Monday, April 28, 2008
After Sunday's 10:00 AM service, David Bradfield, our wonderful choir master, suggested I look up the words to Bob Dylan's Rainy Day Woman (AKA Everybody Must Get Stoned). I never really stopped to think about the lyrics to this song when it was being played back in my college days, but I took David's advice and here are the lyrics to that Dylan classic and a YouTube audio of the record http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KUogzf1h2UY:
Well, they'll stone ya when you're trying to be so good,
They'll stone ya just a-like they said they would.
They'll stone ya when you're tryin' to go home.
Then they'll stone ya when you're there all alone.
But I would not feel so all alone,
Everybody must get stoned.
Well, they'll stone ya when you're walkin' 'long the street.
They'll stone ya when you're tryin' to keep your seat.
They'll stone ya when you're walkin' on the floor.
They'll stone ya when you're walkin' to the door.
But I would not feel so all alone,
Everybody must get stoned.
They'll stone ya when you're at the breakfast table.
They'll stone ya when you are young and able.
They'll stone ya when you're tryin' to make a buck.
They'll stone ya and then they'll say, "good luck."
Tell ya what, I would not feel so all alone,
Everybody must get stoned.
Well, they'll stone you and say that it's the end.
Then they'll stone you and then they'll come back again.
They'll stone you when you're riding in your car.
They'll stone you when you're playing your guitar.
Yes, but I would not feel so all alone,
Everybody must get stoned.
Well, they'll stone you when you walk all alone.
They'll stone you when you are walking home.
They'll stone you and then say you are brave.
They'll stone you when you are set down in your grave.
But I would not feel so all alone,
Everybody must get stoned.
There were two items in the treasure chest this week on which I focused my sermon. One was a judges gavel and the other was a stone. I reminded us of the previous week's story of the stoning of Stephen and suggested that much of our life together includes such violent and not so violent arbitrary stonings. I guess that might be what Dylan was saying in the lyrics to this song, at least for me and maybe for David. Check out the lyrics. Do you think these lyrics fit the case?
The repeated chorus, "But I would not feel so all alone,
Everybody must get stoned" may be Dylan's way of saying that we live in a stone throwing world, but when the stones are being thrown at you, you feel alone and those who are throwing feel united in their effort to stone someone. Perhaps if we have eyes to see we will discover that stones thrown at others may soon be thrown at us.
Dylan also picks an interesting tune to go with the lyrics. It reminds me of a funeral procession in New Orleans. His lyrics suggest that getting stoned by others is a random event of mob violence even when the event seems to be organized. Certainly Jesus' trial seemed organized enough. He was heard by several courts, both secular and religious and perhaps that is the whole point of the way the Gospel presents his death. Even the courts and political leadership at the time were pulled into the indiscriminate mob violence and sought to make it seem legal and official and justifiable. Can you see this random violence in the world?
One final note. In the version of Dylan singing this song on YouTube, you can hear him slightly laugh when he sings about being stoned "tryin' to go home" and then in the next chorus, "But I would not feel so all alone..." Why do you think he laughs at these points? Do our ways of stoning one another carry a double blend of tragedy and comedy? Any thoughts are welcome.
God's Peace in the Stone that was rejected,
Saturday, April 26, 2008
This altar is located on Palatine Hill, Rome, where once stood the palaces of the Caesars. It dates from about 100 B.C. and has the inscription, ´To the unknown God.´
The apostle Paul saw just such an altar while waiting in Athens for Timothy and Silas to join him. He used the Athenians religious zeal to worship gods they don’t even know the name of as a springboard for telling them about the TRUE God
Paul preached to the Athenians as a Jew of the diaspora and a Roman citizen (Jews who had been resettled outside of Jerusalem during the various conquests of Empire after Empire)
Paul was educated as a Pharisee who was also able to communicate with the cultures outside of Judaism. He was ideally suited for his evangelization of the Gentiles.
Paul seems to have known a legend in Athens about an Unknown God. The legend was attributed to Diogenes Laertius.
Once upon a time a severe plague hit Athens.
A Cretan by the name of Epimenides told the Athenians to turn sheep loose on the Areopagus.
