Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Lectionary Says There's No Place for Racism

Isaiah 56:1,6-8
Psalm 67
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28


White supremacy has no place on this earth. Anti-semitism has no place on this earth. Nazism has no place on this earth.

For the Bible tells us so--especially in this week's lectionary passages, which are so perfect for a response to the burst pustule that is the shame of this country. We cannot let shame win. We have let it win in this country -- and in my country of birth (Australia) -- for far too long.

I knew, early on, that I didn't want to be racist, bigoted or a misogynist, but I lacked the bravery to speak out against it and for that I am deeply sorry. In recent anti-immigrant conversations, I shone a light on the inherent racism of it, telling people that I am an immigrant, I have been through the system, but is it okay that I am an immigrant because I'm a safe white lady?

Can someone be racist and not at the exact same time?

I wonder now at how many times I unconsciously responded in a racist way, remembering the many times I consciously chose to transcend it. 

There is no place for white supremacy, anti-Semitism, and Nazism in this world. The Bible tells us so. Through the words of Isaiah, Paul, and the unnamed Caananite woman, we are shown what God wants for this world and reading those words gave me hope. May you find the same hope there also.

The prophet Isaiah is clear in showing how such sins don't belong in God's vision of the world. Read Isaiah 56:1, 6-8: "Thus says the Lord: maintain justice, and do what is right, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed. ... And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it, and hold fast my covenant--these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. Thus says the Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather others to them besides those already gathered."

God is welcoming of all who do what is right, they don't even have to make their sacrifices in the same way as the Israelites, so long as they do not profane the sabbath and keep God's covenant. That's a pretty broad welcome from a time when tribalism and kingdoms were the norm.

In Romans, Paul is explicit that there is no place for anti-Semitism among followers of Christ, not then, not now. His "By no means!" is emphatic. The lectionary skips the sweep of his final argument but the crux is this: the "gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable". (Romans 11:29) God doesn't take back his love or faithfulness to the Israelites. Not ever. The people of Israel are still in God's belovedness. That they don't follow Jesus Christ does not change this one tiny small iota. By no means!

Paul and the New Testament has been used to fan the flames of anti-Semitism but it's past time that this should stop. There are problematic passages throughout. The Gospel of John in particular, as beautiful as it is in other sections, can be read as condemning Jews. If you look at the context of the gospel, it's a Christian community trying to differentiate itself from the Jewish community and such things are never easy or kind. And there is no excuse for such vilification to happen. Paul is very clear on that.

Even in the gospel, Jesus defiles another by his own words right after telling the disciples that one defiles by mouth that comes from the heart. Yet the persistent Canaanite woman shows that what has come out of Jesus' mouth by calling her "a dog" does not mean she is exempt from God's all encompassing love and mercy. Jesus realizes it and her daughter is healed. The Canaanite woman's faith in God changes her daughter's life.

This hope, this faith, in God's promises to bring all nations together to live in a just world where we respect the dignity of each other and do not hold power over another is the dream we can hold onto in these dark times, and it's the dream we can work toward because we are an active part of making this a reality.

The first verse in Isaiah 51 tells us to guard justice (one of the meanings of the Hebrew word translated in the NRSV as "maintain" is to guard, protect), and as Karoline Lewis put it in the Working Preacher podcast: maintaining takes work. Creating a world of loving-kindness is going to take work and it will be hard work. 

It will be hard work as we reform the law and practices of this country and eventually, even harder work as we move toward reconciliation, something that has never happened in this country, not after the Civil War and not after the successes of the Civil Rights movement. We can't heal until we make things right. This is not the time for reconciliation, but it is ahead of us if we wish to avoid making the same mistakes again and again. 

First, we have to make white supremacy, anti-Semitism and Nazism totally unacceptable to all. As they should be.

We are not in this alone. God is with us. At the "Stand Up to Hate" ADL (Anti-Defamation League) rally I attended on Tuesday, one of the rabbis shared how one of the most radical and audacious prayers in the siddur (Jewish prayerbook) had helped her process the events in Charlottesville and the responses to it. Oseh shalom bimromav ... "May the One who makes peace in the high heavens make peace for us, for all Israel and all who inhabit the earth. Amen." She said: "The prayer cries out and demands of God that God create abundant peace and that God do so NOW. Not because we deserve it, not because we've earned it but simply because God is capable and the world needs it, so it must be done."

At the same rally, we sang this beautiful song "olam chesed yibaneh", a world (olam) built (yibaneh) with loving-kindness (chesed, which can also be translated as steadfast love).

The English lyrics are:
I will build this world from love ...
You must build this world from love ...
And if we build this world from love...
Then God will build this world from love...
It takes all of us, you see, each doing our bit.

The song is beautiful and heart-breaking, but I have hope and faith that we will build this world from the ground of love, and that love is ultimately going to get us through.




Sunday, August 13, 2017

The words I needed to hear this week...

1 Kings 19:9-18
Psalm 85:8-13
Romans 10:5-15
Matthew 14:22-33

It has been a bit of a week, to put it mildly, with two so-called world leaders engaging in a nuclear-themed pissing contest and with unashamed racists marching in the streets and driving through peaceful counter-protesters. 

