Bob Cornner

Bob Cornner
Visting St. Andrew's Torrance

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

GOT ANY BREAD?


This Sunday the Gospel is from St. John. Jesus speaks of himself as the bread of life that gives eternal life. Money has often been called "bread" because with money one is able to pay for food, shelter, clothing and other things needed to live. For this week, I am reproducing an artical from the Los Angeles Times written by Larry Stammer that was published on July 12,2009 in which the current economic situation is discussed with observations from both Roman Catholic and Anglican religious leaders.

I invite you to respond to what is contained in Mr. Stammer's piece. What is the relationship between being a Christian and our understanding of our economy?

Sun 12 Jul 2009 By Larry B. Stammer

Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal church, speaks at the opening of a panel about poverty and the dire state of the world economy at the church s national conference in Anaheim, which runs through Friday.

In the midst of a global recession, religious leaders are looking beyond the recent regulatory fixes and bailouts aimed at repairing an ailing financial system.

They are questioning the underlying assumptions of a market economy that they say has lost its moral bearings.

Last week, Pope Benedict XVI issued an encyclical, a papal pronouncement, that decries the divide between rich and poor.

He said that growing financial interdependence had not been matched by ethical interactions for the good of all and that the United Nations and financial institutions should be reformed so that a "true world political authority" can work for the common good while respecting local decision-making.

"The church does not have technical solutions to offer and does not claim to interfere in any way in the politics of states," the pope wrote. It "does, however have a mission of truth to accomplish. . . . Fidelity to man requires fidelity to the truth."

The archbishop of Canterbury, speaking Wednesday in Anaheim at a national convention for Episcopalians, criticized those who profit by manipulating markets and fashioning exotic financial instruments on a house of cards.

"In the last six to nine months, what we have seen in our world is not simply an economic crisis but a crisis of truthfulness," said the Most Rev. Rowan Williams. "We have suddenly discovered that we have been lying to ourselves."

Williams, the leader of the Anglican Communion, said that the world can't return to a "dysfunctional, disabling and destructive" financial system and that the demands of the market are never a satisfactory moral guideline. He called for factoring environmental costs into the equation.

"The economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment," he said.

Together, Roman Catholics and Anglicans make up about 58% of the world's estimated 2.1 billion Christians.

The declarations by these and other church leaders came as the world's major economic powers met in Italy to come up with a shared response to the global downturn and to climate change. Only marginal progress was achieved.

Given the initiatives of government and the influence of multinational corporations, one might wonder if religious bodies can have any impact. Will they be heard outside the cloister, or even by their own congregants, whose lifestyles for the most part are not unlike those of people who are not members? Is anyone really listening?

It would be easy to take a jaded view. Twenty years ago, the Episcopal House of Bishops -- one of two houses in the church's highest legislative body, General Convention -- issued a paper on "Economic Justice and the Christian Conscience." In it, the bishops urged a "fundamental reordering" of human values.

In 1986, Roman Catholic bishops in the United States issued a pastoral letter, "Economic Justice for All," that called for a moral examination of the economy and raised the ire of both the Reagan administration and prominent lay Catholic conservatives.

As for Pope Benedict's latest call, he noted that the idea of a world political authority working for the common good was first broached by Pope John XXIII, who died in 1963.

To be sure, religious groups of all kinds devote money and talent to serving the poor and working to alleviate poverty, racism and economic disparity.

They play a role in founding hospitals, schools, and colleges and often support groups pushing for higher wages for the working poor.

Some say that elected officials who have religious affiliations bring to office a moral grounding that can positively influence public policy.

Richard Parker, a professor of public policy at Harvard University, said that religious voices may have a role to play in shaping responses to the current financial crisis. Popular outrage over Wall Street swindlers and the loss of jobs, homes and retirement savings have again brought moral issues to the forefront of public debate.

"People today are desperately hungry for what I can only describe as moral leadership -- not moralistic leadership but moral leadership," said Parker, the son of an Episcopal priest, in an interview before he addressed a small group at the Anaheim convention.