Wherever the sheep lay down, there should they be sacrificed to the “appropriate god,” that is, to the unknown god who was causing the plague.
The legend does not include the exact nature of the plague that hit Athens, but most plagues in myth and legend were really the code word used to describe a loss of civil order through violence, in other words a city-wide riot. Notice how such a crisis was stopped by sacrificing sheep to appease whichever god was causing such unrest and violence.
Paul brilliantly used this ancient legend to speak about the God of Jesus and Israel.
For Paul, these Gentiles were clearly just like his fellow religionists except they worshipped many gods.
The Unknown god was the god responsible for maintaining order through sacrifice. This was the god that Temple worship was also all about. Paul found that the Greek's idolatry was simply a different form of the practiced religion of sacrifice offered in the Temple of Jerusalem.
Paul decides to make this unknown god better known. Here is really a play on words. We sacrifice to a god who we don't even know. Does that not suggest that our sacrifices are of our own making and not God's?
Jesus’ had revealed to Paul and to the other disciples the God Israel had been searching for throughout their history. This God was not like the gods of the gentiles toward which Israel continued to stray. The very sacrificial system of the Temple bore witness to this straying.
The gods of the Gentiles were violent, wrathful, capricious, unjust, lacking in mercy, and bribable. In other words, their gods were very much made in the likeness and image of fallen humanity.
Paul had already met Jesus on the road to Damascus and discovered he was not at all like the god for whom he was willing to zealously persecute the Christians. And yet, as a result of his encounter with Jesus, he also discovered the God of his fathers and mothers was now more obviously present and knowable in the Scriptures as the One whom Jesus called God, the one who is like a loving Father.
Paul understands clearly that sacrifice of animals and human beings either through religion or through the machinations of our political and economic systems was idolatry. Paul is clear that human beings have made our gods into our own image of violence and wrathful resentment and revenge.
He is equally clear that it is now time for us to be reformed into the image of the God “in whom we live, and move, and have our being.” Paul intends to make known the Unknown God as the One who creates all things and all the peoples of the earth.
It is this creative and loving God that Paul proclaims as the Unknown God because the Gentiles and the Jews still believed that this unknown god was at odds with his creation and that he resolved the conflict between humanity and divinity with superior divine fire power. The unknown god was also appeasable through sacrifice.
When chaos and violence began to make life miserable and under a plague unto death, sacrifice was the answer. Gods made of gold, silver, or stone and who dwell in shrines built by human hands are false because we are all God’s offspring and we all dwell in God rather than God being boxed up and defined by human imagination, borrowed desires, rivalry, envy, and violence.
Israel’s history is replete with times of “groping after God.” From the earliest stories of the Bible we can see the “chosen people” going astray and adopting the gods of those around them. But their vocation, their calling, was and continues to be the seeking to know the God who is without violence or a need to be placated by human sacrificial violence.
It is this God "in whom we all live and move and have our being." It is this God who is the source of our being and the One in whose image we are made. It is in and with and through this God that we can become human beings fully alive.
Finally, Paul gives a final word of comfort. We are called to repent from our violent ways and to turn away from all of the gods who are not gods. What are these gods and how are they still part of our daily existence?
Consider the lesser gods of our culture.
If Paul were here today, what gods would he see us worshipping and serving? Who are our UNKNOWN GODS?
To worship is to devote our lives in reverent attention to the objects of our worship. These objects generally are simply our individual and corporate desires that we call god. They are generally speaking, gods that guarantee us success, prosperity, civil order, power, security, and health.
Among the polytheistic cultures, each human desire took on the form of a god or a goddess. So, gods like Mars (god of war), Venus (god of fertility and love), and others are worshipped, offered sacrifices, and served to achieve our limited human desires.
These gods of our imaginations divide us by races, creeds, colors, and nationalities offering to each division the belief that they are favored above all others by the most powerful gods.
So, who would you rather have as your judge?
One of these gods of self-interested desires or the One who was killed by those professing these other gods? If God is as Paul describes him and I believe Paul is speaking truth, I find hope in Jesus being the one to judge me and the entire creation.
