A Song of Victory

Select passages from Psalm 118, The New Oxford Annotated Bible, NRSV, 4th ed.

O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
his steadfast love endures forever!
5 Out of my distress I called on the LORD;
the LORD answered me and set me in a broad place.
6 With the LORD on my side I do not fear.
13 I was pushed hard, so that I was falling,
but the LORD helped me.
14 The LORD is my strength and my might;
he has become my salvation.
21 I thank you that you have answered me
and have become my salvation.
23 This is the LORD’s doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 This is the day that the LORD has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
27 The LORD is God,
and he has given us light.
29 O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever.

What is God’s

In Matthew 22:15-22, Jesus comes up against the Pharisees yet again. When asked about the legality of paying taxes to the Roman emperor, he catches them in their own trap. The Pharisees wanted to know what Jesus thought of taxation – one assumes they were hoping he’d say something against the Roman emperor, which would be treason, or something against Mosaic Law, which would be heresy. In true form, Jesus turns it around on them and asks to see a coin. Then he asks who is depicted on the coin, a denarius, and what title is there? When they give him the obvious answer – the Roman emperor and his title – Jesus replies with his famous words:

Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s. (Matt. 22:21 – NRSV)

A modern conundrum came to mind when I read this.

I thought of the Right-Wing Conservative Evangelicals and other Christians who blindly follow our current President and turn a blind eye to his less-than-Christian behavior and the disdain he has for all but those who are loyal to him. A man whose only interest is self-interest.

Why?

Why do they follow an amoral, narcissistic, mean, pathological, lying, bully and misogynist? Isn’t his behavior antithetical to the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth? Jesus reached out to society’s outcasts – people we call marginalized – and sinners were among them. If Jesus were to come by Donald Trump on a road, would he say, “Friend, come, follow me,” or “Get behind me, Satan?”

We know it would be the latter, because that’s who Jesus is, and that is who Jesus asks us to be. He asks us to love one another as he loves us, and oh how difficult that is at times, to love one’s enemies.

But God’s love in unconditional and not transactional. It is God’s love that makes it possible for us to live out the Good News in Christ and follow the New Commandment Christ gave us at the Last Supper, that bit about loving one another.

Especially those Christians with whom we don’t see eye-to-eye.

Not all Christians are cut of the same cloth; we do have a common thread and that is Jesus Christ. We are diverse — some of us are outspoken, others circumspect, some liberal, others conservative. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:4-6 that: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.” So there’s bound to be disagreements between Christians, and that is an understatement when one considers the history of church. One would think, however, that a Christian would strive to follow the teachings of Christ and encourage others to do the same while engaged in ministry.

The Evangelical branch of Christianity isn’t as old as the Church; it came into being in the eighteenth century as a blend of Pietism, Presbyterianism, a bit of Puritanism and High Church Anglicanism. This denomination has changed considerably since that time, especially in the United States. Knowing that the word ‘evangelical’ comes from the Greek word evangelion (messenger), I’ve taken for granted that their mission was to bring the Good News into the world, and the World back to the Church, because that is what I do as a Deacon. Happily, many do, and I have had wonderful conversations with my fellow Children of God on street corners in the Financial District, and on the train platform during rush hour, walking through my neighborhood.

Never did I imagine that there were some Christians, but not all, who would embrace a man like the President and seek to push their agenda through him. I call these people Lost Sheep.

I’m giving the Lost Sheep who follow Trump the benefit of a doubt. Perhaps when he was elected and sworn into office, they prayed he would take on a mantle of leadership and grow into the role of President of the United States to become a statesman like the leaders before him; that he’d become the President for all America and not just his adoring base, that he would build on the work of Former President Barack Obama and our United States would grow and prosper. We saw the photographs of ministers crowded around him laying on hands and praying for him. It looked promising and I hoped for a change, as I’m sure many did.

But, The Dark Little Noise inside my head that argues with me sometimes, whispered, “Get off it, Ellen! You know they only wanted him in office because he would back their opposition to reproductive rights and abortion! And he only wanted their votes and money! Both want to push us back to a more conservative and restrictive time like the 1950s when White was Might! Women and People of Color knew their places!”

Hmmmmm . . . . maybe It’s right.

