Bob Cornner

Bob Cornner
Visting St. Andrew's Torrance

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Gathering and Scattering



Where charity and love are, there God is.

Ubi caritas et amor.
Ubi caritas Deus ibi est.


Your love, O Jesus Christ,
has gathered us together.

May your love, O Jesus Christ,
be foremost in our lives.

Let us love one another
as God has loved us.

Let us be one in love together
in the one bread of Christ.

The love of God in Jesus Christ
bears eternal joy.

The love of God in Jesus Christ
will never have an end.


Ubi Caritas is a beautiful hymn from the Taize community that celebrates and gives thanks for the only true and lasting source of unity and peace in creation. On the surface, I think most people would agree that love is the glue that has the power to put the fractured human family back together again, but our behavior shows that we are blind to how God’s love does the gathering.

Instead, we practice our own version of gathering that actually results in scattering, fear, and violence. God’s gathering love is eternal, non-violent, and inclusive. Human systems for creating peace and unity are temporary, violent, and exclusive.

This week’s Gospel provides a summary of these two ways of gathering and scattering. I have offered some questions for your reflection that may help in your understanding of Jesus and the sort of gathering he was sent to accomplish.

Here are a couple of questions that you may wish to consider as you read Sunday's Gospel reading.

Why is the image of a hen seeking to protect her brood descriptive of God's love and the community such love creates, sustains, and nurtures?


Why is Jerusalem (city of peace) a contrasting image to the mother hen?

What happens in Jerusalem that makes it a model of humanity seeking peace without God's love?

WOULD YOU LIKE MORE QUESTIONS TO GUIDE YOUR PREPARATION FOR SUNDAY?


If you would like to do more reading and reflecting on the Gospel, please go to the section below. For those who would rather not use the study guide below, I offer this antiphonal prayer from the Iona community as a meditation on our weekly gathering together.

GATHER US IN

Gather us in, the lost and the lonely, the broken and breaking, the tired and the aching who long for the nourishment found at your feast.

Gather us in.

the sure and the doubting, the wishing and wondering, the puzzled and pondering who long for the company found at your feast.

Gather us in.

the proud and pretentious, the sure and superior, the never inferior, who long for the leveling found at your feast.

Gather us in.

the bright and the bustling, the stirrers, the shakers, the kind laughter makers who long for the deeper joys found at your feast.

Gather us in.

from corner or limelight, from mansion or campsite, from fears and obsession, from tears and depression, from untold excesses, from treasured successes, to meet, to eat, be given a seat, be joined to the vine, be offered new wine, become like the least, be found at the feast.

Gather us in!

We meet in the name of God, Creator of the universe, source of true humanity, mother and father of all.

Amen.

We meet in the name of Jesus Word made flesh, savior of fallen humanity, lover of all.

Amen.

We meet in the name of the Holy Spirit, Lord and giver of life, midwife of new humanity, inspirer of all.

Amen.

QUESTIONS ON THIS WEEK'S GOSPEL

Just before the Pharisees come up to Jesus to warn him of Herod wanting to kill him, Jesus tells a parable in response to the question: “Lord, will only a few be saved?” Jesus said to the questioner: “Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able.”

1. What do you think Jesus is telling those of us who ask about the number of people who will be saved?

2. What is the relationship between the door being narrow and the many who try to enter, but are not able?

3. Can you imagine a picture of many people trying to enter through one narrow door? What does such a picture suggest to you about the door and about those who are trying to get through it?

4. When you think of the word, “narrow,” what do you think Jesus meant by it?

5. Does Jesus image of the narrow door make it sound like Jesus is saying very few will be saved?

Jesus continues his response by saying: “When once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then in reply he will say to you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I do not know where you come from; go away from me, all you evil doers!’ There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the Kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out. Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God. Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”

1. Who is the owner of the house that shuts the door?

2. What do you think “once the owner of the house has got up” means?

3. Imagine what the inside of the owner’s house looks like. How would you describe it?

4. Before the owner of the house shuts the door, the door is open. Why didn’t those outside go through the door before it was closed?

5. What happens that makes the people outside the door want to come through the door?

6. How would you describe the outsiders demand of the owner? (“Lord, open to us.)

7. The owner claims not to know where these outsiders come from. Why should that prevent him from opening the door for them?

