Bob Cornner

Bob Cornner
Visting St. Andrew's Torrance

Thursday, December 27, 2007


I watched The Kennedy Center Awards this evening with Madelyn. It was a great show with wonderful entertainers being honored. One of those entertainers was Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys. Brian was a local boy. He grew up in Hawthorne and attended Hawthorne High School. As I watched Brian stand to the applause of the gathered stars and celebrities, including President George Bush, I was overwhelmed with sadness. Brian has suffered from mental illness for many years. Brian seemed absent from the moment. He stood to acknowledge applause, but with very little expression on his face.

The man who wrote joyful and moving lyrics and music just stood stone faced as people rose to celebrate his career and the happy sounds to which America has danced for over 40 years. The final song performed by a boy's choir from England was called Love and Mercy. The words are simple and the hope of shalom, God's peace, is summed up in the line, "So, love and mercy to you and your friends tonight."

For all of those who this night after Christmas Day are seeking a God of love and mercy, may you find him. Merry Christmas and God's Shalom.

Love And Mercy

Time: 2:52 Beach Bum Music BMI/Beachead Music, Inc. ASCAP
Producer: Brian Wilson/Russ Titelman
Engineered by Jim Linker and Rob Klohs at Dolphin Sound in Honolulu
Mixed by Hugh Padgham assisted by Bob Vogt at A & M Recording Studios
Brian Wilson/Eugene Landy

I was sittin' in a crummy movie with my hands on my chin
Oh the violence that occurs seems like we never win

Love and mercy that's what you need tonight
So, love and mercy to you and your friends tonight

I was lyin' in my room and the news came on T.V.
A lotta people out there hurtin' and it really scares me

Love and mercy that's what you need tonight
So, love and mercy to you and your friends tonight

I was standin' in a bar and watchin' all the people there
Oh the lonliness in this world well it's just not fair


Hey love and mercy that's what you need tonight
So, love and mercy to you and your friends tonight

Love and mercy that's what you need tonight
Love and mercy tonight

Love and mercy

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


I love to take photographs around the church and neighborhood. I look for how light from the sun and moon paint many different visions of our common worship space and beyond. I look to the cast colors of our stained glass windows against the old dark wood of the sanctuary as a way of understanding how our lives can be seen very differently with a change in the colors and intensity of light and shadows. These photos are some of my favorites from this Christmas. I have included a photo of the brightly lit Pringle home with the moon shining brightly above it.

The Chapel Service leaders line up for the 5:00 PM Christmas Eve Family Service. All of the leaders did an outstanding job of processing the cross, Gospel, Jesus icon, and special Christmas banners and reading the lessons, prayers, passing the chalice.

Father Bill leads the Chapel leaders in a prayer before the service.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Revenge as Restorative Forgiveness

NOTE: The following reflection was written in a Pasadena book store this afternoon.

This week's sermon (Advent IIIA), I hope to reflect on the complete reversal of our ideas about revenge. I have chosen not to change words such as vengence and revenge, because such words are about getting back to the beginning of things. Getting even does not require that another person has to suffer to make the previously injured person whole again.


The power of God that we pray may be stirred up is expressed in terms of mercy rather than divine fire power. If truth be told, and I think it has been, God could blow this little experiment of his to smithereens.

God could clearly direct his heavenly thunderbolts and wrath towards those he/she deemed wicked, evil, or unclean. So, a partial elimination of such human defectives might give those of us who survive a sense that God has answered our prayers, complaints, and calls for justice and peace.

But, this does not seem to be the sort of power play that most Christians either ask for or receive. We have modified our prayers over time. We have come to believe that our human dilemma can not finally be solved with violence and destruction of our enemies.

Our beliefs have been modified from the old primitive religion of sacred violence to a very risky and precarious dependence upon a God whose ways are very different from ours. We seek a world, a culture, a city whose way of creating and maintaining peace and unity is achieved without violence on behalf of the good against the evil and all in the name of god.

And so we pray for God to stir up his power, his true and everlasting power which is love applied as mercy (loving kindness). We admit that we, not some other person, nation, or race are “sorely hindered by our sins.” It is we who admit our separation, our exclusiveness as sin.

It is we, who beg God for his power to be stirred up in us and among us so that we might “see, hear, and move” onto a different, divine, and holy highway. Of course, the old primitive sacred still holds out promise of peace, unity, and concord, so long as we are willing to sacrifice someone else, not of our group.

John the Baptist was a great prophet. Jesus says he was the greatest born of woman. But John was still tied to this hold religion of vengeance spoken of by Isaiah and the psalmists, and even, Jesus’ mother, Mary.

It was left to Jesus to receive the nod from the prophet, John, as the next step that God took towards us. John says he baptized with water, but the Christ would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.

In a remarkable turn, Jesus offers salvation of the whole creation rather than just a select few. The very ones the poor have seen as their enemy and oppressors are going to be turned into the ones who are the bringers of the good news to the poor. Of course, the poor are messengers of the good news too. Shepherds and kings make their way into the kingdom together.

The ones who have been blind to God’s presence in their enemies, their victims, the least of Jesus’ brothers and sisters, will be converted to those who can finally see the face of God in those they have hated and treated with contempt.

Vengeance from God is restorative forgiveness and grace which turns the hearts of the blind, deaf, and paralyzed—those of us who are “sorely hindered by our sins.” Vengeance is, after all, an attempt to get even, to even the score. As human beings seek to gain vengeance, they set off yet another cycle of revenge.

God’s vengeance is a leveling, a getting us all even through the forgiveness that is eye-opening, ear opening, and a freedom of movement that brings us together. Isaiah sings of the valleys being exalted and the mountains being brought low as a way of speaking of God’s restorative justice coming into the world.

We know the difference between God’s vengeance of restorative forgiveness and our human cycles of vengeance. We can feel and know the difference because we have been exposed to the Gospel and it is changing our human DNA from a dream, a vision of peace and unity without violence to a reality.

God has stirred up his power among us. AMEN!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


Living in the Hope

Christmas 2007

Dear Christ Church Family:

Preparing for the coming of Jesus is a yearly reminder that God is with us at every moment of our lives, from our birth to our death. Are we people of hope or have we become disillusioned because of the daily events that seem to deny any possibility that God exists or cares what happens to us?

After sixty-one years of Advent waiting and preparing for the celebration of the birth of the Christ Child, I remain full of hope.

This Christmas is like the first Christmas to me. I sometimes feel like one of those shepherds who on a cold and dark winter night heard the great news that God will always be with us and bring in a time of peace the likes of which the world has never seen. Week after week, throughout the year we hear the stories from scripture that offered promise and hope to the people of Israel. They struggled with what it meant to choose a God who is not a threatening and vengeful creature of human religion.

It was not easy to give up the human heresy that God favors one group of his children over another group. It was not easy to accept that to be a blessing to the whole world meant being a servant to the nations rather than a master over them. While the rulers, kings, and emperors of Rome and all other empires use violence to build their wealth and power and to maintain peace and order, Jesus offers us the path of peace that takes us down a different way of being human beings. While Augustus Caesar claimed to be the Son of God and Savior of the world, the Gospels claimed those titles for Jesus.

My hope comes from a growing intimacy with Jesus that we share in our common worship. My hope comes from a decision of faith that can finally only claim for Jesus, our brother and servant, the titles of Son of God, Messiah, and Savior of the world. It is Jesus, born to lead us through humble and gentle love that will make the ways of Caesar and all human substitutions for the true God finally a memory of the past.

Our hope will never be realized through the unjust and unforgiving ethics of the Caesars of our world. Power that does not embrace all of the children of the world in love is counterfeit. Jesus is Israel's gift to us so that we too might come to know God's infinite love and humble presence among us. The only true God is the one who claims us all as children. Will we claim God as the One in whom we trust?

