Bob Cornner

Bob Cornner
Visting St. Andrew's Torrance

Monday, June 30, 2008

IS THIS GENERATION MY GENERATION?



TALKIN BOUT MY GENERATION

The Zimmers are an interesting group. If you click on their name you will see what I mean. Those of us who are a bit younger may recall an earlier version by a group called The Who (click on the Who to hear the Who sing one of their all time best selling records).

The lyrics to this song speak about "our generation." What can be said about our generation? How are we different than previous generations? In our Gospel reading for Sunday, Jesus speaks about "this generation."

When I was growing up there was much made about the so-called "generation gap." This expression sought to describe what was seen as an alienation between the younger and older generations who shared the 1960's. Today we don't hear this term used very often. Have we, over time, learned to bridge our generational gaps? Have the "Flower Children" of the 1960's and their children become generations at peace?

I would like to offer a different way of viewing "this generation." For Jesus, generation seems to be referring to the origination of a way of thinking, acting, and being rather than a particular historical period in which a group of people were born, grew up, and died. When he says "this generation," he is speaking about every generation whose cultural origin begins with violence and exclusion and which biological generation after another is always seeking someone to blame for the problems of the community or nation.

It is "this generation" that Paul writes about in his letter to the Romans. The dominant and all pervasive presence of a thing he calls "sin," continues to take the gifts that God lavishes on humanity and turn them into excuses for envy, resentment, theft, false witnessing against neighbors, and murder.

And Paul places himself in the middle of this generation that year after year and century after century continues to allow this sin to subvert good things like the law into the very power and cause of evil instead of the good it hoped to promote.
Jesus came to this generation and defined this generation as always contemporary. Was there a real difference between the parents and children of the 1960’s? To be sure there were some differences, but what transcends the biological generations is the spiritual generation that can turn the best of God’s gifts into weapons of mass destruction, spiritually, emotionally, and physically.

Jesus addresses the needs of “this generation.” Are we part of “this generation?” If we are, then we also need to hear:

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

THE WAGES OF SIN IS DEATH MEETS ETERNAL LIFE AS FREE GIFT


The sign read, "The wages of sin is death." Perhaps the younger readers of this blog do not remember seeing this sort of message painted on signs carried by zealous folks who wanted to convert the world to God. I often wondered how successful such signs really were. We live in a nation where a larger percentage of citizens do not believe that their personal religious choice is the only path to God.

Is there a difference between getting personally closer to God and getting eternal life and dealing with the consequences of sin (wages)? If my spiritual or religious path teaches me that I can commune with God and not be concerned with my brothers and sisters of creation or the creation itself, then perhaps the path we take is fundamentally or foundationally important.

Jesus did not teach such a path to God. Indeed, loving others as self or as Christ loves us is an indispensable part of the Gospel and the very definition of eternal life. In as much as the religious path we take brings us to God by way of loving others as self or as Christ loves us, I believe any such path will wind its way into God’s heart.

When Paul wrote this line, “the wages of sin is death…” he was not using death as a threat to get people to follow a religion. He was simply stating that so long as we continue to act out the sin that crucified Jesus in our world, the natural consequence or wages that we will receive for our work will be death.

Paul saw in Jesus the God that he had for so long misunderstood and misrepresented in his words and deeds. Paul’s religion made Paul look good to those who agreed with him, but it led Paul to a violence of which he later repented. His conversion experience on the Road to Damascus was earth shattering for Paul. In a moment of blinding revelation, he received the wages of his religious work on behalf of God, but also found the free gift of life in Jesus Christ.

Paul believed that the world was chaotic and violent and that the only way that chaos and violence could be controlled was through the zealous application of the law. Paul saw the law or Torah as the only path to salvation. What absolutely ended Paul’s dependence upon the law as the final solution to the death-dealing sin of the world was when the law was used to crucify Jesus. Paul experienced Jesus as the Christ on the road to Damascus. Because the law had been hijacked by sin and turned against God’s appointed one, Paul was left in a spiritual limbo. What would stop the chaos and violence from destroying even the elect if even the law could be so corrupted?

