The Love of the Lover

John 15:12-17 (Homily)

A few years back, on a cold winter afternoon, I received a phone call from my across-the-street neighbor.

She wanted to give us some home-made rolls, fresh baked. Of course, I couldn’t resist. So, I put on shoes, grabbed my new born son, Jack, in my arms–wrapped in a blanket–and headed out. I didn’t even pause to consider our front porch stairs and the effects of the recent (that day) winter weather. As I stepped on to that first stair, I hit a patch of black ice. My feet went out from under me. I grabbed the railing to stop my fall, but to no avail, I still fell. I landed three stairs down. My heart raced. Was Jack OK?! I looked at him, still cradled in my arms; he let out a huge shriek. I then examined him from head to toe…not one scrape or bump or possible bruise did I find on his fairly small, 12 week old, newborn body. I did, as one does, praise the Lord.

Somehow, during the fall, my maternal instincts kicked in; somehow, I was able to contort and twist my body so that I was the one who absorbed the fall–between me elbow and me bum–and protected my baby. I didn’t think about it…it just happened. I have often wondered what I would do should I slip down the stairs carrying one of my babies…I have never been able to come up with a good “exit” plan. You don’t get training for such an event; you just hope it never happens. And, in that very real moment, love for my child poured forth un-summoned and I took the entire fall with my body.

I bore the pain in my body for my son when we fell. Love actively takes the other into its safe keeping because the well-being of the beloved is the well-being of the lover. Love bonds one to another in such a way that the beloved’s pain is the lover’s pain; the beloved’s joy, the lover’s joy. The lover grieves with the beloved, gets angry with the beloved, rejoices with the beloved. It is a full and embodied presence of the lover with the beloved, otherwise, it would be impossible for the lover to feel the grief, the anger, the joy of the beloved. As people encountered by God in the event of faith, we are deeply and intimately connected one to another, like a mother and her child. Your pain is my pain; your joy, my joy.

And so it is with Christ. Christ has loved us with a full-embodied, self-giving, love-gift.  In this gift of love the love of God is given to us (to you, thus, to me), and the love of one for another. John’s Christ declares, 

“‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another,’” (John 15:12-14, 16-17).

The love of Christ for the world, drives him to take on flesh and to be born into the human predicament, the human problem. The Christ came into the world to identify in a real and embodied way the plight of humanity, the plight of the oppressed and marginalized, those stuck in situations dominated by the powers of sin and death. The pain of the beloved the lover feels; when Saul is persecuting the church, Jesus reveals himself to Saul and asks him, “Why are you persecuting…me?” Not: the followers of the way, or the young church….but me. In love the beloved is united to the lover and the lover feels to the core the pain and suffering, the joy and celebration of the beloved.

In your pain and in your suffering, you are not alone. In your joy and in your celebration, you are not alone. Not only are your family and friends here, and your teachers, but, more than that, almighty God of the cosmos is also present with you by the power of the Holy Spirit, dwelling in you and among you, uniting you to the Christ by faith by God’s grace. To gaze upon the cross is to see God united in solidarity with you even in your suffering, with the suffering of all humanity, with the suffering of the world. To gaze upon the cross is to see love at work, love loving the beloved, in an embodied full way unto the depths of human experience: suffering unto death.

Beloveds, you are you are heard, you are seen, you are loved; you are the beloved.

 

 

 

“Have Mercy on Me!”

Luke 17:11-19 (Sermon)

Introduction

God is hard to pin down and figure out because, as Bishop Owensby said, “God is a who and not a what”; a person, not a thing. So, our knowledge of God is limited; it seems we live in the tension between the book of Numbers and the held breath of the Easter Vigil. The chaotic and terrifying book of Numbers highlighting God’s bold activity emphasizes that no one puts God in a corner; this gives way to the deafening silence of the Saturday between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. Movement then silence and stillness. More movement…more silence and stillness. It’s part of the story of Israel in the midst of exile and return; it’s part of our story, too. There are times when our hearts grow weary, on the brink of fracturing under the weight of yearning under the twin questions: where is God? Who is God? I wish I could tell you I’ve never doubted; I have. I wish I could tell you that I always stand on the firm bedrock of my faith; I don’t. I question, I weep, I long. Where is beauty? Where is justice? Where is peace? Where is love? Where is God? If God has come, and God’s will is being done, then why isn’t earth as it is in heaven? Sadly, it’s often hard to think about giving thanks.

I believe, Good Lord, help my unbelief! Increase my faith! Have mercy on me!

vv.11-14

Jesus is on the move in our gospel passage. Luke tells us he travels into Jerusalem, taking a middle route between Samaria and Galilee (v.11). As Jesus enters a certain village a group of ten men encounter him; but they keep their distance (v.12). They kept their distance because they suffered from leprosy—it was a divine curse and they were ritually unclean. [1] These leprous men knew their plight and the commands of Torah: one must steer clear of family and community, [2] and one must announce their unclean presence. [3] But these men weren’t without hope: lepers could be healed and welcomed back. [4]

And hope comes near; and they recognized hope when they saw him. And they lifted up their voices and cried out when they saw this hope. “Jesus!” They called. “Master, have mercy on us!” Desperate, they called out to the one they knew could help them, who had the miraculous power to rid them of this curse and make them clean.[5] (Otherwise, why ask?) Calling Jesus “Master” is not only a term of respect; they saw and recognized in Christ the power of God to heal and reconcile.[6] And their desperate hope and plea is met with an answer from Jesus: “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And they got up and went. On the way they were made clean (v.14).

If we stop here, we might be tempted to make faith into a work. (Have (enough) faith and be healed!). When that happens, faith no longer saves, it no longer flies with the wings of mercy and hope but is a mere dead stone dropped into the deepest part of the sea. If we stop here, we will make this moment of sudden healing of the ten leprous men the dénouement. But it’s not. This is:

Now one of the men when he saw that he had been healed, returned with a great voice giving glory to God, and he fell upon his face on the feet of [Jesus] giving thanks to him. And he was a Samaritan…and [Jesus] said to him ‘Rise and go; your faith has saved you.” (Luke 17:15-16, 19)

Gratitude.[7] Gratitude is pushed to the front. Hiding behind all the other players on the stage, gratitude steps forward and speaks. And Luke uses a leprous Samaritan voice,[8]the voice of a double outcast, to do make a point. It’s the Samaritan who understands what has happened in his event of encounter with the merciful one. His leprosy is gone and he is clean, and something bigger occurred: he’s healed (v.15). Luke changes the verb “they were made clean”[9] in v. 14 to “he had been healed”[10] in v. 15.

