Saturday, July 24, 2010

Give, Forgive, Lead, Deliver

25 July 2010 – Hosea 1:2-10//Luke 11:1-13
Give, Forgive, Lead, Deliver/Ask, Seek, Knock
God’s strategy ratchets up – instead of Amos’ looking at a bowl of fruit or a plumb line as a metaphor for what message the prophet is to carry to a people who have lost their focus on God and neighbor, now in Hosea the Prophet must become the metaphor and marry a whore. That is right. Hosea is the metaphor of adultery and infidelity to demonstrate our need to repent.

Note that the land is distressed. We read elsewhere in Hosea that “Therefore the land mourns, and all who dwell in it languish, and also the beasts of the field, and the birds of the air; end even the fish of the sea are taken away.” (4:3) Look at how we have failed to care for God’s creation. Whole species disappear daily. The land and bays polluted with petro-fertilizers. Hosea could have been written today!

All because the people had made military alliances with foreigners, wasted resources on defense, turned back to worshipping idols (“My people inquire of a thing of wood, and their staff gives them oracles – For a spirit of harlotry has led them away; they have left their God to play the harlot.” 4:12)

Hosea re-visions a new Israel – a new people of God. After marrying Gomer the harlot, after she bears children with other men, Hosea welcomes her home and forgives her as a sign of God’s love for those who repent and return to the Lord! Hosea acts out God’s mercy.

Just as Jesus does - only God’s strategy pushes even further than with Hosea – Jesus is [not was] the word of God that speaks of a new creation. Creation – the very thing we attempt to dominate, manipulate and manage as resource for our own idolatrous addictions!

Even when we create a department like the EPA to restore and care for creation we corrupt it into an institution that serves corporate greed in the name of the gods of Profit and Comfort! Idolatry. Agencies tasked to protect the seas from underwater drilling turn their heads while we drill, baby, drill. Idolatry. We allow mining interests to blow off the tops of mountains, filling in valleys, destroying streams and rivers. Idolatry.

Prophets demand action – and then offer a new vision to lead us into an unknown and unknowable future with God, rather than the all too knowable future of our own making.

Idolatry and its twin, self-serving and self-deceiving Ideology, always want to absolutize some arrangement of power and knowledge, so that we may bow down to the work of our hands. We never seem to get past the Golden Calf! [Brueggemann, Texts That Linger, Words That Explode, p 38]

Prophetic speech and action always exposes, critiques and assaults every phony absolute, for all such absolutes of nation, race, party, consumption, corporate greed or sex will end in death.

Hosea critiqued the twin powers of the monarchy, idolatry, and rapacious destruction of the land. Jesus faced a similar situation – the Imperial Power of Rome which was in the process of setting the template for all such imperialistic empires to acquire more and more territories from which to extract resources to feed the endless appetites of those who manage and manipulate the political and social arenas – which in turn rapes the land. Hosea’s metaphor of whoredom and infidelity is more apt today than ever.

Jesus knows this – and so do his followers who are seeking an avenue by which to address the God of the Exodus/Passover – the God of deliverance, mercy, forgiveness. How shall we pray, they ask? It has been said by Anne Lamott that there really are only two prayers: Thank You, and Help Me! Jesus puts them together. One notes it does not closely resemble our liturgical Lord’s Prayer – that is, the tradition has managed to update, expand and change it as each unfolding era demands a new telling of it.

After acknowledging God as “hallowed,” a way of saying “thank you,” it moves on into what can only be described as rather impetuous and demanding “help me” language: give, forgive, lead and deliver us. Acknowledging we are incapable of giving, forgiving, leading and delivering ourselves. Do we get this when we pray? Jesus’ parable that follows is just as demanding, asserting that the life of prayer is grounded in asking, seeking and knocking until we can awaken God from slumber. It is a lesson in assertiveness training!

This, by the way, is how the story begins way back in Exodus – under devastating oppression in the empire of Egypt, the people wail and moan until God finally hears their cry and delivers them.

Blinded by a political and economic system that demands conspicuous consumption, grounded in covetousness – the perceived “need” for the newest, greatest, biggest innovation of the moment – we find ourselves all the way back in the landscape of Hosea – the empire has gone ideologically idolatrous, and creation is disappearing and falling apart at an alarming rate. Who shall advocate for the birds of the air, the fish of the sea, and the very land itself? In Hosea, God plans to make a covenant with creation instead of us!

One wonders what sort of new “strategy” and prophetic voice might have a chance of waking us out of our obvious slumber – for it is now we who have been asleep, unable to see the ways in which we sow the signs of our own, and creation’s, destruction? Would that we could look at a plumb line, or look at a basket of fruit and be inspired to repent and re-vision what it means to live in this world of God’s making. Or, learn the lesson of Hosea.

Will a simple re-telling of the Hosea prophecy lead us to see that we are the whoring people? That we are the adulterous generation Hosea and Jesus speak of? That we have simply gone off the rails and are living about as far away from “your kingdom come” as a people can get? Can we see how we are meant to be wedded to creation in a marriage of nature and grace?

It is one thing to give thanks for the bounteous gifts we have been given – Thank you. Yes. But are we capable of crying out, “Help me!” with any sense that what we are really asking is for God to help us from ourselves?

Despite knowing that use of the Internet now eclipses all commercial air travel in use of energy resources, I still use the Internet to research portions of this sermon and feed my need to consume more products more efficiently. Despite knowing that air conditioning accounts for one-fifth of all of our nation’s energy consumption, it took me until two days ago to put our thermostat up two more degrees from 78 to 80.

