Rites of Trauma

A Sermon for Advent 2; Malachi 3:1-4, Canticle 4 or 16, Philippians 1:3-11, Luke 3:1-6

This past week we watched a couple of versions of Dickens “A Christmas Carol” This got me to thinking; 3 Ghosts of Christmas, Past, Present, and Future; sounds like an interesting way to practice Advent. However, no matter how I tried, I could not make 3 equal 4; no math tricks I learned in school worked, no new math things, I’ve seen, worked, not even the crazy math of quantum mechanics worked. The divine muse was silent. And then I read David Brook’s column Fighting the Spiritual Void.

Brooks explores the impact of trauma, and how poorly we help people recover. It doesn’t matter if its PTSD, or sexual assault, a grave injury, witnessing a horrific event, or surviving a disaster when many close to you did not, we’ve moved to a place where we treat trauma simply with medication. Our culture’s “not religious, but spiritual” posture leaves a spiritual void … [of] privatize morality [that] denudes the public square of spiritual content, … [robs] people of the community resources they need to process moral pain together (Brooks). Brooks wishes we had the spaces, wisdom of community elders, and rituals that symbolize the transformation.

When I finished his column, I realized we know how to do this. Churches, especially like the Episcopal Church, which are liturgy centered, know about rites, we know their power. Or at least we did. We seem to have lost the connection between ritual and the needs of the secular community. A similar loss is at the heart of today’s reading from Malachi.

The first thing you will have noticed is, inspired by multiple commentaries, I expanded the reading by a few verses, to include verses where God replies to Judah’s complaint that since they have returned from Exile they have rebuilt the Temple under Zerubbabel, experienced a religious revival under Ezra and rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem under Nehemiah yet they had not returned to their former glory. The result is that worship has become a mere form, tithes are ignored, Sabbath is broken, marriage and adoption of pagan customs are common, and priests are corrupt (Mast). Malachi answers for God

You have wearied the Lord I will send you my messenger, suddenly. He will come to the Temple. He will cleanse priests like a refiner’s fire and fullers’ soap until they are righteous then your offerings will be pleasing to God (Malachi 2:17-3:5).

 Notice I have tinkered with the wording and emphasized Malachi’s focus on worship. Judah has once again violated the covenant. The collapse of divine justice prevails. Gods will refine and purify the places, the leaders, the hearts of worshippers, erasing corruption and restoring grace (Han). Advent is a season of such reorientation. It is about hearing Malachi giving voice to God’s warning and reorienting our worship so we may reorient our lives. The shift to blue vestments and liturgical accouterments indicates such thinking has fallen from favor in the church. I still hold to the idea that Advent is a time of penitence, different than Lent, but still, a time to change the direction of our lives, and according to Malachi, the direction of our worship.

This morning I am hearing two prophetic voices. One, Brooks, is in the role of the nuisance prophet who points out our shorting comings, where we have lost the truth and reveals our secrets (Johnson). He also has some creative ideas of what restoration might include. The other, Malachi, is meddlesome (Johnson). He tells us God is actively purifying thing, refining things, which means changing things. Those changes might just look like additional rites for a traumatized people and communities. Books suggest such rites include the language of Myth … that moves people from Separation through Initiation and then back to Return. It sounds a lot like Brueggemann’s categorization of the Psalms into Psalms of Orientation, Disorientation, and Reorientation. These rites could revive ancient rites for soldiers returning from war who are given a chance to cleanse, purify (think refiners fire) themselves and then rejoin the community, which takes possession of the guilt they have for actions made on our behalf. Then they are welcomed as warriors, and positive leaders in the community (Brooks). There are foundational traditions within our existing sacramental traditions for such rites.

Brooks sees a place for a community-wide rite of passage for people coming out of prison, for the forgiveness of a personal wrong, Such a rite can draw on elements of baptism including renouncing Satan and all forces of wickedness… (BCP 302) a promise to seek and serve Christ in all people respecting the dignity of every human being (BCP 304) and elements of confession, counseling, and absolution found in the Reconciliation of Penitent (BCP 447).

He suggests a rite for people as they emerge from the darkness trauma and abuse. They might draw from the laying of hands and anointing found in the Ministry to Sick (BCP 453), and prayers which pronounce releasing them from suffering and restoring them to shalom, wholeness and strength, deliverance, and perseverance.

Brooks also suggests a rite to mark the moment when a young person finds their life’s vocation. It might be based on The Commitment to Christian Service (BCP 420) and include a prayer for guidance, a commending to their work, a Litany for Vocation mirroring a Litany for Ordination (BCP 548), all generally following the Celebration of New Ministry (BCP 556).

The crafting of such rites will not be easy. They will need be openly available to all people recovering from traumatic events, Episcopal or not, Christian or not. There will need to be prophets to help us see the need, to see that no one sinned; this man was just born blind; and call us to work the work God is calling us to work (John 9:3-5). Who knows, such rites may even be a new way to proclaim the Gospel to a nation whose actions are less and less grounded in the foundational values we pretend to proclaim. I know it will be a challenge to follow Brooks’ and Malachi’s prophetic voices. I know It will be harder to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God (Romans 12:1) as a prophetic voice that prepares the way for those recovering from life’s trauma (CEP M). I know such grace is present right here, right now.


