Bob Cornner

Bob Cornner
Visting St. Andrew's Torrance

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

THE TREE AND THE CROSS














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

GIVE US FAITH, HOPE, AND CHARITY, NOT SELF-JUSTIFICATION



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

PRAYERS OF THE WIDOW


FROM TEN LEPERS LEAPING TO A PERSISTENT WIDOW

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

“DID YOU REMEMBER TO SAY THANK YOU?”

THANKSGIVING AS FAITH
















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.