8. Eating and drinking with the owner and being taught in the streets by the owner suggest that these outsiders know the owner well. Why has the owner denied them?

9. Why do you think the owner referred to these outsiders as evil doers?

10. What does Jesus say will cause these evil doers to weep and gnash their teeth?

11. What does weeping and gnashing of teeth mean to you? What emotions seemed to be involved?

12. Why does Jesus say that people from distant places will be eat in the kingdom of God?

13. Who are the first and who are the last?

Now we continue into the reading for this Sunday. I offer some additional questions to help guide your study of the passage.

Luke 13:31-35

At that very hour, some Pharisees came and said to Jesus, "Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you."

“At that very hour…” seems to connect the story just told with what is about to happen. I would suggest that we let the previous story inform us in our reading of the entire reading.

1. Does it sound to you as if the Pharisees know Jesus well?

2. Why do you think they were warning Jesus to flee from Herod?

He said to them, "Go and tell that fox for me, 'Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.'

1. Why does Jesus call Herod a fox?

2. Why does Jesus tell Herod what he is doing?

3. What is the relationship between Jesus casting out demons and performing cures and finishing his work?

4. Why does Jesus use a three day time frame on his work?

5. Why is it impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem?

6. What is the meaning of the word: Jerusalem?

7. Is Jesus calling himself a prophet?

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, 'Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'"

1. Jesus repeats the name of the city twice and then describes what happens in the city in two different ways. Why do you think he did that?

2. Why is killing and stoning those whom God sends to the city related to Jesus image of God as a hen gathering her brood under her wings?

3. Why did Jesus desire to gather Jerusalem’s children to himself rather than adults?

4. Why would someone want to live in a city where violence against prophets and messengers from God seems to be the way order and peace is maintained?

5. Would Jesus’ model of gathering, like a hen gathering her brood, really create a better place in which to live?

6. What is the relationship between Jesus saying, “See, your house is left to you,’ and the owner of the house saying, “I do not know where you come from?”

7. Which of the two houses mentioned above has the narrow door?

8. What part of our Eucharistic liturgy has the words: “Blessed is the one ho comes in the name of the Lord?” What significance does it have in our service and in this passage?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Remember You Are Dust....


We have just observed another Ash Wednesday. It is a day of ritual that urges us to truly and honestly look at who we are. There are many competing understandings of what it means to be human. Are we born rotten sinners from our mother's wombs? Do we have any capacity to act unselfishly and to serve others? Are we capable of doing right and avoiding wrong? Were we born pure and then corrupted by our social institutions of family, religion, and civic life?

Sunday is the first Sunday in Lent. We will hear the story of Jesus' temptations in the wilderness. These temptations test Jesus' nature. They seek to know the stuff out of which he is made. All three temptations are baited with potentially good outcomes. In fact, we are faced with similar temptations every single day of our lives. Read Luke' account and see if you can see how each temptation comes your way in one form or another every day.

Luke 4:1-13

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread." Jesus answered him, "It is written, 'One does not live by bread alone.'"

Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, "To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours." Jesus answered him, .

"It is written,'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'"
Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written,

'He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,'
and 'On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'"

Jesus answered him, "It is said, 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.


Food for a hungry man, glory (a good reputation) and authority, and personal protection against harm are all good things, but Jesus rejects each offer because they come with a price. How much are you willing to give up to obtain food for survival, a good reputation or even praise from others, authority to control your destiny, or a personal protection policy that might extend to your family and other loved ones?

Jesus seems to understand that such choices, when presented to the human race, have offered the carrot of personal advantage, but at other people's expense. There are many current and ancient philosophies and myths that seek to justify the giving into these temptations, but most of us simply fall into such sin and become "subject to evil and death" when the trap slams shut around us.

We then seek the comfort of a rugged philosophy or a "common sense" approach that will justify the state in which we find ourselves. Jesus offers us an opportunity to live a new life outside of this trap where we are no longer subject to evil and death. He calls us to come and live with him and asks us to allow him to live in us.

Once we have experienced the world that Jesus offers; once we have found that abiding place in Christ; once we have allowed him to find his home in us; we, too, will have responses to temptations that sound very much like the ones Jesus gave:

"It is written, 'One does not live by bread alone.'"

"It is written,'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'"

"It is said, 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'"

May God give us the grace to speak these words and to do them.