References

Bratt, Doug. Advent 2 C Malachi 3:1-4. 9 12 2018. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Brooks, David. Fighting the Spiritual Void. 19 11 2018. <https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/19/opinion/mental-health-ptsd-community.html&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 9 12 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Han, Jin H. Commentary on Malachi 3:1-4. 9 12 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Johnson, Deon. “Advent 2 C (18).” 9 12 2018. Sermons that Work.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Mast, Stan. Malachi 3:1-4. 9 12 2018. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermonstarters/&gt;.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Schuller, Eileen M. New Interpreters Bible The Book of Malachi. Ed. Leander E. Keck. Vol. V. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. X vols. Olive Tree.

The Episcopal Church. The Book of Common Prayer. New York: Church Publishing, 1979.

 

Advertisements

Who Will You Listen To?

A Sermon for Advent 1: Jeremiah 33:14-16, Psalm 25:1-9, 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13, Luke 21:25-36

Today is the first Sunday in Advent. It is not the season between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It is not the beginning of the Christmas shopping season, which now begins before Thanksgiving. It is a season peculiar to some Christians a pivotal time, a time of reflection, to prepare for the celebration of the divine incarnation, and/or to prepare for the return of the King, Jesus the Christ, the Lord of lords. I find it helpful to place ourselves in the time before Jesus birth, to reconnect with the state of the world, in particular, the state of Israel. Knowing those struggles helps us to see more clearly the struggles we face. Our lectionary provides us with a reading from Jeremiah so we will begin with the state of the state in Jeremiah’s day.

The Assyrian empire is in decline and the ensuing conflict between Egypt and Babylon for domination appears to present Judah a chance for independence. The Northern Kingdom, Israel is doomed, she is about to go into exile, her monarchy is over, the last of her kings is captive. There is an impulse of nationalistic stirrings which pushes Zedekiah, Judah’s King into rebellion against the new power Babylon. Their wrath will be terrible, their retribution swift. The two Kingdoms have failed in all imaginable ways; the land is full of burned out cities littered with dead bodies; a devastated countryside where the deer and the antelope no longer play. Jerusalem is in a state of chaos, without form, a void covered in darkness It appears that God’s promise has come to nothing. Jeremiah is under house arrest and the Chaldeans (Babylon) are coming (Chan; Mast; Harrelson).

It does, and does not, sound familiar. Today we continue to read of

  • devastating hurricanes
  • wildfires
  • earthquakes
  • never-ending war(s) in the middle east
  • leaders continuing to put national economics above morality
  • police being fired for shooting a black man
  • police being fired for not shooting a black man
  • threats from increased economic tariffs
  • new missile systems possibly being deployed in Europe
  • accidental or deliberate military encounters in o the Western Pacific Ocean or Eastern Europe.

At the same time, we read that we are in the 2nd longest recovery in history, GDP is growing 3.5% a year, faster than anyone expected. Earnings for high school dropouts is up 6.5%. Because of government social support programs incomes for the bottom 20% have increased by about 80 percent over the past forty years. But; 60% of us are dissatisfied. The Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index is at its worse in its ten-year history. Only 45 percent of those between 18 and 29 see capitalism positively. This may be because well-educated young people are facing large school debt, the gig economy, that is mostly temporary insecure work, with no benefits. The normal professions are drying up. We are in a crisis of connection that is caused by and leads to people being

  • less likely to volunteer,
  • less likely to go to church,
  • less likely to know their neighbors,
  • less likely to marry, and
  • less likely to have social resources.

Life expectancy in the US has declined for the last three years, for the first time since WWI and the 1915-1918 flu pandemic (Brooks). Many people are deeply concerned that the partisan divide is a sign that our country is coming apart. We fear that it has never been this bad, that we are doomed (Mast). Some are concerned that fear is becoming to be the denominate force in our lives. In desperation we • seek more stuff, • are more hostile, • have more contempt for those who are different, and • seek more protection. There is no wonder we see more and more gun ownership advocacy.

However, there is more to Jeremiah’s story, than the background I shared. And, there is also more to our story. This morning’s short 2 verses from Jeremiah are known as the “little book of consolation,” and it assures Israel a new Davidic king will rule in justice and righteousness (Harrelson). We hear God saying something different. The day will come when the King will

  • do what is right in the land
  • do justice and
  • save the people.

God says the day will come when I will heal, when I will bring shalom, the day will come when I will restore the people’s fortunes (Chan). It is notable that restoration of fortunes is not just a matter of restoring abundance, productivity, and partying. Restoration includes: recreating justice in systems of governance and religion and raising up leaders who will rightly decide the affairs of the people and will lead them in their worship of the Lord (Kennedy). What might this look like for us?

You have heard me say that we’ve just about commoditized everything and that is having huge negative impacts. For instance, the commoditization of education is leading to large student debt, that is leading to young adults buying newer cars slower, buying homes slower, going back homes, and so on. So, I was surprised when I read David Brooks write There’s an interesting debate going on in conservative circles over whether we have overvalued capitalism … and undervalued programs that foster dignity-enhancing work He continues

  • Conservatives were wrong to think that economic growth would lead to healthy families and communities all by itself.
  • Moderate (Democrats) were wrong to think it was sufficient to maximize growth and then address inequalities with transfer payments
  • progressives are wrong to think life would be better if we just made our political economy look more like Denmark’s

It seems this is no longer Bill Clinton’s “It’s the economy stupid.” world. Now it is a relationships, relationships, relationships world (Brooks).