He understands what it is like to be human. He has stood under our yoke and born our burdens. Yet, he has also stood under the God of our creation, preservation, and transformation. It is by standing under God that Jesus is made a true person and it is by standing under the children of Adam and Eve that Jesus is made fully human.
Human beings learn through imitation.
Today we have a choice to love Jesus by following him (keeping his commandments, word, ways, truth).
We can become truly lively persons by standing under Jesus, by abiding in him and allowing him to abide in us.
The world that stands under the gods of human imagining can not receive the Spirit of truth because that Spirit would deny this world the sacrificial rites and violent sacred that we believe makes the world less chaotic.
Imagine a world where war is not solved by eliminating the weakest and poorest among us?
Imagine a world where all of us are treated like brothers and sisters, children of a loving and gracious God?
Imagine peace without violence?
Imagine a time of judgment when the judge judges as if he lived inside of us?
Gentile and Jew, Protestant, Catholic, or Orthodox, Islam, Buddhism, and all other people of faith are groping after God. May we all find God within our human community as we are all found within God.
God's Peace in the God We Are Coming to Know,
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Although I am happy living in the South Bay of Los Angeles County, I sometimes miss the transitioning times when one season comes upon another and you can feel the change in the air and see it in the changing foliage and experience it as increases and decreases in wind, rain, snow, and heat.
For those of us who live in the mellow climate of Redondo Beach, the church year with its changing seasons offers a way of experiencing a different sort of transitioning through the seasons of our liturgical life. We are in the Easter Season. The color for Easter is white. The collects and readings each week remind us of what it means to live as people of the resurrection and anticipate the next season of Pentecost.
Some of you have asked why we have not publicly recited the Confession or received absolution during Easter. Was this done to shorten the service or did we forget to put it into the Easter season service booklet? No, we have not confessed publicly during Easter season because Easter is the season when God's love for us and sin's deadly consequences that destroy us meet and God's love trumps sin in the most gentle, persuasive, historical and permanent way.
Easter sends a clear message that sin which breaks us down and builds us up at the expense of others depends upon a universal human blindness that only God's light and love can penetrate and dispel. The power of sin resides in our blindness to the way it works among us. If we really had any doubts about someone else’s guilt, we would not be able to justify our otherwise wicked behavior against them. When we say that Jesus was resurrected from the dead on the third day of his death at our hands, we are making a rather grand statement of how God is liberating all of creation from our blindness.
Jesus' first disciples came to painfully see how they and the world blindly treated Jesus. When Jesus was about to die on the cross he offered forgiveness to us because he knew we were acting in ignorance of what we were doing. After all who would crucify God?
Jesus’ final act was to hand back to God the Spirit that had been with him during his time with us. He commends his Spirit to God. As we approach the feast of Pentecost when we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit, we might do well to consider that the Spirit Jesus gives back to God is the very Holy Spirit that he promises to send us after his death.
It is this Holy Spirit that does two things for his disciples and for us. The Holy Spirit comes to us to comfort us. We need comfort because with the death of Jesus, we feel cut off from God. We are truly orphans looking for a parent to guide our thinking and acting. The disciples left the powerful parenting of their conventional culture to follow Jesus and the Holy Spirit comes to them so that they do not have to return to their old ways of seeing and acting.
Of course, the Holy Spirit comforts, but the second work of this Advocate is to show the disciples and us how we have acted in blindness in the past. Confession is always made in the rear view mirror of history and only love can accomplish these two great deeds of comforting love and eye opening.
So during Easter we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus as the first Advocate and anticipate the coming of the Holy Spirit as the second Advocate. Jesus opened eyes during his earthly ministry so that at the resurrection those with eyes to see could bear witness to their previous blindness and complicity in the sin that crucifies and which continues to bring sin and death into the world.
This same Holy Spirit or second Advocate is alive and well in history. She continues to convince the world of its own blindness by lovingly opening our eyes to see the millions of deaths by outright violence against others or through a systemic refusal to care for the poor and powerless in our world. As our eyes are opened, we need forgiveness to cope with the staggering consequences of sin we see.