Monday, February 12, 2007

IS THE VERDICT IN?


Woes, Blessings, and the Resurrection of the Dead (PART I)

The story below is presented as a musing on our readings for this past week, February 11, 2007. In particular, we read Paul's defense of the belief in the resurrection of the dead found in I Corinthians 15:12-20.

Paul wrote:


"If the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those who have died in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people to be pitied."


Why must one accept that the dead are raised in order to accept that Christ was raised from the dead?


Who are the dead?


Who speaks for the dead?


Why do they need an advocate?


What do the dead have to do with the way our world works?


These are the profound questions that are tied into Paul's words.

In the Gospel (Luke 6:17-26), Jesus offers words of blessing and woe to those who listened to him. His listeners included the apostles, a larger group of disciples, and a third group who had simply come out to be healed and to hear him teach.


So, the woes and the blessings are directed to the leaders of the church that had formed around Jesus.


Why do you think he included the list of woes for those who already seemed committed to following him?


As you read the blessings and the woes what strikes a cord for you as someone who would like to follow Jesus?

Now, onto the story. If you read the first part of the story last week, you can drop down to Part II below.


And now, as the cast of characters comes into the court house, we begin.

Cast of Characters

The Defendant
Mr. Scratch: Prosecutor
The Judge
Ms. Parakletos: The Attorney for the Defendant

The court room was very quiet after a long parade of witnesses had finished testifying. What had been a case against a trouble maker that ended in death had now been turned into a case of conspiracy between the state and religion to end the life of a holy and peaceful man.

His defense attorney, Ms. Parakletos, was not moving for a declaration of “not guilty” for her client, but for a declaration of vindication. In point of fact, the defendant was originally charged with crimes against religion and the state and was put to death by the legal system who received blessing and sanction from the religious institutions of the defendant's own culture. Yes, this was one time when the Christian, the Jewish and Islamic leadership finally found something on which they could agree. The defendant had managed to do what many years of hard negotiation and warfare had failed to accomplish.

The state had the legal system to make possible the execution. The occasion of his death became a time of camaraderie, unity, peace and rejoicing. Everyone agreed this man was worthy of death and that everyone would be better off without him. Unanimity on the guilt of this man brought about a new day in a previously troubled land.

He was found guilty of corrupting the morals of the community, defaming God by turning God into a much too lax deity, and there was some hint that he was trying to organize people to undermine the state by setting up his own form of rule. Of course, there was some concern too about his own personal morality in that he traveled in the company of women who had questionable sexual histories and men who were considered sinners and outcasts, and others who left their families and jobs behind to follow him.

In one of his more famous talks which was later quoted during his trial, he even suggested that the rich were cursed and the poor were blessed and that someday the fortunes of each would be reversed. Others reported similar threats coming from his mother during her pregnancy. She believed her son was being born to accomplish such disruptive reversals. The defendant's subversive talk seemed to undermine the very foundations, of not only one particular religion, but of all religions, institutions, and civilization itself.

But today, in this court room, a new judge was presiding. This judge was wiser than the judges who had run the previous trials. Yes, the defendant was tried by religious as well as secular courts three times. All three judges ended up pronouncing the same verdict of guilt and the same sentence of death. Not only that, the mob of people that daily crowded and pressed in on the court had already come to their group conclusion that this man should die because of his misdeeds. In fact, it almost seemed that the crowd wore the black robes of a judge; constituted the jury that did not really seem all that interested in the evidence of his guilt or innocence, and who was prepared to carry out the gruesome sentence of death.

Some wonder what point there was in having another trial. The man had been long since dead in the grave. Why bring up this case? Even if his death was proven to be murder, instead of a justifiable and legal execution, what good would it do for him or anyone else? Since the deceased defendant was not able to testify on his on behalf, his attorney, Ms.Parakletos, spoke on his behalf.

She was Jewish and had a long career defending people whom no one else would defend. She was not well liked because she always seemed to defend the unlikable and detestable people whom everyone else agreed should be banished from the planet. As time went by, she was finally lumped into the category of the undesirable for whom it could be said: “Good riddance to bad rubbish.”