Given that Brooks is correct, and relationships are the key to wellbeing who are we, who are you going to listen to for guidance?

ABC?
NBC?
CBS?
CNN?
Fox News?
NPR?
Apple News?
Google News?
Facebook?
Redditt?
Twitter?
our local or state paper?

Can they, will they, set the tone of your life? Who will you believe as you face dark times?

 the secular prophets of old,
the new prophets of today?
or
our immortal, invisible only wise God (Smith 423)
born to set his people free, (Wesley 66)
our living God, (Mast)?
whose still small voice reminds you that

He has told you, … what is good;
…[that]… you [are]
… to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)


References

Bates, J. Barrington. “We Need A Little Hopefulness, Advent 1 (C) – December 2,.” 2 12 2018. Sermons that Work.

Brooks, David. “It’s Not the Economy, Stupid.” 29 11 2018. nytimes.com. <nytimes.com/2018/11/29/opinion/american-economy-working-class.html>.

Chan, Michael J. Commentary on Jeremiah 33:14-16. 2 12 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Kennedy, James. M. New Interpreter’s Bible The Book of Jeremiah. Vol. 4. Abingdon Press, 2015. 12 vols. Olive Tree App.

Mast, Stan. Jeremiah 33:14-16. 2 12 2018. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermonstarters/&gt;.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Smith, Walter Chalmers. “Immortal Invisible.” The Episcopal Church. Hymnal 1982. 1982. .

Wesley, Charles. “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus.” Church, The Episcopal. Hymnal 1982. 1982.

 

 

Never The End

A Sermon for Proper 28; 1 Samuel 1:4-20, 1 Samuel 2:1-10, Hebrews 10:11-14 (15-18) 19-25, Mark 13:1-8

It all started with PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery. I saw their productions of

  • Morse, an Oxford homicide detective who loved music, was terrible at people relationships, including his bosses, but was a strangely good detective.
  • Jeremy Brett’s Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective who applied scrupulous details of minute observations, science and cold logic to the art of detective work solving crimes and mysteries no one else could.
  • David Suchet’s Hercule Poirot Agatha Christie’s immaculate, finicky detective whose little gray cells plunged the depths of people’s behavior to solve the most baffling murders.
  • I have seen Christie’s Miss Marple, as played by Joan Hickson, Geraldine McEwan, and Julia McKenzie, whose intimate knowledge of English village life is the lens that allows her to uncover the most obscure slice of peoples’ behavior and reveals the killer in otherwise intractable murders.

The years the fascination with all these stories lead Angie and me to stumble across Murder in Paradise where a series of quirky English Detective Inspectors lead the homicide squad in the English territory of Saint Marie an island in the beautiful blue water of the Caribbean Sea. The Inspectors’ quirky behavior and obsessiveness with the tiny out of place details don’t appear to match good detective skills any better than murder matches the vision of paradise; nonetheless, it leads to uncovering the clue that reveals the killer.

The dissonance in all these murder mysteries matches the dissonance in this morning’s Gospel story. The disciples are enthralled by the Temple in Jerusalem. And it is awe inspiring, with its gold-plated sides soaring some 164 feet high, built of massive stone blocks weighing two to four hundred tons each. The Temple is the symbol of Israel’s pledge to God, and the divine-human interaction within her walls holds all creation together (Gaventa and Petersen). Jesus’ response is as unexpected as any of the detectives whose stories captured my attention. The disciples and we expect Jesus’ agreement after all the disciples’ observations are correct. Yet, Jesus says, Nothing, will be left standing, all of it will be destroyed. When I heard  that this was today’s Gospel, my thoughts immediately went,

  • Murder in Paradise,
  • Paradise Lost,
  • Paradise California.

Paradise California is a city of 26,000 thousand people engulfed by fire last week. 9,800 homes, many businesses, and a school have been destroyed. As I wrote Friday evening more than 60 people were dead, more than 600 were unaccounted for, and those numbers are growing. By Saturday morning the reports were 61 dead and 1011, unaccounted for. When the fire is out, there are not enough homes in the county for families who lost homes to live in. I think one school has burned, and there is concern where students will go, when school reopens, hopefully, Dec 3rd. The death and destruction in Paradise are is inconceivable as thinking about the destruction of the Temple.

The paragraph that follows Jesus’ prediction, of the Temple’s destruction, is often known as The Little Apocalypse. The disciples want to know how to know when this will happen. Jesus gives them various warnings about being misled by false messiahs, and rumors of war; he speaks of nations and kingdom rising against nation and kingdom, earthquakes and famines; he might as well have added wildfire. His teaching continues until Mark begins his version of Jesus’ Passion.

All of this leaves us feeling as if we are in the depths of despair. It is not unlike the characters in all those murder mysteries, thinking it seems hopeless, feeling that the murder will never be solved. But Morse, Holmes, Poirot, Marple, and serial quirky English Inspectors stay true to themselves. The last thing we hear Jesus say is the hopeful word This is but the beginning of the birth pangs (Cruz). It evokes an image of divine midwifery, working for good, but we have to pass through the birth canal (Epperly). It evokes that lesson from Job; divine causality is questionable, but God’s presence is assured. Danae Ashley hears Jesus telling his disciples, and us, not to get all caught up in the in the chaos of rumors and destruction. They have just one calling, we have just one calling,  to preach the Gospel (Ashley). In the context of actual war, earthquake, famine, and fire, I’m reminded of the saying attributed to St. Francis Preach always, Use words when necessary.