What I don’t understand is how they can turn their backs on Jesus of Nazareth, the prophet who wasn’t forgotten by history as so many prophets of his time were, the prophet who fulfilled the prophecies and kept his word. He was the embodiment of God’s love on Earth. He said he would rise on the third day, and he did. His message was so powerful that two thousand years later, people still turn to his teaching and way of looking at the world. They hear and accept his radical and revolutionary message for all people.

I wonder if the Lost Sheep don’t read the Gospels, else they would know this.

We stumble and fall on our respective journeys to the Kingdom of Heaven and Christ is there to help us back on our feet and point us in the right direction, remind us of God’s love. But there are those who look to the President as their messiah, not Jesus.

I have a feeling that Jesus would rebuke them in the Temple and call them ‘whitened sepulchers (tombs),’ as he did when arguing with the Scribes and Pharisees later in this Gospel at Chapter 23, verses 27-28:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

Harsh words indeed, but sometimes there’s no sugar-coating, nor saying it nicely.

I think that the Gospel of Prosperity took over the Good News of Christ in Jesus somewhere, and that the mindset, ‘Yes, well, that was then, this is now’ replaced ‘Love one another as I have loved you.’

All I can do is pray for those who follow the President.

What will it take for them to say the President’s behavior and words do not comport with what Christ teaches us and say ‘NO MORE?’ Will it finally dawn on them when they are asked upon meeting Christ before the gates of the Kingdom of Heaven, “I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” How will they respond? Will they say, “When did this happen?” Jesus will say to them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of my bretheren, you did not do it to me.’ (Matthew 25:42-45)

Perhaps the reality of the President’s amoral and selfish attitudes, his disdain for the people he swore an oath to defend and protect, to uphold the Constitution, will finally sink in and they will say, “God, have mercy upon me a sinner!”

I pray to God and Christ that will happen.

You Are Not Alone.

 

Today’s lesson from the Gospel of Luke (Lk. 15:1019 NRSV) gives us two parables reminding us that God loves everyone, no matter their place in society, the color of their skin, who they are, and what they do.   We are loved by God, we are made in the image of God, and we are blessed by God.  In these troubled times, it is a wonderful gift.

I used to think, when I was a girl, that I couldn’t go to church because I wasn’t good.  The girls I played with went to Sunday School and catechism on Tuesday afternoons, they received First Communion and were confirmed.  I stayed home on Sundays watching ‘Davy and Goliath.’ That was my catechism and Sunday School.  And it introduced me to the beautiful Lutheran hymn, ‘A Mighty Fortress is Our God.’  We didn’t go to church for reasons I would learn much, much, later.  And it wasn’t until I was an adult that I got the message about God’s love.

A sinner who repents is more welcome into the Kingdom of Heaven than ninety-nine of God’s children who do not need repentance.

It is never too late to turn to God and begin a relationship that will last for an eternity.

This good news was radical and revolutionary when Jesus first spoke these words, and I invite you now to come back with me and hear them.

Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them.  The society in which Jesus lived and carried out his ministry from God was hierarchical:  you had a place and you stayed in it.  Very rarely did you move up or laterally.  The Pharisees and Scribes took offense at the tax collectors and the sinners who had joined the crowds to hear Jesus’ teaching – what were these sinners doing with good and righteous people?  And because they were present, what did that make Jesus?   Well, he responds to criticism by throwing out a parable or two.  We know that parables were used extensively by Jesus, and they are short, allegorical stories illustrating a truth or principle.  Jesus offered parables that were of everyday life; incidents that anyone in the crowd could relate to and understand.  At this time, Jesus tells of the lost sheep and the lost coin.

A shepherd discovers that one of his sheep has gone missing and leaves the rest of the flock out in the field, unprotected, while he searches for the lost one.  He searches high and low until he finds and brings it back, rejoicing and inviting friends and family to celebrate with him.

In the parable of the lost coin, a woman sweeps the house and searches for the one coin out of ten that is lost.  Her diligence in lighting lamps and sweeping, perhaps looking in every corner, under the tables, beds, and benches is rewarded when she finds the coin.  One can imagine how good she felt – you know the feeling when you find the loose change between the cushions of the sofa.  Maybe that fifty-nine cents was what you needed to make the exact fare for the bus or train.

