I’m back. Well almost back. Our oldest daughter ‘s marriage was wonderful, even though ceremony times were changed due to prodigious rains. I was surprised how my view of the world subtlety changed as the moment came closer. I am continuing to be surprised how my world view continues to change in the days following. (Of course it could also be the influence of youngest daughter’s impending marriage.) In any case, my awareness of my changing world view may be contributing to seeing a clarion call for all humanity to change our world view and behavior in this weeks Lectionary.

Hosea continues his teaching about the twin notions of divine mercy and judgment. Colossians 3:1ff does have another of (pseudo) Paul’s lists. It also proclaims that there is no difference between people in God’s eyes; yet again. It is a proclamation of radical equality. Together, radical equality, mercy and justice form a strong biblical moral foundation. Luke’s tale of the rich man who pulls down his barns in order to build bigger ones, to store even more grains and goods is not living from that foundation; and thereby is starkly applicable today. Note, it is not a shelf, nor a pantry, but a barn. IE it’s a lot of stuff. It raises the question of how much is enough. It also points out, as one commentator notes, in storing so much for himself the rich man is denying grain for those without. It is also important to note it is more than his ‘life’ demanded of the rich man, it is his ‘soul’. (Perhaps ironic, since that is the way he refers to himself?)

To be clear, I believe the message is for all of us, not just the 1% or the 25% nor even the top 75%, but the 100%, all of us. The message is for us to change the way we see the world to divine values not any set of worldly values. It’s only through God’s eyes that we can see each other, see our selves as God intends. It is only thorough these divine values that real change in the human condition can come. May be that’s what my daughter and her partner taught me. What a blessing.

Proper 11 

Amos 8:1-12
Psalm 52
Colossians 1:15-28
Luke 10:38-42

Focus:  a different Sound of Silence

Amos rails about injustice,ingrained cheating of the poor merchants selling less for more by dishonest weights. Pseudo Paul writes about  … completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions … having just written that Christ’s work is all sufficient. And Martha still gets miffed at Mary for sitting at Jesus’ feet, while she goes about doing the expected, the mandatory work of hospitality. And of course there should be the news from last week, but at this point I can’t remember any of it. No, what has my attention is silence. As soon as the idea of the differing silences in Amos and Luke, came to mind, Simon and Garfunkle’s Sound  of Silence echoed through my mind. I googled the lyrics.  [ I played it for the congregation]

Hello darkness, my old friend

I’ve come to talk with you again

Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence

In restless dreams I walked alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone
‘Neath the halo of a street lamp
I turned my collar to the cold and damp
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
That split the night
And touched the sound of silence

And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening|
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence

 “Fools”, said I, “You do not know
Silence like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you”
But my words, like silent raindrops fell
And echoed
In the wells of silence

And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming
And the sign said,
“The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls”
And whispered in the sounds of silence [i]

 The opening verse is always haunting, for I have often been inspired in a nap. I’ve even been known to take a nap in search of softly creeping visions.  

The third verse’s imagery of people talking without speaking, or hearing without listening, or writing songs that voices never share all because no one [dares] disturb the sound of silence. is frighteningly relevant. We live in a culture: where leaders will not speak the truth, because they fear retribution, not in general elections, but in the eccentric primaries; or where preachers hold back, in fear for their pulpits. Or doctors don’t speak,    because they are afraid to say ‘death.’ It is telling that in the coverage of Nelson Mandela’s illness and birthday no one has said the word ‘death’ which everyone knows is inevitable, if for no other reason than he is 95; but no one ~  disturbs the sound of  silence.

And even when the few brave speak their words, like silent raindrops [fall] … in the wells of silence. Like many, like most, I’ve demeaned Edward Snowden’s actions, and folks railing against him contrasting security against security procedures, but never pondering the possibility of prophetic work, all the while wondering why we don’t get equally enraged by the massive data collection activates of Google, Face Book, Axiom, Credit Bureaus etc…

In the meantime, we all go tripping along paying homage the latest god des jours,  this sport’s personality, that celebrity, another advertising selling character, the latest techno billionaire; so distracted, we blithely pass by all the prophetic warnings written on the subway walls and tenement halls, [only] whispered in the sounds of silence.

Sound of Silence is largely a reflection on human behavior. Amos points to a silence that is the consequences of human behavior. The famine is coming, then God’s word will no longer be heard. Even when Israel seeks God’s counsel, it will not be heard. All they will know, is the sound of silence; a silence born of silence. I have known times when I could not hear God’s voice, but that was because I was hearing without listening. I expect many of you know similar times. I expect you know the chilling effect of silence,  born of our actions. I cannot imagine the depths of silence, born of God turning away, of God ceasing to speak; no word at all, neither through dreams, nor music, nor poetry, nor through priests nor prophets nor kings. Sheer sacrilegus silence.