Although we often only see the first part of this passage from Romans, I would like to offer the concluding part of Paul’s sentence:

“For the wages of sin is death,
but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”


Wages are worked for and often struggled for. Paul uses a redundancy to emphasis the graciousness of God. He calls it a free gift. Isn’t something that is free a gift and isn’t a gift free? Perhaps not in the human scheme of things, but with God it is absolutely true. We work very hard in the system of sin and human wrath to avoid these wages. We actually have convinced ourselves that such work is required by God if we are going to get something from him.

It is in the very process of trying to work for this free gift that it is no longer a gift nor free. The great religions of the world all deal with questions of human suffering, death, and sin. In as much as these religions forswear violence as a means of converting others to their particular faith or to punish those who are different in other ways, their path seems headed toward the God of Jesus. And if these religions seek to serve others who are afflicted by poverty, famine, war, or natural disasters, such faith seems to be on the path to God.

The free gift of eternal life is about living each day as a gift. It is about learning to live in harmony with all of God’s children rather than rejecting some while accepting others and calling that God’s peace. By identifying with Jesus in the sort of death that he died, we have our eyes open to God and we die to begin to see others as Jesus’ flesh and blood.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

BEING A DISCIPLE IS NO WALK IN THE PARK

There are texts in the Bible that are very difficult to hear or to read because they seem to suggest that our image of God as a loving and accepting Father/Mother may be simply wishful thinking. The Gospel for this week certainly is one of those difficult passages. I am grateful for the online work of a Lutheran pastor named Paul Nuechterlein, who week after week, publishes an outstanding array of commentary on the lectionary we use (http://girardianlectionary.net/). I want to share what Pastor Paul offered from a scholar named Raymund Schwager who wrote about our Gospel for this week in, MUST THERE BE SCAPEGOATS ("Jesus Brings Division Among Human Beings," pp. 154-157):

Because of the many texts about love and peace, these words should not be understood as if dissension was the goal of [Jesus'] message. They could merely mean that his coming, unintentionally and yet necessarily, kindles dissension. The real cause of the division is therefore not to be found in him. But his coming uncovers the deep-seated tensions already present and thus provokes open enmities. He seems like a sword and a troublemaker because he unmasks as delusionary the familiar forms of human harmony. Even the most natural and intimate interpersonal relations cannot stand in his presence. He unveils secret discords. His appearance brings judgment, and he sets before all humans the truth that the prophet Micah had proclaimed over Israel. The human being is a creature who, by spontaneous tendency, does not even get along with his own family. The son despises his father, the daughter rebels against her mother, and even the wife in her husband's arms cannot be trusted. (p. 155)

What is the Gospel text to which Schwager refers? Here it is and if you click the link below you can find other quotes from Schwager on this text.

Matthew 10:24-39

Jesus said to the twelve disciples,

"A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!

"So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

"Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.

"Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.

"For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and one's foes will be members of one's own household.

"Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it."



After quoting Matthew 10:21 Schwager writes:

Since Jesus as the unique peacemaker also unmasks the most hidden violence, instant reconciliation is not the immediate consequence of his coming. On the contrary, murderous violence becomes even more evident. The infancy narrative in Matthew already points to this fact. The question of whether the story of the killing of the babies in Bethlehem goes back to a historical account can for our purposes be bracketed out. In any case, the text shows that even the news of the birth of the new Prince of peace was enough to unleash a tragic and cruel bloodbath. This story also shows that violence is truly nothing but blind rage. Neither the newborn Prince of peace nor the innocent children had given the slightest cause to provoke the murders. This suspicion in the blind imagining of a possible future rivalry sufficed for a horrible slaughter to be commanded. (p. 156)

Schwager also quotes Matthew 5:21-22 about a brother even being angry at another brother.

He writes:
...the murder starts long before the physical deed, in the thoughts and desires of the heart. Its evil power is already at work where people live together "decently" and at worst trade verbal insults. (p. 157)

Finally, Schwager anticipates a possible objection to Girard's approach to apocalyptic: Against Girard's analyses according to which brothers instinctively become hostile brothers and all humans spontaneously lean towards violence, one could easily object that daily experience proves the opposite. There really are many families in which, because of the affection between husband and wife and between parents and children, people get along well. Here normal human nature is made manifest.

