Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Third Way

The Third Way
 “Be perfect, therefore, as you heavenly Father is perfect.” Matt 5: 48
We simply do not understand the Bible. Of what does God’s holiness consist? As stated from the beginning to the end of the Old Testament Hebrew Scriptures, our God is gracious, merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.

The translators employed, i.e. paid by, King James manipulated the scripture in places to favor the king. So they translated, “Do not strike back at evil in kind,” as “Do not resist an evil doer.” Making the sense of the entire passage in Matthew 5: 38-48 virtually meaningless. For Jesus is all about non-violent resistance. Jesus resists playing into the hands of the Roman oppressors, and counsels his followers, that would be you and me, to do the same.

“You have heard it said, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, Do not strike back at evil in kind.” Or, “Don’t react violently against one who is evil.” That is, the tradition teaches proportionate response. If your opponent takes an eye, you are to take ONLY an eye and no more, for this is to reflect the holiness of a God that desires to relent from punishing. Jesus pushes it one step further: Do not meet violence with violence. Do not strike back in kind.

Walter Wink in his little book, Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way (Fortress Press, Minneapolis: 2003) argues that we have a choice in how to respond to evil and injustice. The standard responses are Fight or Flight. Jesus, argues Wink, offers a Third Way – Nonviolent Resistance. Nonviolent Resistance is a way of living into our inherent imgao dei, being created in the image of God. It is a way to live into the holiness of God by responding to people with the kind of compassion and desire for the good and justice for all people (as outlined in part in Leviticus 19: 1-2, 9-18, 33-34), which is what God desires for the whole world, everyone and everything therein.

Yet, thanks in part to those in King James’ employ, we do not understand what it means to “turn the other cheek.” One needs some knowledge of the time and place in which Jesus says this. Jesus is not commanding docility or even neutrality, both of which concede power to the one striking you. Jesus lived in a right-handed world in which one in a position of power and authority would strike one across the cheek with the back of the right hand. Roman soldiers would backhand non-citizens; masters would backhand slaves; husbands, wives; parents, children; men, women; Romans, Jews.

Wink observes what we have are sets of unequal relations in which retaliation would be suicidal, and submission is to concede the injustice. Jesus’s third way is to turn “the other also.” This, in effect, invites another blow, but this time it needs to be either with the left hand, which was prohibited and only to be used for unclean tasks, or with the open palm or a fist, which in that culture acknowledges you as an equal, a peer.

So, to turn the other cheek robs the oppressor “of the power to humiliate. The person who turns the other cheek is saying, in effect, ‘Try again. Your first blow did not achieve its intended effect. I deny you the power to humiliate me. I am a human being just like you. Your status does not deny or alter that fact. You cannot demean me.’” [Wink, pp 15-16]

Similarly, if you give up both your coat and the undergarment in court you embarrass and humiliate the one suing you. And if you carry a centurion’s backpack an extra mile, you humiliate the Roman soldier since by regulation he can only ask you to carry it one mile or be subject to discipline himself. One might see that Jesus, in addition to advocating nonviolent resistance, robbing the oppressor’s power over you, while also making a mockery or burlesque of those repeated attempts to abuse power in ways that are unjust and corrosive of society as a whole. It is a way of unmasking the ultimate futility and poverty of power.

Then we are ordered to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, for even God sends sun and rain on the bad as well as the good. To be created in the image of God, to have the kind of compassion and desire for the good of all people, especially widows, orphans and resident aliens, is the kind of “perfection” to which God calls us. Not getting A+ on all our work, but going the extra mile in exposing the falseness that surrounds us. It means adapting these principals of nonviolent resistance to any and all similar circumstances. Wink cites the example of the South African Apartheid government’s desire to demolish a shanty town. They waited till nearly everyone left for work and brought in the bulldozers. Three women remained at home. They were ordered to leave. Instead they marched out to the bulldozers and perhaps sensing the prudery of the farm boys, stripped themselves bare. The army and the bulldozers fled.

I keep going back over and over again to Leviticus chapter 19, verses 33-34: When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. Jesus understood this and lived this all the way to the cross.

This is what Biblical religion is all about. Our “perfection” will be in finding new ways of adapting the strategies of Jesus’ Third Way. Fight and/or Flight will not get the job done.


Saturday, February 11, 2017

OMG!