The comparison here is not between one having faith and the others not.[11] Rather, the comparison is between only hearing and really hearing so deeply that you do (shema). All ten were made clean; one realizes he’s healed. They all believed; one saw and heard.[12] Would not a double outcast know the depths of rejection and being marginalized?[13] Would not a double outcast know not only the miraculous healing, but also the bigger miracle being healed by Jesus, the good Rabbi, a Jew? [14] The Samaritan Leper is accepted and received across socio-political lines. It’s doubly not about clean and unclean with Christ. It’s about cosmic healing and this Samaritan man sees it. It’s the word of acceptance, of mercy, of hope, of beloved that he hears—words having long gone silent and still. And he hears so deeply that he can only do one thing: return with magnificent gratitude to the one who is the priest of priests in the temple of temples. And it is this priest and this temple that know no dividing walls and exclusion, but only unity and inclusion.[15] And he is grateful! He falls on his face at Jesus’s feet:[16] loving the Lord his God “with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his strength, and with all his mind…” (Lk 10:27).

Conclusion

We may think that in this age of pain and suffering, this level of gratitude has gone the way of the horse and buggy. But I don’t think it has. I think each and everyone of us knows the depth of gratitude that changes lives forever: the partner who took us back when we didn’t deserve it; the friend who forgave us; the parent who embraces us upon our return even when we were convinced things were too far gone; the sibling who actually did pick up the phone finally. We know this depth of gratitude. And our hope for ourselves and for others—not only those seated here with us right now, but for the whole world—is based and embedded in this simple thing: gratitude.

Gratitude is the basis of our ethic because gratitude remembers and recalls and retells the story of when: when we were too far-gone, when we were lost, when we were in doubt, when we were angry and then God.[17] Christ came near. God in Christ comes near to those who think they are too far-gone, he seeks those who are lost, he believes for those who are in doubt, and comforts those who are angry.

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?… For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 8:35, 38-39)

As we tell our stories here and proclaim Christ crucified for us, we encourage each other and carry each other and bear each other up. We then spill out from this building into the world. And as we go we carry with us our absurd gratitude and our absurd stories into a world that is convinced God has gone completely silent and completely still, questions of where and who still fresh on suffering, hurting lips. But God is only silent and still if we remain so; God’s silence and stillness is only true if we forget who we are and whose we are: we are the apple of God’s eye, we are the beloved of Christ, and we are the temple of the Holy Spirit. Where we go, so too does God; where God goes, so too do we.

If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he will also deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful–
for he cannot deny himself. (2 Tim 2:11b-13)

It is God in Christ Jesus who is our story, the one we remember, recall, and retell. Christ is our faith, hope, and mercy—not only when we cannot muster these but especially when all we can do is: I believe, Good Lord, help my unbelief! Increase my faith! Have mercy on me! And he does; over and over again never ceasing and never failing.

Hallelujah!
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, *
in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation.

Great are the deeds of the Lord! (Ps 111:1-2)

[1] Joel Green The Gospel of Luke TNICNT ed. Joel Green. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997). “‘Leprosy’ was a term used to designate a number of skin diseases, so the fundamental problem of these ten was, in all likelihood, not a malady that was physically life-threatening. Instead, they were faced with a debilitating disorder. Regarded as living under a divine curse and as ritually unclean (whether they were Jew or Samaritan, it does not matter), they were relegated to the margins of society.” 623.

[2] Justo Gonzalez “Luke” Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible. Eds. Amy Plantinga Pauw and William C. Placher. Louisville, KY: WJK, 2010. “To be a leper was not only to suffer a physical illness, but to be cast out from family and society.” 205.

[3] Gonzalez 204-5, Numbers 5:2 (lepers ostracized from community by law); Leviticus 13:45-46 (lepers announce their uncleanliness).

[4] Gonzalez 205, “Since various diseases were included under the general heading of leprosy, allowance had to be made for those whose symptoms disappeared. For them, the law provided a detailed procedure, which included an examination by a priest, and then a complex ritual of cleansing (Lev. 14:2-32).”

[5] Green 623, “Used elsewhere in the Third Gospel, ‘Master’ denotes one who has authority consistent with miraculous power, and this is its meaning here.”

[6] Green 623, “What is clear is that, in naming him as master, these lepers place themselves in a position of subordination to him in the hope of receiving from him some form of benefaction. This benefaction, they seem to believe, will have its source in God; in effect, they request from Jesus a merciful visitation from God.”

[7] Gonzalez 204. “The theme of gratitude for God’s wondrous and unmerited gifts connects it with the previous parable, about the master owing nothing to the slave. In this case, the Samaritan who returns is grateful for what Jesus has done, while the others seem to take it in stride, almost as if it were their rightful due.”

[8] Gonzalez 205-6, The one who returns is a Samaritan and it is assumed the other 9 were Jews; the Samaritan is leper (outcast) and Samaritan (double outcast).

[9] Greek: εκαθαρι᾽σθησαν

[10] Greek: ια᾽θη

[11] Gonzalez 205, “We tend to ignore these nine, or to classify them as unbelieving ones; but the text says (or at least implies) that they believed Jesus, and even that they obeyed him by continuing on their way to see the priests.”

[12] Green 626, “What separates the one from the nine, then, is not the nature of the salvific benefits received. Rather, the nine are distinguished by their apparent lack of perception and, then, by their ingratitude. They do not recognize that they have been healed. This may be because leprosy was as much or more a socio-religious stigma as a physical malady. For it to be effective, cleansing must reach more deeply than the surface of one’s skin, and it may be precisely this added dimension of restoration that the nine fail to comprehend. More evident in the distinction between the behavior of the one and the nine, though, is the failure of the latter to recognize that they had received divine benefit from Jesus.”