Consider the number of humanitarian aid groups seeking to relieve suffering and pain in the world. Consider the number of people of all religion and no known religion who see with the eyes of faith. They see clearly the violence that is upon the face of the earth and they move beyond their grief to bring healing to those who suffer. This is the work of the Holy Spirit, the Advocate.
History is under the influence of the Holy Spirit, the second Advocate which means the resurrection of Jesus continues to be the turning point of all history. I am not making this claim to increase church attendance or to convince anyone to become a Christian.
In fact, our religious tradition has often used such claims to justify all manner of wicked behavior against others showing that sin and blindness continue to seek healing. Rather, I am suggesting that the resurrection is a much larger event than we can hope for or imagine. The Holy Spirit operates free from the religious, secular, and philosophical traditions and structures as well as within them.
Our collect for this Sunday puts it this way:
"O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding; Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire..."
The resurrection of Jesus Christ results in the promised gift of the Holy Spirit to those who are ready to receive her and who seek not to feel like orphans searching for other orphans to follow. Jesus knew his death would throw his disciples back into their old ways of living and so he promises to send them the second Advocate. In I Peter 3:13-22 we will hear these words on Sunday:
"Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord."
The second Advocate, like Jesus, calms our fears and opens our eyes to the ways we have treated others in our personal lives. The Holy Spirit calls out of the world of orphans who feed off of one another’s fears and intimidations of one another. Peter says “in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord.” The Holy Spirit comes to sanctify us, to make us holy in ways we would never have guessed.
What does it mean to “sanctify Christ as Lord?” It means that at the core of our being, we are to be dedicated to the forgiving and life changing person of Christ. Lord means sovereign. We all sanctify someone or something in our hearts. For some it is money, reputation, family or national identity, or personal reputation and success. Peter offers us a different path that leads to God and away from the violence of lesser gods.
The season of Easter will soon turn to Pentecost. I can feel the change in the wind.
May God’s love, by the Power and Presence of the Holy Spirit, dwell in your hearts richly.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
SAUL AND STEPHEN MEET
The book of the Acts of the Apostles is a real treasure that is hidden in the field. It contains some of the early church’s memories of how the Gospel was spread and rejected in the years after Jesus’ death and resurrection.
The first reading assigned for this Sunday is one such memory. It is often referred to as the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian Martyr. Stephen was also one of the first deacons (deacon comes from the Greek word for servant) of the church. Deacons were called to serve the poor and to help distribute the offerings of the more well-to-do members of the congregations to those in need. At first this responsibility was carried out by the apostles, but as the church grew, the apostles needed help, so deacons were called into this apostolic service.
Stephen was also someone who reached out to his people, the people of Israel.This Sunday we will not read what Stephen said when he was charged with blasphemy against Moses and God. He was also charged with claiming that Jesus would destroy the Temple and change the customs that Moses handed down to them (Traditions).
These charges were brought to the council in Jerusalem by a group called the Synagogue of the Freedmen that represented Jews from all over the Roman Empire who were in Jerusalem. According to Acts, Stephen was “full of grace and power and did great wonders and signs among the people.” Those who opposed him could not withstand the “wisdom and Spirit with which Stephen spoke.” It was this combination of grace, power, acts of wonder and signs and the wisdom and Spirit with which he spoke that led to his being charged.
The council that heard his case was in Jerusalem. There is an interesting description of the council’s view of Stephen: “And all who sat in the council looked intently at him, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.” This description seems so out of sync with what finally happened to Stephen.
When the council asked Stephen if the charges against him were true, Stephen launched into a panoramic view of the history of Israel beginning with Abraham through Joseph and Moses. Our reading from Luke’s Gospel a few weeks ago told the story of two disciples meeting a stranger on their way from Jerusalem to Emmaus. The stranger reinterpreted the history of Israel and showed how the Messiah of God must suffer. Perhaps Stephen’s witness before the council was just such a recounting.
At the end of Stephen’s discourse he questioned the whole purpose of the Temple using the sacred texts of Israel.
“Yet the most High does not dwell in houses made with human hands; as the prophet says,
‘Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest? Did not my hand make all these things?’”