Come to the manger. Look at the child born for us. Celebrate with the shepherds and the angels of heaven the coming of the servant king. I hope you will find time in the busyness of this season to make the life-giving journey of faith to the manger of God. The manger is the gate that leads into the Kingdom of Heaven.

God’s Peace and Love,



Christmas Eve Services

Family Holy Eucharist at 5:00 PM
Choral Holy Eucharist at 10:00 PM

Christmas Day Service

Holy Eucharist (said) at 10:00 AM

Friday, November 23, 2007

STEWARDSHIP: Being the Tree and A Welcoming Home

Dear Christ Church Friends:

Christ Church is a community of blessing for many people. God has found in this community an open channel through which to share his gift of grace which allow us to be transformed as individuals and in turn, to transform the world in which we live.

Many of you may recall the story that Saint Luke tells about a little tax collector who climbed a tree so that he could see who Jesus was in the midst of a crowd. His name was Zaccheus. When he climbed the tree to see Jesus, I doubt that he had any idea that his life would soon be changed, transformed, but it was.

Jesus called him down from the tree and invited himself to Zaccheus’ home for a meal. His home was filled with people that would never have been considered worthy of God’s attention. They came to eat with Jesus. This was a sacred act of friendship and love. With the breaking of the bread and the simple act of seeing Zaccheus and the others at the meal as God’s beloved children, Jesus shows us the power of God that is transforming our world. Zaccheus’ responds to Jesus by offering to give a huge portion of his financial assets to the poor and to make generous financial amends to the people he had cheated.

The church, for me, has always been like a tree which I have climbed to see Jesus in the midst of the crowds in my life. But the church is more than just a place to see Jesus in a whole new way. It is also the place into which Jesus invites himself to be our guest week after week. He comes among us and looks deeply and lovingly into our souls and into the heart of this community. He breaks the bread which we offer each week and in that broken bread we see the love and forgiveness which God has made known to us in Jesus.

How can we respond to what we have experienced of God’s love and grace?

Be the tree that allows others to see God at work in the world. Be the home that is open to all of those who are being drawn to the table of God for his feast of forgiveness and love. Our presence and willingness to serve and financially support the many ministries of Christ Church makes us tree and home to all whom God is bringing to our community where Jesus is our honored guest.

God's Peace in Giving,


Monday, November 19, 2007


Last week Jesus told his disciples that one day not one stone would be left standing upon another in the magnificient Temple in Jerusalem. The Temple and the city were the heart and soul of Israel and remain so even up until today. But there was a dark day when "the Empire" struck back at God's people. They hit the Temple and the city as a way of showing that Rome had the power to destroy Jewish identity and culture and faith.

For many Jews, the destruction of the Temple and city did cause a loss of identity and faith. Their history was filled with stories of invasion, enslavement, and rescue. But the Temple did not rise from its ashes.

We can learn much about ourselves by what our enemies consider our heart and soul as a nation. Consider the fact that there was no religious building attacked on 9-11. The National Cathedral was certainly within range of the other targets and yet the terrorists did not even bother with this national place of prayer.

No, their targets, what they considered our heart and soul, were our financial, military, and governmental centers. The Twin Towers, the Pentegon, and the White House were the icons of the American Empire. In this famous photograph from 9/11/01, the cross on Trinity Episcopal Church on Wall Street stands just in front of the cascading debris of the Twin Towers.

The photograph captures two worlds at once. The destruction of what can never be the heart and soul of the human family is really no defeat of those who call themselves Christians. The lives lost in those buildings are of the greatest concern to Christians who seek to comfort the victims of Empires and Terrorists. The cross stands for Christ our King's words from that cross: "Father forgive them for they don't know what they are doing."

In the clash between Empires and Terrorists, the cross stands for the reconciling love of God to all of his children and for the deep sorrow and grief expressed by God in Christ and by the church for our continuing ignorance of the things that make for true peace.

As we consider our lives in relationship to these two worlds, these two ways of living, we are reminded of our vocation as Christians contained in our baptismal vows and promises. We are to respect the dignity of every human being. We are to seek and serve Christ in all persons. But most profoundly and with the greatest need for surrendering to God, we are called to love our enemies and to pray for them.

This is not just one more thing on our list of things to do. It will not get us any awards from our local communities or make us heros to most people. But it will definitely change us into the new creation that we see in Jesus and for that we can only offer all that we are and all that we can be by the grace and love of God.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Stayin' Alive and Celebrating Life?

Have you ever wondered if there was life before death? What did he say? I know this seems like a dumb question, but maybe it isn’t as dumb as it may appear. How do we really know we are alive? Do we define life as the opposite of death? Is that the way God defines life for himself or for us? These are some of the questions that our Gospel reading from Luke raise for me.

The setting for our reading finds Jesus in Jerusalem shortly before his arrest, trial, and execution. He is being quizzed by members of a religious group known as the Sadducees. They were of the priestly class who offered sacrifice to God on behalf of themselves and the people. For them, only the Books of Moses or the Law were from God and the ancient and deeply held belief that was upheld by the Sadducees was that there was no life after death for human beings. Once you were dead, you were dead.

Death was what gave definition to life. If you were breathing and your heart was beating, you were alive. If you had material wealth and health and children who honored you, you were blessed. Religion was designed to keep you in the blessing and alive. Those who were not blessed, while still alive, were under a curse for some sin or other.

In death, however, everyone including those who were blessed in this life, were goners. Being alive meant you were not dead and being blessed was the final hedge against death. Fear of death is the father of the living. That is why the Sadducees tested Jesus with one of their old traps for proving their point and here it is:

Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus and asked him a question, "Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man's brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be?

Do you see the trap? The authority of scripture and of Moses are immediately put into play. How dare anyone challenge Moses, the giver of the Law or the laws he gave. Before we get too critical of the Sadducees, we might do well to consider how many of us today quote Scripture or cite other sources of authority as a way of making our points. We are a people who like to have authority on our side when it comes to most of life’s most difficult issues.

And most of life’s most difficult issues are about life as it is defined by death or more particularly, how we can avoid death and gain blessings for ourselves. The Jews had a long tradition of believing that death was the end of life. Children were a way of extending oneself into the future, to carry on the family name and position in the world.

So the Sadducees’ question referenced a law from Deuteronomy that required a brother to marry and have children with his dead brother’s widow in order to allow his dead brother a continuing presence in life. The Sadducees final question makes sense within their belief system which was based upon a fear and anxiety about death. It was pretty simple and effective, but wrong, according to Jesus.

What is your view of life? Of death? Of God? Listen to Jesus’ answer to those who were trapped in their traditional and scriptural understandings of God.

Jesus said to them, "Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.

Jesus describes the culture of death that informed the Sadducees' beliefs and traditional understandings of the Law. He says that they “belong to this age.” This age stretches back to the beginning of human culture, a time when God was seen as the one who used death to control and define human culture at its best. The values of family, work, prosperity, and empire are rooted in fear and anxiety about death.

Jesus then speaks about a different age, an age that Jesus was bringing into the world. In this age, God would no longer be defined as the God of the dead and those who worshipped and served him would no longer use marriage, family, work, prosperity or empire to live beyond death.

Consider the ways we live out of our fear of death. Are we like the Sadducees, unable to see beyond the age to which we belong and whose very religion is shot full of the fear and threat of death and the ways we seek to transcend death without God?

Jesus says that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are alive to God, not dead. Life is not the opposite of death. In God, we die to this death as a way of defining our life and offer our lives to God as “living sacrifices.”