To a society where everything is black and white, right and wrong, what the First Century Palestinians and Judeans were hearing was astonishing.  A slave was loved as much as a Pharisee, or a rich silk merchant?  A Roman soldier?  Jesus has taken the rules and flipped them on their heads, daring people to think about this new ideal of relationship, a revolutionary way of thinking.

We look back at this with centuries of interpretation and practicality, yet many of us still struggle with Jesus’ teaching.

Let’s ponder this anew:

“. . . I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Lk. 15:7)

“. . . There is joy in the presence of angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Lk. 15:10)

Does this mean that God dismisses or ignores the righteous?  After all, hasn’t Jesus said there’d be more joy in heaven over that one sinner who confesses than those who lead righteous lives?

No.

We’re creatures with frailties and prone to trip over our mistakes and whatever comes out of our mouths.  We have tendencies to think about ourselves and judge others.  We were given free will and we tend to misuse it.  I can’t think of a day when I didn’t do or say something that I knew was wrong and I said, “Forgive me, Lord!”

My favorite prayer is the Trisagion, which means ‘thrice holy,’ also known the Jesus Prayer.  It is simple and to the point:

“Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal One, Have mercy upon us (me).”

The form I use adds the verse:

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy upon me, a sinner.”  

The last verse is said to have been inspired by Luke 18:9-14, the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector – a Parable for another day.

If we do our very best to live a righteous life, one that leads us to live out the Gospel and obeys the New Commandment, we have a place at the table.

When we stumble and fall in moments of weakness, and we confess our sins and do our very best to not repeat our errors, we will also have a place at the table.

It will be a table where everyone is welcome.

Ellen+

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Few Words on the Trinity

Trinity Sunday.
Three knowings:
The Spirit suggests it;
Jesus encourages and defines it; and
God enables it.
What is ‘it?’
How the Gospel is revealed to you and how you enable it by right action in living out Christ’s words and deeds.

I think this is all I need to say on a subject that volumes have been filled with.  It is how I understand a mystery and how I embrace it.

c 2018, The Rev. Deacon Ellen L. Ekstrom

 

A Friend Comes to Dinner

 

In these weeks after Easter, I’ve been thinking about the disciples on the road to Emmaus.

Emmaus was a town on a road connected to Jerusalem and it was to this town that two of Jesus’ disciples were walking shortly after his death on the cross and resurrection.

The days following Jesus’ death and resurrection, I think, are the most exciting and compelling in history and scripture.  These passages left to us by the authors of the Gospels reinforce my faith, and perhaps they will do so for you.

How is it possible that joy springs from grief?

When one reads the account of Jesus’ last days we are with him.  We’ve been on the road to Jerusalem with Jesus and his followers. We’ve witnessed the glorious entry into the city, the poignant supper at which a woman anoints Jesus and washes him with her tears, we’ve seen the incredible and necessary raising of Lazarus, and we’ve experienced the Seder in the upper room, and finally the trial and execution of Jesus.

After some pretty amazing moments that give life and hope comes a horrific, mind and spirit-numbing death. So it’s hard to imagine that something good could come of it. If you, as I, have lost someone you knew, someone you loved, with whom you shared a life, meals, joys, and sorrows, then you’ve felt the pain that comes from such loss and the accompanying grief.  It’s not hard then, to put ourselves on the road to Emmaus.

My first experience of Emmaus was Rembrandt’s famous painting “The Supper at Emmaus.” In typical fashion, the painting is suffused with dusky colors and saffron light; Jesus’ face is bathed in gold light, he looks wistfully to the heavens and is captured in mid-prayer. The disciples gaze in wonderment.

There’s more to this town, though. It was some seven miles out of Jerusalem and had a history of violence. It was thought to be the base camp for Judas Maccabeus and his uprising, and it was burned by the Romans in retaliation for the unrest and revolts following the death of Herod – two thousand rebels were crucified there. People in that generation would have memories of the crosses lining the road. On that third day after the crucifixion, a place of defeat and lost hope is restored by Jesus as a place of fellowship and love.