[13] Gonzalez 206, “One could even say that there is a hint that the reason why he was doubly grateful for his healing was that he had a double experience of exclusion, and that he therefore could be doubly surprised by Jesus’ act of healing—not only a leper but a Samaritan leper! Thus the great reversal takes a new twist: those who are most marginal and excluded are also able to be most grateful to this Lord who includes them. Those whose experience of community and rejection is most painful may well come to the gospel with an added sense of joy.”

[14] Green 624-5, “Unlike the other lepers, this one perceives that he has been the recipient of divine benefaction—and that at the hand of Jesus. Of his three actions—praising God, falling at Jesus’ feet, and thanking Jesus — the first is expected within the Lukan narrative, the second two quite extraordinary. Praising God following a miracle is the appropriate response in the Third Gospel; indeed, this former leper joins many in the narrative who witness God’s mighty acts, then return praising God.”

[15] Green 626, “Worded differently, one appropriately gives praise to God via one’s grateful submission to Jesus as master or lord, the ‘location,’ so to speak, of God’s beneficence. Here, Luke’s Christology reaches impressive heights as he presents Jesus in the role of the temple – as one in whom the powerful and merciful presence of God is realized and before whom the God of the temple (whether in Jerusalem or Mount Gerizim!) can be worshiped.”

[16] Green 625, “’Falling at the feet’ of someone is an act of submission by which one acknowledges another’s authority; it signifies reverence, just the sort of response one might make toward a person regarded as one’s benefactor. Gratitude, too, is expected of those who have received benefaction. Because the former leper recognizes Jesus as the agent of the inbreaking kingdom of God, there is nothing incongruous in his actions: Both praising God and to his request for the merciful visitation of God.”

[17] Karl Holl The Reconstruction of Morality. Eds. James Luther Adams and Walter F. Bense. Trans. Fred W. Meuser and Walter R. Wietzke. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 1979. “But whence comes this duty to love God? Luther did not fail to answer this question in his Lectures on the Psalms. We are bound to love God because God is the given and sustainer of life who daily, unceasingly, and bountifully blesses us with his gifts. It is therefore the feeling of gratitude form which Luther derived the sense of obligation. Now we see why the New Testament imperative, in all its majesty and inexorableness, stirred him so deeply. He accepted it not only on authority; its essential meaning wrought conviction. If we owe God everything, then even by ‘natural right’ [iure naturali] we must give ourselves wholly to God.” 48.

There’s a Structure.

There’s a structure;

It exists it’s on its own.

It exists. Trust me.

It exists.

I wish you could see…

…The pain inside me.

…The structure…

The Structure is a number

A number is a symbol; which

Represents a substance;

And Substance provides for need.

But…

I am me

What provision meets need?

A substance clear and thick?

Something against you can kick?

A challenge and a crisis?

(What rhymes with crisis?)

Won’t anyone take the time to see…

What’s slowly consuming me?

Substance as a weapon

Used to abuse and to shame;

Stealing your reputation and your name.

The very thing that smiles as you kneel

Naked in the disgrace you feel.

I’ll never forget that look,

You never fucking forsook.

Substance as nothing and absence.

That silence and that smirk,

That “I’m-not-seeing-this” look.

Brings the most violent blow

Rendering substance to flow.

I cringe at your name and your mention

Just the mere thought is mental detention.

Take this for what it’s worth

There’s a structure, it exists.

On its own, it definitely exists.

Trust me, it exists, I wish you’d understand;

You’re nothing but a pawn in its capable hand.

There’s a structure; it exists on its very own;

It exists. I know you see it; to you it’s known.

Forgiveness as Death and Resurrection

For 9/11 (Homily)

For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way.  So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.  (2 Corinthians 5:14-21)

Two miles doesn’t seem like much. On 9/11 it was. About 2 miles separated my office situated a stones throw from Trump Tower in midtown from the Twin Towers downtown; two miles felt like the distance of an ocean separating me from those two massive towers collapsing in Manhattan. When you are in and out of Manhattan daily, midtown’s Rock Plaza and downtown’s Financial District don’t feel far apart. But on that day, they were. Midtown was secure and safe; downtown lay under layers of debris, destruction, and tragedy. They could have been two different cities…it was just two miles.

Last year I shared with you that I was a new Christian during this national tragedy. I shared that I couldn’t make sense of this God who a few months earlier brought me the comfort of love and forgiveness and now seemed and felt far distant and even absent. For those of us separated by a mile or two from the events, the question about God’s presence in the aftermath of the tragedy became a mere echo within months as Manhattan did what Manhattan does: rebound. It felt like it took New York a New York Minute to find its new normal.

Actually, as we rebuilt and restructured, mended and healed, interned and inurned, the question about God’s presence didn’t go anywhere. While it wasn’t readily on our lips, it lay underneath the resilient human spirit in the form of fear and its twin, anger. At least I can speak for myself: I was afraid and I was angry. Was another attack coming? I should be ready just in case. I would spend months commuting to work prepared to spend the night away from my apartment. Why did this happen to my city, to those innocent people going about their day?! And cue the anger.

These two emotions pack a punch when coupled together, and they are often coupled together. Fear makes room for anger because anger protects us from that which we fear. However, the more anger we have the more we are afraid because anger doesn’t actually solve anything–it keeps us blinded. Yet, suppress either and they both fester and become toxic.

In the aftermath of 9/11 I was in quite the dilemma. I was a new Christian who was afraid and angry. Monday through Friday I worked in the post 9/11 atmosphere of NYC masking my fear and anger; on Saturday and Sunday I was involved in conversations about God’s peace and God’s love. I wanted very much to place blame and seek vengeance; but I was exhorted weekly to love my enemies as myself and to forgive those who trespass against me as I am forgiven my trespasses.

Forgiveness is a very heavy topic in any situation, especially those situations involving deep pain, personal loss, fear and anger. So, I dare to piggy back off of Rev. Kennedy’s excellent homily from last Wednesday wherein he discussed our need to be forgiven and to forgive and the reasons why. While I have nothing substantial to add to what he said, I was moved to contemplate the act of forgiveness. What is it? What does it do?

