying for the one who has harmed you instead of returning evil for evil….You will know when the opportunities present themselves, if you are looking for them, paying attention. One of my Facebook friends posted a quote this week from Mother Theresa that was an important reminder for me: “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.” Friends, we are all a part of God’s family, and our work is loving the world, one family member at a time. So… “Have a great week, and pass it on!”