Two disciples on that Sunday afternoon walk away from Jerusalem, perhaps running for their lives, maybe they feel lost, hopeless, let down. They discuss the events of the last week and in particular the discovery at the tomb that very morning. A stranger joins them on the walk and the disciples are amazed that there is actually one person in the region who has not heard about the death and resurrection of Jesus. Here they recount what they’ve been discussing and add a personal postscript: that they had hoped Jesus would be the one to redeem Israel. Let me put that remark in context. There had been prophets before Jesus who claimed to be the Messiah and their message and ministry didn’t strike the right chord with the people. They were executed as Jesus had been, so their missions were considered failures. This is probably what Cleopas and his friend were thinking – here was yet another so-called prophet who didn’t make good on his claims; he, like all the rest, failed and it was business as usual in Roman-governed Palestine.

But Jesus did something different. He kept his promise. He fulfilled the prophecies. He did rise on the third day. These facts, and his message proclaiming the kingdom of heaven, his call to a unique and unconditional love, made this call to right action very different, very powerful – and it has lasted for centuries.

The two disciples didn’t know this. They were so deep in their misery, that they didn’t recognize the man walking with them. This stranger interprets scripture and the events of the week as part of the greater story of humanity and of God’s action in the world as chronicled by the prophets and scripture. Yes, it was necessary that Jesus suffered, died and was buried, but death is not the end of the story. He reveals himself to these disciples in an act of love and fellowship that they would have recognized if they had been present during the feeding of the five thousand and if they were at the table at the last supper — a simple breaking of bread and sharing a meal. Something Jesus did every day with his friends. It is at that moment eyes are opened, and memory and recognition come into play. Hearts that have been lit aflame by the interpretation of Scripture still burn after they recognize it was Jesus, who vanishes as mysteriously from their table as he appeared on the road.

The disciples return to Jerusalem, where, by the way, they were commanded to stay by Jesus and tell their story, which is one of many that brings joy from grief: stories of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, Mary Magdalene seeing Jesus at the tomb, the apostles sharing a meal with Jesus in the upper room and Thomas touching Jesus’ wounds.  Through these events, a new community emerges. It is a community of faith built on an understanding of scripture, worship and the sharing of a common experience of the risen Christ. Jesus’ words to Thomas when he appeared before the apostles in the upper room are ringing in our ears: “Blessed are those who had not seen, yet come to believe.”

That would be us.

But we’re human, we have our expectations. We had hoped . . .

Each one of us, in our own way and time, has repeated the words of the disciples, “we had hoped.” The first of four times for me was in April of 1969, and if you had told me then that joy came of grief, I would have ignored it, or more probably, slammed my bedroom door shut and turned up the volume on the Moody Blues, the Beatles, or the Rolling Stones – whatever I was annoying my family with that day. I was 15, you see, and my mother had just died unexpectedly. One afternoon she was there, the next morning she was gone. No warning, no nothing. She was gone. The days and weeks that followed were a blur then and still are. It was full of moments I do remember, moments in which I sought answers and wondered how my brother and sisters were handling their grief – we never talked about it. We had hoped, you see, that she could still be with us.

I’ve thought like this, said these words aloud and to God. What about you? I disobeyed Christ, in that I walked away from Jerusalem, away from the pain and memories, away from the life Christ gave me. The grief clouded my sight and I didn’t want to see past it.  Years later I walked back.

It happens to all of us. We wish we could have had one more day to say all that needed to be said; we wish we could make things right between our loved ones; we wish it all could have been done differently; said: “I love you and always have, always will.”

Valid and real thoughts, honest emotions, these.

We weren’t and aren’t alone. We were and are heard. As we hope and wonder, Jesus comes into our lives with words of comfort and hope. We are reminded that God became one of us, and shared our experience, our joys, our grief, our pain. Jesus reminds us that on the Cross, God took and blessed and broke the most perfect of lives and offered it to us in the midst of suffering so that all sadness and pain might become a bridge to a loving, sustaining presence.

The joy that comes from pain is the knowledge that we are loved.

We are loved.

God loves each of us.  Jesus walks with us.

And if there’s a small voice within that still hedges, still whispers, “Yes, but . . .” Then come! I invite you to his table. Come to the table where Jesus invites you, me, all of us, anyone who is hungry, to take as often as necessary the bread that he blessed and broke and shared and drink the cup he pours out for all humanity. Your eyes will be opened and your hearts will be burning with hope.

Jesus will always be with us on our roads and at our tables.

He is the joy that comes from grief.

c 2018, The Rev. Deacon Ellen L. Ekstrom

 Jesus holding bread and a cup of wine

Believe!

