Sunday, September 18, 2005

September 25, 2005 - Year A - Pentecost +19

Exodus 17:1-7 or Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32
Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16 or Psalm 25:1-9
Philippians 2:1-13
Matthew 21:23-32

May the "imitation" of Christ be present in the gathered community (plural).

In terms of church: How then would we carry on our intradenominational spats? our interdenominational separation? our interfaith ignorance?

In terms of family: How then would we carry on our sibling rivalries? our unacknowledged co-dependence? our careful teaching of prejudice?

In terms of work, recreation, or any other topic close to your heart: How does this work there?


  1. Matthew 21:23-32

    The authority card is still being played to this day. We recognize it best when it is played against us rather than when we play it. It is a quick and dirty way of cutting conversation and consolidating power. It is short-run effective and long-run deadly to our very desire to use it for good.

    It is this issue of authority that is played by every interest group and every status quo group that continues to bedevil church and state -- here there is no separation.

    What we don't usually have is a good response to any accusation that we lack standing to stand where we do. Here Jesus puts folks into the midst of the conundrum [def: a riddle whose answer is or involves a pun] that is found at the intersection of heaven and earth. This is usually a very creative (if scary) place to live. It is the arena where the real questions need to be faced, rather than the covering questions about authority. It is one of the most exciting lines in the prayer taught by Jesus -- come "presence of GOD" on earth as in heaven.

    It is this interplay between a flawed past trying to perpetuate itself and a better future trying to be birthed that engages every energy we have.

    Whether Jesus' questioners respond to his question or not doesn't really make any difference. Things eventually end up in the arena of faith being worked out in fear and trembling as well as in joy and peace. So here we are, commissioned simply by being alive or ordained by others to "take authority." We've got it, what will we do with it? That is a question from ourselves to ourselves.

    Even knowing that we will need to receive forgiveness for having taken authority, take it and apply it as best you can -- with generosity and mercy and saying what you mean and meaning what you say.

  2. Philippians 2:1-13

    Let the same love be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
    who, in the form of a human,
    did not regard equality with others
    as a limitation,
    but filled himself,
    taking the form of a teacher,
    living in the image of GOD.
    And being found in divinity,
    he committed himself
    and grew into life -
    even life on a cross.

    Therefore do we honor him
    and give him the name
    that is above every name,
    so that at the name of Learning Merciful Love
    every heart shall stir,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
    and every tongue be thankful
    that Jesus Christ is Love,
    in the tradition of GOD the Lover.

    So it is, my beloved, GOD the Lover is at work in you, enabling you to both desire and fulfill all good pleasure.

  3. Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16 or Psalm 25:1-9

    To continue the human / divine intersection for yet another moment. Does one lift up one's own soul, or is one's own soul made to be lifted up by GOD? Where do you put your trust, your authority?

    This debate has bedeviled us from the beginning. We are free partners authorized to lift up our soul. We are mere creatures under a tight leash.

    Different folks have different reasons for their orientation -- from being hardwired one way or the other to having formative experiences which have nurtured or pruned their arc of life.

    I expect most folks here to have some understanding of the both/and approach to living and loving. With identified leanings in one direction or the other we yet affirm the mystery of soul lifting. May you find your soul lifted (howsome'er such occurs) and may you be found lifting the souls of others (by what means are available).

    Can you see this as an Olympic event and yourself taking the bronze medal in soul-lifting? Bronze because you're so humble. What would a congregation look like that endeavored to take part in mutual soul-lifting?

  4. Exodus 17:1-7 or Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32

    There are so many riddles of life. Is baptism divine or communal? Can a staff that brings bloody water also be a staff that provides drinking water? Do the generations support me or am I the culmination of them? Does God give water to Moses at Meribah to support moving toward "a promised land" and hold Moses back at River Jordan on the eve of entering that land?

    How we read the story seems to depend on where we are situated. Are we focused on the divine (religiously/priestly) or the human (community/prophetic)? We will come at things differently and be more attuned to one part of the story or another. A grand trick of life is to keep experiencing until we can appreciate both, though at any given time one or the other is more called for.

    When is hardship of evacuation important and when is the comfort of temporary housing crucial? There is a time and a place for both and either can get in the way if we focus on it at the wrong time.

    Are we oriented toward anticipation and prevention or on response and band-aids? Both are needed but in differing proportions as time goes by.

    Am I really on my own before GOD or are we in this together so none will be saved until all are saved? Our understanding of this basic relationship between creature and creator, between GOD and Humanity will go far in determining how we interact between ourselves. Wherein, really, lies the distinction of social sin we all are part of and individual sin we are all part of? Trying to cut this Gordian knot with the sword of individualism is no more satisfying than avoiding it with the club of generational determinism.

    So many riddles, so few eternal verities. Perhaps the best we can do at the moment is to hear a larger positive intention of GOD to keep dealing in hope when we hear such a lament as, "I have no pleasure in the death of anyone."

  5. Philippians 2:1-13

    As parents we often have to come to that point of entrusting a next generation to learn life in the same way we did, in fear and trembling, in joy and peace, moment by moment. There is no benefit for them to gather the profit of our living without their having learned the lessons that came with that accumulation of wisdom.

    At some point we need to recognize our presence and our resources will not be sufficient for the next step of spiritual maturity by a following generation. They, too, will need to walk into to an unknown future. In some sense we do them a disservice to ply them with an estate beyond their learning. The whole argument about doing away with an estate tax is to play into the hands of a capitalistic class war and to avoid the wisdom of the saints regarding spiritual growth through the working out of salvation in each person and generation.

    Hear John Wesley on leaving an estate: "Do not leave it to them to throw away. If you have good reason to believe they would waste what is now in your possession, in gratifying, and thereby increasing, the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eye, or the pride of life; at the peril of theirs and your own soul, do not set these traps in their way. Do not offer your sons or your daughters unto Belial, any more than unto Moloch. Have pity upon them, and remove out of their way what you may easily foresee would increase their sins, and consequently plunge them deeper into everlasting perdition! How amazing then is the infatuation of those parents who think they can never leave their children enough! What! cannot you leave them enough of arrows, firebrands, and death? not enough of foolish and hurtful desires? not enough of pride, lust, ambition, vanity? not enough of everlasting burnings? Poor wretch! thou fearest where no fear is. Surely both thou and they, when ye are lifting up your eyes in hell, will have enough both of "the worm that never dieth," and of "the fire that never shall be quenched!" [Sermon 50, The Use of Money]

    With this version of a vow of poverty we put one piece (but there are many others needed) in place that will aid folks to grow into the will and work of "good for all" (GOD and Neighbor as well as Self).

  6. Matthew 21:23-32

    Whether from the left or the right (depending which is in power at the time) we find we are afraid of the crowd in power or we scare the crowd out of power. Whether priest or prophet we are, from time to time, afraid of crowds that crowd around us and crowd out our integrity.

    We end up with the favorite sayings of all too many kids, "I don't know", "I don't care." And without these we find ourselves captured by that old bugaboo of "I'm bored" which means "I'm powerless" and "I won't act".

    As we wrestle with the issues of our day it is important to recognize that fringe groups are where the action is. Third parties don't have to win to change the conversation and decisions of the majority. Single-issue groups don't need a majority to make their point. But engagement to the point of challenge is crucial to perceived change becoming actual change. If we are only going to raise questions without having them be strong and persistent enough to challenge current behavior is to play the part of the religious leaders in this encounter. I've seen a recent comment that the abolitionists were never more than one-percent of the population but they stood for something other than decision by poll or majority.

    We are here, not to tell our authority, but to act on it. Forward.


Thank you for blessing us with your response.