Now an observation about jumping from Jesus’ apocalyptic vision concerning the Temple’s destruction to the wildfire still burning Paradise Ca. It is very likely that when Mark wrote his Gospel story, the Temple and all Jerusalem had been burned to the ground by the Romans in response to a Jewish uprising. Mark’s community would know firsthand the complete destruction of Jewish life, centered around the Temple’s sacrificial system. It is reasonable for Mark to hear more clearly the words of hope Jesus spoke. Yes, our world has been destroyed. But remember Jesus’ promise. This is not the end. Such chaos and destruction are never the end, because God is always present, and that presence is the power to become who we are called to become. Such chaos and destruction are never the end, because Jesus is returning, and that hope is the power to be who we already are, children of God, marked as Christ’s own forever (The Episcopal Church 308). If the chaos and destruction of the Temple are never the end, then the burning of Paradise and the destruction of other wild fires, hurricanes, snow, and other storms, the disruption of empire versus empire, politician versus politician, Disney vs AT&T, mammon versus truth are never the end.

There are many ways for each of us to respond to the Camp fire burning Paradise CA, the destruction of hurricanes Florence and Michael, the rise of political incivility, the increase of hate speech and crimes, the risks of wars and insurrections, the stress of economic hardship in the midst of what we are told is economic growth, and just plain ole everyday life. Each of us will know our calling through prayerful discernment; it is ours to decide to respond. All of us know the hope of Jesus’ resurrection given us through Baptism. Each of us chooses, to allow the fear arising from chaos and destruction to define how we act and who we are, or ~ to reach out to resurrection hope and use its divine power to define how we will respond to chaos and destruction.

We can be who we are called to be. And the truth is, we, right here in Blytheville, in Mississippi County we are being who we are called to be. I am on the boards of a some of local service organizations. One has received generous community support as they recover from dramatic losses during the flood of the late spring rains. A local business has been giving their customers the opportunity to select from a list of local nonprofits to receive a portion of their sale. Both are examples of using the power of divine hope to respond to the challenges of life right here, right now.

Each of us is seeking to do the work we are called to do; we are becoming the people we are called to be. We are embracing and ever holding fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, as this morning’s collect calls to do. The birth pangs are not over, but their presence reveals the new heaven and new Jerusalem are already, if not quite yet, right here, right now.


References

Ashley, Danae. “Journey Through Grief, Pentecost 26 (B).” 18 11 2018. Sermons that Work. <episcopaldigitalnetwork.com>.

Cruz, Samuel. Commentary on Mark 13:1-8. 18 11 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 18 11 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

The Episcopal Church. The Book of Common Prayer. New York: Church Publishing, 1979.

 

 

 

 

Beyond The Widow’s Mite

A Sermon for Proper 27: Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17, Psalm 127, Hebrews 9:24-28, Mark 12:38-44

We know the story of the widow’s mite. We are used to hearing it as a stewardship story. We understand how she is giving all she has; two coins, worth a penny. Sixty-four pennies is a day’s wage so 1 is worth about 10 minutes wages (Harrelson; Keener and Walton). She gives “all she had to live on” literally, she gave “her whole life” (v.44) (Gaventa and Petersen). We see the contrast between her and the wealthy who give a lot, out of what they have left over. It is a valuable lesson in stewardship. It is also a valuable lesson in what it means to trust God (Logue; Lewis). Because in this story we also have to trust. We don’t know how the story ends, so

  • we have to trust that the widow’s story turns out all right; we have to trust that whether she lives or dies, she was God’s (Logue). And knowing the widow is not alone in her plight
  • we have to trust that we can and that we will, act to help the widow(s) to live fully (Lewis).

However, reading the story this way ignores the three verses before it, which seem to be linked if for no other reason than Jesus condemns scribes

because they love to say long prayers for the sake of appearance, but at the same time they devour widows’ houses (Mark 12:40).

And this takes us back to the beginning, well not all the way to Genesis, but to Exodus and the Ten Commandments. The 5th commandment is:

Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you (Ex 20:12).

‘Honor’ literally means “to be heavy” or to “give weight to” (Brueggemann). The parallel verse in Deuteronomy gives an expectation of seeking the overall welfare of the family (Clements). Scripture demands special protection for widows, they are vulnerable, they have no protection, they have no advocates. While Scribes can act as guardians and manage widows’ affairs, often they used the opportunity to seize widows’ property and enrich themselves (Keener and Walton; Harrelson; Gaventa and Petersen). Earlier, Mark tells of Jesus condemning Pharisees and scribes for the practice of Corbin (7:11). Corbin originally was to designate a gift as a sacrifice consecrated to God. Later, you could vow to gift something to God sometime in the future and remove it from other obligations like honoring your parents (Sakenfeld).

Going back

  • to the beginning,
  • to Jesus’ condemnation of the scribes devouring widows’ houses,
  • to the practice of Corban,
  • to the commandment to honor father and mother

helps us to see beneath the surface of the widow’s story. It may remind us of that idea in Job, that wealthy are right in God’s eyes and poor are not. Seeing from the beginning helps us to see that belief system in the widow’s story (and yes it seems that we are not done with Job, we may never be) (Logue).