 

Venezia (Venice), Italy. 2 February 2018. The painting of Resurrected Jesus Christ with Thomas the apostle and other apostles by Sebastiano Santi in 'Chiesa dei Santi Apostoli' church.

Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock: Christ and Thomas, by Sebastiano Santi, Santi Apostoli, Venice

Do you remember seeing the films and television shows made about Jesus by Hollywood?  The story always seems to end with the Resurrection.  We know it doesn’t end there.  it doesn’t end with a shadow on the beach, or a close up of a shroud in a grave; or a gloriously backlit Messiah standing in an open doorway with the wind blowing through his hair and the painfully bright sunlight radiating through his wounds.  As we will read through the great fifty days of Easter,  the news of Jesus of Nazareth’s resurrection spreads, the imperial government and its Temple collaborators get nervous, the excitement and joy builds. The story continues in the Book of Acts, Paul’s letters, the anonymous writings of first century Christians and not-so-anonymous persons, and in the lives of everyone who has heard the Good News and proclaimed it.

The story has an epilogue, and we are it.

We are those who have not seen and yet, have come to believe.   We are Thomas.

Jesus’ blessing on those who come to faith without the necessity of sight or touch is not a chiding of Thomas for his lack of faith at that moment, but an affirmation of the generations who have relied on the Word and Thomas’ actions for their faith.

Thomas is called the Doubter. He was bold to have stood before his friends and fellow disciples to say, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

Where did this come from? Was it that Thomas still didn’t get it, or was it grief, fear or shame taking up space in his heart and mind?

His teacher and leader had been executed as a criminal, after all; perhaps he didn’t want to believe for fear of what it meant – failure, like so many of the would-be prophets and messiahs before Jesus, and perhaps a death by crucifixion for himself.

Or, it was grief at the loss of someone he loved taking hold and putting him into denial?

Perhaps all of the above.

We don’t know why Thomas wasn’t with the others when Jesus first appeared to them – there’s no clue – but it begs the imagination, doesn’t it? He might have been going out for food for the rest, but what if he was engaged in the work Jesus called him to, in full sight of Jesus’ persecutors? Imagine Thomas saying, “Yes, you killed him! But it doesn’t kill the message or the meaning! Here I am, doing exactly what he was doing!  Now, what are you going to do about it?”

But he is called Doubting Thomas and that nickname has become an appellation for those of us who steadfastly refuse to believe or take at face value what we cannot see.
Haven’t we all at one time, questioned what we’ve been taught or told, or seen, especially when the hour and the day are dark and feel without promise?

When those moments come, God puts into play or reveals something that turns one from being faithless to faithful, something like the Resurrection. Remember Paul’s words to the Hebrews: “now faith is a well-grounded assurance of that for which we hope, and a conviction of the reality of things which we do not see.”

Faith requires that we who have not seen, believe. The belief that the Kingdom is here and now; belief that God is always with us.

So many prophets came before Jesus claiming to be the Christ but they slipped away into obscurity, suffered ignominious deaths just like Jesus.

What made him so different?

He was who he said he was.

He did what he said he was going to do.

The resurrection of Christ gave new life to humanity, to those who believed. What was promised by Jesus in his teaching was and is being lived out. The apostles, the first followers of Jesus, proclaimed the good news of the Kingdom – what Jesus promised in his teachings and ministry was made true. The followers of Jesus lived out the new commandment – that they love one another as Jesus loved them, and in attending to the needs of one another, what Jesus commanded was made tangible and real.

The apostles became the leaders of the movement and strove to live as they were taught, showing that The Kingdom of Heaven is like a great family of different people, living together, loving one another and all living in equality.  What Jesus demonstrated in his ministry was kept alive by the faith, belief and right action.

And this is where we come in.

We are now the disciples, called to keep the Good News in play, to keep the Word in our hearts and minds, and to keep it alive. How you and I do this depends on the gifts God has given each one of us, and how the Spirit moves within us.

We’re always looking for new ways to proclaim the Gospel, to tell the story, to keep it fresh and alive. Jesus walks with us every step of the way – sometimes we have to open our hearts and minds a bit wider to see him, get past our own wounds so that we can see his. No, we haven’t seen the five wounds except in artwork and in scripture, but we know they are real. Every time we say ‘peace be with you,’ Christ says it to us.

