Bob Cornner

Bob Cornner
Visting St. Andrew's Torrance

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

THE ANSWER TO MY LAMENT



Do you ever think that, if there is a God, he or she is nowhere to be found? If God does exist, is God unresponsive to your complaints or to the deepest injustices of the planet? Do you ever reason that it is probably just best to take care of number 1 and stop looking for help from some super sized transcendent being?

Our culture is big on talking about trust. We find it harder and harder to trust one another from politicians, to religious leadership, to business corporate types, to even our friends and spouses. To say that we have “trust issues” is perhaps an understatement.

This is not new to human life. We have had trust issues from the very beginning of our ability to speak the words that match up with the idea of betrayal and trust.

On this past Tuesday morning, I met with a group of folks to look at what are called the Psalms of lament, particularly Psalm 22. We used the Eugene Petersen version found in The Message because it spoke in a less than eloquent way about a less than elegant feeling of being abandoned by God and turned on by what seemed like everyone on the planet in a sort of mob gone wild lynch party. Here is how it starts:

Psalm 22
A David Psalm

1-2 God, God...my God! Why did you dump me
miles from nowhere?
Doubled up with pain, I call to God
all the day long. No answer. Nothing.
I keep at it all night, tossing and turning.
3-5 And you! Are you indifferent, above it all,
leaning back on the cushions of Israel's praise?
We know you were there for our parents:
they cried for your help and you gave it;
they trusted and lived a good life.

6-8 And here I am, a nothing—an earthworm,
something to step on, to squash.
Everyone pokes fun at me;
they make faces at me, they shake their heads:
"Let's see how God handles this one;
since God likes him so much, let him help him!"


Wow, the psalmist is pretty upset and his relationship with God seems a bit strained. Psalms of lament follow a particular pattern that looks something like this:

COMPLAINT: First the writer complains. This isn’t a criticism, the way a husband or wife might begin a conversation by saying: “Well, you did it again. You are so irresponsible. You never feed the dog. The dog would starve to death waiting for you to feed him.”

Such criticisms are not just about a particular misdeed, but attribute all manner of repeated ill will, poor character, and a lack of caring to the attacked partner. Obviously, this is not a great way of maintaining a loving and long lasting relationship.

So, the psalmist simply says that God is missing after having left the poor guy out in the middle of no man’s land. The complaint continues with symptoms of pain (not sure what sort of pain this is, but it is enough to double him over, so I am guessing it is pretty intense). And still no answer from God and no help.

While the psalmist might seem to be lacking trust in God, it is really quite the opposite. If you don’t trust someone, you usually stop asking for what you need from them. Yet this guy shares the reason why he is continuing to complain and to trust that he will eventually be heard. He reminds God of how faithful God had been to his ancestors.

God is trusted because God had a good track record with the family and the tribes of Israel. Doesn’t that make sense? Once trust is gained, it is only lost when the trusted person acts in such a way as to lose your trust. So, the psalmist is rehearsing the reason for his trust in God and this is revealed in the very act of complaining.

Notice that the psalmist says of his parents that they “trusted and lived a good life.”

The complaint widens now and he says less than flattering things about himself. He is an earthworm and not worthy of much consideration by anyone. He then moves to a complaint against others who are seen to be his enemy and who are preparing to destroy him.

REQUEST FOR HELP: The next element of a psalm of lament is the request for help from God. The psalmist seeks relieve from his situation. His confession of being “nothing” seems more like an offering of how he thinks others see him, than a statement of his true value. Yet, in this complaint, he is also asking why, if he is really nothing, are his enemies so intent on getting rid of him.

The psalmist is actually hitting on a pretty huge question about the way we victimize one another.

If his opponents are right in seeing him as nothing, why is he is worth such anger and hatred that seems to have come his way? He does not have an answer to this question of why he has been randomly identified as a target of their anger. He simply is asking for saving from that fate.

AFFIRMATION: The psalm of lament now enters a self-soothing reflection on the psalmist’s experience of being cared for by God. God has not always been absent. Here is what he says:

9-11 And to think you (God) were midwife at my birth,
setting me at my mother's breasts!
When I left the womb you cradled me;
since the moment of birth you've been my God
.

