Thursday, February 24, 2011
The Antidote for Fear:Fear and worry isolate us from others and oftentimes makes us see others as enemies. To combat fear God calls us together without exclusions of anyone to hold hands and to pray and work together for the Kingdom of heaven.
Most loving Father, whose will it is for us to give thanks for all things, to fear nothing but the loss of you, and to cast all our care on you who care for us: Preserve us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from us the light of that love which is immortal, and which you have manifested to us in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
What do you fear losing the most—the loss of a loving God or your personal wealth, reputation, or health? In our world staying alive depends upon staying healthy and maintaining a reputation of honesty, integrity, and a good work ethic in order to earn enough money to pay bills and to support one’s self and family.
So, why does Jesus tell his disciples not to worry about where the next meal, clothing, or housing will come from? Is Jesus saying that God will pick up the tab for whatever we need? Are we to simply trust God to deliver and give up working for our daily bread?
Jesus does not tell his disciples not to work, he tells them not to worry about the necessities of life. What does he mean by that invitation to a care-free life? From my first job selling newspapers on the streets of Hermosa Beach until today, I have worked sometimes two or three jobs at once to pay the bills. During that time I have known times of panic, but I always knew that we would get by and survive.
Today there are many families across this country and around the world that face economic uncertainties that are beyond their control. There are people who genuinely want to work who cannot find a job that will support their families. I know of several families who have had to leave the South Bay due to economic conditions and relocate to less expensive locations where they hope to find employment.
The people who were listening to Jesus that day were not wealthy and their economic and political life was meeker. The Roman Empire sucked much of the wealth out of Israel and the other territories it conquered, but built roads, aqueducts, and government buildings to govern and capitalize on their empire. These improvements not only allowed Roman troops to move quickly through their territories, but also allowed for lucrative trade routes to be established. The Romans were also the peace keepers of their empire. In a sense, despite the Roman military’s often brutal ways, it did keep the peace and allow for stability.
As we watch the turmoil and unrest in the Middle East move from country to country and hear the cries for the elimination of this leader or that one, we also see how such turmoil threatens the economic stability of the entire world. This morning (Thursday) speculation about the rising price of oil was being broadcast with predictions of higher gas prices at the pump and a huge negative impact on our economy.
Perhaps we are not so unlike Jesus’ listeners. We, too, are economically dependent on forces that are global. We understand why many people in Israel at the time of Jesus, while not liking Roman domination, accepted it as the price for economic stability. The zealots hated the Romans and used violence to try to throw them out of Israel, but most people just wanted to live quiet and peaceful lives raising their families under the Peace of Rome.
Jesus is not pushing people to rebel or to resign themselves to lives of quiet desperation. Instead he is offering them and us and new way of living, not out of fear of things that are out of our control, but out of a love of what Jesus called the Kingdom of God.
Jesus tells us that God does not threaten people with economic disaster either in this life or the next to keep them in line. He says, “Don’t worry about such things” not because they are unimportant, but because for fear of loss, we often do things or fail to do things out of that fear.
Our collect for this Sunday speaks about our fears and faith. The collect invites us to look at how our fears and worldly anxieties have caused us to not see the larger picture of God’s kingdom of love.
Has the goal of being a high value economic unit (a person whose value to the employer is high) resulted in behavior that has done harm to self or to others?
Has the goal of keeping a job led you to undermine the perceived value of another employee?
Has the need for being number one in school resulted in behavior such as cheating on tests, homework, or papers?
Has our national goal of keeping gas prices low resulted in policies that have negatively impacted people in other parts of the world?
Could you offer other questions that would reveal times in your life when faith and fear came head to head? These questions are about how fear has influenced us. When we are in the process of doing such things we may not even be aware of the driving force of fear, but if others suffer to reduce our sense of loss or economic peril, fear and faith are contending for our decision of who will be our master.
It is not really wealth that is the master Jesus places opposite God, but our fears of not surviving, of not being secure and permanent. Wealth seems to be the only way to relieve our fears, but in seeking it collectively, our fears can create a world of great wealth and great poverty.
Our collect reminds us that our future is in God, not in a system that instills fear, pits brothers and sister against brothers and sisters, and turns us into slaves to a most merciless and unforgiving master.
Do we choose a Loving God or a god of fear? That is the question.
Thursday, February 17, 2011
Loving is what God does in the midst of what we do: But I say, Love your enemies and pray for those who are out to get you
Here are some quotes I have found to be helpful in reading the part of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew's Gospel that speaks to the idea that loving is what God does in the midst of what we do as a human society.
When we declare that it is easy for God or Jesus to respond to violence with love because of their shared divinity, but impossible for mere mortals, I think we miss the point that God's loving ways simply and utterly challenge our learned and traditional ways of creating a world system that excludes the true source of our being at all.
To reconnect ourselves to that core of God's love is to allow our system to slowly, but surely fail for our lack of our support for the "us against them" ways that continue to bankrupt the soul and the society in which we live. As Alison says below, creation as God's work does not know resentment and was before it.
"If Jesus were just a non-resentful victim, then he would be a good person. But we affirm more. We claim that he was the making humanly present and possible the purpose of creation, a project which simply doesn't know resentment, and is before it. This is to say that Jesus is God and that in the Eucharist we have in our midst the real presence of God made human."
"Returnning Violence for violence multiples violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." Martin Luther King Jr.
"For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do."
Saint Paul in his letter to the church at Rome Here is the Gospel for this Sunday:
"You have heard that it was said, `An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.'
But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
"You have heard that it was said,
`You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.
For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Thursday, February 03, 2011
Jesus said, "You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
``The Lord God of Israel gave the kingdom ... to David ... by a covenant of salt.''
Numbers xviii xiii.
“A covenant of salt . A covenant which could not be broken.”
There are medical reasons why we are warned about using too much salt, so why does Jesus tell his followers to be the salt of the earth? Have you ever seen salt go bad? Salt has an enduring quality. It continues to be true its saltiness despite being place in water, on steaks, vegetables, the human body, or even when it is mixed with earth or sea.
God is like salt. What? Yep, God is like salt. Like salt, God is enduring and it only takes a bit of God to bring out the qualities of creation that make it wondrous, lovely, awe inspiring, tasteful, harmonious and to bring creation to fulfillment. It only takes a bit of God’s saltiness in the little bit of earth called Bob or John or Steve, or Helen, or Mary or Gail to bring out God’s love, mercy, forgiveness, grace, will to serve others and to see others in need as our brothers and sisters.
So, are you like salt? Is the salt of God that is in you bringing out your god-loving, people-embracing, creation-celebrating, grace-observing and thanks-giving God life in you? Since salt cannot lose its savor and since we are all made in the image of God, we are truly the “salt of the earth.” We are dust sprinkled with the salt of God’s enduring love and character.
Of course, our saltiness can remain in the shaker. In ancient Israel and in other sacrificial people of the past, salt was placed on all sacrifices. Salt was a preservative of meat and other food items that spoiled quickly. Salt was used by the Roman Emperor to pay his soldiers because it was so valuable. In fact, our English word, “salary” comes from the Latin word for salt. Salt was used to purify things, to soften water, and to strengthen roads.
It is God who is the one whose saltiness of love and forgiveness is being poured out on the creation. Since we are made of dust or earth, the salt of the earth of which Jesus speaks is us. It is God’s faithfulness, enduring passion for a world of love and mercy and justice that God’s salt in us and on us and around us in others is being poured out.
It is God’s salt in our dust that is bringing the kingdom of heaven to earth. The salt of God is bringing the creation to its fulfillment. We are the salt of the earth.