"We're living in a period of gross, and one might even say grotesque, market failure," he said.

Speaking in a similar vein, Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori joined Williams, the archbishop, at a forum on the Christian faith in during the global economic crisis on the first night of the convention, which runs through Friday.

"We are in the midst of a crash course in economic inter-connectedness," said Jefferts Schori, adding that the excesses unveiled by the economic crisis "have been biblical in scale."

"We have overlooked the greed that engendered this crisis, we have participated in it ourselves through investment policies. . . . We have ignored the abundance with which God has blessed us and been unwilling to share what we know and what we have," she said.

Williams told the session, attended by several hundred people, that the implicit lies leading to the economic crisis require a moral response.

He also said those untruths included a belief in unlimited growth on a planet that has limits.

Individual lifestyles and government policies must change to show respect for a finite material world and for the common good, Williams said.

"The task before us is not simply to restore financial stability," the archbishop said. "It certainly is not to get our international financial life back to normal. There is no normal anymore."

HERE IS A RESPONSE TO THIS PIECE. Thank you Patricia.

Patricia Terry made a comment about your note "GOT ANY BREAD?":

I agree that we should look beyond global fixes and bailouts and towards the underlying moral issues. Jesuit theologian John Haughey said, "We read the Gospel as if we had no money and we spend our money as if we know nothing of the Gospel." Given what I believe is at the core of our problems, the church is uniquely qualified to lead us to live into the following bliblical principles:

1)The world as created by God is abundant, with enough for everyone - provided that we restrain our appetites and live within limits;
2) Disparities in wealth and power are not "natural" but the result of human greed, and should be mitigated within the community of faith ("...and distributed it to whoever had need." (Acts 2:45); and
3)We have a responsibility to not take too much or to mistake gift for posession and to bring "good news" to the poor by sharing our abundance.

Taking these axioms seriously will go a long way to providing an "antidote" to our market dominated world.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A REVEALING QUESTION

O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.



What is a revelation? For some it is a sudden insight about something, or a discovery made through diligent study or through special talents or gifts we might have. In the Christian faith, revelation is about God revealing to us who we are as individuals and as people. By doing so, God also reveals himself as the One who reveals. The collect for purity reminds us of this revelation of God’s nature: “Almighty God, to you all hearts open, all desires known and from you no secrets are held…”

The word for revelation comes from the Greek, apokalyptein, which means to uncover that which was hidden. In English, revelation is also called the apocalypse. The source of all revelation is God. It is God who reveals to us what has been hidden or covered up about us. I have heard people say, “I have nothing to hide.” I believe that such statements are, by in large, true. Humanity covers up our deepest and darkest truths as well as our brightest and most profound truths.
Let’s consider how God reveals us to ourselves, even as we believe we have nothing to hide. Here are the opening verses from our Gospel for this Sunday:

John 6:1-21
Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples.
Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, "Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?" He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do.

John makes it clear that the feeding of the 5,000 begins with Jesus. It is Jesus who initiates the question of how he and his rag tag crew of disciples are going to feed this huge array of people who have followed him out into the wilderness. John makes it clear that this event takes place just before the Passover. Unlike Moses, Jesus leads his people into the wilderness before the Passover rather than afterwards.
But all of those who followed Moses and Jesus into the wilderness experienced a revelation. Revelation uncovers who we are and in receiving and accepting this revelation, God reveals himself.

A simple question like: “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” is a revealing question Jesus asked the question to reveal to his disciples something they needed to know about themselves in order to know something about Jesus. I think that is what John meant when he tip off the reader that Jesus asked this question to test Phillip. Testing is not tempting, but, like a medical test reveals what is going on inside of our bodies, Jesus’ questions reveal what is going inside of his disciples and us.