The Bible is a mixture of history, literature and theology. It is the history of a people’s relationship with their God, told through a great variety of literary genres, and shaped by a variety of editorial points of view – which is what “theology” is really: a way of viewing and understanding one’s relationship with the God of the Bible and others. All others.

Another way of talking about “theology” might be to say that it is a people’s best shot in a given historical time and place to make sense of our relationship with the God of the burning bush, the God of creation, the God who says, I chose you not because you were so numerous, “It is because the Lord loved you and kept an oath that he swore to your ancestors that the Lord brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.” Deut 7:8

As the Sermon on the Mount continues, we find Jesus speaking about “swearing oaths.” He is not talking about dirty words, but rather is interpreting the commandments of the God of the Passover and Exodus in the light of present circumstances – the people are once again enslaved to a new empire whose god and king is Caesar. In particular, going back to Deuteronomy chapter 5 and the command not to swear an oath in God’s name wrongfully or lightly.

Others in the Kubicek household will confirm that I cringe while watching HGTV, and the owners of a house see the makeover of their home for the first time and the first words out of their mouths are almost always, “Oh, my god!” Which, regrettably has been reduced to the letters “OMG” on social media and texts. This is what Moses is talking about in Deuteronomy, and this is what Jesus reiterates in the Sermon on the Mount – “You have heard it said, ‘Do not swear falsely in the Lord’s name,’ but I say, Do not swear at all!”

Jesus is practicing a form of interpretation of the Bible and its commandments sometimes called putting a hedge or a fence around the Torah, the commandments of God. The idea is that you propose a more stringent command that it meant to keep you as far away as possible from the original command which had to do with swearing oaths in the name of God.

Names were understood as power in the ancient world, and as such the practice can be seen to continue to this day. Think of how corporations and businesses pay huge sums of money to have their name affixed to a sports stadium or a skyscraper. Names stand for something and someone and convey authority. So it is that Moses inquires of the burning bush, “What is your name? Who shall I say sends me to negotiate with Pharaoh and my people?” Moses knows if he is to succeed in his assigned tasks he needs to back it up with a name. Poor Moses! The answer he gets is even more mysterious than a bush that burns and is not consumed: I Am Who I Am! Tell them I Am sent you!

This is where language fails us and we are left to the world of metaphor and even poetry to even begin to express what it is we know about our relationship with one who is beyond mere words, the one who defies being pinned down in a few words. Jesus understands what is at stake here – the misuse of God’s name to further one’s personal desires, beliefs, agenda and quest for power over others.

So sure, OMG seems harmless enough, but represents a cheapening of God’s name, God’s power, God’s will. Over against all the other so-called “swear words” we might use, and they are many, OMG may well represent our culture’s and society’s ultimate cheapening of God’s holy name, giving tacit approval of using God’s name for all of our favorite personal and political desires, beliefs, agendas and plays for power and authority.

Jesus knows what Moses knew, which is that there is one, and only one, commandment that is repeated twice. The tenth. Thou shalt not covet, and in case you did not hear me, thou shalt not covet. One might argue that this command against coveting lies at the heart of all the commandments of God – for it is our endless desire for more and more and more that leads to anger that becomes murder, lust that becomes adultery, disrespect that becomes divorce, and unfettered lust for power that becomes idolatry.

Abraham Joshua Heschel, perhaps the keenest theological mind of the 20th century, observes that the longest of the ten initial commandments is the third – the command to observe a Sabbath Day once a week. He goes on to suggest that Sabbath, taking time off from desiring, acquiring and consuming, is the antidote to our innate covetousness – which covetousness leads us into all sorts of temptation. And yet, we struggle to take even one day off, so tenured are we to an economic system driven by promises that unfettered covetousness will bring us true happiness.

When the Psalmist in Psalm 119 devotes the longest poem in the Bible to meditating on God’s Word and Commandments, he is on solid ground in proclaiming that this is the ultimate source of all happiness: “Happy are they whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord!
Happy are they who observe his decrees and seek him with all their hearts!”

When we do meditate on God’s law we find just in the book of Deuteronomy the following: this way of “walking” entails canceling the debts of the poor (15:1-11), pushing government to guard against excessive wealth (17:14-20), limiting punishment to protect human dignity (19:1-7), offering hospitality to runaway slaves and refugees (23:15-16), paying employees fairly (24: 14-15), and leaving part of the harvest in the field for those who need it, those who are hungry (24:19-22).