Stephen began this discourse by addressing the council as “brothers and fathers,” but as he ended his testimony he described his brothers and fathers like this:
“You stiff necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers. You are the ones that receive the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it.”
Stephen’s recounting of history was his final confession of his own participation in the death of Jesus and served as an indictment of himself, the disciples, and the very council who sought to hear his case.
The council hears these things and “became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen.”
How do we react to Stephen’s words? What if he were reciting the history of the United States and looking for the suffering messiah in our history? How would we react to hearing our history told from the point of view of those who have been victims of our stiff necked ways? My guess is that we too would become enraged and grind our teeth against whoever would be the bringer of such an offensive message to us.
Would we accuse such a person of bringing down our way of life (as Jesus was accused of tearing down the Temple)? Would we cry blasphemy against our national ideals and God?
But the story of Stephen and Jesus and all who find Jesus to be the way, the truth, and the life does not end with such a sweeping personal and corporate confession. The way to God is not through confession alone, but by way of a confession of faith that opens our hearts and ears to God.
At the moment of the crowds rage, Stephen was filled with the Holy Spirit and as he turnd his gaze into heaven, he “saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” This vision produced a declaration of faith by Stephen: “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!”
Stephen’s speaking his vision produced even more rage:
“But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.”
It is important that we take note of the strange description of those who stoned Stephen. They are called “witnesses.” These witnesses laid their coats at the feet of Saul to perhaps avoid getting splattered blood on them. They are witnesses because they bore witness against Stephen. Only those who had actually witnessed the offense for which Stephen was being killed could throw the first stones at him. Once these stones were thrown the rest of the community could finish the job (Deuteronomy 13:9).
If someone testified against another person falsely, the false witness, if discovered, would be subject to the same penalty for the crime for which he accused the other person. This being the case, Jesus forgives those who put him on the cross because they did not know what they were really doing in bearing false witness against him. Likewise, Stephen cried out in a loud voice: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
Stephen saw a vision of heaven as he was on his way to be stoned, but that was not the real sign of one who knew Jesus to be “the way, the truth, and the life.” The real sign that Jesus lived in Stephen and Stephen lived in Jesus were best expressed in his final words of forgiveness. Stephen, in this act of love for those to whom he witnessed and who killed him, showed us the way that Jesus is still traveling.
It is odd that the final line of this story is actually the beginning of another story: “And Saul approved of their killing Stephen.” Where does our story begin?
Monday, April 14, 2008
Some people have wondered if there is any one political party that best represents the Christian faith. My experience tells me that there are faithful Christians from every political party.
I was a political science major in college and discovered that the main objective of every political party is to simply get elected. The party which appeals to the largest number of voters and/or manages to capture the majority in the Electoral College is the winning party.
There are many who believe that God speaks through the votes of the majority. I believe that votes simply put our representatives in a position to make decisions that may or may not reflect the values lived and taught by Jesus.
So, would you like to know what party I think you should join to live out your civic and religious responsibilities?
If you haven’t guessed by now, I want to support you in whatever political party you call your own. I think it is much more important that people of faith be part of every party so that values of faith will be present in every discussion and in every political forum. Winning an election is just the beginning of the political process. We have all made promises to God at our baptisms that serve as our compass in all of the choices we make.
I hope that as our political process continues we will respect the choices we make. I hope we will be able to learn from one another. Last Sunday, I sat with two of our very bright and energetic members who discussed the current state of our economy. I was grateful for the time and for the thoughts these two men offered. It was a joy to hear from what for me is a younger generation of Christians. It is possible for us to disagree about the ways in which we seek to live out our Christian faith. We are united by the love of God and the gift of forgiveness and grace that allows us to seek and serve Christ in others.
May God be with us as we select our new leaders in the months ahead of us.
God’s Peace in the Choices We Make,
Friday, April 04, 2008
When we think of sheep and shepherds we may have a certain picture of both that has been formed by many years of seeing images of Jesus gently leading sheep down a tranquil path through green pastures and alongside still waters.
This Sunday is sometimes called Good Shepherd Sunday so those old images will probably spring up in your hearts and minds again. I would like to do some unpacking of what John's Gospel means when Jesus is called the good shepherd and what it means to be sheep, thieves and bandits, or hired hands.
