Sunday, August 28, 2005

September 4, 2005 - Year A - Pentecost +16

Exodus 12:1-14 or Ezekiel 33:7-11
Psalm 149 or Psalm 119:33-40
Romans 13:8-14
Matthew 18:15-20

It is difficult to keep paying attention. Catching a glimpse of the dangers inside the community is particularly difficult. We huddle in individual households, we talk behind one another's backs, we let one another go so easily. Whether we talk first of forgiveness or freedom, we don't easily come to these until injury and slavery are well inflicted and institutionalized. May we be blessed with catching our distancing of one another early and persist in steadfast actions that acknowledge the presence of GOD, that catalyze freedom and forgiveness.


  1. Matthew 18:15-20

    It is not the desire of GOD that any be lost. So says 18:14. That is sometimes so much easier to hear in regard to "unbelievers" (of course that means, not believing in what I believe in, not that others don't believe). So we are intentional and manipulative in missionary work to get folks to believe as we do.

    Let's believe for a moment that we have been successful in our strategies and implementations to have uniformity of belief.

    We quickly learn that unbelief is not a solution to the human condition. What are we going to do when one of our very own believers “sins” against another believer? Well, first, recognize that believers are not equally humble and willing to admit that their belief might not cover their behavior - check out any addictive facility that deals with clergy and other religious and ask whether belief is a support for addiction. Response, Yep.

    Second, we need to recognize a need that goes beyond uniformity of belief to that of uniformity of behavior (mine, of course, being the standard). In some sense it takes two to sin. Just as there is a question about the sound of trees falling in the forest, so we need to ask how we know we have been sinned against. (No, I am not interested in justifying or excusing behavior, but to be aware of my own sensitivity to be sinned against - some have their sense of being sinned against set on high.)

    Third, whether or not reintegration into the community is effected in our time frame of acceptable return, we still affirm that it is not the desire of GOD that any be lost.

    Beyond our intentions against another or the receiving of behaviors against us, beyond our being processed into or out of community, we find that there is no magic technique that has more strength than a basic understanding that it is not the desire of GOD that any be lost.

    If this is our desire as GOD's partner as well, then we keep working on ourselves and with others to make those very practical decisions that go beyond belief and behavior to finding that spot where so many have found life - seeing the nature and the identify of GOD as love.

  2. Romans 13:8-14

    Just before this (verses 1-7) we have heard the wonders of government (of course we need the warnings of Revelations 13) and how we are to go along with the law of the land, as it is ultimately from GOD. That is always a dangerous position that forever slides over to tyranny. Mixing church with state seldom is anything other than a temporary help for a technical matter as it keeps sliding away from a partnership to bless over into a conspiracy of self-interest. It is this common wisdom of "my religion/country, love it or leave it" that will be dealt a mortal blow as we read on

    Here we hear a different story. It is not the law of the land that fulfills GOD's law, but the act of loving another (whether that is a legal love or not).

    So it is now incumbent upon us to know what's what. What's up is expanding the limiting laws of the land that advantage some to the disadvantage of others (darkness) and to bring the light of a loving life to enlighten our personal hypocrisies and our communal discriminations and choose against them.

    This appeal to love is worth provoking in one another. It is worth holding on to in the face of a temptation to legalisms that oversimplify the variations of life.

  3. Psalm 149 or Psalm 119:33-40

    Let's see, what shall we do with disputes on a national level? Ahh, Praise God and Pass the Ammunition! Be ready to exile and/or execute them!

    On both the personal and the national levels we find this option to divide and separate. Whether there is actual power to do so, the imprecations are indicative of intention should such power be present.

    Often it is helpful to rub scripture against scripture to see what unconsuming fire will be lit. Here we turn to Ps 119.

    Turn my eyes from looking at vanities - - and what is more vain than being judge of another's sin?

    Give me life in your ways - - work on self is more productive than that on others.

    I have longed for your precepts - - as some ask, God who? Which precept/God are you looking at? Might it be the righteous one of forgiveness or that of double pre-retribution?

  4. Exodus 12:1-14 or Ezekiel 33:7-11

    We watch for different things at different times. Our watching grows out of a particular past, is influenced by what is going on around us, and anticipates a future. In each of these ways our what we look for and what we see is shaped and constrained.

