Monday, February 25, 2019
Scripture appointed can be found at http://lectionarypage.net/YearC_RCL/Epiphany/CEpi7_RCL.html
Shovel in hand, I was hard at work.
Shovel in hand, I was hard at work.
I’d been at it for a while, scoop after scoop, digging a hole with endless potential.
Australia? China? The world was my oyster—and I was tunneling through!
My sense of reason had vanished, in my four-year-old fervor to get to the other side.
It was preschool, 1981.
And, I had dreams!
But, those dreams would come to an end, swiftly and painfully--
As Tracy McClure dropped a plastic pail full of sand on my toe.
That bucket hurt!
And, it was with a sense of righteous fury that I swung my arm round with all my might—striking her across the face with my little plastic shovel.
She wailed, of course she would, and teachers came running…
I still remember my indignation as I protested, “but she!”
Only four, and I was already an expert in retribution.
An eye for an eye.
Tit for tat.
What you sow is what you reap.
Your bucket, my shovel! That’s justice for you!
I may have been four, but I was no fool.
Hammurabi’s code was at work in the sandbox.
The sandbox, where the teachers’ intervention kept the violence from escalating—for violence all too often grows unbounded. Hammurabi’s ancient code, was established to maintain social order—and the laws that limited retribution to an “eye for an eye” were enacted in order to prevent the escalation of violence. The law of retribution brought limits to what could be done in retaliation for a crime—limits that were intended to prevent intertribal blood feud and keep the violence contained. The law of retribution is a form of justice but while it is understood to be just, it is not merciful.
Which is why today’s collection of readings can seem striking.
Let’s begin with a quick recap…
Joseph was the eleventh son of Jacob. Jacob made no secret of his love for Joseph and Joseph’s brothers grew resentful of the favoritism bestowed upon him.
The brothers plotted in secret and, capturing Joseph, they sold him into slavery—all the while claiming that Joseph had been killed by a wild animal.
Joseph ended up in Egypt, where he rose through the ranks of slaves—and where his ability to interpret dreams led him to the role of chief advisor to Pharaoh.
Joseph has become a man of earthly power and, when famine drives his brothers to seek help in Egypt, they fail to recognize that it is their own brother to whom they submit their petition.
But, rather than the vengeance they would have understood to be their due, they were met with mercy.
Joseph doesn’t behave in the way they expected and, rather than death, he offers his brothers a new chance at life, “You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children's children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. I will provide for you there--since there are five more years of famine to come--so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty.'" (Gen 43:10-11). In this, not only are the brothers’ expectations overturned, but the hearers as well—for, it is far too easy to make sense of revenge and non-sense of mercy.
Which is why this dénouement to the story of Joseph comes across as a surprise—to his brothers and to the reader!
For what Joseph gives to his brothers is not justice, it is mercy. Mercy born of God’s love.
Mercy, the intermingling of justice and forgiveness—born of God’s love and evidence of grace.
Justice and forgiveness.
This is the space in which we encounter the Gospel we heard proclaimed today.
The space in which justice and forgiveness meet.
When I was four, I understood justice. But, I did not yet understand forgiveness. And, if I am to be honest, I’m still working on understanding forgiveness.
“Jesus said, "I say to you that listen, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
We have heard these words so often, that they can come across as platitudinous. But, if we listen, if we truly listen, we may find that these words are not intended to comfort—they are intended to confront. To confront us in our self-righteousness, to confront us in our desire for vengeance, to confront us in our hardness of heart. These are challenging words—not comforting ones.
And, in this, I want to issue a caution. Too often, these words have been used to proof text people in abusive relationships. Too often these words have been used to keep victims in “their place”. This is not that, and that is an interpretation I reject. Consider, “Do to others as you would have them do to you” and, in your consideration, take these words as an imperative to keep yourself safe from harm, just as you would have others kept safe.
Many of you know of the work of reconciliation spearheaded by Archbishop Desmond Tutu in post-apartheid South Africa. In Desmond and Mpho Tutu’s work, “The Book of Forgiving”, they reflect that “Some find forgiveness difficult because they believe forgiving means forgetting the pain they have suffered. I can say unequivocally that forgiving does not mean forgetting the harm. It does not mean denying the harm. It does not mean pretending the harm did not happen or the injury was not as bad as it really was. Quite the opposite is true. The cycle of forgiveness can be activated and completed only in absolute truth and honesty.
Forgiving requires giving voice to the violations and naming the pains we have suffered. Forgiving does not require that we carry our suffering in silence or be martyrs on a cross of lies. Forgiveness does not mean that we pretend things are anything other than they are.”
So, let’s not pretend, let’s not pretend that the words of scripture we heard today are easy or obvious. They are words of confrontation that, when applied, have the power to overturn the entire system of violence and revenge. They are words of challenge, that force us to rethink the limits of our capacity to forgive. They are words of comfort for those who long to see our communities transformed by the unsettling, uprooting, power of God’s love. Historian Christopher Dawson observes, that “love your enemies” is “not just some pious little moralism; it is something that will deconstruct the whole mythological world” (source: Religion and the Rise of Western Culture, pp. 80-83, as quoted in http://girardianlectionary.net/reflections/year-c/epiphany7c/.
These are words that threaten to deconstruct a world that operates with threat and vengeance. Deconstruct a world that relies on power for persuasion. Deconstruct a world in which too many see mercy as a weakness and forgiveness as a fault.