In the mist of being troubled, this man finds hope in God’s tenderness and love he knew as an infant. How often do we remember the ways in which God’s love and attention have come our way? Does it calm us down and give us some hope? Does it renew our willingness to continue to trust God?

Well, it did in this case. The psalmist ends this continued complaint of God moving away with a request for what may be the key and solution to much of what troubles us all today. What are we really looking for in the absence of God? He says it clearly: “I need a neighbor.”

Then you moved far away
and trouble moved in next door.
I need a neighbor.


In a world that seeks to cast out rather than gather in those in need, a neighbor, as Jesus understood the meaning of that word, was and is what the psalmist needed and what we need today. When Jesus said that we are to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves, he expanded the definition by telling the story of the Good Samaritan. A neighbor may actually be someone who is hated by you and who reciprocates with hate towards you. Your neighbor may be your answer to prayer for God to draw near to you.

Listen to the psalmist describe his neighbors and place yourself in his agonizing and lonely position as they come after him:

12-13 Herds of bulls come at me,
the raging bulls stampede,
Horns lowered, nostrils flaring,
like a herd of buffalo on the move.

14-15 I'm a bucket kicked over and spilled,
every joint in my body has been pulled apart.
My heart is a blob
of melted wax in my gut.
I'm dry as a bone,
my tongue black and swollen.
They have laid me out for burial
in the dirt.

16-18 Now packs of wild dogs come at me;
thugs gang up on me.
They pin me down hand and foot,
and lock me in a cage—a bag
Of bones in a cage, stared at
by every passerby.
They take my wallet and the shirt off my back,
and then throw dice for my clothes.


As you read the last few lines, they may have reminded you of the scenes around the crucifixion of Jesus. The Gospel writers read this psalm through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus is the neighbor who intentionally walked into the trap so beautifully described by the psalmist. He walked into it, not to become a victim, but to give us all the neighbor we cry out for when we end up in the middle of such an angry circle, as the outcast, as the victim without a cause and without a defender.

The psalmist repeats his request for God to act to rescue him. He sounds more and more desperate. Throat cutting, being devoured, gored, so much meat for the lions are pretty dramatic ways of urging action from God or from anyone. The psalmist sees his situation as grave beyond words. The mob has turned on him and the mob really believes he is the problem and the solution to the problem is his death, dismemberment, and him being turned into a sacrificial meal for the mob to eat.

19-21 You, God—don't put off my rescue!
Hurry and help me!
Don't let them cut my throat;
don't let those mongrels devour me.
If you don't show up soon,
I'm done for—gored by the bulls,
meat for the lions.


The psalmist is asking for rescue to save his own skin from this horrible curse and death and in answer to his plea for God’s help, Christians have seen Jesus being the one who steps in as God in human flesh and blood and having shown God’s loving face on earth and God’s power to heal and restore what is lost, he becomes the good neighbor whom we despise and vilify.

The one who takes our place as outcast, “your it,” the problem whose death is the solution and who offers the human race what we have received from the beginning. The invitation, the example, and the power to love God with all of our being and our neighbor as ourselves has been sent and is being lived out in the lives of many.

The creation is headed for a time of deep forgiveness and thanksgiving around a Table shared by neighbors who will dine on God’s graciousness and mercy and love and not on one another. The day is coming. This is day for which we pray when we say God's will to be done and his kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven.

For Jesus to live in us and we to live in him is the answer to the psalmist prayer. To become the good neighbor who loves friend and enemy alike is the path and the answer to this prayer. God is not present as the source or justification for human wrath and violence directed towards the psalmist. God is experienced as absent by the psalmist and Jesus confirms this truth in his dying. Jesus experiences God's absence not as abandonment of him, but rather God's never being present in human wrath and sacred violence against any scapegoat. God is with the victims and in the victims of human wrath posing as righteousness.


PROMISE OF PRAISE: The last component of a psalm of lament begins with a vision of a future day of praise to the One in whom we all live and move and have our being. It is a party around the Table of God, as I said. Read these final passages from this psalm. It says it better than I ever could.