    When we watch inward to avoid a danger going door-to-door we begin to set up a particular community that will have strengths and weaknesses based on what is experienced. When we watch outward to avoid a danger on the horizon we set up a related community that will have strengths and weaknesses based on what is believable. Each has its place.

    One of the issues of the day is whether we look inward or outward. There is much to be said about hurricanes and a party people looking inward and sentinels looking outward who do not widen their horizon to encompass an inevitable event.

    Yesterday I helped clean up after a tornado a half hour from here. Yesterday I thought it silly to attempt to clean up after hurricane Katrina. I could see new life coming back after the tornado but I couldn't see the worth of forcing habitation in a reverse Red Sea setting where the waters are set to roll over instead of part (we don't live constantly in a miracle, we cross over and move on).

    Some of the same issues are alive and well between nations (Iraq, et. al., and USA, et. smaller al.) and between humans (sexuality being a key one in these days - fast and pray for Hearts on Fire being held this weekend).

    Are you looking inward or outward on these and other issues closer to your home? Are you paying attention to details filled with devils or horizons of hope? Are you acting on what you see and helping to shape new communities? Are you hunkering down for a long haul or starting to move toward a known issue and engage it directly? Is this part of self-preservation or investment in others? Obviously these are not mutually exclusive positions but they do shape our basic responses to one another and others.

  5. Romans 13:8-14

    New Orleans is a testing ground for the care shown one another. This test is for individuals such as myself and for institutions such as churches and schools and for governments large and small. When felt survival needs come around, what happens to organizing principles of loving one another and details in that of various “commandments” and such virtues as honor?

    If there was any doubt about the preoccupation every level has with its own benefit (always leaving somone else’s benefit to fend for itself) it has been revealed in the consequence of decision made years ago, by the current administration, and still by each of us. The consequence shows up in the Lord of the Flies or Mosquitoes or whatever fashion. Another way to put it is the invisible hand of Capitalism has been shown, the one that demands inequity to amass the most capital possible.

    Where then does this passage fit in? What mercies of GOD have we experienced that would hold us in good stead should we find ourselves as dramatically cut off as those left in New Orleans (revealing how undramatically folks have consistently been cut off up to this time)?

    Now that the covers have been thrown back and we see the consequence of knowing all manner of things which are inevitable and deciding to not keep up resources to care for them, will there be a shift in orientation? Will we see the callousness of paying off the rich with tax breaks when the result is so directly tied to such consequences? We can but hope a result is a new and larger appreciation for the progressive/prophetic perspective we have yearned for.

    I don’t usually agree with David Brooks but his editorial in the New York Times yesterday deserves a longer quoting:

    The Storm After the Storm

    “Hurricanes come in two waves. First comes the rainstorm, and then comes what the historian John Barry calls the "human storm" - the recriminations, the political conflict and the battle over compensation. Floods wash away the surface of society, the settled way things have been done. They expose the underlying power structures, the injustices, the patterns of corruption and the unacknowledged inequalities. When you look back over the meteorological turbulence in this nation's history, it's striking how often political turbulence followed.

    “In 1889 in Pennsylvania, a great flood washed away much of Johnstown.... The flood was so abnormal that the country seemed to have trouble grasping what had happened. The national media were filled with wild exaggerations and fabrications.... Prejudices were let loose.

    “Then, as David McCullough notes in "The Johnstown Flood," public fury turned on the Pittsburgh millionaires whose club's fishing pond had emptied on the town. The Chicago Herald depicted the millionaires as Roman aristocrats, seeking pleasure while the poor died like beasts in the Coliseum.

    “Even before the flood, public resentment was building against the newly rich industrialists. Protests were growing against the trusts, against industrialization and against the new concentrations of wealth. The Johnstown flood crystallized popular anger, for the fishing club was indeed partly to blame. Public reaction to the disaster helped set the stage for the progressive movement and the trust-busting that was to come.

    “In 1900, another great storm hit the U.S., killing over 6,000 people in Galveston, Tex. The storm exposed racial animosities....

    “Then in 1927, the great Mississippi flood rumbled down upon New Orleans. As Barry writes in his account, "Rising Tide," the disaster ripped the veil off the genteel, feudal relations between whites and blacks, and revealed the festering iniquities. Blacks were rounded up into work camps and held by armed guards. They were prevented from leaving as the waters rose.... The racist violence that followed the floods helped persuade many blacks to move north.