At the very beginning of John's Gospel, John the Baptist is reported to have said of Jesus: "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." We will use this image of Jesus as a sacrificial lamb to explore the whole Good Shepherd image.
Most people do not know this, but animal husbandry actually began as a way of gathering and holding animals for the sacrificial systems of our ancient relatives. Sacrifice led to seeing domesticated sheep and other livestock as a source of food.
Often we think of sheep in these passages from the New Testament as being descriptive of how we are a nation of followers. This description is not altogether inappropriate and is rather an unflattering view of human beings. We seem to base all questions of value and prestige and truth on what the majority values.
How many parents and teachers have asked children engaged in group misbehavior this question: “So, if everybody were to jump off of a bridge would you jump with them?” We do seem to be heavily influenced by our peers for better and for worse.
But John uses sheep as a symbol of humanities propensity to relieve anxiety and solve problems of conflict and violence by focusing that violence on a limited group or an individual. Sheep and other livestock were the sacrificial animals used to maintain a tentative peace and unity in anxious human communities. Human sacrifice was replaced by animal sacrifice, but the reason for sacrificing remained the same.
So John borrows from Ezekiel 34 in which the prophet criticizes the kings of Israel for being false shepherds. Ezekiel was convinced that the kings were falling into the non-Jewish sin of using the powerless as the recipients of the limited violence that kept the peace in Israel. Many of the surrounding cultures even sacrificed children.
The kings of Israel were supposed to be the protectors of the weak and powerless, so their failure to do so demonstrated that Israel was no longer imitating God, but the peoples to whom they were to be a light and role model.
As we read through John's Gospel we see another reference to sheep and sacrifice in John 5:2. John tells the story of a paralytic who sat by a pool near the Sheep Gate hoping for healing.
The Sheep Gate was a gate in the wall of Jerusalem through which the sacrificial sheep were herded on their way to be sacrificed in the Temple. It is here that Jesus meets and heals the man.
Because this healing takes place in the place where sacrificial animals pass through John clearly connects this healing to the sacrificial system. The man was an invalid and would certainly be one of those for whom Israel's leaders had not cared. He was, like the sheep, dispensable. By relegating the weak to the fringes of society, the image of God is obscured.
Because we have rejected the image of God in us and cast God out of the Garden, we live according to the rules that make it necessary to sacrifice others, usually the weakest and most powerless.
Is this true today? Consider our current economic difficulties. Who is bearing the brunt of cuts in public spending? Are the poor, weak, and powerless among us sheep for sacrifice to relieve our economic anxieties?
When such cuts are being made they are either muted (the word "myth" comes from the Greek word meaning to close one's eyes and ears so as to not see or hear what is happening because to do so would require some response) or the poor are blamed for "stealing" the resources of the middle class or rich. It is usually the case that the poor are blamed for the economic downturn and are therefore expendable.
The poor and the powerless, the victims of the sacrificial system that runs the world were the very ones to whom Jesus connected.
In the Gospel for this Sunday Jesus says of himself: "I am the Good Shepherd." The Good Shepherd does not set his sheep up to be sacrificed, but leads them to a place of peace, the heart of God. How does Jesus become the Good Shepherd? He does so by entering into the sheep fold through the sheep gate. In other words, the shepherd enters the sheep fold as a sheep, the Lamb of God.
His way of being a shepherd is contrasted with the "thieves and bandits" who crawl over the fence and seek to redirect the sacrificial fury towards those in power. The word for bandit is translated “revolutionary or “insurrectionist.” The bandits try to turn victimizers into victims.
We watch political leaders who have made their reputations as crusaders against corruption and vice end up in the national news because they are caught committing some of the very vices they denounced and built their political careers upon. When such leaders fall, many of their opponents take great pleasure in their misfortune. This is an example of how the sacrificial system can turn on a dime against those who have tried to wield its power to condemn and scapegoat.
Jesus stands in sharp contrast to these bandits. He is not out to use the human sacrificial system against those who used it against the weak and powerless.