Who is God? God is the God of the living, not the dead. This is the power of God that this age, to which the Sadducees and we belong are blind. It is this power that raises Jesus from death and which allows us to live in the freedom of life that is only found in God. This is the age that has come, the Kingdom of God on earth.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


Almighty and merciful God, it is only by your gift that your faithful people offer you true and laudable service: Grant that we may run without stumbling to obtain your heavenly promises; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Do you know the story of Zacchaeus? His name means "pure or innocent one." In his life he was far from pure or innocent. He lived in the beautiful community of Jericho, a city not unlike Redondo Beach. He made his money as the chief tax collector of that city. If I were to cast an actor to play Zaccheaus in a movie, I would pick Danny DeVito. He was short and tough. He may have used threats to collect taxes from people in the city. He was very wealthy.

What drew Zaccheaus to Jesus? What was he looking for when he climbed a tree to see Jesus as he passed by?

It was a strange exchange that took place as Jesus walked into a village where a man named Zacchaeus hung from a tree just to get a glimpse of him as he walked by. The man was simply hoping to see Jesus, not sit at his feet and learn from him and certainly not entertain Jesus in his home. I also doubt whether this man would have ever imagined that after seeing Jesus, he would give up his ill gotten gain without a second thought. He just wanted to see this Jesus whom everyone was talking about. In the process, Zacchaeus’ whole life was changed.

Jesus passed by me one day too. Let me tell you the story. It was in the early 1970s and I was in my first few years as a teacher. I was taking a year off from seminary while serving as an active layperson at St. Cross. I was reading scripture and many books about God and our shared faith.

We had two babies and I was taking care of Matt on a sunny spring day. I had spent a good deal of time getting Matt to fall asleep by rocking him back and forth in a much used rocking chair. As I began to slowly and gently lay Matt down in his crib, a loud knock threatened to wake him up. So, I quickly and quietly moved to the front door and opened it hoping to stop the banging noise that continued.

When I opened the door, I saw a man who was about 5’5” tall standing on my front porch. He was a stern looking gentleman. He wore clothes that were black and white: a black suit, white shirt, and a black tie. His hair was pepper gray and white. He was African-American and his face had a gray pallor. He held a Bible in one hand and asked me if I would contribute to a fund to buy Bibles for children attending his Bible Camp.

My immediate knee jerk response was to tell him that I was a member of a church and that I gave “at the office.” He simply said, “God bless you,” and I smiled sheepishly and quickly shut the door and went to check on Matt. As I looked down into Matt’s crib, I had a moment of clarity. The guy at the door was more than he appeared. I quickly pulled all of the money I had out of my pockets and wallet and sprinted out the front door to find him.

I pulled up short on my front lawn when I saw him leaning against the large pine tree that shaded our house and yard. I looked at him and he looked at me. I extended the coins and the crumbled bills to him and he said very clearly: “Ah, so you found the money?” I gulped and said something almost inaudible and headed back into my house with all sorts of questions running through my head. Who was this guy? Why did I give him the money? Is something strange going on here? Am I living a Twilight Zone episode?

I stood frozen inside the door for a moment and then determined I had to find this guy and see who he really was. You know, I looked and looked for that man up and down the block. I checked with my neighbors to see if he had knocked on their doors. No one else had seen him or had him knock on their doors.

I ran back home and sat down in my favorite chair. Without much hesitation or doubt, I came to the belief that I had been visited by God. I had this one moment when God had come knocking. Maybe there had been other times too, but I was sure about this time. God passed by and I saw him.

Did it change my life? Yes. I discovered how quickly and completely I could respond to the presence of God. The man did not tell me how much to give. He simply asked for a donation, a gift. But before I could give, I knew that I had already received a greater gift from God. My life as a Christian was the gift that allowed me to see God when God came by my house that day. Everything about being alive and having a chance to be loved and to love others; to be of service to others; and ultimately, to be a grateful and contributing member of the present and future that God is creating.

Have you climbed a metaphorical tree to get a glimpse of Jesus? For me, the church has been the tree. I have watched Jesus from this loving community for most of my life. I have watched him touch people and change them for ever. Jesus calls to us as he called to Zacchaeus to come down from our perch, from being merely a curious observer and to serve him. Jesus does not check our pedigree, he calls those who need what he has to offer—the first gifts of faith, hope, and charity that allow us to offer true service to others.

It has been said that Jesus’ life offers us all remission from our sins. He also offers us a re-missioning for the human family. We are called, like Zacchaeus, to gladly respond to God’s invitation to make the whole creation new. When we give for the support of the church, we are keeping the tree available for other people who would see Jesus to climb and receive the gift that will change their lives. The tree is the cross. From the cross we see a very different view of the world and Jesus.

Shall we do what we can to make this tree of life available for others?

Monday, October 22, 2007


Luke 18:9-14

Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt:

"Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, `God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.'

But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, `God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted."

Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain what you promise, make us love what you command; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

We live in a secular world. More and more of our world’s space and resources are not dedicated to the notion of the sacredness of life. We are in an ecological crisis, as well as a spiritual crisis of massive dimensions. The term “god” has become a defense for violence and global destruction. In the midst of this secularized religion of domination and destruction, the church prays for an increase in us of the divine gifts of faith, hope, and charity. We ask for what we know we need.

We are called to make sacred the whole of creation. Nothing and no one can be left out of the sacred embrace of God. We must have faith in this vision of reality. We must hope that this vision is truthful. We must love with the love of God and that love will continue to enlarge our embrace of others.

As Christians, we are called to bring the divine message and reality of mercy, justice for the poor, forgiveness for us all in our failures and even in some of the ways we have thought of as our greatest successes. Actually some of our failures may lead us to God’s grace and the truth about ourselves faster than our successes.

Lord God of the Failing Church, increase in us your gifts of faith, hope, and charity.

Jesus tells us a parable in Sunday’s Gospel from Luke about two men. One is considered religious and the other a simple failure. The religious man begins his prayer to God thanking him for the fact that he is not like the sinners he sees about him each day on his way to pray. In fact, the tax collector who prays next to this man becomes an example of comparison. Next to this tax collector, the religious man looked good, he thought.

Jesus does not tell us this story to give a sense of superiority over this religious man. In fact, he actually wants us to identify with this man’s point of view. Maybe you and I do not base our value on tithing or fasting, but we surely have a list of people who represent the sort of folks we are glad we are not like. Maybe this religious man is one such person that we give thanks we are not like.

Lord God of the Superior, increase in us your gifts of faith, hope, and charity.

Jesus invites us to look at our superior, self-justifying thoughts and beliefs, even if we have more closely identified ourselves with the poor tax collector who stands condemned by the Pharisee. The tax collector is not justified because of his bad behavior of stealing from his own people, but from his refusal to respond to those who justified themselves by making him an example of what is “wrong with the world.” This sinner does not say, “Thank God I am not like this religious prig.” He says nothing. His focus is on his own sense of failure, not compared to others, but in his own sight. This is the humility fed by the gifts of faith, hope, and charity.

Lord God of the Outsiders, increase in us your gifts of faith, hope, and charity.

So, we are left with a story that really does not have a villain. We are called to self-examination which will take all of the gifts of God, but most especially the gifts of faith, hope, and charity for which we will fervently pray this Sunday.

Lord God of those who are called to your mercy, increase in us your gifts of faith, hope, and charity.

Sunday, October 14, 2007



John Shea in "Stories of Faith" in "The Storyteller of God" says

Or suddenly
you are gowned in power,
a judge whose verdicts are
as slick as well worn coins.
All salute you in the marketplace
and from their sleeves
pull presents to please you.
Except a certain widow with a certain case
who in the morning waits before your door
and in the court nags
your heartless logic with her need
and at night weeps outside your garden.
One day,
wearied by her words,
you say,
"All right!"
You give justice to the widow
whose ceaseless tongue belongs to God.

Last week we met 10 lepers who were all healed by Jesus. Of the ten healed lepers only one returned to thank God at the feet of Jesus. Jesus said that this one leper's faith had saved him. His faith was expressed in his thankfulness for being healed and it was this faith as thanksgiving that saved him.

