8.26.2008

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Exodus 3:1-15
Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c
Romans 12:9-21
Matthew 16:21-28

You want me to do WHAT?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer refused to be part of the state church in Nazi Germany during World War II. He pushed and he fought and he named the evil that he saw. He began an underground movement and encouraged others to hold on to true discipleship. And he died – at the hands of the Nazis – for the living the kind of discipleship he was calling others to live.

Maybe it all started at creation when the creator saw that it was good, and gave "dominion" to human creation. God doesn't ask for favors. God doesn't assign small tasks. We're not called to do simple things. The readings this week point us in an alarming, frightening, empowering and motivating direction – we're called to radical discipleship.

You might be sputtering a bit. Really, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was part of plots to kill Adolph Hitler. And as you read through the lectionary this week, while that might seem like a radical call, it also works against the radical peace that Paul calls the Romans to. Context is everything, isn't it?

Last week (while we were on vacation with the Lectionary) we met a new character in the history of the development of Israel-Moses. The leaders of Egypt changed, Joseph fell out of favor, the Israelites became enslaved to the Egypitians, the children of Israel started having children of their own in astounding numbers, and the new Pharaoh began attempting to control the Israelite population by killing male babies (has this ever worked in history?). By the cunning of his mother and sister, the courage of the Egyptian midwifes, and the compassion of Pharaoh's daughter, Moses is born and grows up in the house of the Pharaoh. This week we meet Moses out tending flocks and he encounters God in the form of a bush that will not be consumed. God asks – no - he commands Moses to take a stand and help the children of Israel get out from under the Pharaoh and out of Egypt. All of this is a conversation. Moses doesn't see the face of the voice, only the vision of a burning bush. Moses pushes back, "who am I that I should go to Pharoah, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt. God doesn't really answer, only assures Moses that God will be with him. Moses continues to prod – instead of saying who am I, he really asks who God is. God's answer, I AM who I AM, is a bit of a poke. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious. I will be whatever I will be – I'm God, get it? What is Moses to do?

We see the writer of the Psalm doing what he seems to do best...recounting history in his poetry. He gives reasons to believe and trust God by using illustrations from the history of Israel's relationship with God. He touches parts of the story from Abraham to Moses...he tells the story of where they were and how they got to where they are.

In Paul's letter the the church in Rome, we see a different way of calling folks to new / different / risky / unusual things. This passage is a little reminiscent of the Sermon on the Mount or even some sections of Proverbs because it is sort of a litany of instruction. He is encouraging people to be different from the rest of the world. He is encouraging them to respond to others and to God in ways that are not normal / natural. He is asking them to go against their normal responses because it offers a better way to live....not an easier way, but a better way. And what he is asking is hard. Live in harmony, answer evil with good, bless your persecutors. This is hard, hard stuff – difficult to human nature.

In Matthew's account of the life of Jesus, we see Jesus making what seems to be a fairly harsh / direct message. He is telling them that what they have signed on for.....what they are heading toward is not a simple or easy path. Following Jesus is not just a cushy occupation, it is a life / vocation choice that has cosmic / eternal reverbations. In steps Peter (of course he does), calling into question the dire future Jesus describes for himself and his followers. And in keeping with the relationship between these two, Jesus scolds Peter harshly, accusing him of being caught up in his own context...earthly matters, not the divine. We always like to imagine the look on Peter's face after these sorts of exchanges. Does he have one of those WHAM experiences (remember from 2 weeks ago), a moment when all that he has seen and heard and done for the preceeding weeks and months suddenly coalesces into a clear vision of who Jesus is and what is happening around them? Jesus is reminding them that this isn't a political battle, it's not a socio-economic squirmish. At stake here is nothing less than the Kingdom of God – God's vision for creation fulfilled.

Sometimes, when we're overwhelmed, it's hard to focus on "the one thing." And then sometimes, the one things seems so unbelievable, so reprehensible, so undoable, that we prefer wallowing in our overwhelmed state. God doesn't ask for simple things. We're not simple creation. We are created in his image, and expected to stretch our abilities toward the fulfillment of a Kingdom vision.

· In what radical way are you being called?
· If you have not responded to that call, what is keeping you from responding?
· What earthy matters bog you down in responding to God's call on your life?

"The call of Jesus teaches us that our relation to the world has been built on an illusion. All the time we thought we had enjoyed a direct relation with men and things. This is what had hindered us from faith and obedience. Now we learn that in the most intimate relationships of life, in our kinship with father and mother, brothres and sisters, in married love, and in our duty to the community, direct relationships are impossible...we cannot establish direct contact outside ourselves except through him (Jesus), through his word, and through our following of him. To think otherwise is to deceive ourselves."
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

8.13.2008

The Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Genesis 45: 1 – 15
Psalm 133
Romans 11: 1 – 2a, 29 – 32
Matthew 15: (10 – 20), 21 - 28


Remember when most of the business world was in search of the next great "paradigm shift?" We were all busy "thinking outside of the box." In all fairness, the way we transact and communicate has radically changed, in part because of all the "shifting" that took place before the dawn of the "global economy." Change takes time, and sometimes it is gradual and unperceivable. And then WHAM, you know something is different.

