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Friday, October 21, 2016

I'm Ok, You Aren't

The Gospel of Luke, 18:9-14, provides a wonderful parable illustration from Jesus concerning those (peitho - to persuade, to argue a point, to convince, to believe) who are convinced that they are in right relationship with God and view others with disdain.

To be "righteous" (for a Bible Believing Jew) is to be in proper relationship with God. It does not mean those who think they have earned salvation or those who think they are perfect. Righteousness has to do with our standing with God. The twin components (faith and fidelity, trust and loyalty) are always in play. To be saved by faith meant to trust God, to entrust oneself to God and to be trustworthy (obedient to Torah). Jesus (and Paul) teaches the same thing (though now relationship to Jesus factors into how one trusts God and how one is loyal/obedient). While we might be tempted today to see this parable as a harsh judgment on "self-righteous people" (or works righteousness) I think we ignore the second descriptor (viewing others as naught) at our own risk. The Lord identifies both as the problem. Those who believe they are saved while negating the salvation of others are invited to listen. Notice the actual wording the first man uses.

So what is Jesus' point? He illustrates it rather clearly. Two guys go to pray. One says, "Thanks God that I am not like the rest of humanity. I fast and tithe." Who is this guy? Sadly, he is identified as a Pharisee, so many of us see it as a problem for others. While Jesus may well have identified the man as a Pharisee, He is not saying this is what all Pharisees are like, and more importantly, He is not saying only Pharisees are like this! The point is the attitude. Thank you that I am not like "them" is not limited to Pharisees. Too often Christians embrace this mindset as they pray (I'm not a Muslim, a Hindu, and I have even heard a Catholic!). The man is an example of us all.

Right relationship with God is described by Jesus as Love. Love God with all you are and love your neighbor as yourself He famously said, and you will have eternal life. How does that translate into flesh and blood? Well, true love is a complex thing, but clearly it does not include thanking God that you are not like all the dregs of the world. Clearly, Jesus never did that (HE said He came to save the sick and lost, not talk bad about them). Love means seeking the best for others, loving them without limits---forgiving, healing and rescuing them from the demonic, the world and from themselves. The Pharisee's problem was he was so jazzed up about being "the elect" that he stopped seeing the humanity of others---calling them thieves, rogues, adulterers. It is easy to dehumanize others, to look down upon them and hold them as naught. It is especially easy to do this about alien religions. And while I believe there is no salvation outside of Jesus, I do not know that I can agree with how that is translated by any number of other Jesus Believers. I think we may not be Pharisees, but we all have moments where we pray like the one in the parable.

The second man, a tax collector, just stood there repenting. Over and over crying for mercy. Jesus said that this second man went home in right relationship (justified) with God. Once again, the point is that when we come before God we must know our place. We are the recipients of grace, the free gift of God's favor, mercy and love. We do not earn it by our actions, and we certainly don't deserve it because we answered a salvation quiz correctly! It is because God is gracious and kind and we don't need to ever forget that. Our sin awareness keeps us in a right frame of mind in approaching God.

I am blessed with a high capacity for guilt so praying "Lord have mercy on me a sinner" comes easily. Even so, I also know that I have my own tendencies toward marginalizing others. I have my own list of folks whom I thank God I am not like. As I get older, that list has gotten smaller, but today I pause to reflect on the fact that there is anyone on the list at all. Yet another reason to say "Lord be merciful to me, a sinner."

Thank you God for your mercy and loving kindness. That is the proper focus: God. Not on me and my comparative superior place in the human race, but on the Creator who loves us all, even the ones who are headed in the wrong direction.

Jesus warns us, your attitude toward others impacts your relationship with God. Pray accordingly!

Sunday, October 9, 2016

10 Lepers

Lepers were identified as unclean and became outcasts. The pain of social isolation was far worse than the skin malady. You can read Leviticus 13-14 to understand the background. ( for more information see--- )

Lepers had to shout "unclean!" and stand at a distance from others. Human touch and intimacy was severely limited, if possible at all. Some contemporary folks are tempted to say this is stupid, not realizing that if we no longer cast out lepers, we still have lots of marginalized people in society. Lepers are still among us, just in a different form...

"Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!" Their cry is called 'the Jesus Prayer' in the Orthodox tradition. It is at the heart of Christian spirituality since the early church. It is a perfect prayer. It identifies Jesus as Master and recognizes His authority. It is a declaration of faith in His Person and His name, which means YHWH saves/YHWH heals.The cry for mercy also has a deeper meaning. The Greek word, eleos means mercy, pity or kindness, but in the Septuagint (Greek Jewish Bible) it translates the Hebrew word chesed/hesed--which is the fundamental descriptor of God's covenant attitude toward His people. No single word can summarize hesed which means God is ever "faithful, loving, gracious, kind, righteous, just and merciful". To ask Jesus for "eleos-mercy" is both to remember the covenant promises of God and to declare His never ending fidelity.

Last week I said that we do not love God enough. It is true. But the Good News is He loves us enough. He loves us and He is faithful and we can cry out to Him for mercy in all its manifestations--forgiveness, healing, help, re-creation, renewal, etc. Most importantly, His hesed-mercy is the offer of  relationship. So I invite you to spend five minutes each day quietly praying, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us." Pray it in love. Pray it in confidence. Pray it every day.

