Saturday, July 9, 2016

8th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 10C

8th Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 10C July 10, 2016 In her book-length study of Jesus's parables (Short Stories by Jesus, 2014), Amy-Jill Levine, a Jewish scholar who studies and writes about Jesus, suggests that religion is meant "to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable." She goes on to argue that we would do well to think of the parables of Jesus as doing this afflicting. "Therefore, if we hear a parable and think, 'I really like that' or, worse, fail to take any challenge, we are not listening well enough." I’ve been wrestling with that this week. It’s difficult to hear this comfortable parable and feel challenged or afflicted. Then, a few days ago, a news story came across my Facebook newsfeed. It’s a story that is set near Jerusalem about a Palestinian doctor named Dr. Ali Shroukh. Dr. Shroukh, who is 45, was traveling with his brother to Jerusalem to join in Ramadan prayers, when he came across a horrible accident on the side of the road. Another Palestinian greeted him and told him that there was an injured girl in his car. Dr. Shrouk and his brother stopped to see how they could help, and he began to treat the injured girl. Soon, the medics arrived on the scene, and a Palestinian medic warned Dr. Shroukh that he needed to leave. He explained to Dr. Shroukh that the car had crashed after a Palestinian gunman fired on it, killing the driver, Rabbi Michael Mark, 46, a father of 10. His wife was critically injured, and one of the two children in the car, a teenage girl, was seriously wounded. The family was on its way to Jerusalem to visit Rabbi Mark’s mother. Dr. Shroukh had stopped to help a family of Jewish settlers who had been the target of a terrorist attack by a fellow Palestinian. But Dr. Shroukh would not leave until he was certain that the girl he had treated was being properly cared for by the medics. This modern day version of Jesus’s parable of the Good Samaritan helps us begin to understand a little of the discomfort that his original listeners might have experienced. It tells the story of long-time enemies, and how one overcame prejudice to help a person in need, regardless of nationality. If we are to be truly afflicted by this parable, then we must ask ourselves, who do I consider to be my enemy? Of whom am I most afraid? And then imagine that we are passing that person or group injured on the side of the road. Or even more afflicting is to imagine that we ourselves are injured and that one we consider to be our enemy is the one who stops to offer us kindness and aid. Amy-Jill Levine writes of this, “To hear this parable in contemporary terms, we should think of ourselves as the person in the ditch, and then ask, ‘Is there anyone, from any group, about whom we’d rather die than acknowledge, ‘She offered help’ or ‘He showed compassion’? More is there any group whose members might rather die than help us? If so, then we know how to find the modern equivalent for the Samaritan.” What does it look like for us, in our everyday lives, to show mercy or kindness to one we consider our enemy? It means really and truly seeing them in their weakness and vulnerability, drawing close to them, and then acting with compassion toward them. What does it look like for us, in our every day lives, to receive mercy or kindness from our enemy? It means allowing them to get close enough to us in a time of vulnerability so that they may offer compassion. I think it is safe to say that we have all been shocked and aggrieved by the events of this week—the killings of Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, and the 5 police officers in Dallas. We are afflicted with the truth of this parable even more, but it is not an easy or comfortable truth. We certainly are invited to reimagine who is our neighbor, to offer all people mercy (or kindness—as one translation puts it—literally making the stranger our kin, or our family). But there is a part of being a good neighbor that requires a certain degree of inward focus, a certain degree of self-awareness. And here is where it truly gets afflicting, my friends. Several years ago, while I still worked at Stewpot, we had a staff training day. The staff there was very racially diverse and we had a sort of camaraderie that is often formed when people are working “in the trenches” together. I will never forget this particular exercise, which had us all line up across the middle of the room together. The facilitator told us that she was going to ask us some questions, and if we agreed, we took a step forward and if we disagreed, we took a step back. The goal was to try to get to the front of the room. She started with the questions, and I was thrilled as I got to move steadily, step by step, toward the front of the room (y’all know how I like to win!). But then the facilitator made those of us out in front stop and turn around, and I realized with horror what was happening. The questions that I had never even thought twice about which were sending me to the front of the room in blissful naivete, were sending my black friends and colleagues, step by step to the back of the room. Questions such as: if you have never had to think twice about calling the police; if you have never had someone look at you in a suspicious way in a store; if your parents did not have to work two jobs and/or nights or weekends to support you; if your parents and grandparents could live in any part of town that they wanted. And I will never forget the look on my friends faces. It was not surprise or shock or horror. It was resignation. My friends, we cannot truly be a good neighbor unless we truly see the other and truly see ourselves in relationship to them. We cannot truly be a good neighbor when we go about our lives oblivious to the power structure that undergirds our entire society. We cannot be a good neighbor if we cannot stop being defensive and admit that it’s not always about how hard a person works or what they earn for themselves, but that we live in a world where our skin color affords us a privilege that others do not experience. Just today, an African-American woman named Natasha Howell shared a personal experience on her Facebook page and it has gone viral. She wrote, “So this morning, I went into a convenience store to get a protein bar. As I walked through the door, I noticed that there were two white police officers…talking to the clerk…about the shootings that have gone on in the past few days. They all looked at me and fell silent. I went about my business to get what I was looking for, and as I turned back up the aisle to pay, the older officer was standing at the top of the aisle watching me. As I got closer he asked me, “How are you doing?” I replied, “OK, and you?” He looked at me with a strange look and asked me, ‘How are you really doing?” I looked at him and said, ‘I’m tired!’ His reply was ‘me too’. Then he said I guess it’s not easy being either of us right now, is it.’ I said ‘no it’s not.’ Then he hugged me and I cried. I had never seen that man before in my life. I have no idea why he was moved to talk to me. What I do know is that he and I shared a moment this morning, that was absolutely beautiful. No judgements, no justifications, just two people sharing a moment. #foundamomentofclarity. Being a good neighbor means knowing who we are, and being open to see the other and be vulnerable in that encounter. This week, if we are truly going to be afflicted or transformed by this oh, so familiar story, then we must go and do likewise.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