There is another little tidbit that helps us to see beneath the surface. In the ancient world Temples often doubled as banks, they were a safe place (Keener and Walton). The picture of the wealthy leaving the bank function of the Temple, and dropping some token into the Temple’s coffers, where the widow will place her life trusting in God to live, completely recast this story. It reflects uncomfortable, inconvenient images of the state of the world. We want the story to be about stewardship because then we can avoid its truths;

  • that we are good at ignoring the widow, so we don’t have to think about how we should, or worse yet, would respond to her circumstances;
  • how we hold her up to heights that make it easy to forget who she truly is; and
  • how we support what builds us up at the expense of those in need (Lewis).

It gets more inconvenient if we dare to wonder if we have ever been in the same position the widow is in, or if we know someone who has been. I know I do.

In 2008 I accepted the position as Rector of St. Peter’s Bon Scour, Al. They were surrounded by five housing developments, not including a billion-dollar development on the other side of the river. They wanted to prepare to grow. And if you don’t, we should remember the fall of 2008 and the collapse of the housing market. By the end of my time there, Angie and I meet two families who were in the process of losing their homes. We have a relative who lost their home. People were losing their homes even though HARP (Home Affordable Refinance Program) was in place. It wasn’t until much later it was learned that two of the largest US banks and several loan service companies intentionally did not direct eligible families to HARP and those loans foreclosed; in other words, they devoured those families’ houses, those families’ lives. It is more disturbing when we learn that the cost of the program was paid for by investors not the banks or loan servicers. The conspiracy of fraud and racketeering activity may reach 100 million charges (not homes) (Home Owners For Justice). As far as I know, the Banks (meaning stockholders) have paid large fines. I have not heard of a single bank executive being charged with a crime or paying a fine. These scribes defied Godly commandments twice, first by devouring family’s homes, and then by structuring it so someone else pays for it.

It’s a dangerous thing to read beyond the surface the scriptures. It’s a dangerous thing to see the truth

  • of our world
  • of our nation
  • of our community
  • of our church and
  • of our selves.

It’s dangerous because we just might come face to face with the widow’s faith. We just might be inspired to wonder “Can we place all we have, all our life in God’s hands?” especially when we remember that it is a dangerous (a fearful) thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:31).

We live in turbulent times. It is easy to feel all fogged up and spun about. Not only are we challenged to place our lives in the living God’s hands we are also asked to confess those ways in which we devour family’s homes, families’ lives, including through perverse nationalistic fervor festering all sorts of isms, and anti-isms; racism and anti-Semitism and all the rest.

The widow is like Job, we don’t get any answers to the questions that her story raises. I don’t know if I can put my life, my family’s life, which is harder, in the hands of the living God. I know I should, I know I want to, but there is this trust thing, this tiny nagging unbelief. Thus, my prayer for me, my prayer for us is “I believe, help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).


References

Brueggemann, Walter. New Interpreters’ Bible Exodus. Vol. 1. n.d. 12 vols.

Clements, Ronald E. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Book of Deuteronomy. Vol. I. Nashville: Abingdon, 20151. XII vols. OliveTree App.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Home Owners For Justice. foreclosure defense overview loan modification. n.d. web. 11 11 2018. <https://hofjorg.wordpress.com/foreclosure-defense-overview/loan-modification/).>.

Johnson, Elisabeth. Commentary on Mark 12:38-44. 11 11 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2975 1/3>.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Lewis, Karoline. The Widow’s Might. 11 11 2018. <workingpreacher.org>.

Logue, Frank. “Giving, Pentecost 25 (B).” 11 11 2018. Sermons that Work.

Perkins, Pheme. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Mark. Ed. Leander E. Keck (NIBC) Bel and the Dragon. Vol. VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

 

Those Living In God’s Presence, Bring Us To God’s Presence

A Sermon for All Saints; Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9, (or Isaiah 25:6-9), Psalm 24, Revelation 21:1-6a, John 11:32-44

Winston Churchill planned his burial down to the minute details. His burial began with bugler from the west end of the cathedral playing Last Post which is the same idea as Taps in the U.S. A full minute of silence followed. That sounds like a short time, try it sometime, it feels like infinity. Then a bugler from the east end of cathedral played Reveille. Remember east is where the sun rises, and the east end of all churches is where the altar is (no matter what the compass says). Joslyn Schaffer notes that in that minute of uncomfortable silence we find ourselves waiting for God to descend among us, hoping God is preparing a feast for folk we miss but see no more and folk we never knew. That infinite minute, when we wait, hope, and trust, is the moment where we meet the Lord (Schaeffer).

Today, in this infinite moment we remember:

Carter
Charles
Renee
Jimmy
Mark Brown
John
Betty
Pat
Buzz
Sally
Mildred
Stephine
Martha
BJ
Moreland
Joyce
Helen
David

and those others who we love but see no more.

In this infinite minute of silence all sorts of questions about resurrection, and the last day come to mind. Questions like Mary’s Lord if you had been here my brother would not have died? Our question might well be

Lord if you had been here there would have been no shooting in Pittsburg, or a riot in Charlottesville, or killings in Charleston, no death and destruction from Michael, Florence and other storms, fire etc.?

Such questions stand in contrast to this morning’s reading from Revelation.

The phrase I’m thinking of is and the sea was no more (Revelation 21:1). In the Bible the sea is equivalent to chaos; remember Genesis 1(2) the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep.

The sea is where evil empires operate, where Satan takes his stand, and where the wicked beast arises from.

When the sea is no more; death, and mourning, crying, and pain are no more;         imperial war and commerce that oppress the peoples are no more.

