Sunday, October 02, 2005

October 9, 2005 - Year A - Pentecost +21

Exodus 32:1-14 or Isaiah 25:1-9
Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23 or Psalm 23
Philippians 4:1-9
Matthew 22:1-14

Finding refuge in the midst of a strange land is a precious gift. It is not only a place of easier breathing but a launching place for continued encounter with the other -- a place of solace and of fomenting revolution.

Where do you find your refuge these days and what do you expect from it?


  1. Matthew 22:1-14

    In trying to find a place from which to get a purchase on this terrible text the following came from Ralph Milton and his weekly Rumors: "What do we do with this passage? The story is an allegory against the Jews who did not accept Christ. Their city (Jerusalem) is burned as a result and the outcasts (gentiles) are invited to the wedding feast instead. As a layperson, sitting in the bass section of the choir, I'd be wondering, "So? Does that have any significance for me?"

    "Well, perhaps. When we fail to respond to the generous and loving invitation of God - an invitation to joy and sharing that is issued to everyone - and turn instead to the gods we make for ourselves, there can be shattering consequences. Our failure to respond to God's love can lead to hatred, injustice, greed, and all manner of violence to humankind."

    It wasn't the allegory part that caught me because this is a self-described parable. It was the recognition that a failure to respond to love and mercy can only only end up with responses of indifferent hate and egoistic judgment. We see this played out in today's world in a variety of ways. Listen to this snippet from a list I listen in on. "I went to a fascinating lecture at the U this morning by a Canadian scholar by the name of Shadia Drury. She's written a book titled "The Political Philosophy of Leo Straus."

    "She discusses to some extent the role of religion with the neo-conservatives--(these are guys like Donald Rumsfield, Dick Cheney, Jeb Bush, Paul Wolfowitz, Irving and William Kristol and others). They were "disciples" of the University of Chicago professor, Leo Strauss (deceased some years ago).

    "Neoconservatism holds that religion is necessary to "control the masses." They view religion as a pious, but necessary, fraud. Seems to me that this is what we are seeing worked out in the Institute on Religion and Democracy, which has heavy neoconservative connections. Of course, not every religious person who has allied themselves with IRD is insincere--they just may not be "in on the joke" so to speak. The neoconservatives find their alliance with the Religious Right necessary and useful."

    There is a choice to be made in the face of the outrageous limitation of chosenness that ends this act of a larger play.

    In and of itself this parable can't be borne long for all of us end up speechless in explaining ourselves. So this needs to be seen in light of the few glimmers of something better than what we have during this time between entering Jerusalem and the end of Matthew. This is the background darkness the clarifies moments of recognition regarding the greatest commandments, the reality of lamenting exactly this approach, a resurrection from exactly this grave, and a willingness to engage a steadfast choice to live an extension of mercy rather than a short-circuiting to wailing and gnashing.

  2. Philippians 4:1-9

    Are you Syntyche (fortunate) with your Euodia (good journey)?

    How might you account for such blessing? Is it attributable to your excellent rejoicing, your high quality gentleness, your above average ability to not worry? Might it be your qualities of truth, honor, justice, purity, pleasing, and other excellent commendables?

    Just keep on keeping your head when others around you are losing theirs and GOD's peace will be with you. [Accurate? or not? can peace be present in times of distress?]

    Given our usual backgrounds, experiences, and cultural norms that run counter to these, it would appear it takes a whole lot of hard, hard work to arrive at such a disciplined peace.

    Do you have a place of refuge from your own history, old tapes, and peers wherein these looked for qualities might be nurtured and freed? Will it take a touch of Spirit? a Spiritual Director? an examined life? hitting bottom? to refocus and know whom you need to associate with -- the Euodia's and Syntyche's of available in your life?

    Come, wrestle with what it takes to receive good news and you will develop an experience base that will make it far easier to share what you receive.

  3. Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23 or Psalm 23

    Some of us find refuge in the past and idolize it. Our talk about the future is going back to a past that is always remembered to have been better than it was. A high value here is recapitulation. So we use today's materials and technologies to attempt to refashion yesteryear's experience. The truth, fortunate or not, is that home cannot be recaptured, it can only be extended.

    Some of us find refuge in an idolized future and thus find comfort in an uncomfortable present. Our talk is about green pastures of plenty that will make everything alright. A high value here is innovation. So we envision the wonders of projected materials and technologies as though they would break the mold and have no downside. The truth, difficult or not, is that tomorrow is much more than a day away and will still have to deal with the likes of ourselves.