OMG! Just look at what meditating on God’s law and walking in its way can lead to: doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with our God.


More importantly, spending time examining the history, literature and theology of the Bible can lead us to making the world, God’s world, the world God holds in God’s hands, a better place, not just for me and my kin, but for all people, everywhere, in all times and all places. Amen. 

Saturday, February 4, 2017

I'm Gonna Let It Shine

Absalom, Pauli, Ruby, Rosa, Martin and Bayard
Imagine standing in a pervasive darkness – mid-winter is such a time - wars, rumors of wars, struggles in the streets, natural catastrophes, not to mention the painful darkness of our nation’s cities day and night, and the darkness of fear and loss and uncertainty that threatens to darken from within. Darkness can be a pervasive state of being.  

Imagine a single source of light casting a beam, a laser-like beam, through the darkness not casting light in all directions, but throwing one bar of light through the darkness. A narrow band of light shining through the darkness, not vanquishing the darkness, neither vanquished by the darkness. Like moths we may be drawn to the light, light that reveals what is truly all around us. Or, we may choose to continue to hide in the darkness preferring not to see beyond the narrow confines of our own little minds, beliefs and fears.

Or, think of the Earth – it turns in a light, as the poet W.S. Merwin reminds us in his poem, Nocturne, “that is not its own/with the complete course of life upon it/born to brief reflection…”
The earth does not produce light for the universe, it reflects the light of the Sun. As we turn, we move from light to darkness to light and to darkness over and over again, 365 times a year. Any light that we make on earth is recycled Sun light stored as coal, oil, natural gas, tallow, beeswax, all of which can be made to produce light - but its source is still the Sun.

Then there is the light of the Son, the Word, the Son of God, Jesus. Jesus who says, “You are the light of the world.” We are light. We can light the world. Like the Earth itself, we are not the source of the light. We can, however, reflect the light of the Son, the light that St. John tells us the darkness cannot apprehend, cannot comprehend, cannot control, cannot vanquish. As we reflect the light of the Son of God we become the light itself.

In every age there are those who reflect this light and become this light. People like Isaiah and St. Paul. People like William Wilberforce, Hannah Moore and the Abolitionists. In this month of Black History we recall names like Absalom Jones, the first African American priest in the Episcopal Church. Another would be Pauli Murray, the first African American woman made a priest in our church. These words about being light in the world inspired the likes of Martin King and Bayard Rustin, Rosa Parks and Ruby Bridges, and countless others who stood amidst a world of darkness and shined the light of Christ into every corner of this darkened land to secure freedom for all people - be they black or white, male or female, Jew or Gentile, slave or free.

Like the earth, they were not the light itself. When Jesus says that "You are the light of the world," he means that as the earth reflects the light of the sun, as we recycle the stored light of the sun, we are to reflect the Light of Christ - we are to absorb and store his light within us such that whenever it is needed, we can be the "light of the world,” so that we may “let our light shine before others…” all others at all times and in all places.

And Lord knows, the world is in need of a powerful lot of light! Jesus has chosen us to shine his light into the dark corners of this world - to open the eyes of those who cannot see the injustices that are wrought upon God's people in the names of power, corporate interests, national security and any number of sources of darkness and its sister, oppression. Absalom Jones, a man, a slave, who worked to secure his wife's freedom before his own, a man who would not sit in the balcony but would one day stand at the Altar of the Lord, reflected this light. Sister Pauli who herself would stand at that same Altar to let the world see and hear that a black woman could represent the light of Christ to the world reflected his light.

Each of us carries at least a spark of the light of Christ. Gather our sparks together and we can light the whole world!

We sometimes forget the power of a simple song to shine light into the world. Whenever I listen to Paul Robeson sing it, This Little Light of Mine reverberates through my heart and soul to remind me why I was washed in the blood of the lamb at Baptism - to join my light with that of Absalom, Pauli, Ruby, Rosa, Martin and Bayard, and with each and every one of us to be regenerated as reflectors of this light into all the dark corners in these cold and dreary days of winter and darkness.

This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine…
Everywhere I go, I'm gonna let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine…
All through the night, I'm gonna let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine…

In order for light to be seen, we must go where darkness exists. If you want to look at the stars, writes Annie Dillard, you find that darkness is necessary. No person, no country is the source of this light. But there are those who turn to this light and reflect this light. When we join with them it creates more and more light, less and less darkness. There is no time to hide in the darkness. The time is now to shine in the darkness. Amen.