7th Sunday after Pentecost- Proper 9C

7th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 9C July 3, 2016 I have spent a great number of hours this week on a project for the diocese. Through my work with the Commission on Ministry, I have been working with a small group to revise and overhaul the discernment policies of the diocese. So we’ve been working with the process that the local churches and the whole diocese uses when an individual wants to discern or test a call to ordained ministry. This document spends a great deal of time and energy explaining that for Anglicans, (that means us!), individuals don’t just hear a call on their own, head off to seminary and then get ordained. Rather, we do our discernment work in community. A group from the person’s local parish or mission is formed to help listen and discern, and then there are others in the process, the bishop, a diocesan committee, even mental health therapists, that also do this work of listening for call in an individual’s life. I think so much time and energy is spent in the document in explaining this work of discernment in community because it is foreign to us, even in the church. As Americans we value our independence; we value the fact that people can be self-made, not having to rely on their families or tribes in order to be successful. We value the fact that a person can decide what he or she wants to do and then go and do it. But our church is telling us that we hear call in Christian community, and our system is set up to honor and promote that. I’ve really been struggling this week with how and what to preach today, so I’m just going to lay my dilemma out there for you. All over the country folks are celebrating the 4th of July—our Independence Day. And yet, our readings for this Sunday give us a dramatically different picture. In fact, our readings for today seem to promote interdependence in the way of faith, in discipleship, and in the Christian life as opposed to independence. In the Old Testament reading, we see the very powerful Namaan trying to find a way to heal his own leprosy. But healing leprosy is something that is beyond his power. Finally, he takes counsel from one of the most powerless and dependent—his wife’s servant girl, and he heads to see the prophet Elisha. But when Elisha gives him the treatment, Namaan thinks it is all beneath him and prepares to go away angry and insulted, until some more powerless, dependent servants once again intervene and ask, “What’s it going to hurt to try it?” Namaan is healed, and he gets converted to following Yaweh in the lines just beyond today’s passage. In the reading from Galatians, Paul makes it very clear that the Christian community must rely on one another, offering hospitality and pastoral care to each other, “bearing one anothers’ burdens”. And in the gospel, we have the sending out of the 70 to spread the good news. Jesus commissions them, giving them very specific instructions. Go out in pairs. Don’t take anything extra with you. Stay with whomever offers you hospitality on your way; don’t move from place to place. If someone rejects you, don’t react in anger or force. Just move on. And spread the good news of the kingdom of God. This is a picture of discipleship that is very uncomfortable to us. It is a picture of vulnerability. It is a picture of non-retaliation against enemies. It is a picture of reliance upon the hospitality and generosity of strangers. It is a picture of interdependence and dependence. So you see my dilemma this week, and I’m afraid that I have more questions for you than answers. We value the freedom that we have as citizens of this country. But how do we faithfully practice independence, when Jesus clearly calls us to interdependence? How do we live out this tension between being a person of faith who is called to this interdependence when our country continues to grow more and more polarized and invulnerable to strangers and folks who hold “the opposing view”? How do we live and move within this society and culture that practically worships independence, while practicing the faithful discipleship that is rooted in vulnerability and interdependence?