Today he might ask the question, “How are we going to feed all of the people in the world who are starving to death or how can we relieve the suffering which is due to war and disease?” But I would also venture that Jesus asks us questions that may only reflect the particular circumstances of our lives as individuals and communities. What questions has Jesus asked you though the circumstance of your life that reveal to you more about yourself and God? Let’s go further into this idea of revelation on Sunday.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

THE FIRST AND ONLY SCHISM




As the Episcopal Church concludes our 76th General Convention this Friday, there will be, no doubt, those who will find the actions taken at the convention difficult to understand or accept or relieved that the church has actually taken such actions.

There will also be those who will say quite clearly that the Episcopal Church has caused a schism within the Anglican Communion. I would like to suggest that the only real schism took place when God was thrown out of the human community and substitute gods were put in God's place. When did that happen?

Consider the story we find in the opening chapters of Genesis. The story of the Garden of Eden is often called myth, but myths are designed to cover up or hide what is really going on in human history, so I would call this story the beginning of history or the uncovering of what we hide from ourselves about who we are and how we create a sense of peace and unity at the expense of others. This story records and reveals what is the first and only rupture or schism that really matters in the world.

The characters and action in the story are kept fairly simple so that we can see ourselves in both. A decision is made to desire what we were told would bring death to us. What was this desire? The desire to be like God in our ability to know good and evil. We might say, “That is a good thing,” for which we pray in many of our prayers in The Book of Common Prayer (see last week’s Gospel Reflection). But the story clearly shows how such knowledge creates death. Adam and Eve discover that they are naked, vulnerable to one another and to the God of their creation and friendship in the Garden and they try to cover up.

This cover up is what myth seeks to do. This usually ends up in stories that justify one group over another, but in the story of the Garden we witness Adam and Eve blaming one another and the creation itself for their predicament. They desired to be what they could not be anymore that I can desire to be you or you can desire to be me without one of us no longer existing. This story of Eden is the beginning of history, not mythology.

The death of Jesus on the cross is the historical moment when the human act of seeking to replace God through deicide is accomplished. There can only be one God and humankind determined that they were better able to be God than the God who creates, redeems, and sanctifies them. The cross is historical because it uncovers our blaming of others to justify ourselves; because it reveals the exact nature of our human condition; because it offers us hope of a new beginning, a healing of the schism that we initiated, but which God has overcome by love that allows us to desire to be God not as knowing the difference between Good and Evil by which to condemn others, but the knowledge to desire what God desires and the power to live life without schism.

To be sure, we will continue to blame others and cover up our ambition to take God’s place. But if we gaze at Jesus on the cross and our eyes behold the place of God in the world, we might soon find ourselves turned around, converted, transformed into beings who in imitating God’s love no longer have a need for the mythologies of the past that cover up our violence, blaming, exclusions, and idolatries.

What is God’s place that he has invited us to take? Jesus said: “If any would come after me, let that one pick up my cross and follow me.” There is only one schism and God has placed the cross as a bridge for us to heal the breach.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

OUGHT TO DO



O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

This Sunday’s Collect addresses the question, How can we know and understand what things we ought to do? Ought is a word we don’t hear very often. It comes from the Middle English “owen, to own, owe.” This word can express obligation (ought to pay our debts), advisability (ought to take care of yourself), natural expectation (ought to be here by now), or logical consequence (the result ought to be infinity).

Which of these definitions fits the meaning expressed in our collect on Sunday? I would suggest that all of these definitions fit. God gives us life, the model of how life can be lived, with the sending of the Holy Spirit we are given the power of love that allows us to live the life God gives us each day. In the 1928 Book of Common Prayer the following words were part of the opening exchange between priest and congregation:

“It is truly meet, right, and our bounden duty that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to you…”

These words express the sense of obligation to give thanks under all circumstances in life and the bread and wine become the signs of Jesus’ life and death. There are many, many times when I do not “feel” like giving thanks in difficult times, yet I offer such thanks as an expression of my thankfulness for the totality of God’s gift of life. When I don’t feel it, I do it anyway as my “bounden duty.”