Saturday, January 28, 2017

Pride Of Man

Micah and Jesus – two small-town country boys. They lived approximately 800 years apart, yet they and their people, the people of God, faced many of the same challenges: the greed of commerce trampling the needs of the poor, threats from beyond the borders, threats from within, and in the midst of social and economic chaos, people had largely forgotten the essence of how the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob call us to live.

So, in the poetry of Micah, the prophetic imagination envisions a courtroom in which God himself will plead his case against his people who have lost their way and placed their trust in idols, in money, in the acquisition, consumption and accumulation of more and more things, and perhaps worst of all believing they can buy their way out of what is becoming an increasingly bad situation by simply offering more and more sacrifices at the high altars in Jerusalem, and in Micah’s time Samaria.

Note carefully who is in the jury box, who is going to pass judgment on humanity: the mountains and the hills and everything and every creature therein – that is, Creation will hear the case against us.

And the Lord God’s opening statement ought to catch our attention as well: “Oh, my people, what have I done to you? In what have I wearied you? Answer me!” Which leads into a rehearsal of just what he has done beginning with the Exodus/Passover, Forty Years of formation and entry into a land of Promise.

Earlier the country poet Micah gradually makes a case that being God’s people demands a particular way of walking: “…you shall not walk haughtily (2:3b)…Do not my words do good to one who walks uprightly (2:7b)…For all the peoples walk, each in the name of its god, but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God forever and ever (4:5).”

The courtroom drama concludes with what is probably the only verse of Micah with which people are familiar: “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?” (6:8)

Humility. A virtue that seems in short supply in our culture. When I think of humility I recall a Holy Week meditation led by The Reverend William W. Rich. He drew the etymological connection between the words humility, humble and humus. Humus, that rich, dark earth that enriches, strengthens and improves soil for growth and sustenance.

We sometimes think of humility or humbleness as self-deprecating weakness. That is what is called false humility, often feigned to elicit admiration and praise from others. True humility in the Biblical tradition consists of an appreciation of oneself, one’s talents, skills and virtues while accepting that this self, this remarkable self, has been given, endowed to us really, by something or someone higher. The gift of humility is marked by wisdom, honor, the protection of the Lord and peace – shalom, the kind of peace that passes all understanding and includes all people. Humility’s opposites include pride, narcissism, and hubris – that human characteristic of extreme pride or dangerous over-confidence and self-reliance.

A Hindu spiritual leader of the last century, Meher Baba, urges his followers to offer our prayers to God on the altar of humility. He goes on to say, “True humility is strength, not weakness. It disarms antagonism and ultimately conquers it…One of the most difficult things to learn is to render service [to others] without bossing, without making a fuss about it and without any consciousness of high and low. In the world of spirituality, humility counts at least as much as utility."

Some eight centuries later Jesus expands and broadens what it means to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God in what we call The Sermon on the Mount – the first of five such teachings in the Gospel of Matthew. He goes up a mountain just as Moses once ascended Mt. Sinai to receive the Word and Commandments of God – 10 suggestions on humble living followed by 603 others. Like many ancient teachers and authorities, Jesus sits down, his disciples before him and crowds from all over the ancient world beyond them – he literally speaks through his disciples to all of us about how to walk upon this earth.

Earth bound humility consists of peacemaking, a pure heart, an ability to mourn the current sufferings of this world, and mercy. Being merciful, wrote Kurt Vonnegut, is the one good idea we have been given so far. Mercy, compassion for others, lies at the very heart of justice and kindness and humility that Micah writes about. Jesus admits to live this way with our God invites all kinds of trouble, but brings the kingdom of heaven into our midst, into the here and now.

I find myself wondering just what the jury will say. Put creation in the jury box today, let God plead his case, and what would the mountains, hills, and creatures of this world have to say about us and our stewardship of the planet? Just how are we walking? And with whom?

I imagine the verdict to sound a lot like these words of Wendell Berry, another country boy, a farmer and poet of the earth, who in one of his Sabbath Poems of 2007 writes,
Found your hope, then, on the ground under your feet.
Your hope of Heaven, let it rest on the ground
underfoot. Be lighted by the light that falls
freely upon it after the darkness of the nights
and the darkness of our ignorance and madness.