While reading through the lectionary choices for today, my eyes settled on the following words, and in a form of lectio divina, kept returning to them again and again. 

from Psalm 85:10: 
Mercy and truth have met together; *
righteousness and peace have kissed each other.
and Romans 10:8 (also Deuteronomy 30:14): 
“The word is near you,
on your lips and in your heart” 
But the way to these words was not easy. At the end of the first reading into today’s lectionary section, Elijah is told by God that 7,000 faithful Israelites will be spared, but the rest destroyed. 

It’s the kind of comment by God that would give an End-Timer a hard-on. 

(Sidebar: OK, this story is one of my husband’s favorites because God is found not in the earthquake or the fire, but in sheer silence (or still, small voice) — and I wanted to go there, but it was not to be this week.)

This is followed by selected verses from Psalm 85, which is all about Godly sunshine and light, and you have to wonder what crack the lectionary committee was smoking. Or do they assume they’ll be among the 7,000 saved?

One should probably read the whole psalm.  It is not all sweetness and light for the psalmist. The writer is calling out to be saved. Or giving thanks for being saved. Apparently, the Hebrew verb tense is not at all clear.

Mercy and truth have met together; *
righteousness and peace have kissed each other.

could be present:

Mercy and truth are meeting together; *
righteousness and peace are kissing each other.

or future:

Mercy and truth will meet together; *
righteousness and peace will kiss each other.

And it is there I rested. Not knowing if I will be one of those spared the literal fallout of this latest international brouhaha, but wanting, needing, mercy, truth, righteousness and peace.

And where to find it? In the midst of Paul’s paraphrase of Deuteronomy:

“The word is near you, 
on your lips and in your heart”

God is not so far away, not distant, but within us. No matter what fire and fury rains down on us, or not, or with the next political/social catastrophe (which is already upon us), God is within us, to give us peace. 

But God/Moses/Paul is not calling for passivity or silence. For the word is also on our lips. This is an action, a prophetic action. As we head toward deeper relationship with God, we speak truth (and do other life-sustaining actions) so that those who are hurt and oppressed can find their freedom, and those who have turned away from God’s will and seek to oppress and hate instead of love will cease their oppression and turn back to God.

Resting with God in our heart and behaving like prophets (aka speaking God’s word) won’t make our suffering any less, but perhaps it will ease our souls and hearts, knowing God is in this mess right along with us.

Mercy and truth have met
Righteousness and peace will kiss
Mercy and truth are meeting

God is within us.

I was going to end it there, but I came across this incredible prayer written by a seminarian who was in Charlottesville yesterday. Pray it with me.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Transfiguration: The kingdom of heaven is revealed



In last week's reading, the kingdom of heaven was hidden: a mustard seed invisible in a field, a speck of yeast, a buried pearl.

This week, the kingdom of heaven is in plain sight: and it's too much for mere mortals. 

In our Exodus reading, the Israelites and Moses' own brother run away at the sight of his radiant face after he comes down the mountain from his chat with God. They are only able to look upon Moses' bare face for short periods of time when he shares with them messages from God. The rest of the time, Moses is veiled, his face concealed, hidden, for it is too much for the people to live with. "It" being the reflection of God's glory, or, as I like to think of it, overwhelming divine love.

In Luke's gospel, Peter, John and James witness Jesus' face change and his clothes become dazzling white. Radiant. That and the descending cloud of God and God's voice sends them tumbling down the mountain. Well, that's how it is pictured in iconography -- these otherwise serious apostles upside down, and one even loses a sandal.

In Exodus, Moses is terrifying. In the canonical gospels' story of the Transfiguration, God's voice is terrifying. Hmm, where else have we seen someone being counseled: "Do not be afraid"? (Which Jesus says in the Matthew version of this story, 17:7) 

Oh yeah. Angels. Angels always begin their pronouncements with "Do not be afraid." These messengers of God are not just bringing the divine word, but like Moses, have been in the presence of God. And if you read some of the other books in the Hebrew bible (and Revelation), angels are pretty scary to look upon.

One theologian, William Propp, thought that the Hebrew word to describe Moses’ radiant face actually meant it had been disfigured. Luke doesn’t use the Greek for “transfigured” (like the other two synoptic gospels) but the Greek word meaning “became other”. Was his intention to show Jesus in that moment as wholly divine? Can the presence of God re-create us?

Why would the kingdom of heaven, the sight of God, be so terrifying, so overwhelming?

Is it because for that moment our encounter with God is completely out of our control? (but honestly has it ever been in our control, how we deal with God?)

Is it because of what we see in God's reflected glory? What we, made God's image, have to change in ourselves to bring this new kingdom to being? What we have to say yes to? *Who* we have to say yes to?

In 2 Peter, the letter's author talks of the day when the morning star rises in our hearts. The day when God comes to us and transfigures us.

Such a faint light, compared to God's radiance -- but still a response, a response to the gift of the Holy Spirit and the gift of God's love.

The disciples in this portion of the Gospel take this revealed glory, this moment of unadulterated God-glory, this hint of the promised new heaven and new earth .... and say nothing.

Once more, the kingdom of heaven is hidden. The three disciples say nothing about this until after Jesus' death and resurrection.

I wonder if, in those days between transfiguration and crucifixion, that they, like Mary, treasured these things in their hearts, as if what they had seen was the wondrous morning star?


Sources:
Commentary on the Torah by Richard E. Friedman
"Who Is Jesus to Us?, The Transfiguration (A, B, C) -- 2014" by Rev. Anjel Scarborough, Sermons that Work, The Episcopal Digital Network