There are certainly many bills that I would rather not pay, yet I know that I ought to pay for the things which I have purchased. How much more ought I give thanks for the life that has been given to me. I am not a self-made man. God so loved the world that he gave. Thankful living results in a dramatic change in the way we treat one another because it flows out of the love of God which gives us all things to share with each other.

Why is it advisable that we seek to live our God-given lives in a particular way? I believe that we were created to live in relationship with others in the same way that God lives in relationship within himself as Trinity. It is advisable for our soul’s health and the wholeness of the world that we seek to live in loving relationships rather than envious and resentful ways. When we live in rivalry of others rather than in loving cooperation, the world becomes cold and murderous. So we ought to seek to know God’s ways for our lives.

We ought to seek what to do from God because what we have come to believe is “natural” behavior was shown by the cross and resurrection to be rather contrary to the God who is reflected in our very nature. We were created in the image of God (that is our nature). Jesus shows us what God, in whose nature we are made, is like. So we are asking God to help us live our lives out of our true nature by imitating Jesus in our relationships with one another.

Finally, there is a logic in asking God for the knowledge of how we behave and for the power to live according to that knowledge. Jesus is called the Word of God. In Greek, Logos translates knowledge, science, wisdom, Word. This Greek word is the root for words like logic, bioLOGY, psychoLOGY, and theoLOGY. Jesus was the fullness of God, the Word made flesh.

If we were wanting to learn to play a sport or play a musical instrument, we would logically seek an instructor whose knowledge of the sport or the instrument was good. That would be the logical thing to do. So, too, it is logical for us to look for a model for the ways we live our lives.

Our collect or prayer for this Sunday is rich. We ought to ask God how to live our lives. This knowledge, however, is not enough. We also need to ask God for the “grace and power” to act upon this knowledge. I have seen people who “know better” when it comes to living a life patterned after Christ.

In fact, I am such a person. But unless we open ourselves up to the grace and power of God, our knowledge will not help us when we are faced with the power of peer pressure. We are creatures who are influenced by the crowd. Only a dependence on God’s grace and power can counter the power of the crowd.

“O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them…..”

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

POWER PERFECTED IN WEAKNESS





Facebook is an interesting cyber place to reflect on the Gospel reading for this coming Sunday. On Monday I posted the following query:

My first question for sermon prep this week: Mark records that Jesus is rejected by his hometown folks and is therefore unable to do any works of power there, but that he only healed a few people who were sick. What is a work of power and how is it different than healing? Any thoughts on this question are welcome.

Within an hour of posting this question, I got two responses. One of the writers is a priest and the other person is not. The layperson is not an Episcopalian, but has a degree in Religion. See if you can figure out which of these responses is from the priest and which is from the lay person.

K.R. wrote:

“What I get from that is a "work of power" would create believers or a movement/followers of Christ. And while He was able to heal the sick this was not enough for people to believe or follow or to start a movement. Personally, this has happened to me in my spiritually dry periods. Something "odd" happens and rather than saying this is or was a work of a miracle, or divine intervention I immediately discredit it as mere coincidence or have some scientific explanation or justification. While I have been "healed" it has not worked any real power in my life. Does that make sense?? Well, just thought I'd add my two cents. Fascinating discourse!”

M.C. wrote:

“What strikes me is the relational nature of healing and salvation. The people rejected him so he could do nothing except for healing a few sick people. Whatever these works of power are, they are participatory. I suppose along the same lines as "your faith has made you well" from last Sunday.”

These responses to the question I asked are grand and honest considerations of the text and life. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection challenge us to ask questions about the nature or character of God and what real divine power is about.

The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible says “By its very nature the Hebrew language is concrete and colorful. It made little progress in developing abstract concepts. It expresses ideas of power in a variety of picturesque ways. Greek is far more abstract, tending to consolidate its thought into well-defined ideas; but its words possess great flexibility. The Greek word “Dunamis” was used by the 70 translators of the Old Testament into Greek to express no fewer than twenty-six separate Hebrew words and phrases for power.”