Let it be lighted also by the light that is within you,
which is the light of imagination. By it you see
the likeness of people in other places to yourself
in your place. It lights invariably the need for care
toward other people, other creatures, in other places
as you would ask them for care toward your place and you.

No place is better than the world. The world
is no better than its places. Its places at last
are no better than their people while their people
continue in them. When people make
dark the light within them, the world darkens.
                        [2007 Sabbath Poem VI, in Leavings (Counterpoint, Berkley: 2010) p.92ff]

As in the times of Micah and Jesus, we need still listen to our poets. Amen. 

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Sing A New Song Part II

Sing A New Song Part II

The Fourth Chapter of Matthew (4:12-25) introduces a new chapter in the life of Jesus, and the beginning of a new age. John, we are told, has been arrested. The Greek word for this is used again in Matthew later on when Jesus is betrayed in the garden. Matthew paints this as a dark time in the life of God’s people, quoting Isaiah, who speaks a word of hope: “…the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”

That light is Jesus, the new dawn is Jesus, and he begins to sing a new song. He takes up John’s song: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand – it has come near.” From John, this news, this very good news, was like he and the people saw a cloud on the horizon coming near. Matthew now makes the case that coming from Jesus these same words say that this kingdom of light has dawned upon the land of the shadow of death, the land of the Empire. This kingdom is not coming, it is now. It is so near that we can step into it by taking a single step with Jesus. Before John was the time of the Law and the Prophets. After John is the time of gospel of Jesus Christ, a time for renewal, transformation and the singing of a new song, a new way of doing things.

What is the first thing Jesus does as the kingdom of heaven dawns? He inaugurates his mission by drawing together a coalition of people who have felt the iron rod of the Empire, people who have been left on the margins of society – he calls some disciples: Peter and Andrew, and James and John, the sons of Zebedee. I am reminded of a popular prayer from a thirteenth century bishop, Richard of Chichester, was turned into a popular song in the musical Godspell:
Day by day,
Dear Lord, of thee three things I pray:
To see thee more clearly,
Love thee more dearly,
Follow thee more nearly,
Day by Day
-Vaughan Williams.Songs of Praise, Enlarged Edition . Hymn 399. Tune: Stonethwaite by Arthur Somervell, after The Prayer of Richard of Chichester

A colleague of mine, Bill Caradine, was fond of pointing out that this is a very western, logical way of looking at things. We tend to take time to see things or people clearly, examine them, explore them, consider the pluses and minuses, before deciding that perhaps we like something or someone enough to like them or even love them, and then commit ourselves to them.

But, says Bill, that’s just not how it happens with Jesus. Note carefully in this story that Jesus does not walk down to the banks of the Sea of Galilee, approach these fishermen who are tending to the tools of their trade, their means of production – mending nets, cleaning the boats, doing the things their father Zebedee tells them to do – and say to them, “Here, lads, in my hand are the teachings of our people, The Law and The Prophets. I need you to read, mark and inwardly digest all of this. Then tomorrow I shall return and give you a test on all of it. If you do well enough on the test you can come follow me and be one of my disciples.”

But it does not happen that way. He turns Richard’s prayer on its head, just as he came to turn a world of darkness, a world turned upside down by the empire, right-side-up again. He comes to bring all people into the light of the new dawn. He simply says, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of people!” And they drop everything. They leave their boats, nets and even their families to follow Jesus. As one reads all four gospels we find that it is sometime later, after the resurrection really, before Jesus ever asks, “Peter, do you love me?” Peter says, “Yes, Lord, I do.” “Then feed my sheep…tend my lambs...care for my flock,” replies Jesus. And arguably, given the number of TV shows, special issues of Time and other magazines, and an entire industry of books about “Who Jesus Is”, we are still trying to see him more clearly!

The point Bill was making, and the point of the story, is that if you wait until you see Jesus more clearly, the kingdom that is near, the kingdom of light that shines in the darkness, the dawn of a kingdom that includes all people will have passed you by. Indeed, the very next few sentences in the story tell us what the new song Jesus sings is all about: he goes everywhere teaching, preaching the good news for all people and healing everyone who comes to him. Jews and Gentiles alike we are told. Fellow religionists and citizens as well as foreigners and resident aliens, women and men are all given access to his teaching, his love and forgiveness and his universal health care.


