Friday, March 20, 2015
NOTE: In the coming Clergy Conference of the Diocese of Los Angeles in May of 2015, we will be learning more about the church's Task Force on Marriage report. I was asked to write a short essay on Essay #3 The History of Christian Marriage found in the Task Force Report. My comments below are brief and based upon my limited experience as a Christian and an Episcopal priest.
As a seminary student in the days of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, we were given an assignment to either defend the current canons regarding marriage or offer changes we believed were appropriate. We were to defend whatever position we took using Scripture, Tradition, and Reason. I won’t go into the details of what I wrote, but I did offer recommendations as if our canons on divorce, remarriage, and communion seemed at odds with the broader teachings of love, forgiveness, and compassion of Jesus and the church. In short, I did not deal with the political, cultural, or economic forces that defined marriage outside of the church’s canons.
The canons of the church did change with respect to divorce and remarriage. The movement was towards a more pastoral approach to the painful and growing rate of divorce. The church and the cultural understandings of marriage seemed to be very closely connected.
The wonderful Essay #3: A History of Christian Marriage is an honest look at how the church and the culture have changed in their defining of the institution of marriage. It reminds us that marriage is a creature of culture and that religion has historically laid claim to more or less authority when it came defining the meaning and boundaries of marriage.
Today, civil marriage is moving towards expanding the legal boundaries for marriage in keeping with the constitutionally defined rights of all citizens of the United States to enjoy the privileges and responsibilities and protections of marriage. This is "meet, right, and our bounden duty" as citizens of this country.
The task for the church is to discern its role in the institution of marriage within our society and within our community of faith. It seems obvious from reading this brief history of marriage that the church and religion have had to constantly re-think its part in marriage and at times approve the dominant views of the meaning and purpose of marriage and at other times offer an understanding of marriage that stands contrary to that held by the dominant view.
I know that my response to the question I was asked in seminary about the canons of the church was brought about by the increasing incidence of Christian divorce, but perhaps more importantly, by the change in the church’s influence over the cultural standards about marriage and divorce.
I rejoice that our church has taken the time and the prayerfulness required to study and offer the culture in which we live a liberating understanding of the relationships of love that are a part of our human existence and some options for exercising love in ways that point more and more towards the culture of God in which mercy, forgiveness, justice, and grace dance within all intentional relationships in creation.
Thursday, March 05, 2015
THE CLEANSING OF THE TEMPLE
"What sign can you show us for doing this?"
Nobody Left but Jesus
The Gospel for this Sunday (see below) is from the Gospel according to John. It is John's telling of the story about Jesus going into the Temple in Jerusalem and disrupting and driving out those who did the business of exchanging Roman coins, considered impure, for Temple coins that were acceptable for giving to God. He also drove out those who were selling animals for sacrifice. Both of these practices were needed to accommodate the thousands of pilgrims who came to the Temple to worship.
I would like to suggest a visual that might help us understand the power and significance of this action. When Jesus concludes his work of cleansing the Temple there are no sacrificial animals or birds left to be sacrificed and there are no coins to be exchanged. It is Jesus and Jesus alone who stands in the Temple. By doing what he did, Jesus becomes the only sacrifice left in the Temple and the economic system of support for the Temple is overturned.
Does this image of Jesus standing alone in the Temple move you? Does it cause you to reflect on our cultural images of sacrifice and economic ways that perpetuate a way of being human that might be in need of disrupting and cleansing by God's willingness to give God's self to show us the cost to others of our ways?
I hope you will spend some quiet time considering this story from John while you are sipping on a hot cup of coffee or tea. Or perhaps your are spiritually renewed and open to reflection while you are walking, biking, running, or gardening.
God's peace in a Holy Lent,
The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, "Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father's house a marketplace!" His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for your house will consume me." The Jews then said to him, "What sign can you show us for doing this?" Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." The Jews then said, "This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?" But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
Thursday, January 29, 2015
A REFLECTION ON THE EPIPHANY MOMENTS IN MARK'S GOSPEL
Jesus’ life is a series of coming outs. These are epiphany moments when we learn more about who Jesus is. We also learn about how we respond to the presence of God in our midst by observing the reaction of others in the Gospel and by allowing ourselves to become part of the action.