This week Jesus encourages his disciples to pray like a widow who is unrelenting in her pursuit of justice. Widows did not have power and Jesus saw his disciples as being powerless in the world. Does persistence in prayer represent another expression of faith?

Read the Gospel for this Sunday to get the full story straight from Luke's pen.

Luke 18:1-8

Jesus told his disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.

He said, "In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, `Grant me justice against my opponent.' For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, `Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.'"

And the Lord said, "Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?"

Will faithful and thankful disciples of Jesus gather together and regularly continue to pray and petition as if God were a judge without fear or respect for anyone? Do you sometimes think that God is such a judge? If an unjust judge finally gives into the cries of a powerless widow, Jesus says that God will surely listen to the cries of those of who faithfully cry to him.

The church is like the widow in Jesus parable. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke to each potential follower of Jesus when he said: “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” This is the work of the church as widow. “And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith of the earth?”

Tuesday, October 09, 2007



Whether you are a child or an adult, we find ourselves faced with the sometimes happy, but often dutiful task of thanking others for gifts we receive.

In Sunday's Gospel, a simple, but profound thank you is offered to Jesus by a leper who is healed.

Luke 17:11-19

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee.

Jesus' journey to Jerusalem takes him through an inbetween place. It is inbetween Samaria and Galilee and between these two places there is a mixture of Jews, Samaritans and other Gentiles. They lived in this area, all seeking to limit their exposure to one another. Now add to the mix a group of people everyone avoided as unclean or impure. These were the lepers.

What is the power of faith that one of these lepers discovers?

As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!"

All ten lepers kept their distance from Jesus to avoid infecting Jesus or making him ritually impure. Everyone knew the drill—avoid contact with lepers and lepers were to avoid contact with others. So, they call out to him using his name; a word that defined their relationship to him; and their request.

JESUS’ NAME MEANS GOD’S SALVATION. The lepers yell God’s salvation toward Jesus. Are these lepers seeking a political messiah to save them? No, they are seeking to be restored to wholeness so that they can return to their families and communities and resume the lives they once enjoyed.

For these lepers, Jesus was God coming to save them from exclusion. They wanted to go home and be “normal” again. Is that what we want as our salvation? Is God’s salvation about making me fit comfortably into a social life of normalcy?

THE LEPERS DEFINE THEIR RELATIONSHIP TO JESUS (GOD’S SALVATION) AS SLAVES TO A MASTER. The master has the power, the lepers believe, to command and make them acceptable to others in their former communities.

“HAVE MERCY ON US,” IS THEIR REQUEST. Is mercy always about making us fit back into our usual human families and communities? For many, being rescued from their families is an act of mercy. In the request for mercy, the loving kindness of God, these lepers are all asking for healing, but how they interpret or understand their healing is the surprise in this story.

When he saw them, he said to them, "Go and show yourselves to the priests."

Jesus sends these ten lepers back to the communities from which they had come. The command to “show yourselves to the priests,” was the accepted process for being restored to the community, both secular and religious. It would be like getting an ok from the doctor saying you were no longer contagious. But actually such a declaration would also say that you were no longer seen as someone who was cursed by God. Imagine if you had some deadly disease and you survived. How might you describe your survival? Was this God showing you particular favor over all of the other folks who were suffering with this same disease? What does such a testimony say about those who continue to suffer?

And as they went, they were made clean.

Healing sometimes happens, metaphorically speaking, on our way to the doctor’s office. The doctor who might have originally diagnosed us and given us our prognosis might shake her head in disbelief as she verifies our healing, but who really healed us? For the nine who did not return to Jesus, but stayed in their hometowns as miracles, as those saved by the mercy of God, God’s mercy was given a certain definition. To be saved is to return to the very community that had deemed you and pronounced you cursed. It was to say that the community was right in such declarations of clean and unclean. But not all ten lepers experienced their healing that way.

Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice.

This leper was not one of Jesus’ people. He was a foreigner, a Samaritan. By his very birth and life in a Samaritan village, he was declared unclean by those other lepers who were also healed. I imagine the community of lepers (these 10) bonded with each other by their common affliction. They were all outcasts.

Even before they were all healed, those old lines of division re-emerged. The Samaritan leper headed home in one direction and the Jewish lepers headed home in the opposite direction. All of them were healed by God on their way back into their old ways of thinking and rejecting. This was “home” to them.

The Samaritan’s return to Jesus as the place where he could properly offer thanks to God is a powerful testimony to the true nature of Christian healing and discipleship. Those of us who claim to be Christians, followers of Jesus, are called to worship each week as lepers, outcasts, who have been saved by God’s all-inclusive love. For us to return to our old ways of thinking that there are those who continue to bear the curse of the leper, the outcast, is to miss the call to live into God’s deep salvation of body, mind, and spirit.

He prostrated himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, "Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" Then he said to him, "Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well."

This scene of worship in which a Samaritan worships at the feet of the hated Jew and the hated Jew heals the hated Samaritan defines Christian worship. This is the grace for which we will pray on Sunday, the grace that precedes and follows us and produces good works.

Each Sunday we pray not as those who have not been saved, but as those who have been saved from our old, deeply ingrained religious and secular prejudices. We identify with those who are outcast, Jesus being the first Outcast of our Faith.

Being healed, truly healed, is more than just being restored to physical health. All ten lepers were healed this way. The faith that heals us is our thankfulness for being set free to love others in the power of the Holy Spirit, without exceptions.

Maybe that is why we call our worship service, the Eucharist, the Great Thanksgiving.

Saturday, September 29, 2007


"Increase our faith!" That is the passionate cry of Jesus' disciples in the Gospel reading for Sunday. Increase means give more, but what sort of faith are they asking for?

A few weeks ago, we read about the four basic sorts of faith that are highlighted in Marcus Borg's book, The Heart of Christianity.

Fiducia: This is faith as trusting in God. There are many examples of this sort of faith outside of the Christian tradition. In matters of money, we speak of fiduciary responsibility. When we are looking for banks and other institutions in which we can deposit our money, we want to be able to trust such institutions.

But faith as trust also applies to all human relationships. Can you really love someone you don't trust? Can you be vulnerable in a relationship with a partner who is not trustworthy?

At some deep and unconscious level we have trust that the sun will rise in the East and set in the west; that our hearts will beat and our blood will continue to flow; and our lungs will bring life giving air to our bodies.

On the currency of the United States of America, we see the words: "In God we trust" written. Today, the question is what is the nature of God? What sort of God do we really trust with our present and current lives?

Visio: The next word used to define faith is "Visio" and raises the question of the nature of God and what God is passionate about. The word God seems to fit a wide variety of understandings of the Divine nature and will (passion).

When we say “God,” who is this one in whom we place our trust and to whom we vow to be loyal? Is our god the god of war like the ancient Mars; a god of the dead, like Jupiter; or a god of family or tribe or nation? Who is the God of Jesus whom we claim to follow as our Lord and Savior?

So faith as a vision of God's nature and will is very important. I have heard some members of A.A and other anonymous groups suggest that we are as sick as our Higher Powers. So, when we speak of faith as a vision of God's nature and will, we are saying as much about ourselves as we are about the god in whom we have faith.

This definition of faith sees assent to doctrines, dogmas, and disciplines established by the historic community of faith as the path of being a faithful person.
These statements of faith contain the consensus understanding of the vision of God (nature and will) held by a given community of faith. Creeds, prayers, and practices are the expressions of such statements of faith.

For many people, simply assenting to such statements of faith is what faith is all about. What we say we believe and how we express our faith is what the world judges us on. When we claim that God is a loving Father who embraces all of his children, our actions tell the world if we really believe in such a God.

In a recent poll conducted by the Barna Group, 16 to 29 year olds in the United States were asked how they viewed Christianity. It was sad to read that for a large majority of these folks Christianity was viewed as too judgmental, too hypocritical, and too old fashioned.