When the sea is no more, there is a new river, bright as crystal, (Rev 22:1) flowing from the divine throne, evoking the river of life in paradise.

When the sea, when chaos is no more, creation is purified, the transformation of the earth and all life is complete (Keener and Walton).

When the sea is no more God’s sovereignty is absolute (Gaventa and Petersen). When the sea is no more creation is in the control of the creator (Rowland).

These verses run counter to the popular thinking about The Rapture, where those who are saved are taken up, and rest are left behind to live in the abyss for all eternity (Carey). The new city comes down to us, as a blessing, a place which welcomes all. Its arrival ensures that creation is not replaced but redeemed. Its arrival is the sign of God’s eschatological, God’s final act, fulfilling the divine purpose, that is offered to all peoples, not a selected few (Rowland; Gaventa and Petersen). Its arrival paints a picture of life in God’s eternal presence, where there will be no more mourning, crying, or pain (Gaventa and Petersen; Rowland) Its arrival is all-inclusive, all creation, all nations, tribes, and people are invited. Its arrival does not exclude the choice that is before us to make. It is that choice that Bp. Benfield speaks to in his letter How Will We Respond?

Bp. Benfield had attended a memorial service at Temple B’nai Israel, in Little Rock, to remember the people killed by an anti-Semitic terrorist at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.

In part he writes:

It did not register with me until I walked out of the building in the midst of police officers that it now has to be frightening for our Jewish cousins here in Arkansas to pray in their holy spaces. They can clearly see what evil looks like in this country, the sort of evil that many of their forebears fled in Europe.

Sadly, we are all beginning to see what evil looks like. Honesty, integrity, and compassion for one’s fellow humans are no longer virtues that are even thought about outside the doors of religious houses;

I pray that seeing such evil makes us change how we live … [and become] a strong witness that evil in the form of racism or bigotry or naked greed is not the currency in which we will trade … [and inspires us]to see the risen Christ in all people [such that we] must act in consonance (harmony or agreement) with what we pray … [which means] to pray is to dare to act (Benfield).

To act on those things, we pray for because we’ve no idea what to do, or are afraid to act on, resonates with Solomon’s wisdom we read a bit of this morning. He wrote Having been disciplined a little, they will receive great good, because God tested them and found them worthy of himself; which draws us back to Job’s leaning; not that he was tested, but that God is present in the darkness and chaos, that God holds back the sea, and the behemoths that dwell there. The Jobs amongst us, and they are here, act, not because they are more courageous than we are, but because they now know that God is present, which generates trust, a belief, that reveals the glory of God; the same glory that Jesus assures Mary and Martha they will see.

A path to that glory that arises from such belief, born of trust found in the presence of God is through All Saints day. The Holy Day for All Saints is intended for the remembrance of all the named church Saints; however, there is also All Souls Day, right afterward, which is intended for the remembrance of all who have died. It is a thread of ancient Jewish burial rights in which the community surrounds the family. After a death the community sits shiva with the family; the body is never alone, the community prays with the family every day until the burial, and several days following. The prayerful visits of remembrance gradually decline from daily, to weekly, to monthly, to once a year on the anniversary of the death. Some Christian congregations read the names of those who have died in the last year, some read the names of those who the congregation wishes to remember. All this helps families in grieving their dead, but also in remembering their dead, which in our ancient Jewish roots is a form of immortality.

This ancient notion of immortality links to our belief in Jesus’ resurrection in which our immortality, or eternally being in God’s presence, is assured which is the same knowledge, the same belief Job’s journey brought him to. It should not be so surprising that remembering those who live in God’s presence, should bring us to God’s presence in such a way that we can act to challenge evil whenever it and however it presents itself, not with a ho-ra bravado, but in the quiet confidence of those who live in the new city, drawing life from the crystal river of life that flows from God. In such remembrance we are unbound, we are let go.


References

Benfield, Rt. Rev. Larry. “How Will We Respond?” Communiqué #832. Ed. The Episcopal Church in Arkansas. Little Rock, 31 10 2018.

Carey, Greg. Commentary on Revelation 21:1-6a. 4 11 2018. <workingpreacher.org>.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 6 9 2015. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Rowland, Christopher C. “Revelation.” Keck, Leander. The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary. Vol. X. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. X vols.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Schaeffer, Joslyn Ogden. “The Surprise of the Resurrection, All Saints’ Day.” 4 11 2018. Sermons that Work.

 

 

Disney and the Ending of Job

A sermon for Proper 25; Job 42:1-6, 10-17, Psalm 34:1-8, (19-22), Hebrews 7:23-28, Mark 10:46-52

Back on Oct 7, we start a month-long reading of Job. I’ve often held that one cannot get the experience of Job until you have slugged through its massive verbiage, much as Job slugs through the unfairness of his circumstances, and the response of his wife and friends. I also shared that Job is my favorite Disney story in the bible. This morning we come to the final chapter when the opening perfection, shattered through the middle of the story, is fully restored.

The final chapter is in three segments. In the first, Job acknowledges his ignorance and insignificance (Epperly). After being in God’s presence, Job has a deeper, more direct understanding of God from experiencing God firsthand (Gaventa and Petersen). He now knows that God is God and he is not (Epperly). He now knows there are elements of chaos and darkness in the world that can be the source suffering, but they are under God’s vigilance. Job now knows he suffers not because he sinned, or because of divine neglect or injustice, but because he is human, and life happens. Job does not despise himself, as our translation reads. The word ‘despised’ is elsewhere translated as reject or retract. He says something like “I reject and retract dust and ashes” (Newsom) or better yet “I changed my mind” (Tucker, Jr. Proper 25).

