And so, Monday, still in post marital stupor (our daughter’s not ours) I reflected upon marriage. I’m not entirely sure what happened to Tuesday, except that it started one city, continued in a second, and ended in a third. Even though I read commentary, which Tuesday is supposed to be given over to, the time to reflect in written word set with the sun. Wednesday began in the dark hours of the early morn with a road trip to Little Rock, for a class on Family Systems, and ended with a road trip in to the dark of mid-evening. No cerebral functioning, never mind time, for written reflection.

It has been three, now four days of muddled mess; even so a phrase has risen into prominence. Daniel 7:18 But the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom for ever—for ever and ever. What has caught my attention is the commentators debate over who the holy ones of the Most High are. This afternoon a blogger colleague (http://draughtingtheology.wordpress.com/2013/10/31/rest-in-peace/) of mine wrote from Ecclesiastics 44 which cajoles us to sing the praises of famous men, … and of others [of whom] there is no memory.

The Episcopal, and other, traditions know the famous men and women, we call them Saints, and there is a book full of their stories, nearly one for every day of the year. However, in reflecting on all the people I met at our daughter’s wedding, and their genuine generosity, which so benefited our daughter, I am drawn to explore the holy ones of the Most High as those whose stories will one day be so much dust in the wind. Except …

One concept in Family Systems theory is the multi-generational effect of our family’s story; my grandfather’s behavior impacts how I respond to the world around me. So to the extent genuine generosity has a positive effect on our daughter it will have a positive effect on generations to come. To the extent that effect allows her to have and share a relationship with the Most High … well the story of the Most High continues. Even if memories fade with setting of the sun, the love shared has and will touch the lives of generations never known. So, to the greats and great-greats I never knew: Thank you; and to the greats and great-greats I’ll never know may some genuine generous act be a blessing to you.

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I will. We will. This is my Solemn vow.

I will.
We will.
This is my Solemn vow.

And so late Saturday afternoon our youngest daughter Michelle and Russell marry. They pledge themselves to each other in front of gathered family and friends, who in turn pledge to uphold them in their in their marriage. As they walk together into great expectations: parents weep, friends cheer, and we all head into a grand celebration.

The marriage rite is powerfully similar to our baptismal and confirmation rites particularity in the manner in which individual promise made is followed by the gathered community’s, giving voice to the Church, promise to uphold, or to support, or to journey with the couple or candidates

It is necessary to say, these commitments are not only made to each other, but to and in the presence of God, whose presence is the source of strength that carries us through better or worse. (Yes, better, opulence can be as destructive to relationship as paucity.) I am also being drug into writing that it is God’s presence, peace and strength, that the witnessing community is most obligated to remind the couple, and candidates of as they exercise their promise to “uphold these persons” even though that reminder may be manifest in all sorts of forms.

This morning as I attempt to re-establish my normal routine, I am thankful for 33 years of marriage with Angie, I am thankful for 19 years of ordained service to Christ’s ministry, I am thankful both our daughters have found and are marriage to good spouses, I am thankful for family and church who have and continue to journey with us, and I am thankful for the opportunities to come in which I and we can uphold whoever needs to be held in the presence of God.

cleave in order to cleave

Today’s is the last blog for the week as I am now fully engaged in our youngest daughter’s wedding. And yes, I have been preoccupied and a expect I am seeing somethings differently. And may be that is why when I read Luke’s story of the Pharisee and tax collector I immediately saw a parallel between the Pharisee and the unjust judge of this past week.

Think about it. The Pharisee is so very pious. Yes, he thanks God, but then list all the things that he has done asserting their righteousness. At the same time is dismissive of selected classes of people, but you get the feeling he easily would include, well, just about everyone else. I can easily hear him saying: There but for the grace of God am I (my least favorite saying, but more about that later) with so little respect for anyone else, that he envisions himself at the top of the list.

The judge is dismissive towards God, in his view God doesn’t count. The Pharisee is presumptive towards God, asserting that he is in. I don’t think either listens for never mind listens to God.

Both the judge and the Pharisee are characters of caution. Through them Jesus is prodding us to be aware of our behavior.

The widow and the tax collector and very different: she is poor, no means of support; he is likely wealthy with the full weight of the Roman Empire behind him. Yet they are so very similar, she dismissed, he despised, she marginalized, he hated because he has gone over to the other-side. Jesus is boldly rejecting the wisdom of the day, he is saying that they are both in Gods embrace, that both live deep within the heart of God! And that gets me back to my least favorite saying.

As a pretext, I know what people are trying to express. Nonetheless when we see someone whose life is so repugnant to us that we’d say There but for the grace of God am I, why do we assume the other does not have God’s grace? The Gospel reveals that the other, that all people, are blessed by God, are within God’s grace. I ponder if we are in touch with our own blessings in as much as we see the others’ blessings, in as much as we reach out to the other as brother/sister simply because they are children of God, and heirs of Christ’s redeeming work.