This group of young adults were equally clear (91% of those outside of the church) about where the church stands on homosexuality and saw the church as exhibiting "excessive contempt and unloving attitudes towards gays and lesbians. One of the most frequent criticisms was that they believe the church has made homosexuality a 'bigger sin' than anything else. Moreover, they claim that the church has not helped them apply the biblical teaching on homosexuality to their friendships with gays and lesbians."

Of course, we can dismiss this generations criticisms of the church by either saying they don't know enough about the church to judge us or that we are not doing the things that the young are questioning. I am sure there are many other ways that we can turn a deaf ear to those who are "outside" the church, but I wonder if the way they see the church is God's way of getting our attention and calling us to change our ways.

Fidelitas: Faith as loyalty to God means that we need to be aware of what God would have us to do and then follow that path with steadfastness. The younger generation made the same complaint about Christianity that has been lodged in almost every generation: "Christianity in today's society no longer looks like Jesus." This is not just the opinion of those outside the church, but is true of those inside the church.

This brings us back to the disciples' demand, "Increase our Faith!" Our appointed reading does not give us the context for this impassioned request. Why were they shouting for more faith? Here are the words of Jesus that immediately precede our passage:

"If your brother or sister sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he or she sins against you seven times and seven times comes back to you and says, 'I repent', forgive them."

In a world in which we constantly offend and trespass against our neighbors, forgiveness is like the blood that nurtures, brings life, and removes toxic wastes from our bodies. When we claim Christ as our Lord and our Savior, we come under the compassionate and forgiving blood of the Lamb of God. Lord, increase our faith as trust, loyalty, and assenting to the God who offers his forgiving life, nature, and passion to the world. Let our faith be the sign to every generation that God is working in us and through us. Lord, increase our faith!"

Friday, September 21, 2007

Dying Together: Lazarus and the Rich Man

A meditation on the Story of Lazarus and the Rich Man found in St. Luke’s Gospel and first offered on October 1, 1989 at St. Francis Episcopal Church, Palos Verdes Estates, California. RWC+

Poor, sick, dying Lazarus---
All you had on earth
Was your name
your great poverty.

Poor, sick, dying Rich Man---
all you had on earth
was your anonymity
your great wealth.

Poor, sick, dying Lazarus---
all you needed were
the crumbs off
the Rich Man’s Table.

Poor, sick, dying Rich Man---
all you needed was to share
Lazarus’ great poverty
so you could know
God’s greater wealth.

Poor, sick, dying Lazarus-Rich Man---
you both died
for lack
of one another.



Lazarus! Lazarus! Speak to me!
Come to me!
Cool me!
Save me!
It is hard to believe in my own poverty, let alone God, the resurrection, my need for Lazarus, for Moses, for the Prophets, for the Christ.

Who and what can I believe?



Larzarus! Lazarus! My brother! My sister! My soul!

Speak to me!

Come to me!

Cool me!

Save me!

Before we both die.

Monday, September 17, 2007


In the introduction to this week's Gospel Reflection that was included in the Email Update for the week (to subscribe go to, I posed two questions:

Question: Does doing an act that results in good require that the one doing the act be motivated by self-less love?

Question: If we die to self and allow Christ to live in us, does this mean that Christ is acting through us to forgive others?

As you read through the prophet Amos' scorching words today, he does not seem to be concerned with why the rich have acted as they have. He does not seem to be interested in the psychological reasons for their behavior, but rather how their actions have impacted the poor. Our reading ends without Amos calling for a change of behavior. He simply describes their behavior and reminds them that God will not forget what they have done.

Amos 8:4-7

Hear this, you that trample on the needy,
and bring to ruin the poor of the land,
saying, "When will the new moon be over
so that we may sell grain;
and the sabbath,
so that we may offer wheat for sale?

We will make the ephah small and the shekel great,
and practice deceit with false balances,
buying the poor for silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals,
and selling the sweepings of the wheat."
The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob:
Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.

Luke 16:1-13

Jesus said to the disciples, "There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, `What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.'

From Amos' threatening that God will not forget what the rich have done to the poor, we sit and listen to Jesus tell a story and what a story it is! When I put myself in the manager's shoes, I can feel that horrible flush of red boiling up inside of me and turning my face bright red. How horrible it is to be caught doing something wrong.

But the manager in Jesus' story does not seem to be embarrassed or shamed when he is caught. Like the rich to whom Amos addressed his fiery words, the manager and the rich master he served seemed to be unrepentant for the damage they have done to those in debt to them. Rather, his first concern seems to be how he can land on his feet financially after he gets the boot. As you can probably guess, for the manager, it was all about him and his needs. The story continues:

Then the manager said to himself, `What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.' So, summoning his master's debtors one by one, he asked the first, `How much do you owe my master?' He answered, `A hundred jugs of olive oil.' He said to him, `Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.' Then he asked another, `And how much do you owe?' He replied, `A hundred containers of wheat.' He said to him, `Take your bill and make it eighty.'

The manager did not want to do the sort of work that those who are poor have to do (dig or beg). In fact, his only possible shame comes not from cheating his master and the poor with whom he dealt, but over being viewed by others as cursed in poverty, poverty that he himself had help create and perpetuate through his dishonesty.

The manager was a money man, not a slave who digs or a beggar who begs. Jesus’ followers were mostly people whose families and personal lives had been destroyed financially by men such as the manager and the rich man for whom he worked. So, I doubt that these poor folks had much sympathy for either of the characters in Jesus’ story.

As Jesus tells this story, do you feel sympathy for either the rich man or the manager? Or, do you wish that both the rich man and the manager were "fired" by God as stewards of his wealth?

Did the manager play his hand right? It seems he did.

And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.

Remember that this story is being told to Jesus’ disciples. Collectively, they are not wealthy. Other than Levi, the tax collector, those whom Jesus called were among the folks who had to work hard for their living. So, what is the point of telling this story to them?

Forgiveness of debt was a rare thing. Forgiving debt would ultimately lead to a redistribution of wealth in the world and reduce the number of the rich and those who suffered in terrible poverty. Is this the kind of world that Amos believed would come if God's ways were followed? Is this the kind of world for which Jesus' prayed "Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven?"

To pray for a new way of living and sharing may be the first step in changing our world. Or, like the manager, our actions of forgiving the debts of others, may just begin to change our world whether we are motivated to do God's will or not. Forgiveness is God's way of being God. God forgives with the same ease that we breath in and out.

Perhaps the manager, through his shrewdness, has allowed God's will to be done. Jesus says as much when commenting upon the story he tells. To participate in the life of God may begin for many of us by simply immitating God's generocity. Forgiving the spiritual debt of the rich is not condoning their actions against the poor.

God's justice demands that violence and power that create poverty be ended.This is the message of the prophets. God's love and mercy demands that rich and poor alike be brought together in peace. Jesus' story seems to suggest that our path to this time of shalom will come about through the most unusual circumstances and sometimes through self centered people trying to save themselves from financial ruin and social disgrace.

Jesus may be saying to all of us that we have a chance to repent, to turn around from the sins that create and maintain wealth at the expense of others.The course of action for such of us is demonstrated by the manager. He makes friends with the poor by forgiving their debts and he makes friends with his rich master by making him look good in the eyes of the people (wealthy and powerful people don’t like to be taken advantage of or be made to seem a fool).

Is Jesus suggesting that the motive for forgiving debt or sins can be less than pure love? It seems so. The result of such repentance is that those in financial debt are forgiven their debts and those who repent of having created such inequities are “welcomed into the eternal homes.”

When it comes to forgiveness that results in relief of another’s burdens, are personal motivations are irrelevant. Disciples of Christ are commanded to spread the Good News that God is in the business of forgiveness and he wants us to be his partners.

Here is how Jesus ends this story of forgiven debt:

"Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth."

