Monday, August 22, 2016

16C, The Law is For Liberation

Proper 16C, 2013, scripture can be found here (note, we are using Track 1)


This icon before you (see example below) depicts the Gospel we heard today. It is an image of the bent over woman receiving the healing grace of Jesus.  From Russia, it was a gift from members of this congregation, one of whom told me how this image in particular resonated with him because of his own back problems and his own abiding trust in God’s grace in his life.   

This icon offers us an invitation to connect with the divine in our own lives. It’s intended to center us, draw us in, and move us beyond the here and now and into a glimpse of the divine that transcends.  Icons don’t exist for themselves, and they are more than an image, because they serve as a means by which we are invited to see beyond ourselves and glimpse God.

Icons are intended as a pathway by which we can remember who God is and who we are called to be.

In this image conscious culture, where images are a commodity, there are still opportunities in which an image can move us beyond ourselves and into an awareness of God’s call to us.

The image that has drawn people in this week is that of a very clearly traumatized child in the city of Aleppo. Already described as “iconic”, this image compels because it demands that we see this child as a child of God. This image compels us to see the need of a child not unlike the needs of our own children. This image cuts across cultures, traditions, religions and political ideologies. This image shakes us and what I hope and pray remains beyond the shaking is our recognition that this is a child who is known by God, just as we are known. That this is a child who, while only a boy, is a boy who will transform the world if we allow our care for him to transcend those walls that would divide us.  

The details of the conflict become meaningless when the real time, real world, consequences of that conflict are laid out so starkly and the world becomes centered on a single life, a single child in the midst of it all.

Does this sound familiar, that a single child would draw our attention?

It should…because in this year of focus on the Gospel of Luke, we have seen repeatedly situations in which our attention is diverted away from our own needs and desires and centered instead on our calling to care for the weak and the vulnerable. When the disciples argue about who is the greatest amongst them, Jesus calls a child to him and tells them that the least of these is the greatest. When Herod sends forth soldiers to destroy the first born sons, God sends a baby boy into the world.  And, in today’s Gospel, when the religious authority’s adherence to the law keeps them from responding with compassion, they are confronted with a truth that they cannot deny… “you hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman…be set free from bondage on this Sabbath day?”

Jesus’ action reminds them that the law was written for liberation.

When I served as a chaplain at Rainbow Babies’ and Children hospital, I served alongside many members of the large Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox Jewish Community.  One observant resident, who I had come to know well, shared with me that yes, it was true that Sabbath observant Jewish residents were required to take call during the Sabbath—just like all of the other residents. But, that he reconciled this because the laws of compassion supercede the laws of the Sabbath. Life saving activities, and the alleviation of suffering always took priority.  And, that Jewish law, as it has developed over the centuries is adamant “we violate Shabbat to save any human life; that's the Halacha, that's the practice, that's what we do.”

The law is written for liberation.

And, when the laws we create and the faith we proclaim bind rather than liberate, that is when we ourselves are confronted by the accusation of hypocrisy.

The Gospel is clear, adherence to the law without adherence to love is counter to God’s call to us.

And, that is the power of this Gospel and the power of the image set before us. It re-centers us on what really matters, and begs the question of our own call to the ministry of liberation and challenges our own adherence to policies and procedures that limit our ability to do in the world what God would have us do. At this time, I invite you to sit for a time with the icon at it appears before you

The prayer with which I wish to close today’s sermon offering is drawn from the Book of Common Prayer, an excerpt from the prayer for the human family, “O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Proper 15C, 2016