No, Jesus came as a model for all of us who at one time or another have been sheep or bandits or hired hands.
Hired hands are functionaries who try to rehabilitate victims by victimizing others. Perhaps this could be done by crusading for one disadvantaged person or group with a resulting shift onto another group or person.
The Good Shepherd joins the victims, the sheep destined for exclusion and death because this is the final state of all humanity where salvation can begin. All victimizers have been or will be victims themselves. Mary’s song describes and celebrates this process.
There is a line in John’s material on the Good Shepherd about Jesus having other sheep folds that will know his voice when he enters into their fold. John may have been thinking about the faith communities within Christianity that were different than his own or of other faiths, but I sense at a deep level, our unity is in our status as victims. We are all sheep who sometimes play at being bandits, hired hands, or even wolves.
The 23rd Psalm paints a picture of a time when the Good Shepherd will lead his sheep out of sacrifice into the freedom of green pastures and still waters. The path of the Good Shepherd is the path to which we are called. He knows us and calls us by name. When we truly hear his voice we will follow him.
"And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever." Amen.
Wednesday, April 02, 2008
In our Scripture passage for this year, Jesus says that the Kingdom of Heaven is like hidden treasure. Why would God hide something of such great value? In the Gospel this week we hear the story of two of Jesus’ disciples returning to their home in Emmaus. They are feeling depressed and let down. As they walked the seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus, they are joined by a stranger who asks them what they are talking about.
The question stops the disciples dead in their tracks and Luke adds the following description of their state of mind: “they looked sad.” Have you ever had something tragic happen to you and then had someone ask you what was causing you to seem so sad? Although the cause of your sadness is very personal perhaps your reaction might have been like the one the disciples gave to the stranger when he asked them what they were discussing.
They can’t believe that anyone traveling from Jerusalem would not have heard of the things that had happened there. The stranger asked them: “What things?” The stranger is asking them an open ended question. They can answer it from their own perspective.
What did happen according to those who had followed Jesus?
They said: “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all of this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find the body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said.; but they did not see him.”
Luke tips us off at the beginning of the encounter between the stranger and the disciples as to the identity of the stranger in this strange observation:
“Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.”
The text does not indicate why the disciples were unable to recognize Jesus as they told their sorrowful account. When they finished their story, the stranger called them foolish and “slow of heart” because they did not believe what the prophets had declared about the nature of the Messiah for which they waited.
Luke’s account makes it clear that Jesus is the one whose life and death open our eyes to a new vision of God and the Messiah in the Jewish scriptures, but this revision seems to happen in community (two disciples) on the road home and when we least expect it. It is the Crucified and resurrected Jesus who comes to them along the road. He reinterprets the text of Jewish scriptures by showing them where he is found there.
And still the disciples did not recognize Jesus. He remained a stranger until the moment he broke bread in their home. For them the hidden treasure of the Kingdom of Heaven was found on their way home and when they least expected it at the breaking of bread.
Our Eucharistic prayer contains two distinct actions.
“On the night he was handed over to suffering and death,”
This brief statement makes clear that God did not hand Jesus over to us for suffering and death. We handed Jesus over to suffering and death. That is the human way we have followed since the foundations of human culture. In the darkness of night reminds us that we are can not see what we are doing. It is in this darkness that we hand over others to suffering and death as a way of keeping us from total self-destruction. Human sacrifices did not end with the demise of the ancient cultures.
Jesus was handed over by us to do to him what we do to keep the peace. But Jesus turns our actions around by a simple act of gratitude and self-offering to God. At the table with those who are about to abandon and deny him, he takes up the bread and calls it his body. He gives thanks to for the life God has given him. Of his own free will, he breaks the bread that is his life that is contained in his body and he gives that bread to his disciples. It is this act of turning the human act of sacrifice into a self offering to God and to the world that makes Jesus present to those disciples in Emmaus and to those who gather around the Table set with bread and wine.
“Our Lord Jesus Christ took bread; and when he had given thanks to you, he broke it, and gave it to his disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat: This is my Body, which is given for you. Do this for the remembrance of me.’”
Risen Lord be know to us in the breaking of bread! AMEN.