It appears that faithfulness in forgiving small debts or sins is a litmus test for being able to forgive big debts and sins against us. In fact, Jesus calls lack of faithfulness, dishonest. Why? Perhaps it is because if God is forgiving everyone continually as a way of allowing all of us to change, our refusal to forgive debts or sins is a form of stealing what has been given to us to share with others. When we don’t share, we are wasting a gift God has given to us all.

You no doubt have seen those who campaign against the sins of others while wrapping themselves in a self-righteous and self-justifying religious, political, social, or economic flag or other symbol. This would appear to be a clear case of dishonesty in sharing the grace of God with others.

To whom are you indebted, Jesus asks. Mammon is perhaps the wealth and abundance of a loving and forgiving God which is horded by a powerful few. Jesus says that to serve God is to share the wealth of God, whether it is the resources of our planet or the merciful giving of a chance and time to change. Forgive, forgive, forgive. Forgive for any reason, selfish or altruistic, just forgive. The act of forgiving changes us and the way the world goes.

Forgiving little slights and hurts is the training for faithfulness in larger sins and debts. God is all forgiving and invites us to be his partner. Can we make a deal?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Whenever I read the Gospel for this coming Sunday, I find the parable of the shepherd who goes in search for the one lost sheep a real challenge. It challenges me because so often we think of the lost sheep as the down and out sinner who is pretty easy for us to identify as blatantly doing things that God and our society deem to be wicked or unacceptable.

But is this the lost sheep that the shepherd is really seeking? We may get that idea from the setting of this parable. Luke records that “all the tax collectors and sinners were coming to listen to Jesus.” Ah, so Jesus, like the shepherd in his parable is seeking these lost sinners and inviting them to repent and change their ways.

I do believe that Jesus does seek those in every generation who are marginalized by the religious leadership of their day. I do believe that Jesus’ message of a loving God who forgives and invites us to do the same is the shepherd of our souls. But in this particular setting who might better fit the description of a lost sheep?

After noting that sinners and tax collectors were listening to Jesus, Luke says that the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “this fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Perhaps the truly lost sheep is really these leaders who are not listening, but judging. It is hard to be open to grace if we are busy judging others. And it is especially difficult to accept our lostness if we believe that we are the ones who define who is lost.

Jesus’ stories about a sheep and a coin that are lost do not point a condemnatory finger at these religious people who grumble at his actions. In fact, the parables end with a note of celebration. Imagine if all of those who use religion to judge others harshly were suddenly to change. Jesus says that such turning back to God (repentance) results in a heavenly celebration. God and his angels rejoice and invite those of us who dwell on earth to join the celebration.

St. Paul lays claim to being lost until the grace and love of God found him on the road to Damascus. In our reading from I Timothy on Sunday, Paul says of himself:

1 Timothy 1:12-17

I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence.

Paul was not a tax collector nor a sinner by the standards of the religious establishment. Indeed, he says he was keeping the law perfectly. And yet, he calls himself “a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence.”

Why a blasphemer?

Blasphemy is an anglicized form of the Greek term blasphemia, which scholars believe probably derives from two roots, blapto, to injure, and pheme, to speak. So one who blasphemes speaks against someone in such a way as to cause injury to the person. Paul believed that his words against Jesus and against those who followed Jesus had resulted in injury to them. The Pharisees and scribes who grumbled against Jesus were saying that he had an evil spirit. Such evil was normally dealt with by violence against the person so charged.

Is this any different today?

By declaring that a person is evil or that a group of people are evil, we see religious, national, and power groups justify acts of violence. This week we remember the events of September 11, 2001. Those who launched the attacks on the WTC and caused death and destruction elsewhere, did so in the name of a god for whom violence is a justified by declaring the enemies they attack evil. Paul declared Jesus to be evil and thereby declared the God whom Jesus called Father, evil. This was his self-confessed blasphemy.

Why a persecutor?

Once Paul declared Jesus and those who followed him evil, the next step was to systematically go after those who followed Jesus. Notice that in Paul’s confession he does not call himself “the defender of the true faith.” The grace of God allowed Paul to see himself truly and completely. God’s love allowed Paul to see his ignorance and unbelief with complete honesty.

Why a man of violence?

Paul no longer saw violence as acceptable for those who followed the God of Jesus. Mahatma Gandhi once said: “I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.” On September 11, 1906, Gandhi started the non-violence movement known as satyagraha.*

Paul was transformed from a man of violence to a man of peace. Jesus' death revealed and judged our use of violence against others. Paul was the lost sheep that Jesus found and brought home.

Paul wrote of his change of heart and soul:

But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners-- of whom I am the foremost. But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

So, who is the lost sheep of whom Jesus speak?

Perhaps it is each of us who speak evil of others or who keep silent when such blasphemy is being spoken.

Perhaps it is each of us when our sense of religious or secular zeal leads to targeting those against whom we have spoken.

Perhaps it is each of us when our words and actions lead ultimately to violence to others.

The Good News we hear today is that God as shepherd or the searching woman are seeking us, not to condemn us, but to bring us into the celebration of grace, mercy, and life.

Who will be at the party?

In addition to ourselves, we will find those against whom we have spoken evil or acted against with malice. We will find Jesus, the tax collectors, and sinners. We will finally come home to God.


* Satya is the Sanskrit word for “truth,” and graha (from the Sanskrit root grah cognate with English word “grab” or “hold on to”) can be rendered as “effort/endeavor.” The term was popularized during the Indian Independence Movement, and is used in many Indian languages including Hindi.
Gandhi described it as follows:
Its root meaning is holding on to truth, hence truth-force. I have also called it love-force or soul-force. In the application of satyagraha, I discovered in the earliest stages that pursuit of truth did not admit of violence being inflicted on one’s opponent but that he must be weaned from error by patience and sympathy. For what appears to be truth to the one may appear to be error to the other. And patience means self-suffering. So the doctrine came to mean vindication of truth, not by infliction of suffering on the opponent, but on one’s self.[1]

Sunday, September 02, 2007


Walter Wink
"The Third Way"
Program #3707
First broadcast November 14, 1993


Dr. Walter Wink is Professor of Biblical Interpretation at Auburn Theological Seminary in New York City. A former parish minister, Walter has taught at Union Theological Seminary and was a Peace Fellow at the United States Institute of Peace. He is a frequent lecturer on peace and justice issues and is the author of many books. He writes frequently for magazines like "Sojourners" and "The Other Side." [Biographical information is correct as of the broadcast date noted above.]

"The Third Way"

One of the most misunderstood passages in all of the Bible is Jesus' teaching about turning the other cheek. The passage runs this way: "You have heard that it was said, `An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, do not resist one who is evil. If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also. And if anyone takes you to court and sues you for your outer garment, give your undergarment as well. If one of the occupation troops forces you to carry his pack one mile, carry it two."

This passage has generally been understood by people as teaching non-resistance. Do not resist one who is evil has been taken to mean simply let them run all over you. Give up all concern for your own justice. If they hit you on one cheek, turn the other and let them batter you there too, which has been bad advice for battered women. As far as the soldier forcing you to take his pack an extra mile, well are you doing that voluntarily? It has become a platitude meaning extend yourself.

Jesus could not have meant those kinds of things. He resisted evil with every fiber of His being. There is not a single instance in which Jesus does not resist evil when He encounters it. The problem begins right there with the word resist. The Greek term is antistenai. Anti is familiar to us in English still, "against," "Anti"-Defamation League. Stenai means to stand. So, "stand against." Resist is not a mistranslation so much as an undertranslation. What has been overlooked is the degree to which antistenai is used in the Old Testament in the vast majority of cases as a technical term for warfare. To "stand against" refers to the marching of the two armies up against each other until they actually collide with one another and the battle ensues. That is called "taking a stand."

Ephesians 6:13 says, "Therefore put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand (antistenai) in that evil day and having done all to stand (stenai)."