The jury was made up of an interesting assortment of people. There were some who claimed to be Christians, Jews, Muslims, New Agers, Buddhists, and secular humanists. There were people whose experience of religion was positive and some whose experiences were very negative.
There were people of different races, colors, and nationalities. There were men and women and even some young children and teenagers. All of them brought their unique perspectives and life experiences into the court with them each day of the trial.

Now they were faced with making a decision to either affirm or reject the claim of the dead defendant. Was he guilty or not guilty of the charges against him? Did he deserve to die?

Woes, Blessings, and the Resurrection of the Dead (PART II)


The prosecution was presented by Sam Scratch, older, more cunning, and brilliant than any other prosecutor at the court’s disposal. Sam was part of long and successful family of prosecutors. His great uncle had presented the original case against the defendant in all three courts. The accused was very well versed in the law, so much so, that even before the trial, Sam's great uncle had tried to get the defendant to come to work for his law firm, but the offer was rejected.

Sam made a case against the defendant that seemed to make incredible sense. Had the defendant been allowed to continue his life and mission, he would have undermined the whole basis of civilization and peace making efforts in the world.

The defendant’s words spoke against the powerful traditions of the sacred and state craft, claiming that violence was the unseen foundation of every civilized culture. He said that God was against such violence. By condemning the righteous use of violence, the defendant seemed to be undermining the very culture that offers so many modern miracles and a standard of living that many of the world’s people enjoy today.

He brought home his message by citing some of the key historical decisions that might have been disallowed under the defendant’s rule. Most of these decisions were considered the proper and appropriate use of force to restore peace and unity in the midst of tyranny, warfare, violence, and chaos. The jury listened intently to his arguments. As an observer, it seemed to me that Mr. Scratch was making his case.

Now, instead of a mob driving the decision making, a decision would be properly rendered by a jury of the defendant’s peers using the most sophisticated and humane practices of jurisprudence known to our human family. Surely such deliberations would bring us to the truth of the matter.

When Mr. Scratch ended the presentation of his case, Ms. Parakletos stepped up to the jury box. She had come before many juries over her long career. She defended a woman named Susanna when she was charged with adultery. She defended a man named Job who lost everything he valued in a series of disasters that his friends claimed were the result of his wicked behavior that offended God. She defended a man named Jonah who was thrown overboard when the ship he was on got hit by a furious storm. That defense took place in the belly of a large fish that swallowed Jonah whole.

She had also been the advocate at the defendant’s first trial, but for some reason had failed to present her usual brilliant defense. She simply sat in the shadows of the courts that tried him and listened as the case mounted against him. Some said that she was present at his death.

Now she was ready to defend her dead client. She looked intently into the eyes of each and every member of the jury as she began to speak. She noted the angry stares of some. She saw a willingness to at least listen by others. Of course there were others who just seemed bored and indifferent. They stared off into space. She knew that all of them were unified by fear and a desire to live long, quiet, and peaceful lives.

She asked them to consider the character of the defendant. She asked them to imagine an evil person healing those who were sick; or feeding those who were hungry; or standing next to those who had been cast out of society for not measuring up to human standards of purity, behavior, or performance. Was this evidence that made the defendant worthy of a state sponsored and religiously approved death?

Ms. Parakletos paused and looked at the judge and then at her worthy opponent, Mr. Scratch. She said: “What was it about this defendant that inspired such hatred and loathing? Why did his execution result in such a unified and happy reunion of previously warring factions?”

Mr. Scratch quickly stood up and shouted loudly:

“Objection! The advocate for the defendant is obviously trying to undermine the process by which her client was found guilty by impugning the community for enjoying the benefits of agreeing on a God-inspired outcome. It is also obvious that the people knew what was best for them then and I pray this jury will recognize that same truth today!”

The judge gaveled for order and said:

“Overruled.”

Mr. Scratch’s usual composure had momentarily come unglued by the line of questioning being used by Ms. Parakletos. He had never been ruled out of order in any other court in which he had appeared.

Ms. Parakletos seemed to back off her line of defense to which Mr. Scratch had so vehemently objected. She continued by asking the jury to consider her defendant’s belief in the resurrection of the dead. This seemed like a ploy out of nowhere.

Such a belief was certainly found in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, but what relevance did it have in this proceeding? Most believers had either dismissed it as wishful thinking, irrelevant, sheer superstition, or embraced it as a reason to be this religion or that one so that they could enjoy the perks of eternal life while others, well, let’s just say that they believed others were destined for a different sort of eternal location.