Readings for this week can be found here
Why We Keep Reading the Story
When we first moved to Minnesota, I was excited to remember that Minnesota figures prominently in The Little House series by Laure Ingalls Wilder. I had read the books as a child, I had the whole collection, and I loved reading about Laura and Mary—I found myself drawn to Laura with her pluck and defiance and I was fascinated by the world she depicted. So much of what I read in her books struck me as fantastical—the long winter and the twists of hay they burned to keep warm; maple sugaring with the donuts and pickles; the leeches in the mud of Plum Creek.  These may as well have been fantasy when compared to the life I knew growing up on Maui.
One of the things I most looked forward to in having children was the opportunity to read these books.  And, I remember distinctly my own excitement when I deemed Henry FINALLY old enough to enjoy these stories.
And…with that, I have repeatedly asked myself if these stories were a good choice...
The anticipation of a good wheat crop and the ability to pay off debt, and then the literal plague of grasshoppers that decimate the crops and destroy the community. The careful building of a new homes, homes which are abandoned in the face of governmental policies and land disputes. The reality of westward expansions impact on Native Americans. Hunger, division, poverty, grief and hope intermingle in the text.
Yes, it’s different to read these as an adult. And, I find myself pulling away from these beloved and familiar stories. I wanted them to be joyful and magical, and they are not.
They are not, because they are stories about life, and life is complicated and often hard. 
And, I need to remind myself of this when I want to stop reading these stories (stories, by the way, which my child is loving) that the complications, the sorrows and the frank humanness of the author, do not diminish the text—instead they offer an opportunity to reflect on the context in which they were written, how my own life has changed since I first encountered the text, and what I want my own child to take away from hearing these books. 
I say all of this, because this is one of those weeks where I read the scripture appointed and I wanted to stop reading. To go back to the first chapter of Luke in which the angelic choir proclaims peace on earth and then skip to the ending where Jesus is risen. Birth and resurrection with nothing in between. But, if we only participate in those parts of the story, we lose the opportunity to encounter the grace in between. And, just as in a life flanked by birth and death—it is the in-between that gives meaning to the birthing and the dying. 
So, what does this passage, drawn from the middle of the Gospel of Luke tell us about who we are, who God is, and to what God calls us?
First of all, this passage’s message of separation and conflict stands in sharp contrast to much of the Gospel of Luke—a Gospel in which we hear Jesus’ instruction to his disciples that they bring greetings of peace and in which those Jesus heals receive a blessing of peace.  So, what gives? Why would this harsh apocalyptic text appear here? 
In order to address this question we need to look at the context. Choosing to follow Jesus, meant leaving behind the dominant culture. It meant stepping outside of the societal norms of honor and shame—and accepting a new way of being in the world, a way in which kinship ties were less important than participation in the lives of the saints, a way in which Jew and Gentile broke bread together and, rather than contributing to your kin, you contributed to the community of fellow followers. Those who had chosen to follow Jesus were leaving behind their families and their communities. Walking the way of Christ meant walking away from the world.   
So rather than this passage being a declaration of what is to come, it is a description of what is—this IS the present time. The present time for Jesus’ disciples was one of strife and hard choices. The present time for the early Christians was one of persecutions and sufferings. The present time was a time in which those living had to wrestle with the meaning of persecution and suffering. And, so, this passage becomes one of meaning making. Jesus is saying that this strife and division is part of something much, much bigger. That the pain of the now is part, but not the sum total, of the journey that lays before him and all those who walk the way with him.
And, in this I find the grace, that the reality of what so often seems our own present time of division is part of a birthing into a new way of being. In the modern cultural and political arena, I’ve heard this kind of conflict surrounding change described as a backlash—a negative or hostile reaction to a cultural change that is taking place or has already occurred.   
In this, is the already but not yet of the Gospel passage. Peace has already come, but it has not yet been fully realized. Love has already broken into the world but has not yet come to full fruition. What hope is found in knowing that the way has already been given, but what frustration to know that we’re not yet there!
The race, as Paul puts it, is being run but is not yet complete. And, so the faithful keep running towards a future that is not for us in the now but for the us that will be, “Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.”
So here we are, in the messy middle, not birth not resurrection—but the stuff in between. And, this stuff matters, it matters because it calls us to a new way and it reminds us that the fullness of God’s promise is still being realized and that this fullness relies upon the full participation of all of God’s people. It matters because it is the messy middle of Ordinary Time that helps us to understand the importance and the power of what has been promised. 
So this messy story of strife gives meaning to the conflict, and reminds us of the peace to which we are drawn. This is the present time, but it is not the end of the story.

 Sermon addendum, a hymn that came to mind as I considered the text...
 1. Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don't know and never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown? Will you let my name be known,
will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?

2. Will you leave yourself behind if I but call your name?
Will you care for cruel and kind and never be the same?
Will you risk the hostile stare should your life attract or scare?
Will you let me answer prayer in you and you in me?

3. Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name?
Will you set the prisoners free and never be the same?
Will you kiss the leper clean and do such as this unseen,
and admit to what I mean in you and you in me?

4. Will you love the "you" you hide if I but call your name?
Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same?
Will you use the faith you've found to reshape the world around,
through my sight and touch and sound in you and you in me?

5. Lord your summons echoes true when you but call my name.
Let me turn and follow you and never be the same.
In Your company I'll go where Your love and footsteps show.
Thus I'll move and live and grow in you and you in me.

(by John Bell, © 1987 Iona Community, admin. GIA Pub. Inc.)