Bob Cornner

Bob Cornner
Visting St. Andrew's Torrance

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

DOES GOD EVER TAKE A DAY OFF?

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

OF WEDDINGS AND DIVISIONS


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.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

GOD'S PURSE NEVER WEARS OUT



As a small child, my Grandfather took a small block of wood and carved it so that it looked like me. He even colored in my flat-top hair cut with a pencil. I still have that small piece of wood. I have kept it for more than 56 years. No one else would see much value in the wooden head. I doubt if a thief would ever break into my home and steal it, but if I ever lost it, I would grieve deeply.

The value of that treasure is in the love that it represents and the love that moved my Grandfather to carefully carve it. When Jesus speaks of treasure in this week’s Gospel, his words remind me of God’s love for me in creating me, the whole human family, and this beautiful creation which we share. My value, our value, creation’s value comes from the love that called us and it into being.

And yet our human story speaks of how we have forgotten what gives us and creation value. We have forgotten the goodness and love that moves from God’s heart as a Word that creates, sustains, and constantly redeems and renews us. When we forget that it is God’s love for us that gives everything value, a sense of holiness, then we seek to replace this life-giving truth with our own limited tribal values and concerns.

The result of this substitution of our limited and very partial image of value and love is the creation of a world where thieves break through and steal and where moth and rust corrupt. It is a world of loss, death, and destruction driven by our fears.

For those who read or hear Jesus’ words about "treasure in heaven" as a green light to continue to live as if God is not the source of value and love (what and who God loves is valuable beyond measure), the world is divided into haves and have nots. The haves enjoy the treasures of God’s love and creation while the have nots suffer outside the gates.

In our forgetting God, we have even used religion to justify this division. And so, Jesus speaks to those who would follow him about rediscovering the true treasure that God gives to all of his children.

Jesus says: "Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

Jesus offers us a vision of the truth (in Greek this word means “Not Forgetting). The truth is that God is the one who sells all that is God’s and gives alms (literally “Mercy”)to us. God does not have a purse that wears out because God is constantly giving rather than storing up in a possessive way.

The treasure in heaven is poured out on us every moment and every moment between moments. Thieves cannot steal the love of God that creates the treasure on earth. Even killing the One who “comes in the name of the Lord,” will not turn the treasures of creation into our possessions. The treasure of heaven continues to be God’s free gift of love that comes down like manna in our wilderness of want.

To follow Jesus is to follow the One who sent him. To be moved by a love that no longer claims to possess and fearfully hold onto God's love and gifts. God has no purse that wears out. God sells all that is God’s and gives us mercy. That is what I see in Jesus. That is what Jesus sees in God the Father. That is what I saw in my Grandfather's gift to me.

The love that spoke to me in a hand carved image made by my Grandfather was simply an old man trying to share what he knew to be true. God is love and we cannot possess it. We can only accept it and share it freely with others.

Jesus said: “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”