22-24 Here's the story I'll tell my friends when they come to worship,
and punctuate it with Hallelujahs:
Shout Hallelujah, you God-worshipers;
give glory, you sons of Jacob;
adore him, you daughters of Israel.
He has never let you down,
never looked the other way
when you were being kicked around.
He has never wandered off to do his own thing;
he has been right there, listening.

25-26 Here in this great gathering for worship
I have discovered this praise-life.
And I'll do what I promised right here
in front of the God-worshipers.
Down-and-outers sit at GOD's table
and eat their fill.
Everyone on the hunt for God
is here, praising him.
"Live it up, from head to toe.
Don't ever quit!"

27-28 From the four corners of the earth
people are coming to their senses,
are running back to GOD.
Long-lost families
are falling on their faces before him.
GOD has taken charge;
from now on he has the last word.

29 All the power-mongers are before him
—worshiping!
All the poor and powerless, too
—worshiping!
Along with those who never got it together
—worshiping!

30-31 Our children and their children
will get in on this
As the word is passed along
from parent to child.
Babies not yet conceived
will hear the good news—
that God does what he says.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

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."
C

COLLECT FOR OCTOBER 24, 2010

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.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

TALKING TO YOUR IMAGE OF GOD























Have you ever just sat back and watched people argue over a particular issue or another? Certainly during this election season we are seeing a great deal of arguing and a lot of personal attacks directed against this candidate or another. What do you see and hear when you remain outside of the fight?

Does a pattern emerge that looks the same for both parties?

When people argue in a relationship, friendship or marriage, there are usually some restraints on the sorts of things that are said to each other. Sometimes these restraints come out of fear; other times we hold our punches out of love and respect for the other person.

The ideal in a relationship is to avoid what John Gottman calls the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (This link will take you to a good summary of Gottman's research): criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling or to have ways of quickly recovering from such episodes.

Gottman is a respected researcher in the field of what makes for happy and long lasting marriages. He and his wife, Julie were the two presenters at the recent two day workshop that Madelyn and I attended in Anaheim.

He says that a high ratio of positive comments to negative comments (John Gottman, in1994, found that in marriages which flourish (P/N ratio of 5.1) and those which end up in divorce (P/N ratio of 0.77)) during a disagreement is needed for a relationship to survive over time. I have watched many of our married couples who have been together for over 40 years and see exactly what Gottman has discovered in his research.

If these notorious horsemen have galloped through any of your own conversations, you know how devastating they can be to the overall health and sense of well being of your relationships.

So, I am wondering about how these equestrian signs of relationship disasters also may be true of our conversations with God. If these four relationship damaging tactics result in a loss of life giving human relationships, how might they also signal a similar outcome in our relationship with God?

All of us have different views of who God is and how God operates that may strongly influence your answer to such a question. Check out the link (USA TODAY) to a recent survey written and analyzed by sociologists from Baylor University's Institute for Studies of Religion, in Waco, Texas, and conducted by Gallup.

The survey asked 77 questions with nearly 400 answer choices that burrowed deeply into beliefs, practices and religious ties and turned up some surprising findings.

Check out the a summary of the research done at Baylor and to see how your view of God may influence the way you see God communicating with you and how you may be communicating with God. How does Jesus' parable on prayer which we will read on Sunday mesh with your view of God?

The four categories

Highlights of Baylor's analysis:

• The Authoritarian God (31.4% of Americans overall, 43.3% in the South) is angry at humanity's sins and engaged in every creature's life and world affairs. He is ready to throw the thunderbolt of judgment down on "the unfaithful or ungodly," Bader says.

Those who envision God this way "are religiously and politically conservative people, more often black Protestants and white evangelicals," Bader says.
"(They) want an active, Christian-values-based government with federal funding for faith-based social services and prayer in the schools."

They're also the most inclined to say God favors the USA in world affairs (32.1% vs. 18.6% overall).

•The Benevolent God (23% overall, 28.7% in the Midwest) still sets absolute standards for mankind in the Bible. More than half (54.8%) want the government to advocate Christian values.

But this group, which draws more from mainline Protestants, Catholics and Jews, sees primarily a forgiving God, more like the father who embraces his repentant prodigal son in the Bible, Froese says.