I’ve found in my years walking with Christ, forgiveness isn’t a mere formula of words uttered into the universe hoping they land somewhere, like shooting arrows at an unknown target in the horizon. Forgiveness demands intention, demands my full presence both to offer and to receive the words of forgiveness. Forgiveness demands so much because–like it’s twin, love–there’s no half way. Like love, forgiveness demands a death. It’s not only setting your pride a side, it’s dying to what was. I can no longer hold on to what was, for it’s gone; to cling is to grasp at oil. I can only turn forward and face the oncoming future, the very future forgiveness beckons me into, the future I do not have control over. It’s a death to follow in and to relinquish the façade of ownership of the past. But in this gallows there God is; in this crisis there Christ is; in this suffering, there the Spirit comforts and whispers: it is finished.

And where there is the divine it is finished, there is resurrection. When we die to what was, we are brought into new and vibrant life of now. In this newness of life in the aftermath of forgiveness, something remarkable happens: what is possible takes priority over what is actual. In forgiveness, it’s now possible to build anew, to move forward, to grow into solid and beautiful selves—scars and all. I know well it’s not easy and it takes time—as anything worthwhile in our lives: time, space, and patience is needed. It’s not easy, but the life that comes from it is worth every painful, cautious step.

Christ’s love and forgiveness plucked me from the very real clutches of darkness, sin, and death in 2000; not even a year later, in 2001, Christ’s love and forgiveness beckoned me forward through death into life again. A few more times since then this call has sounded.

I don’t know much, but I do know that in Christ there is life even where there seems to be only death everywhere; I know that out of the ashes and rubble of our lives, the phoenix that is God’s grace rises; I know that fear and anger do not have the final word because the comforter, the Spirit, brings peace beyond understanding. I know that in this in love and forgiveness I find the core of all that is good and right and divine and human, and that love and forgiveness are the foundation and substance of my life. I know that in this love and forgiveness God is good and that even the darkest times, God will never leave us of forsake us because there is love and forgiveness.

Vigilant, Fidelitous, Stewards

Luke 12:32-40 (Sermon)

Introduction

I wear this crown of [dirt]/Upon my liar’s chair/Full of broken thoughts/I cannot repair/Beneath the stains of time/The feelings disappear/You are someone else/I am still right here/If I could start again/A million miles away/I would keep myself/I would find a way[1]

Nine Inch Nails’s “Hurt” resonates with the crisis of our world: caught in the tragedy defining contemporary human existence. The reality of our incapability to do anything renders us helpless. The vivacity of hopefulness submits to the dead weight of numbness. When we crave to be entertained, distracted, and to escape, we are in the clutches of the deep lethargic sleep of numbness. We smile and say everything is great, but we’re merely seated upon our liar’s chair. Things aren’t okay, we aren’t well, the world isn’t fine. We close our eyes and ears and let the old age consume us. No one’s coming to help; all is lost.

Do not fear, small little-flock, because your father is well pleased to give to you the kingdom. Sell the things that are in your possession and give alms. Create for yourselves purses [that] do not grow old, an unfailing treasure in the heavens, where a thief neither comes near nor a moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be. (vv. 32-34)

Our text is connected to the preceding section. It’s not an independent section. Thus, the command not to fear is connected to the preceding command not to be anxious (vv.22-31). Pulling the ravens from the sky and the lilies from the ground, Jesus demonstrates it’s wiser to be as these than the rich fool building up barns, gathering and storing “grains and goods” to secure himself.

The comparison isn’t between food and clothes and us; but between the rich fool and us. God knows what we need; according to Jesus, those needs are important to God. The importance resides in this reality: even the ravens are fed and the lilies clothed. We, who’ve heard our names called, don’t need act like the rich fool building large barns for “grains and goods.” When we do, we’re no better than those who’ve not heard.[2] In this anxiety we are like the rich fool, frantically building barns.

Jesus’s solution? Seek the reign of God and these things will be added (v.31). Luke plays his two cards: hear and respond. Have you heard? If so, why are you anxious? Why are you afraid? God is well pleased to give to you the kingdom! (v.32) Jesus’s command isn’t an inactive one but an active one. Recall the story about Mary and Martha from Luke 10. The theme wasn’t activity v passivity but the paradox of human existence. We are both Mary and Martha—at the feet of the Lord and needing to be called out of ourselves. Both are active; so, too, here. The prohibition of anxiety and fear isn’t a command to an abstractly conceived rest that results in non-action. To seek the reign of God brings peace and rest to our bodies—peace that surpasses all understanding because our orientation is to God and to others and no longer focused on ourselves. We’re freed up for activity resonant with the Lord’s prayer,

“Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation“ (vv 2c-4).

This activity is striving. We are to strive, but rightly.[3] Often we confuse the reign of God with our own piety. We aren’t to strive for religiousness—when we do this we force our works do what they can’t: toiling to self-justify and make us righteous. Rather, we strive for the reign of God, the new age started in the advent Christ. Luke holds a mirror up to his audience: Are you more like the rich fool who hasn’t heard and is storing up treasures in barns that will decay and be destroyed? Or, are you striving like Mary who has heard and responded, storing up treasures where neither thief nor moth can go?[4]

Luke doesn’t merely ask about the location of our hearts and focus; using the words of Christ, he describes what seeking after the reign of God looks like. Again, it’s not about piety, but about others. How is this seeking done? Selling possessions and giving alms. Loving the Lord our God with all our heart is to love our neighbor as ourselves; this is the foundation and substance of the entreaty in the Lord’s Prayer: “your kingdom come…” According to Proverbs, “Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done” (19:17).[5]

Like the situation of the two sisters, we face the paradox of the reign of God as gift and obligation. We receive. We come to the table empty handed but we must grasp the food being offered. Someone can give you a gift and you can refuse it. Reception demands two people and reciprocal actions: giving and taking. We quibble over concepts of free will and determinism while the answer resides in a paradoxical yes that defines our present.

The future is an abstract concept that materializes only long enough to become history, another abstract concept. When we place our eggs in the basket of the future, we grow anxious because it’s out of our control. When we place our eggs in the basket of the past, we are fearful because failure haunts us. The day is given; seize it.