But like Girard, the New Testament writings by no means speak of this experience of supposedly normal life. They make it quite clear that, wherever human beings are inwardly confronted with the message of true love, something quite different breaks out. The so-called good understanding is exposed as a shaky truce, and the ensuing quarrels unmask the alleged peace as worthless. From the perspective of the New Testament writings, the often-cited "daily experience" is only the result of a superficial look that has not yet gazed into the abyss of interhuman relations. (p. 157)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN-- WHERE THERE ARE ALWAYS ENOUGH CHAIRS AND THE MUSIC NEVER STOPS


Most adults have a memory of the children's game called Musical Chairs. Ten participants march around nine vacant chairs to the sound of music, usually marching music, until the music stops. As soon as the music stops ten people vie for the nine chairs. The person who fails to find a seat is excluded from the game and one more chair is removed. The winner of the game is determined by the last two people marching around one chair until the music stops and the winner gets the final chair.

Please notice that children learn some important lessons from this game that eventually translate into adult behavior designed to keep them from being the person without a place to sit and thus excluded. I have watched this game played over my life time and seen how anxious the participants become over the possibility of losing. Children hover over the vacant chairs sometimes sitting down before the music stops. Of course, the rules say you can't do that. You can only take a seat when the music stops.

As the number of participants dwindle, the most competitive children begin to accelerate their efforts to stay in the game, sometimes pushing and shoving other children to claim a vacant chair. Why do we feel so anxious about this game while we are in the midst of it that we are willing to hurt others to stay in it? The rules of this game are never challenged. We all agree to them by our participation.

The Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus proclaimed openly and offered freely to all who would listen was a challenge to the rules by which humans organize ourselves. Like musical chairs, we have our rules that accept as necessary and true the scarcity that makes envy, rivalry, and other violations of the Ten Commandments a constant in our world.

Matthew wrote: "When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd."

In this one sentence, Matthew describes the human condition of being slaves to the power of rules that go unchallenged and logic that leaves human beings at odds with one another. Jesus has compassion for the crowds, not just individuals. Here is a wonderful insight into what it means to be a person: we are formed in community, in the crowd, and the crowd lives by rules that are seldom challenged or changed. A person is created by others. As we are born and grow into maturity, most of us conform to the rules and we come to believe that such conformity is the only way to survive.

Who I am as a person is formed in the likeness and image of the rules of the crowd. Jesus offers us a new way of being. A way of becoming a person in the likeness and image of God by our intentional choice to be part of a community that challenges the Musical Chair rules and seeks to live under the guidance of a loving shepherd. As we imitate Jesus as a community, we slowly, but surely are changed from people who are anxious, harassed, and made helpless by the rules of the game to a community of faith.

Jesus proclaimed the Good News of the Kingdom and this Good News resulted in the cure of every disease and every sickness. According the Musical Chair rules of Jesus' day, if you were sick, then the music had stopped for you and you had lost the scramble for a chair. Jesus reversed this rule of the crowd and offered healing so that everyone had a chair in the circle. Imagine a world where there are always enough places for everyone.

In fact, Jesus message of the Kingdom of Heaven did not end with him or even with those whom he called as his disciples.

Jesus said to his disciples: "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest."

Those of us who follow Jesus do so because those first disciples and every generation of disciples since have prayed to the Lord of the Harvest. We are given a powerful commission as laborers in the harvest. "Authority over unclean spirits" is part of our commissioning. Unclean spirits are part of the Musical Chairs world in which we live.

These unclean spirits point out the ones in the crowd who are the source of the crowds problems. The church has been given the right, the power, and the responsibility to cast these unclean spirits out, rather than to cast out those whom the crowd would cast out. The Lord of the Harvest seeks to save the crowds from the Musical Chair rules and turn them into communities of peace and inclusivity.

The calling by name of the twelve disciples recorded in Matthew needs to be seen as the beginning of the transforming of a crowd into a community of faith. Yes, they all had names, but they represented the first fruits of the harvest and a new way of living together that was not based upon the old rules that date back to Adam.