The lectionary readings for this week point toward one of those gradual shifts that eventually hit – WHAM – a new way of thinking about those whom God loved.

Let's start with the "old paradigm."

Family relationships hardly ever disappear. They might grow weaker, they might be strained at times, we might try to forget them, but it seems the connections to the people sitting in our family tree are unbreakable. And it is tough to know exactly why this is true. Is it an innate part of who we are as humans? Is it socialized in to us – spoken by our crib-side, fireside and bedside that blood is thicker than water? Because, let's face it, there are numerous stories of the ugly things our relatives have done to us. Many people attest that they have not been treated so poorly as by the people in their family. And also, there is no question, the people who teach us to walk and talk and laugh and care are people who make deep marks on each of us. We are connected to our families.

Throughout this season, we've read about Israel's family tree. We've seen God give Abraham a son, we've seen Isaac spared, we've seen Jacob wrestle and settle matters with Esau, and this week, we saw Joseph reconcile with his brothers, the same brothers who sold him into slavery. In the Hebrew tradition, family connection was what defined a person – and specifically defined a person's relationship with Yahweh – the One God.

This week, Joseph reconciles with his brothers and ushers them into a time of safety and comfort. We know the struggles they have come from...and if we continue forward through Genesis and into Exodus, we know ultimately that these tribes are enslaved and eventually led by Moses, through time, trial and tribulation, to an eventual "freedom." But we know that freedom isn't endless. The society of Israel continues to morph, and from the judges to the Kings, wealth and power accumulates, more pronounced class divisions emerge, and a society that had been pulled together in covenant crumbles under the weight of rigid rules, taxes, patronage and state religion. Through it all, something remains constant – people are born into their relationship with God – an inheritance determined strictly by bloodlines.

The Psalmist is celebrating this connection shared by kin. Family members are "ordained" with God's blessing. Priests are "born," not called into service.

Ready for WHAM?

The really interesting part of the readings this week comes from Matthew and the words of Jesus. Early in the passage he has a bit of a scolding response for the disciple who asked about the Pharisee who was offended by Jesus' teachings. Jesus says "every plant which my Father has not planted will be uprooted" which implies that he (Jesus) does not have a connection to this Pharisee. At first glance, this is odd because the Pharisees were VERY "Jewish" by bloodline and adherence to the Law. The oddness of this is further enhanced by the interaction with this Canaanite woman later in the passage. She asks for help with her sick daughter, and he tells her he is has been sent to "the lost sheep of the house of Israel." But then after a quick exchange, he relents and affirms her faith, healing her daughter. Was this a sudden change of heart for Jesus? What was it about her plea – reminding him that even the dogs eat the crumbs from the master's table – that made him extend his work beyond the scope of Israel?

In the passage from Paul's letter to the Christians in Rome, we see Paul again walking line between what is involved to be a Jew who follows Jesus and what is involved to be a Gentile who follows Jesus. In these verses he makes an effort to show that the message of Jesus is open to all and is available to all and that all have responsibilities. He acknowledges that there is a "family" connection between the Jews and Jesus and he looks toward how that connection is no longer exclusive. (Note how chopped up this selection is. It is worth reading 11: 1 – 36 completely. Paul is setting up a relationship between Jews and Gentiles in which God's grace and mercy is available to all, essentially by nature of how they will come to interact with one another.)

We might associate the word "reformation" with Martin Luther. But really, Jesus is initiating a reformation in this week's reading. He's expanding the kingdom, extending grace and mercy in a single act. WHAM. Nothing is quite as it was.

· What permits your relationship with God?
· How do you relate to others outside of our family? Our community? Our faith? Our race?
· What "paradigm shifts" have you experienced in your faith?
· What have been the WHAM moments in your life?

Let us turn our thoughts today
To Martin Luther King
And recognize that there are ties between us
All men and women
Living on the earth
Ties of hope and love
Sister and brotherhood
That we are bound together
In our desire to see the world become
A place in which our children
Can grow free and strong
We are bound together
By the task that stands before us
And the road that lies ahead
We are bound and we are bound

“Shed a Little Light”, James Taylor

8.05.2008

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
Psalm 105, 1-6, 16-22, 45b
Romans 10:5-15
Matthew 14:22-33

20080804_104226_version_2 This week, we’re returning from a weekend celebrating milestones with extended family. It was a weekend to celebrate weddings and birthdays and retirement - and the love of family across good times and bad times. Along the way, we listened as family members told stories of days gone by and interpreted the events of the past through the filter of the present and their personal understanding and belief of how God works in the world.

