Saturday, September 19, 2009

Draw Near To God

20 September 2009/Proper 20 – James 3:13- 4:3, 7-8a/Mark 9:30-37
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills, Maryland

Draw Near to God

“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” – James 4: 8a
“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” -Mark 9: 37

This is the time in the Liturgy of the Word when we seek to find a way to apply the Word of God to our day to day lives, and our life of corporate worship. We recall that one of the Four Holy Habits is Weekly Corporate Worship – The Eucharist, an act of Thanksgiving.

Whatever else our Epistle and Gospel may be about, one readily sees a common theme at the end of each lesson: draw near to God, welcome God – the one who sent Jesus to be among us.

At the core of what we believe our Sunday mornings are all about is a belief that Jesus is present – in theological parlance we call this The Real Presence of Christ in the Breaking of the Bread. That’s a mouthful, for sure.

So how have and how do God’s people welcome God’s presence? How do we acknowledge God’s presence?

There is a full spectrum of behaviors ranging from silence and taking off one’s shoes to flat-out joyful celebration. The Eucharist attempts to blend all of this together.

One thing we evidently are not to do is argue with one another! Arguing is not only a poor way to welcome Jesus and draw near to God, but it just does not appeal to visitors and others who might come in the door. Jesus repeatedly shows little interest in “getting things right” or finding out who is right and who is wrong when it comes to worship and life in general.

Jesus comes from a tradition that begins with taking off our shoes. Recall Moses at the burning bush where the bush, the voice of God, tells Moses to take off his shoes. “Take off your shoes, for the place you are standing is Holy Ground.” Exodus 3: 5

Now in a number of places and cultures this is still taken literally: enter a Mosque and you are required to take off your shoes. Enter a home in Japan and you are expected to take off your shoes. It is a sign of respect, and a sign of humility. It is such humility that Jesus finds lacking in his disciples. The same is true today.

In God’s kingdom there is no room for those who think they are the greatest! There is plenty of room for those who welcome the least of our sisters and brothers into their midst – children represent those people who live every day at the bottom of the human totem pole – at the bottom of our society.

Children had the status of just above dog or slave in those days – so the metaphor is rich and telling of the kind of people we are. Children were not cuddly, and fawned over, but were generally cast aside – if they survived infancy, so be it. If not, so be it. By placing a child in the disciples midst, Jesus makes a statement of radical acceptance of all people among his followers.

Jesus wants us to take off our shoes. The Letter of James has been explicit about the radical inclusion of all people into the fellowship of Christ, the Church.

Taking off our shoes may also be a metaphor – remove those things that might signify stature among one another. Show respect for others by treating each person we meet as Holy Ground – as we stand before one another, do we respect one another as Holy?

There is no more important question to ask ourselves. In our baptism we promise to Seek and Serve Christ in ALL persons – see others, all others, as Holy, Sacred, God’s own Beloved. Treat others as we would treat God’s presence.

And God asks us to take off, take off our shoes. It is something to ponder as we gather week by week for corporate worship. In many places it means not talking during the prelude and postlude – treating that as Holy Time, quiet time, time to draw near to God.

It may mean observing the Silence called for before we Confess our Sins, and as the Body of Christ is Broken at the Altar. There are many ways to draw near to God. As we do, God draws near to us.

Take off, take off your shoes
The place you’re standing, is Holy Ground
Take off, take off your shoes
The place you’re standing, is Holy Ground

This place is Holy, Holy Ground
God made this place, His Holy Ground
This place is Holy, Holy Ground
God made this place, His Holy Ground
( Words - Woody Guthrie)

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Just Say The Word!

6 September 2009/Proper * Mark 7:24-37
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills, Maryland

A Crumb Is Enough

This is perhaps the most remarkable story in all of Mark’s Gospel – all the more so when we consider that until the Revised Common Lectionary restored it to Sunday Reading in Year B, it had been excluded from the Prayer Book Lectionary of readings.