    “Civic leaders intentionally flooded poor and middle-class areas to ease the water's pressure on the city, and then reneged on promises to compensate those whose homes were destroyed. That helped fuel the populist anger that led to Huey Long's success. Across the country people demanded that the federal government get involved in disaster relief, helping to set the stage for the New Deal. The local civic elite turned insular and reactionary, and New Orleans never really recovered its preflood vibrancy.

    “We'd like to think that the stories of hurricanes and floods are always stories of people rallying together to give aid and comfort. And, indeed, each of America's great floods has prompted a popular response both generous and inspiring. But floods are also civic examinations. Amid all the stories that recur with every disaster - tales of sudden death and miraculous survival, the displacement and the disease - there is also the testing.

    “Civic arrangements work or they fail. Leaders are found worthy or wanting. What's happening in New Orleans and Mississippi today is a human tragedy. But take a close look at the people you see wandering, devastated, around New Orleans: they are predominantly black and poor. The political disturbances are still to come.”

  6. Matthew 18:15-20

    It sounds so simple, so straight-forward and fair, this process of judiciously proceeding in matters of conflict. It is seldom seen to work as easily as described because of all sorts of pressures on complainant and defendant. We do need more assistance from JustPeace and other intentional restorative justice and conflict resolution processes.

    This vignette brings all manner of real life difficulties. Two days ago my role as symbol of the church was railed against by someone whom I had not met before and the police eventually had to take away for evaluation. Among the complaints of how the church had forced them to be damned was the locking of our doors when there was no regular business going on. They also had their finger on the greed that will be the downfall of this and every system and how the church had abandoned the poor. These accusations of having been sinned against are accurate, no matter the source or the number of witnesses.

    So often we read this passage as though we were the good guy who had been sinned against, have rallied a couple of witnesses of our righteousness, and had the power to stay while they were exiled. But this outline of a process takes on a whole new meaning when we consider that we are the ones doing the sinning. Just how willing are we to change our ways when confronted by our complicity in injustice? No wonder we don't even hear the cry of tens and hundreds of thousands of witnesses against our sin. We would loose our place.

    These words from an introduction to John Wesley's sermon 87, "On the Danger of Riches", comes at this from another, but, related, angle to describe a breakdown in this "scriptural process":

    "Many, if not most, of the newly rich Methodists were stubbornly, though quietly, unconvinced that their affluence, in and of itself, was a fatal inlet to sin. Thus it was that they simply ignored Wesley's insistence that they part with all but their 'necessaries and conveniences'. Moreover, their views had lately been fortified by the immense influence of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations (1776). this turn of events was, for Wesley, both perplexing and frustrating.

    "Something of this mood is suggested by the fact that the very first 'original sermon' published in the Arminian Magazine is this one [On The Dangers of Riches]. It had been written in the late autumn of 1780 and appeared in the January and February installments of Vo. IV (1781) without a title. That was subsequently added when he included it in his "Sermons on Several Occasions", VII. On April 16, 1783, in Dublin, he preached from the same text. In 1788, he wrote and published yet another sermon, 'On Riches'. Then, in the very last year of his life, he wrote out yet another anguished warning on, 'The Danger of Increasing Riches'. If this trio of 'late sermons' is added to 'Sermon on the Mount: VIII'; 'The Use of Money'; and 'The Good Steward'; and if these are then placed alongside the other frequent blasts against riches in other sermons and other writings, an interesting generalization suggests itself: surplus accumulation leads Wesley's inventory of sins of praxis. It was, in his eyes, an offense before God and man, an urgent and dire peril to any Christian's profession and hope of salvation. This is in clear contrast to the notion, proffered by the Puritans, but approved by others, that honestly earned wealth is a sign and measure of divine favor. What is interesting is that Wesley's economic radicalism on this point has been ignored, not only by most Methodists, but by the economic historians as well."

    Separation from the experience of life of the poor leads to complaints aplenty against one more tax cut or other "benefit" to widen the gap of what "common good" means. Now it is the one with the witnesses who is sent, bound, away. We are in the midst of community mourning, not for wind and water, but for sin revealed and unconfessed.


Thank you for blessing us with your response.