    It is good to remember the past. We can build on its blessings; we can learn from its curses. It is good to anticipate a future. We can see where improvements need to be made and begin the grieving process leading to forgiveness.

    Whether we are oriented toward past or future, it is possible for us to experience a present of steadfast love, of goodness and mercy, that will keep us grounded in real life, non-idolized life. We will be able to pull apart the strands of the past, without having to make up stories about creation. We will be able to weave together strands not before available into a new heaven and new earth, without fearing creedal blasphemy. This reorientation away from the idols of past and future will allow space for engaging our whole being in the realism of a feast for all.

  4. Exodus 32:1-14 or Isaiah 25:1-9

    We have all had refuge spots along the way. They, like other adaptive behaviors, have seen us through tough times. These times and places in which we can take a breath and re-clarify a vision of a better tomorrow are precious to us. In some sense they are defining moments.

    Our tendency is to continually return to these same refuges when things get tough. That can work for a bit, but, eventually, we need to find ourselves surprised by a new refuge, never before thought about or envisioned. It is this quantum leap that reveals whether we are stuck in some idolatry of the way in which we will prescribe the relief now needed. Golden calves, and other less obvious sources of relief, seemed to have ameliorated our situation in the past and so we keep going back to that well.

    We need a new experience that moves the fearful shroud of a commanding mountain into a place of renewed presence of abundance for whatever journey we are on.

    A key for this transformation of briar patch into refuge is participation in various liberation movements that remove disgrace from one peoples or another. There are still plenty of disgraced folk around. So pick one and go to work to provide a refuge for them, and, lo and behold, find a new refuge for yourself. [Note: this is not just one-way work of helping ourselves by helping others, but entails a mutuality that puts our own need for refuge in the hands of others who, in turn find a new refuge for themselves.]

    It is time to move on to the graceful and challenging work of challenging disgrace. Or, as Fred Craddock put it,
    "To be Christian is to cease saying,
    "Where the Messiah is there is no misery"
    and to begin to say
    "Where there is misery there is the Messiah."
    The former statement makes no demands;
    the latter is an assignment."

  5. Philippians 4:1-9

    Lost in Love by Air Supply

    Lost in Love and I don't know much,
    Was I thinking aloud and fell out of touch?
    But I'm back on my feet, and eager to be what you wanted.

    So lift your eyes if you feel you can
    Reach for a star and I'll show you a plan.

    = = = = =

    Like Euodia and Syntyche we can get to thinking aloud and being out of touch with one another. It is part of the maturation of a relationship - coming through such times.

    We are asked, as loyal companions, to aid others in getting back on their feet with one another. A part of this help is showing a star-plan, a better way.

    What would you show folks to help them lift their eyes when they are not quite up to it themselves? Would it have to do with being gentle with yourself as well as others? Might it reveal a refuge where worry doesn't have the last word? Could it be a new way of looking at prayer as simply thanksgiving?

    After getting back on our feet the challenge comes to stay there. It is difficult to keep on doing the things we have learned lead to GOD's peace. A major part of community is reminding one another about what we consider to be honorable (and disgracing others is not honorable). We do need to call others and be called, ourselves, to account over definitions of justice and purity codes, what it is that goes beyond appearing to build things up to actually doing so.

    Each of these qualities, so easily turned in to some formulaic power of the positive, comes to us as a mirror, asking us questions about where we are standing and with whom we are in solidarity.

  6. Matthew 22:1-14

    Just when we think we have won through the act of violence (destroyed them and their city) and turned things over to those expected to be loyal because of their ascension to new power we find that the expected loyalists also fail to bring the honor expected by such a violent victor.

    Enough victories like this and there will be no one left but a final golem sycophant. And in what universe is that sort of obeisance satisfying?

    Procrustes had his bed, this king has his wedding garment to measure the predetermined worth of a person. Perhaps humanity was indeed made for the Sabbath! What other creeds and laws might be called forth to constrain celebrations of life and possibilities of new life?

    A question must be asked about the insecurity of the king. Isn't this a good spot for a queen to call a time-out, schedule a vacation, insist on a time of refuge? If you've got a good thing/wedding going, wherefrom arises the need to impose it? Is this gnashing of teeth mentality one that will turn around and resurrect? Or, having started down that retribution road, is there a way to repent?

    Isn't this a fine example of "you're with me or against me"? Where is creativity in the midst of an eighth day? Was it all used up in the first seven? Surely there is a better response than the very one Caiaphas, Pilate, et al was willing to resort to.

    What other response is available to you when the good you offer is not received as good?


Thank you for blessing us with your response.