Once again, this is a story for our time. Once again, the relevance of the story of Jesus intersects with our world today. Once again, we are meant to say, “I’ll have me some of that too! I will not only follow Jesus, I will join him in doing the things he says and does for others – all others – from now until the end of the age!” I will, with God’s help!

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Sing a New Song

Two days in a row, as Jesus comes walking down to the River Jordan, John turns to us and says,
“Look, here is the lamb of God.”

Day one, John testifies: I saw the Spirit descend upon him like a dove and rest upon him. I was told that when I saw the Lamb of God and the Spirit rests upon him that it is the Son of God.

Day two, two disciples upon hearing John declare that Jesus is the Lamb of God, two of his disciples, John’s disciples, begin to follow Jesus. After a while Jesus turns and asks, “What are you looking for?” They reply, “Where are you staying?” Jesus says, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying and remained there for the day. It was four o’clock.

John the Evangelist does this. He is always paying attention to the time. Later when Pilate takes Jesus outside before the judgment seat, John tells us it is noon the day of preparation for the Passover. The busiest day of the year. The day when everyone is out gathering all the necessities for the Passover meal – principally, a Lamb. A lamb to be sacrificed. A Lamb of God. At noon, the day of Preparation, Pilate sets The Lamb of God before the judgment seat. In Greek it is Amnos tou Theou; Latin it is Agnus Dei.

For Passover it is the paschal lamb, slaughtered, so the blood may be spread above the door of the household in Egypt so that God will “pass over” that house to allow the Hebrew children to escape the Empire of Pharaoh, the Empire of brutality, the Empire of the consolidation of goods, food and power.

Two of John’s disciples want to stay with The Lamb of God – and one of them, Andrew, goes to tell his brother, Simon. They are sons of Jonah who is a fisherman. I believe that’s meant to make us laugh. Jonah a fisherman. The jokes just keep on coming. Simon will now be re-named by Jesus Cephas, Aramaic for Rock – which in Greek is Petros from which we get Peter. Peter, the most doubting and difficult of The Twelve becomes Rock – the Rock upon which I will build my church. That’s meant to make us laugh too. Peter who loses focus and begins to sink beneath the surging sea. But that becomes his baptism, for indeed he goes on to be a leader in the early church in Jerusalem.

So when we are through laughing, it is meant to dawn on us: If Peter can be the Rock of Christ’s Church, so can we! As we pray this day, if we allow ourselves to be illumined by Word and Sacrament we too shall shine with the radiance of God’s glory. As Isaiah proclaims, we shall become a light to the nations! That God’s salvation shall reach to the end of the earth!

Which seems as impossible to believe as it must have been to Peter when he is chosen and named to be the Rock of the Church, the Rock of the Lamb of God.

The Lamb of God who comes to teach anyone who will follow him and stay with him a new song. This Lamb of God knows well the vision laid out in Psalm 40: I waited patiently upon the Lord, he stooped down and heard my cry; he lifted me up out of the mire and clay. He set my feet upon a high cliff, and made my footing sure. He put a new song in my mouth.

We are to sing, sing this new song. For singing is our original form of communication. It is what we did long before speaking. The Lamb of God wants us to sing a new song for a world that is mired down with feet of clay to proclaim that he comes to lift us up and make our footing sure. He will set us upon a rock: the Rock, Petros, Cephas shall be our example.

If we begin to doubt our qualifications, we need only listen to Paul as he addresses the church in Corinth – a church in turmoil, a church divided, a church lacking in discipline. He begins his correspondence to this unruly band of early Christians by reminding them, “…you are not lacking in any spiritual gift…” We have what we need. More importantly, we have the Lamb of God on our side, setting us on a sure footing, giving us as light to the world, the whole world God holds in God’s hands. Most importantly, Jesus the Lamb of God call us not to become him, or Peter, or John, or Paul, but to just be ourselves.

Rabbi Zusya, an eighteenth century Hasidic rabbi, summed it up for his disciples just a short while before his death: "In the world to come I shall not be asked, 'Why were you not Moses?' Instead I shall be asked, 'Why were you not Zusya?'" [Martin Buber, The Way of Man, (Citadel Press, NY:1966) p.17] Reflecting on this story, Martin Buber says, “Every person born into this world represents something new, something that never before existed, something original and unique. It is the duty of every person ... to know and consider that he or she is unique in the world in his or her particular character, and that there has never been anyone like him in the world. Every single person is a new thing in the world, and is called upon to fulfill his or her particularity in the world. ... Everyone has in him or her something precious that is in no one else."