Jesus comes out from heaven as the only begotten Son of God.
Jesus comes out from his mother Mary’s womb as fully, truly, and completely human.
Jesus comes out of his family in Nazareth and out of the traditional faith and culture of Israel to follow where the Holy Spirit, his Mother leads him.
Jesus comes out from the Jordon River after his baptism where he sees the Holy Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him and he hears the soft and loving voice of God saying: “This is my son, my beloved, in whom I am well pleased.”
Jesus comes out from the wilderness after undergoing the raw temptations of power, envy, and rivalry over against the God whose love and acceptance of Jesus was unqualified.
Jesus comes out from the synagogue at Capernaum after casting out the unclean spirit that had possessed a man and dispossessed him of a place in his own religious community.
Jesus comes out from the house of Simon and Andrew after healing Peter’s mother-in-law and spending the night healing the sick and demon-possessed that surrounded the door of Peter’s house and he goes into the wilderness to pray.
When the crowds and his disciples search for him, he says that he must keep moving because he has “come out” to proclaim the message in other places and to other people. Every time Jesus comes out, his disciples follow him and through Mark’s Gospel, we are able to come out with Jesus too.
We are able to experience epiphany upon epiphany about Jesus and about ourselves as individuals and a community of faith.When Jesus comes out, God comes out and interacts with us. When Jesus comes out, the demons that reside and hold power in our institutions come out and Jesus silences them.
Jesus comes out to proclaim a new message of hope and redemptive love that will never destroy any person in order to save them or the rest of humanity. The demons seek to “out” Jesus as just one more High Priest who will sacrifice others to save himself and the good people of the world.
Religion that claims the right to kill, abuse, or exclude people based upon God’s will miss the point of Jesus’ first encounter with the demon who sought to “out” him in the synagogue at Capernaum. The demon seeks to co-opt Jesus into the world of sacred violence by calling him “God’s Holy One” and asking if Jesus had come to destroy him. This man and many others in our world today are held hostage by the demon that seeks to seduce the rest of us into believing that the final solution to evil is the destruction of the one who is being held hostage.
The old time religion of our world, whether it masquerades as Christian, Jewish, Islam, Buddhist, Hindu or any secular “ism” would destroy the hostage in order to destroy the demon. In Jesus’ heart and soul, such a strategy was the very thing he had “come out” to show as a lie.
He does not take the bait dangled by the demon. Rather than destroying the man, he silences the demon whose only future lies in the destruction of the possessed man. As we go through Mark’s Gospel this year, listen carefully for the ways that Jesus “comes out,” and the ways others try to “out” him.
In our own lives, we need to be alert for ways to come out with Jesus into the freedom of the Gospel. The cross is the final coming out of Jesus and it coincides with his outing by the secular and religious high priests who follow the predictable rubrics of that old time religion of sacred violence: “It is better that this one man die, than the whole nation perish.” Mark 1:29-39
Jesus left the synagogue at Capernaum, and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon's mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, "Everyone is searching for you." He answered, "Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do." And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
Thursday, January 15, 2015
My first way of serving in the church was in the St. Cecilia Choir. I was the only boy in the choir. You can imagine that I must have really loved singing and being part of the choir to wear the robe with tie you see below. The truth is that I loved making "a joyful noise unto the Lord."
However, when my voice changed to a much lower octave, my singing career in the church or with the Four Seasons came to an abrupt end. The priest in charge of Acolytes saw that I was lost without a way of being a disciple and he sought me out and asked me to serve as an acolyte.
I loved being told by the training priest that the word "acolyte" was the Greek word for a follower of Jesus in John's Gospel and was used in today's Gospel from John to describe Jesus' calling of Philip to follow him.
I looked forward to serving as an acolyte and I particularly liked the sense that what I was doing in some small way was a way to follow Jesus. We were taught to carry the cross, light and carry the candles in procession and recession, help set the Table for Holy Communion, assist people up the steps to the altar rail and down the steps back to their seats. We also helped the clergy clean up after communion was completed and then led the choir and clergy out of the church and into the world.