The image there is not of a punch drunk boxer somehow managing to stay on his feet even though he is being pummeled by his adversary. It is to keep on fighting. Don't retreat. Don't give up. Don't turn your back and flee but stay in there and fight to the bitter end.

When Jesus says, "Do not resist one who is evil," there is something stronger than simply resist. It's do not resist violently. Jesus is indicating do not resist evil on its own terms. Don't let your opponent dictate the terms of your opposition. If I have a hoe and my opponent has a rifle, I am obviously going to have to get a rifle in order to fight on equal terms, but then my opponent gets a machine gun, so I have to get a machine gun. You have a spiral of violence that is unending.

Jesus is trying to break that spiral of violence. Don't resist one who is evil probably means something like, don't turn into the very thing you hate. Don't become what you oppose. The earliest translation of this is probably in a version of Romans 12 where Paul says, "Do not return evil for evil."

Jesus gives three examples of what He means by not returning evil for evil. The first of these is, "If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also." Imagine if I were your assailant and I were to strike a blow with my right fist at your face, which cheek would it land on? It would be the left. It is the wrong cheek in terms of the text we are looking at. Jesus says, "If anyone strikes you on the right cheek..." I could hit you on the right cheek if I used a left hook, but that would be impossible in Semitic society because the left hand was used only for unclean tasks. You couldn't even gesture with your left hand in public. The only way I could hit you on the right cheek would be with the back of the hand.

Now the back of the hand is not a blow intended to injure. It is a symbolic blow. It is intended to put you back where you belong. It is always from a position of power or superiority. The back of the hand was given by a master to a slave or by a husband to a wife or by a parent to a child or a Roman to a Jew in that period. What Jesus is saying is in effect, "When someone tries to humiliate you and put you down, back into your social location which is inferior to that person, and turn your other cheek."

Now in the process of turning in that direction, if you turned your head to the right, I could no longer backhand you. Your nose is now in the way. Furthermore, you can't backhand someone twice. It's like telling a joke a second time. If it doesn't work the first time, it has failed. By turning the other cheek, you are defiantly saying to the master, "I refuse to be humiliated by you any longer. I am a human being just like you. I am a child of God. You can't put me down even if you have me killed." This is clearly no way to avoid trouble. The master might have you flogged within an inch of your life, but he will never be able to assert that you have no dignity.

The second instance Jesus gives is, "If anyone takes you to court and sues you for your outer garment, give your undergarment as well." The situation here is dealing with collateral for a loan. If a person was trying to get a loan, normally they would use animals or land as collateral for the loan but the very poorest of the poor, according to Deuteronomy 24:10-13, could hock their outer garment. It was the long robe that they used to sleep in at night and used as an overcoat by day. The creditor had to return this garment every night but could come get it every morning and thus harass the debtor and hopefully get him to repay.

Jesus' audience is made up of debtors -- "If anyone takes you to court..." He is talking to the very people who know they are going to be dragged into court for indebtedness and they know also that the law is on the side of the wealthy. They are never going to win a case. So Jesus says to them, "Okay, you are not going to win the case. So take the law and with jujitsu-like finesse, throw it into a point of absurdity. When your creditor sues you for your outer garment, give your undergarment as well."

They didn't have underwear in those days. That meant taking off the only stitch of clothing you had left on you and standing nude, naked, in court. As the story of Jonah reminds us, nakedness was not only taboo in Israel. The shame of nakedness fell not on the person who was naked, but on the person who observed their nakedness. The creditor is being put in the position of being shamed by the nakedness of the debtor. Imagine the debtor leaving the courtroom, walking out in the street and all of his friends coming and seeing him in his all-togethers and saying, "What happened to you?"

He says, "That creditor has got all my clothes," and starts walking down to his house. People are coming out of bazaars and alleys, "What happened? What happened?" Everyone is talking about it and chattering and falling in behind him, fifty-hundred people marching down in this little demonstration toward his house. You can imagine it is going to be some time in that village before any creditor takes anybody else to court.

What Jesus is showing us in these two examples so far is that you don't have to wait for a utopian revolution to come along before you can start living humanly. You can begin living humanly now under the conditions of the old order. The kingdom of God is breaking into the myths of these people now, the moment they begin living the life of the future, the kingdom of God.

Jesus' third example is "If one of the occupation troops forces you to carry his pack one mile, carry it two." Now these packs weighed 65 to 85 pounds, not counting weapons. These soldiers had to move quickly to get to the borders where trouble had broken out. The military law made it permissible for a soldier to grab a civilian and force the civilian to carry the pack, but only one mile. There were mile markers on every Roman road. If -- and this is the part we have left out -- the civilian were forced to carry the pack more than one mile, the soldier was in infraction of military code, and military code was always more strictly enforced than civilian. So Jesus is saying, "All right. The next time the soldier forces you to carry his pack, cooperate. Carry it and then when you come to the mile marker, keep going."

The soldier suddenly finds himself in a position he has never been in before. He has always known before exactly what you would do. You would mutter and you would complain, but you would carry it. As soon as the mile marker came, you would drop it. Suddenly, this person is carrying the pack on. The soldier doesn't know why, but he also knows that he is in infraction of military law and if his centurion finds out about this, he is in deep trouble. Jesus is teaching these people how to take the initiative away from their oppressors and within the situation of that old order, find a new way of being.

It is interesting that Gandhi said, "Everyone in the world knows that Jesus and His teaching is non-violent, except Christians." What Jesus is articulating here is a way of living in the world without violence, a way of overcoming domination in all of its forms by using a way that will not create new forms of violence. In the past, we have thought we had only two choices, either resist evil or don't resist evil. Jesus seemed to be saying, "Don't resist evil," and, therefore, non-resistance seemed to be the only alternative. Be supine, submit, surrender, flee, give up. It seems as if Jesus were asking us to be a doormat for God, to give up all concern for our own justice as well as the justice of others. Now we see in this passage interpreted in a new light, Jesus is not calling on people to be non-resistant. He is calling on them to be non-violent. He is calling on them to resist, yes, but to resist in a way that is not injurious or harmful to the other person.

In just the last few year, non-violence has emerged in a way that no one ever dreamed it could emerge in this world. In 1989 alone, there were thirteen nations that underwent non-violent revolutions. All of them successful except one, China. That year 1.7 billion people were engaged in national non-violent revolutions. That is a third of humanity. If you throw in all of the other non-violent revolutions in all the other nations in this century, you get the astonishing figure of 3.34 billion people involved in non-violent revolutions. That is two-thirds of the human race. No one can ever again say that non-violence doesn't work. It has been working like crazy. It is time the Christian churches got involved in this revolution because what is happening in the world is that the world itself is discovering the truth of Jesus' teaching, and here we come in the church, bringing up the rear.

This is the most exciting time a person could imagine to be alive. The gospel has never been more relevant. The world has never been more ready.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


Sound like a dumb question?

The idea of Sabbath comes from the story of God's creation of the world and the universe beyond. In that story we hear that God finished creating on the sixth day and then rested on the seventh day.

When Jesus heals the woman on the Sabbath, he is accused of violating the sacred commandment to keep this special day. The Sabbath set Judaism apart from the rest of the world. It was part of their identity as a people devoted and in love with God. After having been slaves in Egypt and working long and hard hours and days without rest, the Sabbath was a true gift for Israel.

The Sabbath also represented an imitation of God who rested after creating the entire cosmos. Since imitation is a great way of showing respect and admiration and love for the one whom you imitate, it was Israel’s way of trying to follow God by resting from their 6 days of labor.

Jesus’ ministry is marked by conflict with the religious leaders of his day who specifically defined what activities were acceptable and unacceptable on the Sabbath. Specifically, Jesus’ sin against the Sabbath was healing those who were sick.