So now it occurs to me the parallel to my daughter’s wedding. Marriage is an act in which two cleave in order to cleave; two split from their family in order to commit (stick to) their partner, and in the process become a family. Perhaps we are called to cleave from our judge-like/pharisaic ways in order to cleave to God’s grace and blessings.

Beyond our boundaries

… no one came to my support, but all deserted me. Paul is writing from jail. We hear these words of desertion as simply not being visited, or no one being a witness for Paul’s defense. That may all be true, but it is not all. It likely means Paul has no one to provide for his daily needs, like food, which in the day was the obligation of family and friends. So not only is Paul alone, his daily bread is lacking.  Times are hard.

Times are hard enough we’d expect Paul to lash out at those who deserted him. (And he does somewhat, thought the lectionary skips those verses.) What Paul does, as he always does, is to turn to the Lord, who stood by him and gave him strength. That is a source of faith, strength and encouragement for anyone in difficult circumstances. But what grabs my attention is so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it.  Paul is not given strength to sustain him, he is given strength to continue proclaiming the Gospel, specifically to those outside the customarily acceptable community, those of Jewish heritage.

A couple of observations: though I am not familiar with rules regarding letters from those in Roman prisons, I suspect it was not a right of a prisoner,  we assume, so the fact that we have the letter might reveal that Paul wasn’t totally deserted, someone either took the letter or heard Paul speak his thoughts (if the letter is by a proto-Paul).  More important; however, is Paul’s singular focus on following God’s will specifically proclaiming the Gospel especially to the Gentiles.

The gleaning I am taking away is to stay focused on proclaiming the Gospel, no matter the circumstances. God will give us unfailing strength to carry on.  Secondly, God’s plan  progresses, even when the establishment resist. Paul’s push to reach out to Gentiles comes from his understanding God, thought Jesus, has kept the law to perfection, so now is the time to carry the light of God to all people, languages, tribes, and nations.  In short, talk about Jesus to those beyond your carefully constructed boundaries. It is not easy, you may well find yourself all alone, except of course for the presence and strength of God.

A sermon for Proper 24

A sermon for Proper 24; Jeremiah 31:27-34, Psalm 119:97-104, 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5, Luke 18:1-8

Down the drive alone
aches of the head persist
un-sensual defining presence
So, now you know, I’m not a poet.

We are all familiar with the parable of the unjust judge, which perhaps ought to be known as the parable of the persistent widow. And we will never know because the bible does not have sub-titles, all of them are supplied by translators and editors from one time or another. All that aside, this parable leaves us uneasy. Yes, we are glad the widow gets justice, well at least that the judge tells himself he will find in her favor, but still the whole thing is just uncomfortable. I posit our discomfort arises from a mistake in reading it. Not all parables are the same; some are intended to work like allegories, but some are intended to break up the soil of our previous thinking and prepare us for a new perspective. [i] Here Luke is plowing at all sorts of levels.

Throughout his version of the Gospel prayer is central: from the beginning when the whole multitude at prayer outside the Temple as Zechariah receives a vision inside, to Jesus withdrawing in prayer at crucial junctions, and as he gives up his last breath praying Father, into your hands I commit my spirit! Luke is as persistent about prayer as the widow is about justice.

After the unjust judge Luke’s moves onto plowing ground about faith. Which is another recurring theme. A couple of weeks ago, Jesus was teaching about faith, in saying faith the size of a seed will move mountains. Luke follows that with the story about ten lepers, and then the encounter with Pharisees whom he accuses of not being to see what is right in front of them. When you look back across Luke you find all sorts of stories of faith: a centurion, a harlot, friends of a paralytic, by implication sinful man; an unclean, and therefore ostracized, woman; the aforementioned leper; and finally a blind beggar. There are examples of faith throughout Luke. Save a scant handful, all of them are people the religious establishment and the proper sort of people take no notice of. And oh, I neglected to mention the faith of our story’s widow.

With all the plowing going on around the story of the judge, we correctly see Luke plowing fresh ground here also. A couple of points: in Old Testament Israel Judges are not legal actors, as we are use to, they are religious actors. Moreover, Torah established orphans and widows as top priorities in disputes and in concerns of justice. [ii] From a broader perspective a judge’s concern is to establish shalom, which is most completely understood as an all-encompassing wholeness for a person and/or for society. [iii] And, a judge’s model is nothing less than God’s mercy. [iv] So to hear a judge defined as willfully ignoring God gets people’s attention, and to the extent that character is the embodiment of the entire system, which this judge is, it will either drive people to entrench, which it does; or break them open to receive new revelation of God’s hand at work, which it also does.