So, today let us proclaim it is in mercy and forgiveness that we will find our strength! That it is in mercy and forgiveness that we will live God’s love!
Hear the words of the apostle,
“What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power.”
Saturday, February 23, 2019
Scripture appointed can be found at http://lectionarypage.net/YearC_RCL/Epiphany/CEpi5_RCL.html
We lift our voices with angels and archangels, with all the company of heaven, saying
We lift our voices with angels and archangels, with all the company of heaven, saying
"Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;the whole earth is full of his glory."
our Lord. Amen.
the whole earth is full of God’s glory."
We lift our voices beyond the now. We lift our voices across all time. We lift our voices into the thin space where the human and the divine are united into one.
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
The whole earth is full of his glory!”
We lift our voices, together, unified in devotion, unified in the declaration that this, THIS earth is full of God’s glory.
Not because of what we have done, not because of what we will do, but because of the very nature of God.
The God of creation, in whose image we are made, drawing us together in a moment in which all divisions cease.
A moment when the demarcation between the human and divine fades away. A moment in which the voices of the living are brought together with the voices of the dead. Our voices, propelled by breath, are brought into relationship with the breath of all creation.
And, the angels cry out, “holy!”
And, we cry out, “holy!”
And, the stranger cries out, “holy!”
And, the persecuted cry out, “holy!”
And the oppressor cries out, “holy!”
And, we are made one.
For just a moment we are made one and, in this oneness, all becomes right on heaven and on earth.
And, this, this is a miracle.
Think on this, pray on this, set your heart on this. On this oneness that unites us to each other. This oneness that transcends all time. This oneness, that gives lie to our selfish divisions, and points us to what can be.
To what can be, what can be, in a world full of God’s glory!
On page 815 of our Book of Common Prayer, we are offered a 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; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ
This prayer for the human family points towards a transcendent unity: “You made us”; “the whole human family”; all nations and races”.
We are asked to gather together in unity, but not for unity’s sake, but for the sake of God. For the sake of the One in whom the human and divine are united. For the sake of the One who calls the sinful. For the sake of the One, the Christ, who appears in our midst not to redeem us alone, but to redeem all of Creation.
As Christians, we are asked to participate in God’s redeeming love for all of creation. We are asked to work towards a new creation which emulates the peace and unity of God’s first creation.
Take note that is not some radical new thought emerging from the progressive church or what we think of as contemporary liberalism. Augustine of Hippo, the early 5th century theologian, wrote that we are united in bonds of peace and created to live in harmony with each other—stating that God’s intention in creation is unity and peace, unity and peace which we are called to strive for until that time when a new creation comes into being.
And, so in our prayers, we petition for an end to human arrogance and hatred. In our prayers, we ask for God to destroy the walls we have built. In our prayers, the prayers WE say, we ask for strength and purpose that we might overcome the evils of division and manifest the goodness of God’s love.
A love that is liberating, a love that brings peace, a love that renounces evil, a love that leads to true repentance and the transformation of our hearts.
Holy, holy, holy, indeed!
So today, I implore you to listen. Listen to the words of scripture, listen to the prayers we make, listen…
Listen to what we are saying and hear, in it, the call of Christ.
The call of Christ in our time.
Because, there is no doubt that Christ is calling out.
Calling out, to us, in this time of unclean lips, of empty nets, and arrogant kings. Calling out to us, in this time of climate crisis and abject fear. Calling out to us, not because there is no hope, but because there is hope unseen!
In the Gospel appointed for today, Jesus addresses a group of fishermen. Having worked hard all night, they are tired and have little to show for their efforts. They listen to his words as they clean their nets, removing the sticks and weeds, in hopes that the future will bring them fish.
They have already put the night behind them, and are already looking towards the rest they need so that they might try again.
And, it is into their exhaustion that Jesus speaks…
"Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch."
This phrase invokes for me the story of Creation, as we hear it in the opening passages of the book of Genesis, “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.”
The deep water, from which creation is born. The deep water, where our nets will be filled to overflowing.
The deep, where we have already been, the deep where we are called to return.
Simon Peter cannot help but state the obvious, “we’ve worked hard all night and caught nothing…”
So why would we go back?
Why would we try again?
Many of us know what it is to be tired, bone tired, and having to keep on keeping on.
Many of us know the frustration of the fruitless task.
And, so, I imagine Simon Peter’s exhaustion from his fruitless labor and frustration at being asked to continue a futile task.
And I imagine, that maybe, just maybe, Simon imagines that a failed catch will prove his point.
And, so he goes, saying, “Because you say so…”
The word over the deep, the word that points to life, the word that brings forth abundance.
You say so!
And, a new creation comes to fruition.
Born of our labor, born of our frustration, born of our hope.
Hope that so much more shall be revealed.
When Simon Peter goes out, he casts his nets into depths he cannot see…
Finding more than he could ever have hoped.
Much more than he can handle alone.
But, he is not alone!
Jesus the Christ is with him and the community comes when called.
And he is not alone, and in community, with Christ, he cannot fail.
So, do not be afraid
and go out into the deep.
The deep where we will find that new creation, one of abundance and beyond our imagining.
The deep, where we are united with Christ and with each other.
The deep where God’s breath is joined with ours and we cry out with all creation,
"Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;