Disciples of Christ are the small little-flock ushered into the present of the new age. We’re reoriented in the world in the event of encounter with God in faith; this silences the fear of the past and alleviates the anxiety of the future. As we live into the gifted-present as disciples of Christ, we participate in the cosmic battle God wages against the enslaving powers of sin and death. We live as living and embodied creatures alongside other living and embodied creatures. We are to be disciple-ing—not strictly by making disciples (though that’s great) but storing up treasure in heaven by setting our hearts on the reign of God expressed through outward-oriented, other-centered activity.[6] This is love. This love loves because it’s the product of being first loved, and does not love to demand returned love.[7] It doesn’t hold hostages; it just loves. This is the substance of our prayer in today’s collect, “Grant to us, Lord,…the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will.”[8]

Gird your loins for active work and light lamps; and you [be] like the people who expect their lord might depart at some time from the wedding feast, in order that after he comes and strikes at the door, they may open it for him immediately. Blessed [are] those slaves whom the Lord will find being awake after he comes; truly I say to you that he will gird himself for active work and he will make them recline and after coming to them he will serve them. And if in the second and if in the third watch he might come and find in this way, blessed are those [slaves]. Now this you know, if the ruler of the house had been aware of what hour the thief comes, he would not permit him to dig trough the house. And you, you become prepared, you do not [know] which the Son of [Hu]Man comes. (vv 38-40)

The same small little-flock is still in view here as the intended audience, and so are we.[9] There’s also no thematic break, either. Jesus is—as he has been—speaking about vigilance. The vigilance of possessions gives way to the vigilance of faithfulness; both material goods and faith are given to us, and thus vigilance is necessary[10] because while the spirit is willing the flesh is weak, and we love slipping back into the grip of that old age we know. What we know brings comfort; it’s why we destructively cling to myths and “facts” even when they’ve long expired.

Like the burn of lights to eyes accustomed to the dark, those who have been saved by Christ and reoriented in the world in the new age, bear the pain of this new birth into a new reality that is radically upside-down from the one they were accustomed to. Those who’ve heard, can’t unhear what they’ve heard; those who’ve seen can’t unsee what they’ve seen. But we can numb ourselves, pull the covers over our head, self-medicate, perform intellectual gymnastics to make wrong things right. As disciples of Christ in a world enslaved to the powers of sin and death, we must be vigilant.

The characteristics of this vigilance and discipleship run counter not only to the socio-political situation of Jesus’s day, but also our own. To be faithful is to be countercultural: rather than store up possessions, it’s sell them and give alms; rather than build bigger barns it’s store up treasures in heaven; rather than lording over others it’s identifying with slaves just as the One who has gone before us does.[11] “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant” (Lk 1:47-48). And not merely “looked with favor” but become identified with.

The Lord comes, Luke tells us, but we don’t know when; remain vigilant, he encourages. The delay precludes a “life of abandonment” and includes active engagement with the reign of God inaugurated in Christ. We are to be dressed, lamps lit, prepared and ready, being faithful, working, knowing, and doing.[12] The delay Luke is highlighting means there’s a period of time between now and then. Again, the questions come to us from eons past: have you heard? If so, what are you going to do while the master is gone? [13] Thus: stewardship. While this word is often used in pleas to get you to tithe, it’s not strictly about that. It’s about your entire material being. Stewardship, what we do now, “…is the life of believers in the time ‘in between’…”[14] As Christians, as those who have heard, we live as those expectant of a future commensurate with the reign of God consummated in Christ.[15]

And while the master is gone and while we wait, we will be brought into conflict and crisis; we will have to choose our fidelity to Christ and the new age over the allure of the powers of sin and death of the old age.[16] We are obligated to be fidelitous stewards of what we are given in the present with an eye to the future. Not clinging to the old age and its destructive power. Existing here, we, with the power of the Holy Spirit, look to participate in the new age and in the struggle against those powers of sin and death.

Stewardship goes beyond tithing and isn’t charity; it involves our entire being and things. What we have is not always a product of God’s blessing. We live in a world that is both just and unjust, and we have things from both just and unjust systems.[17] We are both complicit and held captive by the ways of the old age, even now, even today. Stewardship and fidelity, thus vigilance, demand that we be aware and awake to call things what they are and to act rightly.

“Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;/remove the evil of your doings/from before my eyes;/cease to do evil,/learn to do good;/seek justice,/rescue the oppressed,/defend the orphan,/plead for the widow./ Come now, let us argue it out,/says the Lord:/though your sins are like scarlet,/they shall be like snow;/though they are red like crimson,/they shall become like wool.” (Isaiah 1:16-18)

In this tension of the inbetween where we receive and strive, we must be aware when we are participating in unjust systems. In being aware, in being vigilant we are caused and exhorted to live according to the new age and not the old one, to tear down unjust systems and build up just ones.[18] Christians are not the same from age to age; each age demands a different Christian presence. We are contextual and that is the last thing the powers of sin and death of the old age want you to know. Because knowing this makes you the wild card. Fidelitous Christians as vigilant stewards of their lives, time, and possessions, keeping their lamps lit and eyes and ears trained toward the door where their lord will wrap, are the ones who are, paradoxically, the most earthly good for the present day.[19]

Conclusion

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.…By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible….They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.” (Hebrews 11:1)

I know the challenge of hope. Our world is hurting in so many ways and we in our fleshy existence can feel so helpless to fix it; so why bother. Let it burn; I’ll wait for Christ’s return. But then the other thing I know is that God, by God’s own word, can create something out of nothing. In divine language, possibility has priority over actuality; in other words: all things are possible with God. It’s the magnitude of divine possibility that makes Christians an odd and unique breed. It’s no longer Moses who is left alone to bear the burden of a radiant face tanned by God’s glory; we brazenly bear the radiance of divine Glory into the world. We’re in the world but not of the old age.

We are vigilant fidelitous stewards, living here and now, our lamps lit, wicks trimmed, ears trained to the knock of our Lord. Stuck in the inbetween–waiting–we tend to our brothers and sisters—victims of the old age. Like the good Samaritan we bind and dress their wounds and bring them in; like our Lord we go to the fringe; with our lights always on, our homes, our classrooms, our offices, our cubicles, our very bodies are beacons of hope, lights conquering darkness, lives conquering death. All is not lost.