Know, my sisters and brothers, little by little – it takes time – Jesus will reveal to you how unique you are - that you are the way and the light. He calls you to follow him so that you may do something beautiful with your life and bear much fruit. The world needs you, the Church needs you, Jesus needs you. They need your Love and your Light. There is a hidden place in your heart where Jesus lives. This is a deep secret you are called to live. Let Jesus live in you. Let your light shine! Sing a new song! You are not lacking in any spiritual gift! You are the way others will come to know the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!



Friday, January 6, 2017

I'll Have Me Some Of That

The Baptism of Jesus

Some years ago, as I was sitting in the front pew at Trinity Episcopal Church, Wall Street, just as the priest and chalicist came forward to distribute communion, a man from off the street came skipping down the aisle, stopped in front of the communion station and asked, “Is that there the Body of Christ?” And the priest said, “Yes.” Then the man asked, “And is that the Blood of Christ?” And the chalicist said, “Why, yes it is.” After a moment’s thought the man said, “Then I think I’ll have me some of that!” And with that he took the bread and the wine, turned, and skipped out of the building. He had a smile on his face because he now was a part of who we are and what we were doing.

For some reason every year when the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus comes around I remember that man. One thing all four gospels agree upon is that one day Jesus appeared at the River Jordan as John was baptizing people from all over to repent of their sins. John felt it was time for a full reset – time to recommit to the covenant with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Jesus says in effect, “I’ll have me some of that!”

After some hesitation on John’s part, Jesus is baptized by John. After which the heavens open, the spirit descends upon him like a dove, and a voice from off-stage proclaims, “You are my Beloved; I am well pleased with you.”

Often it is asked why Jesus, who is presumed to be without sin, submits to John’s baptism? There are long discussions, theories and theological explanations. Yet, it has always seemed to me that the simplest explanation is that God in Christ wants the full experience of being one of us. It is a sign of his full humanity. It is a fulfillment of identifying himself with the words of the prophet Isaiah who wrote that one day will be born of a young woman someone known as Emmanuel – God with us. Bathing in the waters of the River Jordan, God in Christ says, “I am with you in the fullness of human reality and experience. I am with you. I really am God-made-man so as to accompany you on your journey – so as to know what it is like to be a living, breathing part of my creation.”

Like all of us, he was born to die. And die he did on a Roman Cross for persisting to challenge the status quo of the Empire and the religious authorities. Later, after his return, he promises, “I will be with you to the end of the age.” As priest and storyteller John Shea has pointed out, this not only means that we cannot get rid of him, but that he will not ever leave us alone!

So what can we make of all of this? God’s arrival in Jesus, whether in the manger, in a house or on the banks of the River Jordan reset the calculation of time or existence itself. Everything B.C. includes not only the Caesars, the Herods, the Greeks, the cave peoples, the dinosaurs, but all the geological ages, all the way back to the Big Bang and to whatever was before that first moment in time some 14 billion years ago. After that moment by the river comes everything else – and although it is some 2,000 years, it pales against the time before.

We are of the after moment, and in some sense it is till just that – a moment. I find it overwhelming to contemplate! At the same time it is simple. He wants to be with us and so God chooses to limit God’s self as a way of showing us just what it means to be created imago Dei, in the image of God. It flies in the face of the bigger-is-better, more-is-best approaches to life. In Jesus God becomes less and in so doing empties himself even more from that moment on the banks of the river to the moment he hands over his spirit on the cross.

It is all one moment. It is all one action. It is all one demonstration, one example from start to finish. It’s all a part of God’s wanting to be with us so much, so deeply, so that we can know what it is like to be God’s Beloved. The God who stood before the first moment in time 14 billion years ago even now is well pleased with us and hold us as his beloved despite little evidence that such love and forgiveness and desire to share in our deepest experiences can in any way be justified or deserved. Thus, his need to be with us to the end of the age.

I try to wrap my head around it all and still, the best I can come up with as to why he showed up on the banks of the River Jordan was because God saw how hard and how intentionally we were trying to reset the whole thing and he said to himself, “I think I’ll have me some of that! I want to be a part of the reset too.”