[a ten count silence]

And then, there is Mary. We all know she is sitting at Jesus’ feet. We all know Martha is furious, because she won’t get up and help. We all, at least I suspect, we all imagine Mary sitting cross legged, head tilted to one side, slightly back, eyes in glazed admiration, her face all aglow in blissful adoration. We have forgotten that in that day to sit at another’s feet, is primarily for the purpose of learning.  All teaching was oral, there were no books, or they were very, very rare; so teachers spoke, and students, sat at their feet, and listened. And adult students listened, to become teachers, to spread the teachings of their teacher. Paul became a Pharisee by sitting at the feet of Rabbi Gamalile; [ii] who, curiously enough, when Jesus was brought before the Sanhedrim counseled moderation and calmness. [iii] Back to the point; Mary is sitting at Jesus feet to learn, to become a teacher, to share Jesus’ teachings.

My connection is that moment when you are in rapt attention, absorbing not just the words, but the very essence of the gleaning offered, frequently in rapt silence.  It is through such silence that the sounds of silence are whisked away in whispered wonder the Kingdom of God is here! And since we know God’s ear is never totally turned away (yes there was the exile, but, there was also the return,) we know sheer sacrilegus silence gives way to the sounds of shredded sack cloth, and the profound prayers of God’s people discovering they are beloved, discovering they are home, discovering they are sent out to share the Good News that shatters the sounds of silence.

Welcome happy morning my dear friend, it’s good to greet you once again …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


[i] Lyricsfreak.com © 2009

[ii] Twelve Months of Sundays, Years A, B and C, Tom Wright, 2000, SPCK

[iii] Easton’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Matthew George Easton

Illustrated Bible Dictionary: And Treasury of Biblical History Biography, Geography,  Doctrine, and Literature.

 

difference in silences

Yesterday was one of those days that began just after 6 am and ended just before 10 pm; long and productive, though the blogging didn’t fit the schedule.

Today and I find myself thinking more about my daughter’s wedding this coming Wednesday than Sunday’s preaching. BTW, I will not blog this coming week,  yes, I will be (mostly) out of electronic communication range, more importantly my keenest desire is to be with family especially my daughter, her partner and her family. I will return when I return.

As for Sunday, I am just now becoming aware of the difference in silence in the Amos story and Martha and Mary’s story. One is the silence of absence, the other the silence of intense presence. Somewhere in here is a gleaning. We shall see.

Crossing boundaries, again

At some point early in my seminary experience a professor remarked he believed the formation for priesthood was most difficult for computer professionals (my prior field) because we were expected to know everything.

This week’s Gospel is the well-known story of Martha and Mary and the comparative value of time working vs. time spent at Jesus’ feet. I recall recently reading (the source escapes me) that Mary sat at Jesus’ feet to learn, to become a teacher, which was an exclusively male filed, and thus was crossing all sorts of boundaries.

Today’s world of big data and accountability is a very Martha world.  Leadership is ever more reduced to reading and finessing polling data. These models have crept, perhaps now stormed into the social services world, even into churches, ministry, and worship. The danger is attempting to use week to week measurements to evaluate process that take a life time, or experiences whose outcome is beyond your ability to know. It’s frustrating at best, dangerous at its worst.

Last week we observed the life of St. Benedict. My readings lead me across his daily time allocation including 4 hours of prayer and worship, and 5 hours of spiritual readings and study. I have long struggled with my tendency to take on these obligations in a very Martha like style, i.e. making tasks of them. I see a similar trend in church and in society as a whole.

In the 20 years since my conversation with my seminary professor I have gotten at not doing Martha and doing Mary. Today I realize it is time to cross another set of social boundaries, defy rules of productivity and accountability, and be Mary, sit at Jesus feet,  in prayer, worship and study, just to be in Jesus’, in God’s presence.

I appreciate the Martha segment of life, Benedict allocates 6 hours a day to work. The gleaning, at least for me is priorities, being in God’s presence comes prior to work. There is a potential additional gleaning that wisdom is borne more of divine presence than data derived knowledge.

By the way, back twenty years or so, we never knew everything, we just had to lead clients into believing we did. We told ourselves it was for their benefit; but I wonder.

Sufficient lacking

I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.

Wait a minute, just a bit ago Paul was writing about how Christ’s ministry is all sufficient for salvation, and now he is completing what is lacking. What gives? It is enough to drive me to the commentaries. In general the notion is Paul’s suffering is connected to, perhaps an extension of Christ’s suffering, as he proclaims the Gospel.