Behold, the eye of the Lord is upon those who fear him,/on those who wait upon his love,/To pluck their lives from death,/and to feed them in time of famine./Our soul waits for the Lord;/he is our help and our shield./Indeed, our heart rejoices in him,/for in his holy Name we put our trust. (Ps 33:18-21)

 

 

 

[1] NIN “Hurt”

[2] Justo L. Gonzalez Luke Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible eds. Amy Plantinga Pauw and William C. Placher (Louisville, KY: WJK, 2010). “Although this entire passage has often been interpreted in the sense that food and clothing are not important (an interpretation that comes quite easily to those who have an abundance of both), what the passage says is exactly the opposite. We are not to worry about food and clothing precisely because God knows they are important! Indeed, they are so important that God provides them even to birds and grass. This is why it is ‘the nations of the world’ (i.e., the Gentiles, the pagan world) that strive after these things. Their struggle is a result of their not knowing the God who provides even for ravens and for lilies. Thus when Christians who have all we really need still worry anxiously about having enough, and thus seek to accumulate more and more, we are failing once again into a form of Christopaganism…”161

[3] Gonzalez 161-2, “The alternative to worrying is not a happy-go-lucky, careless attitude. On the contrary, it is a serious struggle, striving for the kingdom. This does not mean, as some might surmise, simply being more religious and pious. The kingdom of God is a new order; the new order that has come nigh in Jesus. It is an order in which Gods will is done, as Matthews version of the Lord s Prayer makes abundantly clear: your kingdom come, your will be done…to strive for the kingdom is among other things to make certain that all are fed and all are clothed. We are not to worry about securing such things, for they are important to God; but precisely because they are important to God we must oppose everything that precludes all from having them. This is why in the very passage about not worrying over food or clothing Jesus invites his followers to give alms (12:33), that is, to provide for those who are hungry or naked.”

[4] Joel B. Green The Gospel of Luke TNICNT ed. Gordon Fee (Grand Rapids, MI: 1997). 495. “Here we encounter both the foundation and the resolution of his message on faithfulness regarding possessions. Fear, in this instance, refers to the anxiety and misgivings associated with the uncertainty of life, modeled so well by the wealthy farmer-landholder in Jesus’ parable (vv. 16-20). Jesus’ disciples, referred to in language that recalls God’ care for his people as a shepherd for the flock, need experience no such dread. This is because God’s pleasure (or will) is manifest in his gift of the kingdom. It is likely that we are to understand the kingdom as having already been given—undoubtedly, then, a reference to the ministry of Jesus among them.”

[5] Gonzalez 162, “The ending of this section connects it with the parable of the Rich Fool, for the two are parallel: it is a matter of where ones treasure is. If on earth, as in the case of the rich man who decided to build bigger barns, it will have no lasting value. If in heaven, it will have lasting value, for in heaven neither do thieves steal one’s treasure, nor do moths eat at it…Verses 33-34 give clear guidelines as to how this is to be done: “sell your possessions—your earthly treasure—and give: alms’- thus building up a treasure in heaven. In early patristic literature, one constantly finds the assertion that “when you give to the poor you lend to God” a theme drawn from Proverbs 19:17. In this passage one finds echoes of that theme.”

[6] Green 495. The little flock (disciples) are “the recipients of God’s dominion. This makes possible lifestyles that are not consumed with anxiety and fear but, instead, have as their perpetual objective the service of the kingdom. The nature of this kingdom-service is spelled out clearly in this co-text, demonstrating that the kingdom of God is not only a gift but also an obligation. Rather then being occupied with the buildup of treasures with an eye to self-security in this life (v 21), disciples need to be concerned with ensuring that they possess treasures in heaven. Therefore, seeking the kingdom (v 31) is tantamount to setting one’s heart on the kingdom (v 34), and the consequence of this orientation of life is a heavenly treasure that is neither subject to the exigencies of earthly existence nor endangered by the unexpected intervention of God.”

[7] Green 495-6 “…throughout the Roman world. Normally, one with treasures to share does so in order to place others in her debt; gifts are given in order to secure or even advance one’s position in the community. Inherent to the giving of ‘gifts’ in this economy is the obligation of repayment. The sharing Jesus counsels has a different complexion. Disinvestment and almsgiving grounded in a thoroughgoing commitment to the kingdom of God are to be practiced in recognition that God is the Supreme Benefactor who provides both for the giver and for the recipient. Such giving has the effect not of placing persons in debt, but rather of embracing the needy as members of one’s own inner circle. In the economy intrinsic to the kingdom, those who give without exacting reciprocation, for example, in the form of loyalty or service, are actually repaid by God. Such giving, then, is translated into solidarity with the needy on earth into heavenly treasure (see 6:35).”

[8] BCP “Collect” Lessons Appointed for Use on the Sunday Closest to August 10.

[9] Green 497, “As though he were using a telephoto lens, Luke has centered our attention on the disciples, but the presence of many others continues to be felt. This contributes to the ambiguity Luke’s readers may experience as they attempt to discern the nature of Jesus’ audience at this juncture…Irrespective of which characters within the story readers have come to identify with, the collapsing significance of Jesus’ teaching for everyone.”

[10] Green 497, “…Jesus has not moved abruptly from a discourse on ‘possessions’ to a discourse on ‘watchfulness.’ Not only this section but the whole of this address, beginning in v 1, has an eschatological timber…Throughout, Jesus has expounded on the theme of ‘vigilance in the face of eschatological crisis,’ including as motifs vigilance with respect to persecution (vv 1-12), possessions (vv 13-35), and, now, more faithfulness within the household of God. What is more, Jesus’ words to his disciples—‘Do not be afraid … for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom’ (v 32)—already applied to questions of security and material goods, are equally relevant to his present instruction on fidelity with respect to what ‘has been given’(v 48b).”

[11] Green 499, “In presenting his picture of faithful response, Jesus borrows from standard images of the household in Roman times, but also redefines household relations. His most surprising—and no doubt to some, outlandish is his implicit request that, in order to identify oneself among the faithful in the household of God, one should identify oneself with the slaves of his example; this innovation embraces even the authority figure, the master/Iord, whose actions upon his return are themselves servile. By serving those who are slaves, the returning lord esteems the humble, overturning socio-religious and socio-political norms, just as Mary’s Song had foretold (1:52b).”