They're inclined (68.1%) to say caring for the sick and needy ranks highest on the list of what it means to be a good person.

This is the group in which the Rev. Jeremy Johnston, executive pastor and communications director for his father's 5,000-member Southern Baptist congregation in Overland Park, Kan., places himself.

"God is in control of everything. He's grieved by the sin of the world, by any created person who doesn't follow him. But I see (a) God ... who loves us, who sees us for who we really are. We serve a God of the second, third, fourth and fifth chance," Johnston says.

•The Critical God (16% overall, 21.3% in the East) has his judgmental eye on the world, but he's not going to intervene, either to punish or to comfort.

"This group is more paradoxical," Bader says. "They have very traditional beliefs, picturing God as the classic bearded old man on high. Yet they're less inclined to go to church or affiliate seriously with religious groups. They are less inclined to see God as active in the world. Their politics are definitely not liberal, but they're not quite conservative, either."

Those who picture a critical God are significantly less likely to draw absolute moral lines on hot-button issues such as abortion, gay marriage or embryonic stem cell research.

For example, 57% overall say gay marriage is always wrong compared with 80.6% for those who see an authoritarian God, and 65.8% for those who see God as benevolent. For those who believe in a critical God, it was 54.7%.

•The Distant God (24.4% overall, 30.3% in the West) is "no bearded old man in the sky raining down his opinions on us," Bader says. Followers of this God see a cosmic force that launched the world, then left it spinning on its own.

This has strongest appeal for Catholics, mainline Protestants and Jews. It's also strong among "moral relativists," those least likely to say any moral choice is always wrong, and among those who don't attend church, Bader says.

Only 3.8% of this group say embryonic stem cell research is always wrong, compared with 38.5% of those who see an authoritarian God, 22.7% for those who see God as benevolent and 13.2% who see God as critical but disengaged.

If you believe in an Authoritarian God, you might say that God has the right and the duty to be critical, contemptuous, defensive, and stonewalling in his relationship with a perceived less powerful and misguided bunch of humans such as ourselves. You might believe that when God uses the Four Horsemen, it is “for our own good.” The question is not whether God is right or wrong. God is always right and we are always wrong if we do not do what God tells us to do. God shows us when we are wrong by bringing disasters on people and nations that do not follow his ways.

If you believe in a God who is Benevolent, you might say that God is still always right, but that he is much more understanding and forgiving than the Authoritarian God. The Benevolent God would try to communicate to us in more loving ways while still letting us know how we are wrong and he is right. God being good all of the time to all people could only speak in ways that would encourage greater and greater communication in the name of helping us get our act together.

If you believe in a God who is Critical, you might say that God only speaks harshly against those whose behavior inflicts hardship and economic suffering on the poor in the world. God being the friend of the poor would only send the Four Horsemen off to deliver threatening messages of judgment against the rich while remaining loving and tender in his communication with the poor.

If you believe in a Distant God, you might say that God is not really communicating to us, but having made us as we are has left how we will be towards one another to our own judgment. God being distant and not really involved in the outcome of his creation doesn’t communicate at all, not as a form of stonewalling, but in keeping with his original design of creating, but not hovering over what he has created.

If you are an Atheist, you would probably not have any response to this question, but might suggest that the question has absolutely no meaning to you because there is no God with whom to have a relationship and therefore no communication possibilities exist.

Which view of God comes closest to your own? With that in mind, read this coming Sunday’s Gospel and see if you can identify elements of these views in how Jesus sees God?

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?"

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Religious Literacy & Healing Faith
























Recently there was a story in the news that was based upon whether Americans were religiously literate. I took this 15 question quiz and offer you the opportunity to do the same by clicking on this link.

Once you have taken this survey and received your score, read the rest of this week's Gospel Reflection. I wonder if being religiously literate makes us better human beings, better people of faith, more Christ-like? In our Gospel Reflection I would like to have us take a look at the story of the 10 lepers who are healed by Jesus as a way of looking at what it means to be a literate person of faith. Join me.

So, how did you do on the quiz? Do you feel the quiz truly defined your religious literacy?