We desperately want to pray to be forgiven, but do we sincerely pray to be lead and delivered from temptation and evil?

After thirteen chapters of what may be the most harsh condemnation in all of prophetic literature, in the final and fourteenth chapter we hear, “Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity. Take with you words and return to the Lord…I will heal their unfaithfulness, I will love them freely….I will be as dew to Israel; he shall blossom as a lily…” (14:1-2a, 4-5)

There is hope on the unknown horizon of the future – if only we will do as we pray and allow God to lead and deliver us. Even though God is weary of a people who have turned their backs on him and his creation, he stands ready to take us back. If only we will return. Amen.

Saturday, July 10, 2010


11 July 2010/Proper 10C - Psalm 82: 3-4 Luke 10:25-37

The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, St. Peter's at Ellicott Mills

The Standards

The Reverend Robert Bonner was a mentor of mine - taught me much of what I know about Stewardship and Parish Ministry. He often told a story about his son Bruce. Bruce was a football player in Texas where they take football mighty seriously. In the off-season the coach required his players to be on the track team for conditioning. Bruce's high school was not all that big, and as they were handing out track team roles, they got to High Jump and Bruce was the one boy left - so High Jump it was! Now as a football player Bruce was not exactly built like a high jumper - long and lean - but was rather shorter and stout. Nevertheless, every night when Bob came home, there was Bruce in the backyard with a broom handle suspended between two jury-rigged poles. They call those poles "standards" - two standards hold the high jump bar. Bob would ask Bruce at dinner every night, "How high can you jump, son?" And Bruce would hold his hand just below his shoulders and say, "This high!"

Along came the day for the first track meet. Bruce was anxious about the high jump. Bob said, "Bruce, just do your best. That's all any of us can do." Off Bruce went. Bob had to do some work for the church that day and so could not attend the track meet. When he came home he asked," Bruce, how did the High Jump go today?"

"Well," said Bruce, "remember I told you I could jump this high?" pointing to just below his shoulders. "Yes," said this Father. "Well, today they started with the bar this high," he said, pointing just below his chin." "That's OK, son, all that matters is you tried your best....I am proud of you just the same." God is like that - sets the bar high and forgives us the difference.

A lawyer comes to Jesus and asks, "Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" That is, what are the standards - what does God expect from us? Jesus says, "There are two standards," just like the high jump. " You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself." In fact those two standards are so basic to following Jesus that the Church used to begin the Eucharist every week with just those words of Jesus: you shall love God and love your neighbor. We call this The Great Commandment, the cornerstone of Great Command Christianity.

When asked, "And who is my neighbor?" and just what does this love look like? Jesus answers with a story. It is about a man who is mugged on the side of the road. A priest and a Levite, we are told, pass him by without offering any assistance. This suggests to me that whoever compiled Luke was not all that familiar with life in Israel since the priests are Levites, but that is for another day. As we all know, a Samaritan comes by and helps the man - thus the expression, Good Samaritan. Not only does he help the man, but provides money for extended care. For the lawyer, probably a Pharisee, to say the Samaritan was the only one who showed mercy is quite surprising - since Samaritans were considered unclean, unspiritual enemies of Israel because they refused to worship in Jerusalem with everyone else.

The point of the story, of course, is that the person you least likely expect to be your neighbor is your neighbor and you are meant to love them just the same as Aunt Sally and Grandpa Joe.

That is, Jesus sets the bar pretty high. Not at the height we are used to living at, but always just a little bit higher. This is where God's mercy, or forgiveness comes in. Later Jesus says, "I want you to be perfect just like God is perfect." Whoa, Nelly! That is setting the bar pretty high! But along with that comes a promise - for those who try to jump over the bar but miss, I will forgive them the difference, as long as they love God and love their neighbor - all neighbors, always and everywhere. I am proud of you just the same.

Back around 1993 my friend and mentor Bob developed a malignant brain tumor. It was a difficult time for Bob and his family. One Saturday as I was rattling about the parish office, the phone rang. I confess I don't always answer the phone on Saturday, but this time something within me said to answer that call. It was Bob. I was shocked. He said most days he could not really talk much, but on good days he liked to call his friends and was thinking of me. I was truly humbled. Then he said, "Do you want to hear the rest of the story about Bruce?" "Of course! I said.

Well, says Bob, Bruce is dyslexic, so he was in high school an extra year and was ineligible to play football, but come fall Bob saw Bruce going to practices every day. He asked him why? Bruce said, "Well, I know that if I don't do something with discipline I'm going to get myself in trouble, so I do it for myself. But also, I am bigger and stronger than most of the team, so I figure if I go out there and push them around it is better for the team as well."

I do it for myself, and I do it for the team. That is what the Big Command Christianity is all about: doing something that is good for yourself and good for the team - God's team that is.

Standards. They hold the bar high inviting us, challenging us, to do better than we think we can. Mercy. God in Christ stands ready to forgive us if only we will try our best to love God and love neighbor. Do it for yourself, and do it for the team. You will be glad you did.

Thank you Bob, and keep jumping Bruce, now a priest in the Episcopal Church. Amen.

Love the Lord with all your heart

With all your Soul

And all your mind

Love your neighbor as yourself

Every one

All of the time

Jump as high

As you can jump

Look as far

As you can see

Don't give up

And you will find

You are the person

God wants you to be

> Copyright Sounds Divine