[12] Green 500, “Luke’s presentation leaves room for a delay in the return of the Lord, but his dominant emphasis falls elsewhere—first, on the certainty of his coming and, second, on the uncertainty of its timing. This dual focus leads directly into the primary emphasis of this passage, not on living a life of abandonment in light of the eschaton, but on the present need and opportunity for alertness and fidelity…this segment of Jesus’ discourse employs a wide range of images to present in positive and negative terms the sought-after comportment of the disciple: dressed for action, lamps lit, waiting expectantly, alert, ready, the unexpected hour, the faithful and prudent manager (rather than the unfaithful), working (rather than eating and drinking and getting drunk), being prepared, and knowing and doing (rather than knowing and not doing or not knowing).”

[13] Gonzalez 165, “The theme of the absence of God is central to the teachings of Jesus. …But in other parables it would seem that the issue is not our absence from God, but rather God’s absence from us. We call these stories ‘parables of stewardship.’ And this is an excellent name for them, for stewardship is precisely what a steward practices when the master is away. While the master is there, a steward’s role is limited. It is when the master is away that the steward must take responsibility.”

[14] Gonazalez 162

[15] Gonzalez 162-3, “The theme of stewardship now comes to the foreground. In the previous section Jesus was teaching about one of the most common issues of stewardship, the management of possessions. Now he comes to another central issue of stewardship, the ‘in between’ times.…This is because stewardship, properly understood, is the life of believers in the time ‘in between’ … In all of these, we are told that we are living in expectation of a future, and must therefore live and manage our resources according to that future, rather than to the present situation.”

[16] Green 502, “Instead, Jesus provides for his audience a vision of the eschaton, of a household reality wherein hierarchies of status are nullified; with this vision he both declares nature of fidelity in the interim and in the eschaton.”

[17] Gonzalez 163. “Too often the typical stewardship sermon says simply that all we have God has given us to manage. This leaves out two fundamental issues. The first is that we must not simply affirm that all we have has been given to us by God. We live in an unjust world, and to attribute the present order to God is to attribute injustice to God. It may well be that we have some things unjustly, and not as a gift of God.”

[18] Gonzalez 163, “…The second issue that should not be left out of our discussions on stewardship is the crucial dimension of hope and expectation. We are to manage things, not just out of a general sense of morality or even of justice, and certainly not just to support the church and its institutions—which we certainly must do. We are to manage things in view of the future we expect In the previous section, this was expressed in terms of building up treasures in heaven rather than on earth, and in terms of striving for the kingdom.”

[19] Gonzalez 163-4, “In this passage, that eschatological sense of expectancy or inbetweenness comes forth in the image of lamps that must remain lit …What for us is a fairly passive activity—all we do is flick a switch and the lights remain on—for people in the first century required frequent attention. One had to replenish the oil in the lamp. One had to adjust the wick. Today, we may go to bed leaving the lights on. Then, if one forgot about the lamp it would bum out. Thus keeping the lamp lit, as this passage instructs, is a matter that requires constant attention and watchfulness. This is the central theme of the passage.”

A Unique Draw

Luke 6:20-23 (Homily)

Then he looked up at his disciples and said:

“Blessed are you who are poor,
    for yours is the kingdom of God.
“Blessed are you who are hungry now,
    for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now,
    for you will laugh.

“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
(Luke 6:20-23)

I remember clearly the evening we had to break it to our boys that we were leaving Colorado to move here, to Louisiana, for me to take this job. The news of the move swung like a wrecking ball into their lives: everything they had previously known to be regular and normal was now flying through their atmosphere in scattered pieces and shards of what was.

As the news sunk in and the pieces and shards started to hit their ground, their eyes told us we were in for a full blown verbal assault: YOU’RE STUPID! I WISH I WAS NEVER BORN! I HATE YOU SO MUCH! I WISH YOU WERE NEVER BORN! And so on. Doors slammed, immense pain and hatred vented, tears shed, plea bargains offered, more doors slammed.

The pain of our boys hit us hard. Their words seemed endless; their physical anger appeared nearly unrestrainable. But what broke us most was neither their verbal attacks nor the physical tantrums, but that their hearts were broken. They fired their verbal shots, and we only nodded in agreement, “I know. I know, buddy….I know.” Silent nods.

And even though we knew we had to be the strong and steady ones in the equation, we couldn’t help but cry with them. I wiped away the warm tears that broke through to the surface and rolled down my cheeks. I cried because these human being, the ones that my body spent months growing and nourishing, these human beings were in pain and I couldn’t have any other response than to cry with them.

Their pain was my pain; their grief was my grief; their sorrow and mourning was my sorrow and mourning. The only thing I could do then, in that moment, was stand as close as possible and be present, creating space for them to let out the depths of their emotions and take as much of it as I could.

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus said, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.” How are those who weep to laugh? How are those who weep, blessed? Because in the thick of their pain and sorrow and grief, God is with them. Blessedness comes from the presence of God. And the radical aspect of God’s blessedness is that it comes to us not as we are clean, and tidy, and happy, but when we are at the bottom, in the lowness of life, when everything hurts emotionally, mentally, physically because life has dealt us its blows one more time.

Our God doesn’t shy away from the radical pain and hurt and suffering and sorrow and grief of the human life. Just the opposite.  “For [God] knows how we were made,” writes the Psalmist. “[God] remembers that we are dust.” Our God is a God “whose property is always have mercy,” to have mercy especially when and where all hope seems lost. And God’s mercy is expressed in that God entered into our humanity and suffered under that weight by being born, living, sorrowing, and suffering pain even death on the cross.

Our suffering and grief and mourning has a unique way of drawing us to this God who is love, who is not far off when we are at our saddest, our angriest, but who has come close—Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us!  Suffering has a unique way of drawing us to the Suffering God who suffered for us on the cross, who was raised from the dead, and who has declared that the suffering of this life will not last forever, that the suffering of this life does not have the final word, because God has conquered it. 

Your suffering, your sorrow, your grief, and your pain are not indicative that God has turned his face from you; He hasn’t, you have not been abandoned. It’s just the opposite: He loves you so very, very, very much; so much so he has laid down His life for you because he hears your cries, because God knows. And God’s not mad if you are ticked and angry, sad and grieved.

Any notion that you would bear any sort of curse for being upset with the trauma life can bring, is a lie. If I could bear the anger of my sons, how much more can God—the one whole loves the beloved fully and completely, better than any earthly mother and father—how much more can this God bear your pain and suffering and anger and grief?