Some on the jury seemed impatient with Ms. Parakletos’ question, while others leaned forward as if to hear more clearly where she was going with her defense. She explained that many believe that the resurrection of the dead is a quaint, but outdated superstition that suggests that many, if not all of humans from the beginning of time to the final day will be brought back to physical existence and life.

Others also add that this resurrection of the dead is the beginning of judgment for the whole human race and that some will be judged righteous and inherit eternal life while others will be judged unrighteous and sent to the Lake of Fire or some other undesirable habitation like the burning garbage dump outside of the walls of ancient Jerusalem.

Mr. Scratch looked puzzled. He was not prepared for this line of defense. He actually thought the Advocate was making a very bad decision that would offer him an advantage. Sam was ready to launch into an attack against the defendant’s character and behavior but was silenced by Ms. Parakletos’ words.

“You may be wondering what my defendant believed about the resurrection of the dead. He believed and taught that there is not one person in history including those sitting in this court room today that could escape the verdict and sentence that he was given.”

“My client believed that if God were to come down in human flesh, blood, and bones and be placed on trial; even God would be found guilty and executed. But he also believed with every fiber of his being that the true God who created the heavens and the earth and everything and everyone in the seen and unseen world would vindicate all of those who suffered my client’s fate.”

Mr. Scratch quickly jumped up and objected:

“Your honor, what Ms. Parakletos’ client believed or did not believe about this obscure bit of religious folk lore is irrelevant to his guilt or innocence.”

Mr. Scratched moved toward the judge and then toward the jury. His words were appealing and sounded like a very patriotic and reasoned presentation of his case. He paused and smiled sympathetically at Ms. Parakletos as he continued.

“Ms. Parakletos, your client was given a fair trial, a proper verdict was reached, and the proscribed sentence was carried out by the proper authorities. His esoteric beliefs in a god who stands up for outlaws and underdogs, or even a god who disguises himself as an outlaw or an underdog and suffers their deserved, if sad fate, does not exonerate him.”

Sam looked at the jury to see if his words had hit home with them before continuing.

“Despite his beliefs, he died like all other criminals. It is for the good of society that such people, whether they claim to be human or god, are judged and removed from our society. Without safeguards against such people, we would turn into a lawless and self-destructive culture of chaos. We are truly blessed to have religion, the rule of law, and the power of a duly established government to maintain our way of life. The defendant sought to undermine the very fabric and foundation of our way of life and it was with the blessing of God and country that his attempts were judged and his life ended.”

Mr. Scratched paused, straightened his back, and turned toward the judge with a cavalier bow of respect.

Ms. Parakletos rose to present her final statement to the jury.

“My client knew that his voice would be silenced by the fear that is the true foundation and fabric of human life. He knew that even those who were his most trusted friends would succumb to this fear and deny or desert him when he was arrested. And so they did.”

One of her client’s closest followers was seated in the back of the court room, but remained silent and unmoving during the entire presentation of evidence and even now did not move or say anything in defense of his friend.
Ms. Parakletos turned toward the man and he quickly turned away from her gaze. She continued.

“But beyond his certain knowledge of the human heart that twists and turns to avoid what is fearful to it, my client continues to have a clear and certain knowledge of the heart of the God he calls Father.

Mr. Scratch looked amused and then interrupted the Advocate:

“You make it sound like your client is not really dead.”

Ms. Parakletos looked at him and smiled. It was not a mean smile, but a kind smile of someone who knew truth that once revealed would put a smile on even Mr. Scatch’s face.

In one graceful motion, Ms. Parakletos turned towards the door that led into the court room and invited the dead defendant into the court room. The door did not open all at once. In fact, when it did not open quickly, Mr. Scratch laughed nervously and played with him pen. The eyes of every juror were fixed on the doors. Finally, the doors swung open and into the court room walked a man who claimed to be the dead defendant.

Ms. Parakletos introduced him to the court. The Judge looked at the defendant like a father would look at a greatly loved son who had been lost for a very long time. The jury was stunned. Some did not believe that the person who walked through those doors was the dead defendant, while others were actually open to the possibility.

The dead defendant simply stood in the middle of the court room and said these words:

“Peace. Do not be afraid.”

With that, he sat down and awaited the verdict of the jury.