There is also a model for ministry here. We are the Body of Christ. Our face is an icon of Jesus. Healing salvation addresses the many dimensions of human being, but first and foremost focus on encounter with the Holy Three God. That is why response matters.

The response in the story was ten percent (a tithe!), only one of the ten who were healed returned to praise God. The word "return" has a deeper meaning. In Hebrew, to "turn around" is the metaphor for repentance. Repentance is a return to God (like the prodigal son). Healing of the body or soul is a sign of God's faithful mercy love and an invitation to repent. Healing mercy is just the beginning, and walking away from God is simply embracing healing in the short term. Eventually we all die so all healing is temporary. The real goal of healing is salvation, an eternal relationship with the Holy Three God and all humanity. The proper response to healing of any kind, is praise and thanks. It is relational and expresses our love. "Glory to God in the highest!" is another ancient prayer worthy of daily recitation.
The leper is an outcast. We are all lepers to someone.
Human alienation needs redemption and Jesus offers it.
So cry to Jesus for mercy and open your heart to receive redemption.
Hear the cries of others and bring  Jesus' healing and redemption to others.
But remember that redeemed humans need to thank and glorify God. That is why we do eucharist--our worship is literally thanksgiving and praise.

Jesus has shown us mercy loving kindness
Jesus has used us to bring mercy loving kindness to others
Let us love the Holy Three and love one another.
Let us praise and thank God our Father for His loving mercy kindness!
Let us live eucharist!

Friday, October 7, 2016

Seed and Ground

Today we read Luke 8:4-15. It is a parable about a sower tossing seed (in that way they did in the ancient Near East, just throwing it everywhere) and then explaining what happened to the seed as it fell in different places. The parable, a real life comparison, makes clear that much of the seed ends up in places where it can not thrive--a beaten path, shallow ground or among weeds--but some will land in good earth and grow, producing grain for future crops and meals.

I was struck by the gentle wording at the end. Luke is softer and kinder than Mark, and even Matthew. [Where Mark's Jesus says "you have no faith," Matthew's says "you have little faith" and Luke simply has Jesus ask, "where is your faith?" (e.g., Lk 8:25 and parallels)] So, Luke's editorial angle is enlightening here as well. The "good soil which produces" is offered as a metaphor of the productive disciple. All three Synoptic Gospels have this story. Mark 4:13-20 ends with Jesus saying "the ones who hear the word and receive/accept (paradechomai) it" while Matthew 13:18-23 shifts it to "the one who hears the word and understands it" (syniemi-literally to send together, i.e., to put it together). Matthew's focus on teaching and hearing the word makes sense of his emphasis on understanding. Luke, however, uses a more personal image.

Those [seeds] that were sown upon the good soil (kalos=beautiful, pleasing, good) are the one who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest (note, however, that the Greek word is again kalos) and good (agathos=good, upright, honorable) heart.

One tension in Christianity is the tendency to express grace by emphasizing sin so that the human being is described only as fallen, bad, evil, unworthy, etc. "There is nothing good in me and my sinful flesh." Of course, we all have sinned and we all have good reason not to rely on our own righteousness before God. Yet, within the constraints of our humanity, the Bible often speaks of good and righteous people. We are not perfect, but we can be decent people. This is a reminder that there is something good in me and about me, even in my sinful flesh. If we do not deserve God's grace and kindness, we can take joy that He finds something lovable and attractive about us. Not perfect! But desired by God none the less.

The language of the text is a reminder that our hearts are the "earth" (the Greek word ge --where we get our word geography --means, as in English, both the world and soil). To complain that others "treated me like dirt" is ironic and paradoxical. The Bible says we are formed of the earth ('adamas) and shall return to dirt. Jesus says, in parable, the Word of God, like seed, is sown throughout the 'earth/world' and each of us is the 'earth/soil' where it lands. Our "good/honest, good/beautiful" hearts are good soil and if we "stand up under" (persevere) clinging to the Word, we will produce great fruit. Great fruit is what happens when God's Word enters an open heart. Great fruit is what happens when a person refuses to quit (even if it gets bad) and stands firm in love and faith and continues to hold onto the Word.

You and me, we are dirt. We are soil. The Lord's Word has been planted in us. Let us pray and commit to be good dirt.

I write today because this morning we also prayed a canticle from Isaiah which is so beautiful and powerful that I just wished I could share it with a larger group. Perhaps God wanted me to post this? Note the Word/Seed image of Jesus' parable comes from the Jewish Bible (Canticle 10 in the Book of Common Prayer Morning Office is Isaiah 55: 6-11)

"...for as rain and snow fall from the heavens and return not again, but water the earth, bringing forth life and giving growth, seed for sowing and bread for eating, so is my Word which goes forth from my mouth; it will not return to me empty; but it will accomplish that which I have purposed , and prosper in that for which I sent it."

 There is great power and consolation in those two words, spoken with such firmness: It WILL... I have every reason to trust God. The Word is sent, the seed is dispersed. There are all number of reasons why inside the church there is not fruit. Satan snatches it away, shallow people unwilling to go deeper with the Lord, folks worried and concerned with daily life---yes, church people are often times no better, even worse, than some outside. But, there is also no doubt that there are good hearts and steadfast folks and God's Word is productive there. I pray you and I are such good soil. I pray this meditation on the Word will produce greater production. The Word will not return empty. It will accomplish what God intends. We just have to be open and steadfast.