I believe that we should know as much about the details of the faith traditions of our world as we can, but I am much more concerned that we get the heart of those traditions.

Let’s see how our Gospel reading for this Sunday perhaps reveals the heart of God, that deeper knowledge that unites us rather than divides us.

Luke 17:11-19

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!"

When he saw them, he said to them, "Go and show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice.

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."


It should be noted that the Samaritans and the Jews of that time viewed one another with great hostility and contempt. Among lepers, however, there seemed to be neither Jew nor Samaritan. They are simply the “unclean.” There unity was based upon a common affliction, a common rejection and marginalization by each of their respective communities.

There were ten of these lepers. Ten is a number of wholeness, completion. Do you recall the stories Jesus told about the good shepherd who left behind 99 sheep to go in search of the one sheep who had been separated from the group? Do you remember the story that followed that one about the old woman who had 10 coins, but had discovered one was missing and how she searched and searched until she found that one coin? These stories reveal God’s desire, God’s dream of his creation as being incomplete until all are found, all restored, all made alive.

Just so, this story of Jesus being approached by 10 lepers we see a certain sort of unity that is based upon those who are lost and marginalized seeking to form a community separate from the ones into which they were born, raised, and indoctrinated. Having been rejected and marginalized by their two communities, they formed their own community of the excluded.

This story is often seen as a miracle story because Jesus heals all ten of these lepers, but I would like for us to look at the outcome of this healing. After their healing did they continue together as they had before, a community of lepers now restored and healed? Or, did they return to the very communities that had rejected them?

Did the healed Jewish lepers return to their community less hostile to the Samaritans than they were before the spent time with him? Did they return to their community as ambassadors of a larger understanding of God’s dream of unity among all people or did they simply return to the old ways of exclusion, contempt, and rejection of those who were different than themselves?

Might they have scored high on a religious literacy test, but missed the heart of God’s dream and will for his creation?

Jesus sends them off to their respective religious leaders, the priests, to be examined for the purpose of being declared clean and to be reintegrated into their families and their communities. This sending back home took place between the land of the Samaritans and the land of the Jews. Nine went one way and the one went the other way.

What happens next reveals something we might miss if we only focus on the healing of ten lepers who then return to their normal lives in their families and communities of faith. It is as they are on their way home that these lepers are healed. Their healing is a result of following Jesus’ direct order to go and show themselves to their respective priests. Notice that the healing was not certified before the Samaritan returned to give thanks to God at Jesus’ feet.

Something inside of this man convinced him beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was clean, whole, restored. He did not wait for confirmation by a priest or the payoff of being “acceptable” in the eyes of his former Samaritan community. He experienced a knowing that he was acceptable and clean in the eyes of God even before he was healed that Jesus called, “your faith.”

Gratitude and praise directed towards God is the response to such an experience of knowing God’s love and acceptance that Jesus calls faith. Jesus sends this man off saying: "Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well."

Will this Samaritan return to his former community and tell with praise and gratitude how God loved him even when his own community had not? Will he return angry at the system that rejected and marginalized him? Or, will he return to support the system that rejected and marginalized him? When others are similarly cast out due to the curse of leprosy or other community assigned reasons for rejection, will this Samaritan testify to the faith that healed him or will he go back to the old ways of his community?

Consider the nine who returned home and the one. What would it take for the one and the nine to become ten again without leprosy or any other human designed reason for exclusion rather than compassion? If you have ever experienced rejection, but discovered the deep faith of the Samaritan, how is that faith changing the way you live your life as you “get up and go your way?”

Finally, a note on the impact Jesus had on a community of ten outcasts. He destroyed their unity that was based upon their common identity of being victims of their communities or of God by healing them. What this healing revealed was a new way of being that does not require community based upon victimization, but based upon faith that sees God as loving and compassionate, not as the divine condoner or participant in exclusion, sin, and death that marks us as certain as Cain bore this mark of unity.

The mark of the cross is new sign of unity, invisibly worn on every baptized Christian that reminds us of our Samaritan roots of faith in a God who heals, restores, and creates a community of forgiveness and compassion. I don’t have to know the meaning of the word, “transubstantiation” to be a person of faith, but I do need to know the heart of God by faith.