We did not read the second segment this morning. In it, God expresses displeasure in Job’s friends. Not because their arguments are wrong, but because of their failure to minister to Job in his time of need (Harrelson). They allowed their fears to determine their actions and beliefs. They are instructed to make a burnt offering and to ask Job to pray for them. They make the offering. They ask Job to pray for them. He does, and God accepts his prayer. Job effectively praying for his friends tells us something about being a faithful follower of God. Oh, that we could stop actions driven by fear, and pray for the wellbeing of those who oppose us.

And now we come to the fairy tale ending. I think on October 14 I used the line “mirror, mirror on the wall” to invite us to look into the mirror and see if our reflection is God’s we are or a reflection of a world of our own imagination? (Trotter) This morning I’m back to the same line “Mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” Only I’m not interested in who the best-looking person is, I’m interested in knowing if God is fair? if God is just? Job never gets, and so, we never get an answer to that question. What he does get is a vision of the truth, about God, about creation and about himself. Learning to see the truth is hard work; learning to see the truth about the world around us, learning to see the truth about ourselves is tormentingly difficult (Pagano). Job now sees the truth. Through a secondhand experience of Job’s trial, have we learned something of the truth about the world? about ourselves? Maybe how we read the final segment of today’s reading gives us a clue.

We heard the fairy tale ending. Everything Job has is restored, only more so. All those who ignored him ate with him, offered him comfort, and gave him “a piece of money and  gold ring.” He now has twice as many herds and flocks. All his children are restored. And at 140 Job dies “old and full of days” The phrase “old and full of days” is used to describe Abraham (Gen. 25:8), Isaac (Gen. 35:29) and David (1 Chr. 23:1) (Keener and Walton); and is a traditionally associated with wisdom and piety (Gaventa and Petersen).

A couple of observations. We never hear from or about Job’s wife, who also suffered all the losses that Job did. I wonder what she thinks of bearing seven children again? In chapter 1 the focus is on Job’s sons. Here the attention is on his three daughters. Their names are revealed, and that is always indication this is a time to pay attention; and they each received an inheritance with their brothers; that is very rare in the bible. Maybe through his suffering Job has seen the true plight of the powerless, especially women. (Harrelson).

While in high school and college I worked a couple summers for a construction company. The owner had a partner who was a commercial real estate broker. From time to time the broker put together investors to buy a piece of investment property. Some thirty years ago I was invited to join one. We did. We made ten years of principle, interest and tax payments. We made another ten years’ worth of tax payments. And then the property sold for ten times what we paid for it. Angie and I took our share and used most of it to finance a gymnastics and competitive cheerleading school. Later we also invested in an oil well that would provide a nice cash flow. Not quite a fairy tale, but life looked very good. Then the scheme broke. The business plan did not consider discretionary income, which was low in the area we were, and is the category of family income that pays for things like gymnastics and cheerleading. The oil well produced one royalty check and then spewed water. Both investments went bust. We made some mistakes, but we were well-intentioned; we saw the gym as a form of outreach ministry. We weren’t as righteous as Job, no one is, but we were acting, for the good of the community. As it goes with failed investments there has been no restoration.

All of you have had similar loss experiences, in business, relationships, school, death, etc. How do we apply the restoration, the Disney ending of Job, to our experiences? Until the restoration of Job’s fortunes, we easily see Job’s story as a powerful biblical counter to the implied biblical idea that fortunes are a sign of God’s blessing; and illness, poverty, and miss fortune are a sign of some sin or another (Newsom). Until the restoration bit, Job debunks the prosperity gospel (Tucker, Jr. Proper 22) The trouble is not the Disney /fairy tale ending. The trouble is reading it as literal truth, not a metaphorical truth revealed in a Disney style fairy tale story. We can resolve our conundrum, our unsolvable puzzle, by a return to the beginning. Not chapter 1 of Job, but chapter 1 of Genesis:

So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27)

In the first story in scripture, we learn God made us, all of us, to be in relationship with God. This is the most important relationship we can have; all the others stand on this one. So, if our relationship with God is fractured, as Job’s was, the most important thing is to restore that relationship. Job changes his mind about the injustice of life’s unfair tribulations, without any assurance of a subsequent blessing. So, the restoration of Job reflects God’s faithfulness, eternal presence, to those who have a humble awe of God. Job does not hold God in awe to receive a reward, but in discovering the awesomeness of God, Job discovers the faithfulness of God (Tucker, Jr. Proper 25).

I suppose this leads us to the metaphor of a Disney fairy tale of a life of woe when the hero or heroine asks “Mirror, mirror on the wall who’s most faithful of all?” Deep in your hearts you know. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take 42 grueling chapters to see the truth; but if it does our faithful God will there.


References

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 28 10 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Newsom, Carol A. New Interpreters Bible, Book of Job. Ed. Leander E. Keck. Vol. III. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. X vols. Olive Tree App.

Pagano, Joe. “Let Me See, Pentecost 23 (B).” 28 10 2018. Sermons that Work.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Trotter, John Scott. “The Mirror On The Wall.” unpublished sermon, 14 10 2018.