It’s time for us to pick up our pens and continue the story. What will you write on the page? Perhaps it will be to say that you and I can see Jesus working in our lives and we are continually blessed by that grace – sight unseen.

Let’s show the world in thought, word, and deed that we believe.

c2018, by The Rev. Deacon Ellen L. Ekstrom

A Light Unlike Any Other

 

 

Jesus with LambA light unlike any other shines brightly this morning. It isn’t a beam of winter sunlight like those crossing a floor, or a blue light sabre, or the last hours of colored lights dangling from windows and porches and off of trees, but a spark has been ignited, an ember smolders deep within, and it has been struck within you and me and all of Creation. All that’s required is fanning the flame with love, trust, and belief.  

The kindling comes from a sentence as simple and as powerful as they come: 

“In the beginning was the Word.” 

This prologue continues the mystery and beauty of the Christmas story. We are invited to carry that mystery and beauty with us during the rest of the year, to move out of the dark spaces and corners in our lives towards the light that embraces, offers grace. John’s poetic language tells us that God wanted to lift us out of darkness so very much, that he did something deities and monarchs rarely do – God climbed off whatever throne we frail humans planted him on, and came down to our level. What’s even more amazing is that when God arrived, it was in the form of a helpless infant, born to common people, and as he grew into manhood he experienced the joys, sorrows, and delights of your average first-century Galilean — and inconceivable pain. 

Why? Why did this extraordinary incarnation happen? 

It was, as theologians have taught, atonement for humanity’s imperfect nature and actions, to bring us closer to God.  

It was also for Love. 

God loves us and went to a great deal of trouble to show us how it is to love perfectly and completely, and it was done in the form of Jesus, who is our light dispelling darkness. 

It is a time of light; it started with the story of a child born in a manger and continues with healing, of power beyond belief, a fullness of being, of humanity receiving grace upon grace and to be blessed with the gifts God has bestowed upon us through Jesus.  

Unfortunately, there were and are those who for whatever reason cannot recognize that Jesus is the light of the world and rejected the man and the message. But to those who accept him, then and now, and that is to say, put their trust in him, and made a commitment to the Word, a deeper relationship is formed with Jesus; he becomes our brother, and therefore, we become children of God. 

Whatever darkness may envelop the world, whatever gloomy clouds may hang over us in our own lives, it cannot dim the light. We have grace from God to keep the light going. The smallest gesture of kindness, an act of compassion, or work of mercy will light up the life of someone else, and in turn, will light up the world.  

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”  

With Christmas, we embark on a journey in light towards a light unlike any other. I invite you, my sisters and my brothers, to keep the candle in your hearts and souls burning after the decorations and good will toward all are packed away, and carols are silenced for another year.  Let every day be Christmas in our hearts.  

There is no war on Christmas.  There is a war on our diverse, creative, clever and intelligent society. We’ve been ducking salvos and mortar attacks of intolerance, stupidity, hatred, and bigotry, sexism and ageism since January 20, 2017, and I say we must, we absolutely must, keep up the resistance.   

We have before us a new year with new possibilities, new hopes, and dreams. As with every New Year, there is a fresh canvas before us, waiting for us to apply the first brush stroke.  A clean, smooth page in a journal waiting for our ink.  What will we write for future generations?  What colors will appear on the canvas?  Do we want to live in light and experience the love and grace offered to us, follow a path of endless possibilities in a life in Christ, or is it going to be business as usual with grim, set, faces, preoccupied with matters that we have no control over and live in a dark time?  

Come, let’s dispel the darkness and walk in the light that is our brother the infant in the manager, the man walking in Capernaum, in the Temple, and our savior on the Cross. 

 

It Bears Repeating

Christ preaching on shores of Lake Galilee. Stained glass.

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” John 13:34 (NRSV)

I quote this a lot in my sermons and my blog writing, but this is the essence of Christ’s ministry and what the Kingdom of Heaven is all about.  This New Commandment has been on my mind all week as our Country and its people continue to move towards a Constitutional crisis and worse, a moral crisis.

What confounds me is how we got from our beginning as a nation founded on principles of equality and being one of, by and for the people, to here.

How and why did a man who has no experience or qualification to lead the Executive Branch of our three-pronged government get elected?

Anger and assumption.