Andrew Lincoln writes that Paul is making use of a concept of Jewish messianic woes envisioning a time of worldwide tribulation during which suffering has to be borne by the people of God before the new age is ushered in. It’s notion of suffering fits with Paul’s, specifically in Colossians. Unfortunately, there is no place for a suffering Messiah in these Jewish woes.  Nonetheless, understanding Paul’s afflictions as part of the missionary task of proclaiming the Gospel, and that such proclamation is incomplete until the parousia, leads us to hear Paul speaking of missionary work not redemptive work. [1]

So, Christ’s ministry of salvation is all sufficient. Relief. However, the parousia is not complete, meaning there is missionary work to be done, and all of us are called, according to our various gifts, to ‘suffer’ with Paul in his suffering with Christ; even for folks we’ve never meet.

Given the remarkable applicability of Amos’ prophecy concerning economic justice, and Paul’s demanding model of suffering proclamation, one might accuse the lectionary authors of piling on. But hey, they did not write the scriptures, and they certainly aren’t responsible for aggregate human behavior. Still, the combination give one pause, there is work to be done. As Christ’s disciples it is ours, and as Paul says, it is not convenient.

Perhaps it is symbolic this doesn’t want to come to a close. So as I ponder a sufficient lacking I bid you anon. 


[1] Andrew Lincoln, New Interpreters Bible, The Letter to the Colossians

Fruit of the pun

I recall a term on a nominating committee. One of the most curious questions asked was When was the last time God turned God’s face away from you. It is one of the few that caused nearly everyone to pause. I have known times (upon reflection) when the divine face was turned away, though I suspect the ear was always noting. As I recall they are dark, lonely, peculiarly abandoned times. I was fortunate to be surrounded by family and friends who walked with God. So, I cannot imagine, don’t want to imagine, how forsaken it must feel when God’s face is turned away from an entire nation. When no one around is walking with God.

I wonder if the indigent, making their way to market, feel forsaken, knowing what they over pay for short weighted goods, and there is nothing they can do. It sounds too similar to the new pay-day cards in which you paycheck is loaded on to a cash card you can then use at any store, for a fee charged by the bank issuing the card. At least it has drawn the attention of one regulatory body or another. But I wonder what will come of their inquiries. Let hope it’s not a fruit basket pun. [1]


[1] Amos 8:1-2 Hebrew for summer fruit is qayits, for end is qets. New Interpreters Study Bible, Walter Harrelson

Sunday’s sermon experience

You are welcome to listen to Sunday’s sermon:
                    http://www.saintstephensblytheville.org/sermons-2013.php,
it is generally posted Monday, or read below.

Note: after the service continued a youngster (2 or 3) can be head saying “It’s mine, it’s mine” and a little later “I don’t want to.” Perfect behavioral metaphors. I wonder who heard?

Proper 10

Amos 7:7-17
Psalm 82
Colossians 1:1-14
Luke 10:25-37

Focus: The plumb, the sword and the neighbor.
Function: reaching justice by re-visioning our place in God’s Kingdom

*****

Amos is a herdsman. And when he is not herding flocks, he is dressing, or trimming orchards, specifically Sycamore trees. Nonetheless God calls him to leave his home land of Judah (the southern half of the now divided Kingdom) and go to Israel (the northern half) and point out the injustices and the coming consequences. It is all unusual, and totally unexpected. Both Jeroboam, King of Israel and Uzziah king of Judah have been on their respective thrones for decades. That would indicate a time of stability, and prosperity. [i] Maybe so.  The problem is, the stability and prosperity are coming in part from abuse of the poor, from social and economic injustice. Judgment is at hand, Amos says so, and the imagery involved, the plumb line and sword, are symbols of justice and judgment. Like “Lady Justice” with her scales of justice, and her sword of judgment. It’s a paring in tension, seen in many cultures, spanning millennia. Here   is the plumb line, by which justice is measured, and the sword, the instrument of judgment, both are prominent in God’s instructions to Amos.

Following the images of justice and judgment, in dynamic tension, we hear from Paul’s letter to the Colossians.  If he wrote it, academics are split and timing is difficult it seems to have been written after Paul’s martyrdom. There is even question if was actually to the church in Colossae, because the city was destroyed by an earthquake and never rebuilt. [ii] No matter these details, the author is skilled and does point to issues similar to those on Galatia. New Christians, are being told there is secrete knowledge, gnosis, necessary for salvation, and they must follow a strict Torah piety. Paul, or pseudo Paul, says nope, righteousness and salvation etc. all come from Christ, and everyone who believes in his death and resurrection, thereby have righteousness. There is an argument about behavior, Paul is saying the knowledge of, belief in God in Jesus the Christ involves God pleasing, fruit bearing activity; but not work to earn God’s pleasure, rather we are able to act righteously because we are enabled by, empowered by reflecting on God’s presence, God’s action, in our lives. Moreover, opposed to gnostic, or secrete knowledge, that is given to only a few, the Good News of the Gospel  is universal, given to any and every one.