Tucker, Jr., W. Dennis. “Commentary on Job 1:1; 2:1-10.” 7 10 2018. workingpreacher.org. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3020&gt;.

Tucker, Jr., W. Dennis . Commentary on Job 42:1-6, 10-17. 26 10 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

 

 

 

 

The 95 Percent We Cannot See

A Sermon for Proper 24: Job 38:1-7, (34-41), Psalm 104:1-9, 25, 7, Hebrews 5:1-10, Mark 10:35-45

Last week we heard the debate between Job and three friends. We don’t read the similar debate between Job and a 4th friend, Elihu. He goes on an excruciatingly self-assured, self-righteous tirade for 6 chapters (Mast). This morning we hear that Job gets what Job wants, well some of what he wants.

God answers Job out of a whirlwind, a typical sign of a theophany (the presence of God) which here indicates God’s displeasure (Isa 29:6, Jer. 23:19 and 30:23, and Zech. 9:1) (NISB). God does not answer Job’s questions about evil, and justice, nor does God condemn or humiliate Job (Mast). He does tell him to get ready for action requiring unchecked agility. (Newsom). What follows is fours chapters of question after question that challenge Job’s knowledge of all creation. What does Job’s knowledge of creation have to do with evil or justice? What is really going on in these verses?

The Book of Job one of the wisdom writings, which were written to teach us something. (Tucker, Jr.) But What? If we listen to Job carefully we hear he wants to debate God face to face; he wants to understand why he has been put through all this agony. He doesn’t get a face to face meeting, and that’s a good thing because it is dangerous to see God:

God tells Moses you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live (Exodus 33:20).

Moses tells the Hebrews Has any people ever heard the voice of a god speaking out of a fire, as you have heard, and lived (Deuteronomy 4:33)?

Gideon says Help me, Lord God! For I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face (Judges 6:22)

Manoah (Samson’s father) tells his wife, We shall surely die, for we have seen God. (Judges 13:22).

What Job does get is that list of questions. And yes, they challenge his place, humanity’s place, our place, in the making of the cosmos but they also reveal the grandeur of the cosmos and the majesty of creation. They make clear that creation is well beyond human abilities but ~ it is the results of God’s will; (Tucker, Jr.). including the elements of chaos, which are present in the universe (Gaventa and Petersen). The questions reveal a cosmos way too vast way too powerful for Job to fully grasped (Gaventa and Petersen). They leave him befuddled (Tucker, Jr.). At the same time, they affirm that creation remains ordered by God (Tucker, Jr.).

In a peculiar way, the divine questioning the divine order seems to kindle trust. If God can create such wonders, stores of rain, ice and snow pathways for the sun, moon and stars provision for all wild animals and birds, even the predator lion, and the scavenger raven (Gaventa and Petersen) if God can control the chaos of seas & darkness then perhaps life is under divine control, not predetermined and manipulated but held within boundaries and establish a moral order (Epperly).

At this point, there is the possibility we run into ourselves. We know so much more about the cosmos and the workings of creation than those of Job’s time. We are on the verge of making a new kind of computer that takes advantage of quantum mechanics, which explains the behavior of the smallest particles, which have interesting characteristics like ‘spooky’. We begin to think we can, or at least some people can fully grasp all the mysteries of creation. So, while creation, as described in Job, is certainly spectacular, it may not kindle the kind of trust for us as it did for the ancient students of Job (Mast).

But, we have a problem. The same physics that gives us quantum mechanics also reveals that what we can detect of the universe is about 5% of what is there. 95% of the universe is dark matter and dark energy, which have to be there to make the math of physics work, but we cannot detect it, or measure it, or know it in any way at all. So, maybe we are no so knowing as we might think. Maybe realizing we mostly grasp a tiny 5 percent of creation leaves room for a trust to emerge from the vast 95% mystery of creation that is both wild and beautiful, dangerous yet held within boundaries.

Last week we explored the power of God. It is not the power to move mountains or manipulate molecules creating or avoiding this or that event. The power of God is love. God’s reply to Job reveals a God who sings with such love that becomes such energy, that becomes such matter, both seen and unseen, that guarantees our existence. It is God’s love that is creating all that is, seen and unseen, beauty and chaos, light and darkness, known and unknown. It is God’s love that encloses the chaos, and the darkness. It is God’s love that limits the seeming randomness of life, not by controlling it, but by the loving presence that assures us that we are not alone; we never have been; we never will be.

That love is present to us, That Love is present to C and C grieving the death of a loved one, is present to S, J, and S who justifiably wonder “What’s next?” is present to all who are experiencing their own version of Job’s “Why me?” experience. I do not, and I cannot know what difference this makes to those who suffer the hurts of slings and arrows but with all my heart and with all my soul I know it makes a difference. Such love may be like that 5% of the universe we can see, it is what we know, and it comforts us. Just perhaps such love is also like the 95% of the universe we cannot see, we can’t know it, it’s beyond understanding but it must be, because it shapes how we live, and move and have our being.

Amen


References

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 21 10 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Mast, Stan. Job 38:1-7, (34-41). 21 10 2018. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermonstarters/&gt;.

Newsom, Carol A. New Interpreters Bible, Book of Job. Ed. Leander E. Keck (NIBC). Vol. III. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. X vols. Olive Tree App.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Tucker, Jr., W. Dennis. 1 Samuel 3:1-10 [11-20]. 3 6 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.