We will be celebrating the life of Kathleen Ramjohn this Sunday at the 10 AM service. Like me, she was claimed and found by Jesus and responded to Jesus' call to follow him in service to others. As you think about Kathleen's time with us, consider how she was an acolyte of Jesus. Look at the many ways she joyfully greeted us, fed us, danced to the music of the service, and celebrated her own sense of being found, like Philip, and called to follow her Lord, Savior, and friend.
The service this Sunday is a celebration of the Resurrection. It will be Easter on Sunday. We will vest in White and hear the words of hope and joy that are a part of our Easter faith. Perhaps we will be found again by Jesus in this time of worship and hear his call to follow him anew.
Kathleen liked to say: "Love be with you!" Let's come together this Sunday to respond to her greeting, "And also with you, Kathleen."
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, "Follow me." Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, "We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth." Nathanael said to him, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Philip said to him, "Come and see." When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, "Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!" Nathanael asked him, "Where did you get to know me?" Jesus answered, "I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you." Nathanael replied, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!" Jesus answered, "Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these." And he said to him, "Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man."
Friday, January 02, 2015
HEROD THE VILLAIN?
Do you recognize this favorite villain?
Do you like melodrama? You know what I mean, when you get to boo and hiss at the villains and cheer for the hero. Most of what we see in film and television shows sets us up to see clearly divided lines between the good guys and the bad guys. We even get melodramatic news as competing ideologies do battle with one another in true soap opera fashion. We like being able to identify ourselves with the heroes and perhaps secretly admire and envy the evil ones.
Such is the melodrama of our Gospel reading for this second Sunday of Christmas. It doesn’t take much imagination or moral training to see that a wretched old king trying to kill babies is worthy of our boos, hisses, and condemnation.
Matthew makes it very easy to see how wicked Herod is, but might it not have been possible to make a case for Herod’s actions? Could we write a different script that made the threat of a newborn child so real that Herod would be seen as the hero, saving the world from a revolutionary zealot intent on destroying the world of law and order and proper authority?
Matthew anticipates this change in the script. By the end of the Gospel, Jesus is judged to be a threat to the existing way of doing things by the lawful authority of Rome or any other nation or Empire whose power and violence make their authority "legal" or “righteous.” Herod’s fear of being usurped has come full circle. Herod was simply a bit player in the larger drama or melodrama of planet earth.
Matthew gives us an opportunity to feel righteous and in the know right at the beginning of his gospel. But, by the time Jesus is betrayed, arrested, tried, and found guilty, we see the disciples abandon him. Their moral certitude was shaken. Perhaps Herod was right. Perhaps they were wrong. Perhaps all was lost.
The Gospel of Matthew was written to reveal how very blind we are when we claim moral certitude and superiority. As much as we love to boo the villain and cheer for the hero, the cross of Jesus exposes how morally fickle we are. It is not Herod or the High Priests or the Pharisees or any other identified bad guy in our world that is revealed as evil, but the
uncomfortable and shameful belief that might makes right.
Matthew shows this belief in the actions of Herod and then proceeds to uncover our own complicity with this belief through the morally self-righteous characters who have completely lost their way as they stretch out their accusing fingers towards the infant and the adult Jesus in the story we call “The Good News.”
And there is always collateral damage when what is right and the authority of our world is defined by the might of violence which then define it and defend it. Matthew tells us about the slaughter of the Holy Innocence--children executed under the color of authority. That Jesus escaped this mass execution is simply a delay. Herod, acting to end a threat to his rule, is the clear express of political expediency that demands death of those who would challenge it. In the uncovering of the system of sin and death this belief in violence continues to be exposed with every child whose blood cries from the earth.
As our ancient primordial parents grieved the loss of both of their first born children to the unmastered sin of might makes right, so Jesus’ mother experienced that same sorrow at the violent death of her son done under the cover of authority.
It is no longer time to indulge in melodrama, but to be relieved of such illusions by the passion story of God's power of love and forgiveness.