A lot can be interpreted about the past through the lenses of today. It seems to be helpful to take time and examine how we’ve grown, how others in our story have grown, and how we were all able to survive/excel/navigate when various life events happen. Looking back at our lives we can all see how things fit together to make us who we are today. When we make the effort, we can weave the stories of our lives together to help us make sense of who we are today and to help us (to a certain extent) make sense of who we were in the past.

It seems like lately the word that keeps coming back up is Perspective.

Our scriptures for this week have some characters who might have been scratching their heads as life unfolded before them. But as written, the events of these lives are put in perspective for us. Our job – and in fact our responsibility – seems to be to consider the events, ask questions from different perspectives and find ways that these teachings might touch our own lives.

We continue in the Hebrew scriptures to learn about the patriarchs – the families that gave rise to the nation of Israel. The story this week is a familiar one about Joseph and his brothers. Joseph, Israel’s favorite son (a fact of which Joseph’s brothers were well aware), gets sent out by Israel to check on this pack of older brothers where they have pastured the family herds. Now let’s think about this in today’s terms. Dad sends his favorite son to check on his older brothers – make sure they are behaving. As Joseph approaches, his brothers see him coming and are revolted. They take all of their anger and anxiety and resentment and hatch a plan – a plan to kill Joseph. But one brother intercedes. He doesn’t want to see Joseph killed, and we’re told by our narrator that his intention is to actually return to save Joseph later. He convinces the brothers that it would be better to capture Joseph and throw him in a pit. Once they do this, a band of Ishmaelites (decendents of Ishmael, Abraham’s other son) pass through, and the brothers sell Joseph into slavery. This story (in it’s own context) is fairly brutal, and as the years rolled by it has become a story that exemplifies how “God uses all things for good” or simply how things “work out” for those who follow God. And this is likely true, but it does not change the fear that young Joseph felt laying in a wet and muddy hole trying to figure out why his brothers don’t love him.

The Psalm is one of praise, essentially celebrating the events surrounding the lives of the patriarchs (and this week, specifically Joseph). Like family pondering the events of the past, the psalmist writes about the Lord’s actions to free Joseph and raise him to power. These are “wonderful works,” seen as miracles that shaped the rise of Israel. Isn’t it interesting how already by the time of King David Israel already has this Perspective on itself?

It seems that maybe Paul is wrestling with Perspective himself in this passage to the church in Rome. This letter was written to a community that Paul neither visited nor founded; it was possibly a community of Jews that converted to Christianity at Pentecost. It was still a big deal for him to be open and welcoming to Gentiles. He had spent most of his life drawing lines between Jews and everyone else. And now here he is preaching a message that is open to everyone that “believes in Him.” It had to be at least a little confusing for Paul. It had to throw his Context-O-Meter for at least a bit of a spin. We often want to take this as an exciting moment that brings everyone in to the Family of God, but what must it have been like for Paul to be drawing his circle so big now?

The gospel text from Matthew is another familiar story. Jesus has left his boat, and gone up on the mountain to pray. In this time, a storm has blown up, and the boat in which the disciples waited has drifted out on to the rough water. To the amazement of the disciples, Jesus walks out to them On Top Of The Water. Actually, they weren’t amazed – they were terrified. Jesus called out to them, and encouraged them not to be afraid. Peter, always asking questions and frequently in doubt, issues a bit of a challenge. Lord, if it is you, command me to step out on the water with you. And Jesus does. At first, Peter seems amazingly able to stay atop the water. But then, he falters and down he goes. Jesus reaches down and draws him out of the water… “you of little faith, why did you doubt?” Of course, it was Peter’s doubt that caused him to sink…his own rational thinking got in the way and drug him under the water. At least it would seem that way in retrospect.

Again, think of the Perspectives of the people in that story and how those moments out on the stormy sea changed their lives. Think of the Perspective we have today and how we use that story to tell our own stories.

+Is it fair / appropriate for us to use stories from the biblical narrative to define our own faith journeys?
+In your own prayer life, how do you relate to / use the stories of biblical characters?
+Do our stories have value in the faith journeys of others? What are ways for us to share these stories?

If we think only of ourselves, we may act for our own benefit and bother only with our own affairs, our hope, our own deliverance. But this is not enough. We are truly acting for ourselves if we also have a concern for others and strive to be of benefit to them. For since we are all one body, we look out for ourselves when we look out for others.

Marius Victorinus