When we put all this back into Luke’s sequence we have a Dagwood sandwich: an admonition to pray; a portrayal of life’s hardships, sometimes chance, sometimes an unjust, social construct, and a pointer to people of faith. In my own life I’ve been in all portions of the Luke’s Dagwood. I really learned how to pray when my oldest daughter backed the car down the driveway to go visit friends, by herself, for the first time. As for the perversities of life, the most obvious is Angie’s headaches, but, there have been others. As to injustice, I’ve not been an unwilling victim. As to faith, I’ve seen all sorts of people, in all manner of circumstances, simply step out, in places I’d hesitate, and somehow keep on bringing God to those who have not yet known or come to accept God in Jesus Christ’s transforming presence. Look around, in Blytheville there is the Clinic, Ignite, the Thanksgiving feast, Cleaner Safer Blytheville, Healing in the Hood, in Osceola there is the food pantry, SHIFT, The Shalom Institute, and the Clinic, and unexpected gifts from far off people, with troubles of their own, giving out of their vision of the abundance of God, and on and on and on.

In Thursday’s Blog I wrote this story is probably a better road map than a sandwich. It’s rather simple: pray always, especially when God’s presence feels absence, and as you journey through the vagaries of life you will know your own faith and, if not in time, then in retrospect, the ever present transforming presence of God. Such a life has been, is, and will always be: a confession that will persevere; a service in Christ’s ministry others will see; that of stewardship.

 

[i] Interpretation, LUKE, A BIBLE COMMENTARY FOR TEACHING AND PREACHING, James Luther Mays, Editor, Patrick D. Miller, Jr., Old Testament Editor, Paul J. Achtemeier, New Testament Editor, Fred B. Craddock
[ii] This Week at the Center for Excellence in Preaching http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php
Next sunday is October 20, 2013 (Ordinary Time)
This Week‘s Article: The Lectionary Gospel Text is: Luke 18:1-8
Author: Scott Hoezee
[iii] Standard Bible Dictionary
© 2006 Standard Publishing, Cincinnati, Ohio. Database © 2010 WORDsearch Corp,
[iv] The New Interpreter’s Bible, The Gospel of Luke, R. Alan Culpepper

Acting / being confession

…. that your Church throughout the world may persevere with steadfast faith in the confession of your Name … is the aspiration phrase of the Collect for Sunday. I was struck by the similarity of the word ‘preserve’ from the petition phrase and ‘persevere’, thought a quick look at the dictionary revealed no linguistic connection; perhaps it’s a topic for another day. For now; however, I am drawn by the ideal connecting faith and the confession of Jesus’, The Christ, name. 

One draw is the growing realization that to be healthy any congregation must be inviting people into said confession by inviting people into the transforming presence of God, in Christ Jesus. And the hard truth that any other motivation, known or unknown, is often perceived by seekers as smoke and mirrors, thus abolishing any authenticity.

The second draw is how that invitation is offered. Too often congregations rely on tried and true traditional methods, of vital worship, relevant education/formation opportunities, new comer groups, child care etc, all of which can be important. None the less I keep coming back to the belief that “confessing Jesus’ name” is much more about touching people lives.

Last night I was a part of the volunteer at our local charitable clinic. It was a busy night, we saw more patients than customary and filled the largest number of prescriptions we ever have. We touched lives. But the story that truly demonstrates how the clinic touches lives was about a 2 hour conversation between a patient and a volunteer concerning managing the patient’s diabetes, which was dangerously out of control, 2 or three clinics ago. The patient saw the Doctor, got an excellent review of their current condition, and then sought out the volunteer who helped her to share the good news. Part of that story was the patient’s sharing “ I’ve started cooking.”

I know the information the patient got had been previously given. I believe the difference is the personal time committed to the patient, which quietly said “Jesus loves you.” and fanned the flame of hope dangerously close to being extinguished.

My gleaning is that as we seek to confess Jesus we might consider the older tradition: act / be present more and speak less.

Prayer, faith and journey.

As I continued to read and pray about this weeks readings it occurred to me that the bit from Luke’s Gospel is like a sandwich, the vagaries of life surrounded by prayer and faith.

The vagaries of life are more than times of injustice etc, it all those times when we’d use my least favorite phrase “there by the grace of God …” because we are or are not, what ever we are observing. Here the widow may say “By the grace of God the judge granted my petition.” the judge may say “Except by the grace there go I.” except he doesn’t honor God; but you get the idea. The parable encapsulates the inexplicable times of life.

The first line of this pericope is about prayer. Luke has Jesus in prayer or teaching about prayer all the time. Prayer is a way of daily being in intentional relationship with God and Jesus assures us God will give us what He desires. 1 Job’s story teaches us to stay in relationship with God, even when everyone else abandons us, even when it seems as if God has abandoned us. In short there is a long biblical thread that reveals that prayer is all about divine relationship.

 The last line of this pericope asks if Jesus will find faith. I know it’s looking forward, but looking back reveals the answer. Jesus incarnate finds faith in a centurion, a harlot, friends of a sinner, an unclean woman, a leper and a blind beggar. 2 The implication is Jesus, returning to judge, will also find faith; just not in the people religious establishments, or others, expect.

On second thought, perhaps this bit from Luke is a life map, pray always, and as you journey through the vagaries of life, you can be faithful

1 Working Preacher, Meda Stamper, Luke 18:1-8, Proper 24
2 ibid