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: "Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, 'The Kingdom of Heaven has come near.' Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment."

In the Kingdom of Heaven there are chairs for everyone and the music of creation never stops. There is a place for you at Christ Church this Sunday and every Sunday. Have you received the call to share this Good News? Consider yourself the answer to Jesus' prayer to the Lord of the Harvest.

REFLECTION QUESTIONS


1. What other childhood games can you remember that had rules similar to those of Musical Chairs.






2. Did you ever lose at such a game? What did you think and feel when your were in the game and after you were out of the game?






3. Do think competitive sports teach values that can be helpful to following Christ? What are these values?











4. Do you think it is important for there to be categories of winners and losers? What seems to define each in our culture today?



5. Are there any games or activities that help create the Kingdom of Heaven on earth? What are they and what values to these activities promote in children and adults?




6. What are the signs that the Kingdom of God has drawn near in our day?





7. How do understand Jesus’ words in the Gospel today?








Matthew 9:35-10:8

Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest."
Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.
These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: "Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, `The kingdom of heaven has come near.' Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

MERCY, NOT SACRIFICE


QUOTE FROM LAST WEEK'S SERMON

"The national government will maintain and defend the foundations on which the power of our nation rests. It will offer strong protection to Christianity as the very basis of our collective morality.

Today Christians stand at the head of our country. We want to fill our culture again with the Christian spirit. We want to burn out all the recent immoral developments in literature, in the theatre, and in the press -- in short, we want to burn out the poison of immorality which has entered into our whole life and culture as a result of liberal excess during the past years."

Which politician said this?

Adolf Hitler; from The Speeches of Adolph Hitler, 1922- 1939, Vol. 1, Michael Hakeem, Ph.D. (London, Oxford University Press, 1942), pp. 871-872.

Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26

THE CALLING OF LEVI, THE TAX COLLECTOR


As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, "Follow me." And he got up and followed him.

REFLECTION: Matthew would have been considered darkness and Jesus, light. What happens when the light of Jesus meets the darkness of Matthew? A disciple is called and the disciple follows.

A WORLD OF MERCY NOT WRATH

And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples.

When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?"

But when he heard this, he said, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, `I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners."



REFLECTION: Jesus said that he desires mercy not sacrifice. In his day there were people who were expendable and infinitely forgettable. These were the ones who were sacrificed, not to God, but the human system of wrath. The human system of wrath is dependent upon law. The children’s game Musical Chairs creates a system in which someone will always be left out.

The rules of this game dictate such an outcome. So, too, are the rules of the game that human beings follow. Under the law, someone will be found guilty of trespass. The law which was given by God to show us how far we all had strayed from a life of grace became a way of separating the good from the wicked.

Paul suggested in his letter to the Romans that the minute we presume to judge others using the law we expose our own falling short of the “glory of God.” Why? Because God’s way of dealing with trespass is forgiveness while humanity’s way is wrathful exclusion and death. The law is supposed to draw us closer to the imitation of God in our behavior towards others.

Jesus insists that God offers forgiveness, not wrath. Therefore, the law has been perverted by a force called sin so that it does not serve to bring us closer to God or one another in love. If we believe that Jesus is God's Son, then it follows that what Jesus desires is what God desires. If God desires mercy(forgiveness) rather than sacrifice (controlled wrath) then faith in Jesus may be the only path that will take us to embrace this desire.

When Matthew and the other potential sacrificial candidates all gathered together at Matthew's home, Jesus was present again as light. In that light, he simply saw people in need of help, not people to be rejected and thrown off.

I leave the rest of the Gospel reading for your personal reflection. Jesus calls us to “Go and learn” what it means to desire mercy, not sacrifice. In these stories of healing how is this desire of Jesus lived out?

While he was saying these things to them, suddenly a leader of the synagogue came in and knelt before him, saying, "My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live."

And Jesus got up and followed him, with his disciples. Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak, for she said to herself, "If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well." Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, "Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well." And instantly the woman was made well.

When Jesus came to the leader's house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, he said, "Go away; for the girl is not dead but sleeping." And they laughed at him. But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl got up. And the report of this spread throughout that district.