Blessed are you who mourn because the God of the universe is with you, has taken on your plight. Blessed are you because there is no dark night of the soul that is too dark to cloak you from God’s eye; there is no pain so great that would cause Christ to just shrug his shoulders and yawn; there is no sorrow so deep that would cause your pain to be outside of God’s knowledge.

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:34-39).

Blessed are you who mourn, grief, sorrow, who are angry and upset, for God is present with you.

Shema, O Israel!

Luke 8:19-21 (Homily)

The following is a Homily I delivered this morning to the student body of the private high school where I teach theology and religion.

Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd. And he was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.” But he said to them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” (Luke 8:19-21)

On Saturday, Robert Bowers opened up gunfire on Jews who were attending their Synagogue on the Sabbath, in Pittsburgh, PA. The attack was explicitly fueled by anti-Semitism, substantiated by white supremacy and nationalism, with a not-so-thinly-veiled vein of Christian Zionism. These Jews were gathered there, in their Synagogue, in their sanctuary to worship God, to rest (it was the Sabbath). To hear the Word of YWHW, their Lord, their God. They were there to be brought face to face with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; they were there to hear the story of God’s activity and promises for and to them. They were there to receive life. Rather, that sanctuary, that rest, turned into chaos, fear, panic, and most grievous death.

 

One of the components of the Jewish liturgy said regularly, is something called the “Shema.” It’s considered a prayer of allegiance to God, a centerpiece of Jewish worship and prayer life. It’s the heart of the Law. The Shema, a prayer of the people of Israel, is from the Book of Deuteronomy, Chapter 6. If you didn’t know, Deuteronomy is one of the first five books, the fifth in fact, of the beginning of the portion of our Christian bible that we refer to as the Old Testament. But for modern Jews, as it was for those Israelites way back when, this is not the Old Testament, but The Testament. And this prayer functions as the heart of the portion of what is considered the Torah, the Law, which make up the first five books of our Old Testament.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Dt 6:4-9)

“Shema, O Israel!” Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might…And do these things. The word “Shema” is translated as “Hear” in our text of Deuteronomy. But “hear” is not the fullest rendering of what Shema actually and truly means. To translate it rightly, we should say, “Hear and Obey” hear so deeply that you actually do what is commanded of you. Hear and obey. This hearing and doing is the mark of the Israelite. Hearing results in the fear of the Lord, which we know about in terms of faith, and fear or the Lord, faith, is that which is the foundation of our activity, our vibrant activity in the world as God’s image, God’s representatives and reflections in the world, having dominion and caring for the earth and for all who inhabit it. To hear and to do is to be the righteous one that Micah, the minor prophet of the Old Testament, looks for in the streets where he finds none that are righteous. Through Micah, the Lord proclaims to Israel that what is desired by God’s very heart are not sacrifices and burnt offerings, but love and humility and justice.

With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
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? (Micah 6:6-8)

To do and be the good Israelite is to hear the word of God and to be so moved to act rightly and to do justice.

 

For Christians, Jesus is the embodiment of the Shema: he is the one who hears and does. He is the righteous Israelite who walks humbly with his God, does justice, loves kindness. He does the Law in full: Jesus loves God and loves his neighbor (the entire world). And in being the embodiment of these commands fulfills them. But we go very astray if we think “fulfillment” now means we are only to “think and pray” for those who suffer horrible atrocities such as this and all the other shootings and bombings and terror attacks in our country. We aren’t off such a hook. There’s a massive systemic problem that is infecting and has infected our country. And its names are legion: anti-Semitism, racism, sexism, and nationalism. And worst of all, American Christianity has seemed to tether itself to the last (thus also to the three former) and it’s not okay.

 

Our passage today is the stuff of a word that is hard. Jesus says, “‘My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.’” There’s nothing easy about this text. There’s no way around what Christ says here and what is explicitly said: those who hear and do the will of God are those who are related to Christ, who are his brothers and his mother. Not “think” the will of God, not even “pray” the will of God. But “do” the will of God. And in saying these things, Jesus links those who follow him with those of Israel and binds them to the Shema back in Deuteronomy 6: Hear! Hear, O Israel… hear so well that you do. Christians are not off the hook, we might think we are, but we’re not. Saved by faith for good works. Not merely good doctrine but good practice.

 

Jesus died for our sins and rose for our justification, Paul explains to us in the book of Romans (4:25). But this wasn’t so that our eyes would remain blind to carnage or our ears to remain deaf to cries of the people. But as Jesus did throughout his ministry on earth and continues to do through the power of the Holy Spirit in the world: he opens our ears and restores our sight so we can hear and see clearly, so that we can call a thing what it is, so that we can face evil and address it, fight back without fear of what the future holds for that is held in Christ.

 

As a priest in the Episcopal tradition and a future doctor of the church, I cannot tolerate the violence and horror that is taking people hostage. I can no longer sit idle or turn a blind eye to the suffering of my fellow brothers and sisters at the hands of extremists and white supremacists. And I cannot tolerate a corrupted, debased, and distorted version of the gospel that is used to support and service such hatred, fear, and oppression. I can’t because the very spirit that lives in me is the very spirit of God and God hates those things. The Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified and raised from the dead and ascended into heaven is the stuff of the love of God for the world, of liberty for the captives, for the oppressed, for those who are weary and burdened and down trodden; to put it into service to do anything but these things is to lose the gospel altogether and to render Christ’s sacrifice for the world pointless. Thus, I cannot just watch, think comforting thoughts, and pray, I must proclaim. I must ask you to wake up, look around, and hear the cries of those who are suffering and hear the cries of those whose cries have been silenced.

 

A rabbi I follow on Twitter[1] wrote a piece for the Washington Post about the synagogue massacre. She writes,

In Judaism, when someone dies, we often say, “May their memory be for a blessing.” This time, it is all of our obligation to make it so. We must mourn and lament and grieve for the lives stolen from the world. We must rage at the baseless hatred and reckless lack of protections that made these senseless killings possible in the first place. And we must honor the memories of those who were murdered by fighting for a world that values every life — refugee and citizen, of every race and religion — and that creates cultures and policies that reflect those values.[2]

I can still speak out; you can still speak out. So we must.

 

 

 

 

[1] Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg (Twitter: @TheRaDR)

[2] https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2018/10/28/victims-tree-life-synagogue-massacre-are-martyrs/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.04a7b3830002