The anger of many who felt (and to be honest, knew) their needs and concerns were being ignored.

The assumption of some that their privileges were being stripped away and given to people they felt were unworthy.

And so we have a reality star in the Oval Office, and one who has yet to show the dignity and professional demeanor one would expect from the Leader of the Free World.  We witness the actions and read and hear the words of a bully, a so-called real estate mogul, a narcissist who makes everything about him, instead of the American People, and makes himself the victim.  A man who made promises that have yet to be delivered upon and probably never will.  

A man who uses the people who voted for him to promote himself.

I am scared for this County and for its People, particularly those who voted for the man for whatever reason, be it economic or social reasons.  I pray for them that they will have the scales lifted from their eyes, hearts, and minds and realize that the changes in society and technology are the reasons the factories and shops are closing, not the immigrants that come to our country seeking a better way of life.   I do as Christ asks me: to love my enemies.  I don’t think I have enemies, honestly, but the hate groups come close.  So I pray that they have Damascene conversions.

 

In today’s New York Times, columnist Nicholas Kristof has written something different and I recommend it for  reading: 

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/26/opinion/sunday/caligula-roman-empire.html?ref=opinion&_r=0

This past week there were comments from members of the media and the government suggesting that the present incumbent in the White House is unstable.  I watched the rally in Phoenix against my better judgment and couldn’t believe what I heard, even though I’d heard it all before.  I was left with feelings of anger, bewilderment, and just plain sick.

We have three and a half more years of this unless he gets bored with the job and resigns, proclaiming as he leaves the Rose Garden, that he succeeded because a Washington outsider got elected president and that he would continue to make America great again (with innumerable rallies to feed his need for adulation and continue lying).

Unless he falls off his horse on the way to Damascus and Christ whispers to him, “Donald, Donald, what are you doing to the American People and the World?” we are called to resist and with strength and resolve, live out, proclaim, and spread The New Commandment.

 

 

What Comes Out of the Mouth…

Sunday, August 20, 2017 – Year A/I

Season After Pentecost, Proper 15

Matthew 15:10-20 (NRSV)

In this week’s scripture from the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus explains what defiles a person. In the verses preceding this text, the Pharisees and scribes confront Jesus about his disciples’ not honoring a tradition of the elders by failing to wash their hands before they eat and Jesus says, “it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.”  Matt. 15:11.  When the disciples warn Jesus that the Pharisees took offense at this response, he responds to that by saying “Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind.  And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.”  Matt. 15:14.  Then Peter asks for an explanation of the parable and Jesus explains that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach and goes out into the sewer, but what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and that defiles.  “For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander.  These are what defile a person . . .”  Matt. 15:19.  He ends the explanation by saying to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.  Matt. 15:20.

What did this mean to Jesus’ audience in the first century C.E.?  He said that he came not to abolish the law, but fulfill it, yet here he is, telling the disciples and those with ears to listen that what is more important than following this tradition of the elders is what comes from our hearts by way of our mouths.  Perhaps he is reminding his followers that what makes the Kingdom of Heaven are words (and actions, by acting on the words) that convey the reciprocal love shared by God and his children on Earth, such as the Great Commandment from Deuteronomy 6:4-5 – “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might,” which Jesus amends to include “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  Mk 12:31.  

It still holds true today.  When we obey this commandment we are, as Jesus tells the Scribe in this scripture passage from the Gospel of Mark, we are not far from the kingdom of God.  Mk. 12:34.

What’s been coming out of the mouths of people these last few weeks and months is disturbing – hatred, bigotry, intolerance.  And that’s from our elected president, supported by white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the alt-right.  Once silenced in our society, they have become emboldened by an elected leader who does not denounce their beliefs and actions and seems to espouse them.    

It’s obvious that what they say and believe is the polar-opposite of what Jesus teaches and to say the least, triggers an emotional response, so it was heartening yesterday to see so many people in the streets of Boston proclaiming by their presence and actions that they do not espouse a message of hatred and exclusion, but march toward and into the Kingdom of God.  

There will be more protests, more marches, more messages of hatred and love, and we need to make sure that the words and action of love as Jesus commands through God are bolder and louder.  With any luck, the blind supremacists, neo-Nazis, and alt-right will have their eyes opened and see the reality that is true Christian love.