This sounds like an absurd charge to most of us today. Imagine medical personnel who refuse to provide their healing ministrations on the Sabbath. We would find this shocking. When Jesus points out to his challengers that they would certainly treat their animals to a drink of water on the Sabbath, so why should healing this daughter of Israel be a problem for them, they felt shame. Perhaps their shame was the result of the conflict they felt between two very strong moral imperatives: keeping the Sabbath and healing. Both of these actions were truly the result of God's commandment. So, the horrible experience of shame always follows when we are caught embrassing one value to the exclusion of another more valued action of compassion.

For these Pharisees, the Sabbath observation set them aside from their Gentile rulers from Rome. It was their silent protest against the ways of the world and empire. The Romans had taken their land, their wealth, their political sovereignty, but they could not take their peculiar identity based upon their faithful following of the laws of purity. These laws clearly separated them from the Romans.

Jesus may have called them hypocrites because they chose to base their identity on a set of religious practices rather than the path of love, compassion, and justice offered by God. They were settling from a religious identity rather than the higher and more world changing call of God.

Sometimes when we don’t think we have much control over our lives, we settle for living grudgingly like slaves under a harsh master called LIFE or JUST THE WAY THINGS ARE. For those of us who are hypocrites, we often miss our true vocation as children of God and substitute the slavery of an identity that has no permanence or life changing power.

Does God ever take a day off? According to Jesus, God is still at work in the world, transforming each of us and the ways we relate and treat each other. The woman whom Jesus heals in our Gospel story is a true image of those who live in a community without the Sabbath of God. The woman and the way she was treated by the community was the outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual disease of her community. In healing her, Jesus sets her and her community free from such bondage to religious rules and regulations that do not lift up the compassion, mercy, and justice of God. When she is healed, the woman immediately praises God.

Imagine if you had been the target of your family or community at work or church. Would you not feel like this woman, bent over, self-protective, unable to stand up on your own? When we are slaves to such abusive communities, we become icons of sin rather than icons of God's grace. Jesus heals this woman and her community. Her praising God gives us all an example of how life can be without hypocritical rule following.

Isaiah describes this situation perfectly as the yoke of slavery, the pointing of accusatory fingers within a community, and the speaking of evil against each other. This is not Sabbath living. This is how Isaiah invites his people and us to a new way of living:

If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
The LORD will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.
Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.
If you refrain from trampling the sabbath,
from pursuing your own interests on my holy day;
if you call the sabbath a delight
and the holy day of the LORD honorable;
if you honor it, not going your own ways,
serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs;
then you shall take delight in the LORD,
and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth;
I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob,
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


This Sunday we will be celebrating the wedding anniversary of Susan Mulledy and Dominic DeFrank. We will be using large sections of the Marriage ceremony to remind Susan and Dominic and us, the Christ Church community, about the love of God which calls us to relationships and gives us the grace to live faithfully in those relationships. The marriage feast, as we learned last week, is the icon of our future with God. A great marriage ceremony and party make for a incredible time of joy for all who attend.

In this day of frightening scenarios of apocalyptic futures, Jesus offers us a happy wedding day instead. Wow! God asks us to wait in faith (“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen.”) for the wedding feast to begin.

In last week’s Gospel, Jesus says that those who are alert (waiting for a different ending to the human story than the nightmare proposed by many religious and secular folks) will greet the master who is returning from the ultimate wedding feast and their master will serve them an amazing meal from the leftovers he brings home with him.

Well, that was last week. This week Jesus offers us an image of his baptism; a clear statement of his profound impact on human relationships; and a call to interpret the present based upon his life and death.

Here is the Gospel for this week with commentary:

Luke 12:49-56

Jesus said, "I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!
Fire is an icon for the Holy Spirit. If Jesus brings the Holy Spirit to the earth, than we can expect it to spread like “wild fire.” The work of the Holy Spirit is to re-present Jesus and his work to the world.
I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed!

What is the baptism of which Jesus is speaking? We often think of baptism as a ceremonial action which takes away our personal sins. But Jesus underwent baptism too. Does that mean that he had sins which needed to be washed away? I would suggest that Jesus’ baptism is about his acceptance of humanity’s sinful action against the countless victims of our human culture. Jesus' becomes the victim of sacred human violence.

In pre-Christian days, culture was built upon the practice of “all against one.” When a crisis arose within a community or a family, the solution of everyone ganging up against one person or a minority group within the community and expelling them through violent acts, was the norm. It is this practice that human religion sanctions and which is still present in all of the world's religions. Therefore, Jesus is sometimes seen as standing against institutional religion.

In his baptism, Jesus identifies our greatest sin of keeping peace and unity through the exclusion of the one. In fact, our baptism not only pardons us from our participation in this great sin, but allows us to experience what the victims of such cultural sin experience. At the heart of our baptism are forgiveness and a new sort of intelligence. We can no longer blindly accept the exclusion of another person or stand by silently as a minority of our brothers and sisters are vilified, demonized, excluded and murdered. Religion without God always uses this method of peace keeping. Jesus calls us to return to God.

The new intelligence of the victim is one of the gifts of our baptism, but it is also what makes being a Christian a real challenge. As Scripture says, “we have been baptized into Christ.” We can no longer easily accept the simple and treacherous peace and unity provided at the expense of our victims.

Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided:

Father against son
and son against father,
mother against daughter
and daughter against mother,
mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law."

Perhaps Jesus’ words about not bringing peace to the earth, but the Holy Spirit (fire) make more sense. Jesus’ presence on earth and his death at our hands started a "new thing" on planet earth. Notice that instead 4 against 1, Jesus’ death and resurrection now denies us the unanimous moral voice that votes people off our island.

If you have ever been the scapegoat in your family, at work, or in the community, you may have prayed for someone to come to your aid and to speak on your behalf. When no one spoke up for you, you experienced the intelligence of the victim first hand. This was Jesus experience too. Will this new gift be rejected as we seek to avoid being scapegoated again?

Perhaps you have never been the scapegoat. Maybe you have seen others go through the misery of being excluded or even physically hurt or murdered. On the world stage, every generation has seen genocide carried out against some group or another. Many of these people died and were buried in unmarked graves. Jesus speaks for them because he is one of them and one with them (AT-ONE-MENT). God gave this one victim the voice to speak in his dying and in his rising to life again.God provided witnesses to record the work of human culture. We call this record, the Gospel. And God gives us the gift of baptism wherein we join Jesus and those of every generation who have been victims of our cultural peace keeping machine.

He also said to the crowds, "When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, `It is going to rain'; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, `There will be scorching heat'; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?"

We are pretty good at predicting the weather these days with our Doppler radar and our satellite photos from space. But in Jesus’ day, the weather was forecast in a more immediate way. Clouds in the west and rain meant rain was coming. A south wind blowing meant that a scorching heat was coming.

Jesus compares these unremarkable and accurate weather signs to the sign of the “present time.” He was not just speaking about his present time or even the present time of some past age. Jesus is the sign that is present in every moment and every time. He is the sign that needs to be interpreted rightly and upon which our actions should be based.

Jesus calls those who do not know how to interpret the present time hypocrites. The word hypocrite comes from the Greek which means "under judging." In fact, the word "sin" is translated as "missing the mark." Hypocrites misinterpret the critical issues of their time by focusing on some lesser issue. Focusing on the sins of others is the beginning of the path to missing the mark. The sin which put Jesus, the Son of the living God, on the cross, is our human way of blindly combatting evil by seeing it in others and seeking to cut such people out of our world.

Does this happen in the United States? Certainly. What do we talk about when people are dying in Darfur? Afghanistan? What fingers are pointed at certain members of our society while one billion people try to live on less than a dollar a day? When we miss Jesus as the One and Only True Sign of Our Time, we are hypocrites. God sent Jesus to save us from such blindness. Jesus speaks on behalf of the true victims of the world. Jesus sets a wild fire of the Holy Spirit on planet earth.