It is easy to see why: it features a woman, a woman of remarkable chutzpah and faith, a woman of passion, a woman of wit and wisdom. It also features Jesus saying the most disturbing thing we ever hear him say: he calls this woman, and by inference her daughter and her people in general, a dog.

But in the past we skipped over the Syrophoenician Woman to the healing of a man who is deaf and has a speech impediment. Which is a good place to begin, since both stories feature people who advocate for the healing of others – that is, the people coming to Jesus ( the woman and the unspecified “they”) do not ask for healing for themselves, but rather ask on behalf of others: the girl and the man. The real surprise is just who really gets healed in this story – but on that later.

A lesson in discipleship? Are we meant to be advocates for the needs of others? The story means to provoke us to answer just this question.

Jesus wants to be alone. He did not want anyone to know where he was. Enter a woman. Not just a woman but a Gentile woman. Not just a Gentile, but a Syrophoenician woman, and the Jews in Jesus’ time did not like Syrophenicians at all. So on the face of it, three strikes and you’re out!

And so it seems. She asks for her daughter to be healed. Jesus, not content simply to say, “No,” instead hurls an insult at her, at all Gentiles and at Syrophoenicians specifically: I am here to feed God’s children, ie the Jews, not the dogs of the world like you, your daughter and your people.” Not exactly Jesus meek and mild. Not exactly “In Christ there is no East or West....”

Undeterred, the woman replies famously, “Yes sir, yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Please note: this is the only person in four gospels who argues with Jesus and wins. Because of her willingness to advocate for her daughter, and her willingness to confront Jesus’ discriminatory attitude, her daughter is healed.

And at that moment, the world changed – and it was a big, huge, cosmic, axial shift! Jesus includes gentiles, even historically hated gentiles, into his mission, that would be into our mission. He will no longer discriminate. He crosses the boundaries of gender, ethnicity and even socioeconomics since the Syrophoenicians were infinitely more affluent than the Jews in that region. The demon is gone. Not just the demon in the girl, but the demon that might have stalled Jesus and God’s mission.

Because of this woman Jesus changes his mind. Because Jesus changes his mind, a larger, more faithful vision of God’s reign among us is called forth. Rather than insulting her, Jesus compliments her by saying, “Because of this word you spoke, go! The demon has left your daughter.” And Jesus knows a demon has left him because of this woman’s courage to speak truth to power.

And note the new dimensions of his power – no longer does he lay hands on someone, or speak directly to the demons. He is in hiding, the girl is at home, and yet she is healed. Jesus’ power is not restricted by time or space.

And note, according to what the woman has said, it only takes a crumb of our Lord’s power to be healed, transformed, made new.

Most amazingly of all, this story suggests that mere gentiles like ourselves share in our Lord’s power. If the woman speaks a few words and the world and all of history is changed, so can we.

There are those who would have us believe otherwise. There are those who thrive on our willingness to be quiet and accept things the way they are. There are demons at work who count on us to remain quiet when a few words from any one of us has the potential to shape an alternative reality – for instance, fewer hungry people, fewer homeless people, fewer people without health care, a culture that no longer discriminates against gender, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic standing, sexual orientation, age and the like.

That’s what the second story is all about – opening our mouths and speaking plainly – opening our mouths and speaking truth to power. And even if Jesus tells us to be quiet, it is not to be! The more zealously the crowd proclaimed his power and glory.

So as to be clear, the church throughout the ages, and even today, can be and has been prone to tighten the boundaries of “righteousness” to keep “outsiders” at bay. This story says that will not work. It never has. Jesus tried and was changed.

This story is not about the woman, the daughter, or the man – it is meant to be a story about us, and how a crumb of Jesus’ power can change us forever. It is about how disciples of Jesus are meant to advocate for the needs of others, especially around healing! And how a word from us can change the world. Forever. And, as we say, ever!

A crumb is enough to change the world, to change us, and most astoundingly of all, to force God to change God’s mind.

As a girl in my class on Thursday said, “Wow!”