Dunamis may be more familiar in its English derivatives: dynamite, dynamic, and dynamo. Power is explosive, a source of change, and an ongoing power source. This notion of power was also used interchangeably with the word describing God.

Often we think of an explosive as being a bomb or other device that brings about violence and physical injury or death. Consider the bombing of Iraq that began the current conflict. The opening salvo was referred to as “shock and awe.” Human power is often expressed using what we consider to be divine characteristics, but is God’s power better expressed as what human beings call weakness? St. Paul certainly thought and wrote in those terms.

Consider Paul’s words to the church at Corinth. Although Paul spoke of his mystical experiences of the risen Christ that were too large for words to describe, he also told his quarrelsome flock that he had been struggling with what he called a “thorn” in his flesh. He said that he had asked God to remove this thorn three times, but the affliction remained. Whatever the thorn was, it seems to have potentially impacted Paul’s ability to bring the Gospel to those who heard him.

You know how that goes: “Physician heal thyself.” If Paul’s thorn made him seem foolish or cursed in the eyes of those to whom he was sent, we can all probably understand why he might ask God to remove this affliction. We know that we are judged by how we look and that first impressions are important in our world.

When the thorn is not removed, it drives Paul to a deeper theological reflection on the Gospel and the fruit of this reflection is contained in this passage:

“Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ So I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”

Paul expressed an understanding of Jesus the Christ that probably shaped the writing of the Gospels. Just as God in Christ appeared to be at the mercy of the world and the world’s judgment was that Jesus should die, God’s power in Christ was exercised in what we humans call weakness or non-violence. Ultimately, human power, economically, politically, socially, and militarily is about avoiding shame and blame and claiming credit.

In his book, The Power Game: How Washington Works, Washington Post columnist Hedrick Smith describes politicians as “surfers riding the waves of power.” Jim Grote and John McGeeney (Clever as Serpents: Business Ethics and Office Politics) commented on Smith’s observation stating that “the waves of power are the waves of blame and credit that are constantly generated by the mob.” They offer this bit of advice to those engaged in life: “What must be learned is a vigilant detachment from the fear of blame and the craving for credit.”

KR and MC were keen to pick up on the social nature of power. God’s power is not expressed in Jesus’ fear of being blamed or his craving for credit, but the power of God is ultimately expressed in community that is not driven to and fro by fear and craving. Jesus’ people created a powerful environment that expelled Jesus from their midst. He was judged as common and ordinary and perhaps illegitimate. KR found that he tends to discount those odd things that happen to him and miss out on the life changing power that these things communicate and confer.

Receiving a healing does not necessarily change our hearts and minds or draw us closer to God. Most of us survive many assaults on us over a life time, but these times do not lead most of us to become part of a community that turns away from the fear of blame or craving for credit. We seem to turn back to these things even when invited to a larger vision of reality. Jesus presented this larger vision to the hometown crowd and was immediately challenged. Perhaps if the message was delivered with threats or promises from someone who claimed to be god and was backed by military might…oh, wait a minute, that is what Caesar did.

In weakness by human standards, Jesus and Paul delivered the message of salvation, of God’s power to change the world into the Kingdom of Heaven and because it seemed so weak many rejected both the message and the messengers. The community of Jesus’ youth rejected him and what he offered. The world continues to underestimate the power of God to transform what is into the Kingdom of Heaven.

As I wrote above, power is explosive, a source of change, and an ongoing power source. Explosive really means to drive out with applause or the clapping of hands. With a loud shout and applause, God raised Jesus from the dead driving death out of our future and the power of God is the guidance system into the Kingdom of Heaven moving and changing this way and that through the course of history. And it is God’s love for us that continues to be the power of God that works best when we let go of the power of the mob generated by fear and greed.

I welcome any of your thoughts and reflections.