Both the verses from Amos and the opening verses to the Colossians reveal a context that informs the conversation between the lawyer, and Jesus. The lawyer is not so much to trap Jesus; for undisclosed reasons,  he wants to know how Jesus thinks you inherit eternal life. The term ‘inherit’ is important, because it reveals that the lawyer understands eternal life  on par with other inheritable assets, land, wealth etc. Jesus asks him what he thinks. The lawyer recites the Shema, a classic combination of verses  from Deuteronomy [iii] and Leviticus [iv] which every pious, every good Jews recites twice a day. Jesus says: You got it! You know what to. Get to it! The lawyer asks for further clarification: Who is my neighbor? that’s what lawyers do. Why? perhaps he sees the potential for  an expanded vision  and he is uncomfortable. Perhaps, he just does not want to Get to it. Jesus tells him the story of the good Samaritan, which ends with the question: Who is the man’s neighbor? Unable to say The Samaritan, that’s bordering on an anathema, he answers: The one who showed him mercy. All of us see who the ~ who our neighbor is.

That takes care of the definition of the noun. Underneath all that is the implied definition of the verb neighborly. (Ok ad verb.) And here we run into a double whammy. First of all, we see the unclean, the unacceptable person being neighborly to the clean, to the acceptable. Ouch, its supposed to be other way round. Then, since we are all among the clean, among the acceptable, we realize that we have received ministrations from the unclean, the unacceptable. We haven’t seen it, because we don’t look for it, or worse we expect it.

A simple example. I was with two others on a trip to San Francisco. To get back to our lodgings, we needed to buy a ticket for one stop to the next on the BART. The three of us, two with masters and one with a Doctorate, can’t figure it out. Buy a pass?  yea; buy a round trip ticket? yea; buy a one stop ticket from this stop to the next? nope. Suddenly a bag lady appears in front of us, asks what we need, holds out her hand, we fill it with dollars; her hands fly across the kiosk key board, and wha-la we have three one stop tickets. We thank her, tell her to keep the change, and go one our way. We, the acceptable in this culture, were ministered to, heck, rescued by, an unacceptable.

Mine is a humorous story   of the clean, the acceptable, being ministered to by the unclean, the unacceptable. Far more significant ministry happens every day, and it goes unnoticed, unappreciated, unacknowledged, and worse expected, a service due the worthy. It is a symptom of the injustice Amos is railing about. It reveals a division implicit in Colossians,       those with secrete knowledge and pious behavior, are worthy of such attention. It’s a dangerous place for a society to be. Ask Israel, oh yea, you can’t, they were destroyed.

Does Amos give us cause to reframe, to rethink, to prayerfully discern the multitude of justice debates in our country. You  know, the debates about: immigration, health care, marriage equality, banking regulations, agriculture subsidies, food stamps, access to education, voting rights, and more. You bet ~ they are all exactly that Amos is on about. Same is true for Colossians. All these debates are grounded in a division between the worthy, the 1% and everyone else, the now infamous 47%. But there is no division! ALL worth comes form Christ’s death and resurrection. Are there differences between us? Yes; the bible proclaims equality, not a rubber stamp sameness. In God’s eyes all human worth is derived from Christ’s ministry, and everyone, everyone, is a beneficiary, everyone inherits. That is a rub for the Lawyer. It’s a rub for us, with all our differing sorts, sizes, and sources of divisions. 

So, there is work to be done, so that justice rolls down like water; there are changes to be made so we can see and be emboldened by the love and hope born of divine wisdom, revealed in the most unexpected people. And it is work, we know how to do. It is work we are capable of doing by the enduring power, and by the relentless presence of God’s love.

 


[i] Working Preacher, July 14, Amos,
[ii] Working Preacher, July 14, Colossians
[iii] Deuteronomy 6:5
[iv] Letiticus 19:18

lectionaryscripturenotes.com http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/
              Proper 10 | OT 15 | Pentecost 8, Cycle C 

Sermons that Work
                http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com
                                /stw/2013/06/26/8-pentecost-proper-10-c-2013/
                8 Pentecost, Proper 10 (C) – 2013, Paying the price of mercy,
                The Rev. Danae Ashley

Center for Excellence in preaching
                Next sunday is July 14, 2013 (Ordinary Time)
                                Luke 10:25-37, Scott Hoezee
                                Amos 7:7-17, Scott Hoezee
                                Colossians 1:1-14, Stan Mast

workingpreacher.org
          http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?m=4377&post=2628
                                Who Is My Neighbor? by David Lose
                                Luke 10:25-37 Michael Rogness
                                Amos 7:7-17, Karla Suomala
                                Colossians 1:1-14, Richard Carlson