Judge Judy

 A sermon for Epiphany 4: Micah 6:1-8, Psalm 15, 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, Matthew 5:1-12

 You all know the Judge Judy show where Judge Judy acts as both Judge and Jury to settle disputes. Well, this morning we have a dispute. It is in the 8th century (BCE), and it seems Israel has forgotten everything that God has ever done for them. So, God, as plaintiff, calls them to court. Only God, not Judy is also the Judge, and the prosecutor (Harrelson). As Judge, God calls on the mountains and hills to be the jury; after all, they have been around for a really long time and have seen everything that all the nations of the earth, including Israel, have ever done (Simundson).

The trial begins with God’s testimony a short history of what God has done:

  • freeing them from slavery in Egypt
  • inspiring Balaam to reverse Balak’s curse into a blessing
  • enabling them to move from Shittim across the Jordan to Gilgal and into the promised land (Harrelson; Simundson).

God wants to know what has been done that caused them for forget all that has been done.

Israel is speechless; I would be; wouldn’t you be? So, as do so many folks with extravagant liturgical traditions Israel turns to their traditions. They discuss their options. What would please God the most? Now, remember they aren’t from our deep Anglican background. Their liturgical traditions are centered around the sacrificial rites of the Temple. So, the options they discuss are:

  • what about a burnt offering of a year-old calf?
    • that is a prescribed sacrifice (Lev 9:3)
  • maybe a thousand rams would be better?
  • although it seems excessive,
    this is the only mention of a thousand anything as a sacrifice
  • or better yet, ten thousand rivers of oil!
    • we really have reached the heights of absurdity at this point
  • but maybe ~ just maybe the life of my first born will atone for the sin of my soul ~
    • and this is a drastic change; a sacrifice that God has rejected over and over and over and over again (Deut 12:31; 18:10; Jer 19:5; Ezek 16:20) (Harrelson; Simundson).

The entire conversation reveals just how shallow Israel’s understanding of God has become. As Doug Bratt notes God doesn’t want anything from Israel, God wants Israel (Bratt). Israel is so far off base the prophet Micha step in and says:

God has told you
      do justice,
      love mercy,
     and walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8).

 

Now, all that is left is for us is to figure out
what is justice?
what does mercy look like? and
how do we walk humbly?

When I read the suggestion that ‘walk’ is actually the key word in all this, and then suggest that we walk with God as our constant companion, I saw how reversing the order brings a kind of clarity (Simundson). Walking in intimate relationship with God enables us to love mercy or kindness, and that encourages mutual interdependent relationships across all social boundaries; and that enable us to do justice working through churches, communities and whole societies reflecting the image of God (Bratt).

Walking with God is just a little bit more complex than a journey through the valley of shadows and darkness (Psalm 23). Paul is oh so right; the message of the cross is foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:18). Think for a minute, back through this last week, back through this last month, have you heard anything that holds up: the poor, those in mourning, the meek, those who are hungry or thirsty, those who are merciful, or kind or pure of heart, or who make peace, or who are persecuted because they stand up against the elite and powerful, or who those name evil as evil, even when evil parades around in glory, laud and honorific trappings.

Jesus has been traveling all around Galilee. He has seen how the people react to him. He knows people are coming from all around, as far away even as Jerusalem. He realizes the crowd’s growing expectations. There are those who see Jesus becoming a “bold and brash political leader.” There are others who believe he will draw powerful, assertive allies to his side. Nearly everyone expects “swift liberation from Roman” and the end of centuries of oppression by foreign peoples (Hoezee).

Jesus takes his disciples up the mountain, which is a place of theophany, a place of the presence of God, and basically, gives them, and us, a definition of discipleship, that we hear in the beatitudes. All the surrounding nations and for the last several centuries with a distorted emphasis on the exactness of the Law, the Jewish religious leaders focus on attitudes and declarations of doctrine. God desires righteous behaviors, and remember that for Matthew ‘righteous is all about relationship, or always journeying, with God. Jesus’ 9 little sayings turn the world upside down and hint at a future reversal of imperialistic values, that, in fact, is already in process in Jesus ministry way back then and right now (Harrelson).

I have a dream. I dream of Judge Judy perched high on the bench. I dream of WormWood challenging that St. Stephen’s is devoid of the presence of God at anywhere and at any time. I dream that without reference to doctrine or liturgy that by story after story after story of one journey after another where we’ve faithfully held God’s hand as we traversed the darkness sharing kindness and doing justice for all right here right now.

 

References

Boring, M. Eugene. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Matthew. Vol. VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.

Bratt, Doug. Epiphany 4 A Micah 6:1-8 . 29 1 2017. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Butterworth, Susan. “Becoming Peacemakers, Epiphany 4(A).” 29 1 2017. Sermons that Work.

Ellingsen, Mark. Epiphany 4 | Ordinary Time 4, Cycle A. 29 1 2017. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary – Fourth Sunday after the. 29 1 2017. <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.

Hoezee, Scott. Epiphany 4A l Matthew 5:1-12 . 29 1 2017.

Lewis, Karoline. Commentary on Matthew 5:1-12. 29 1 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

—. Righteous Living. 29 1 2017. <workingpreacher.org>.

Pankey, Steve. Draughting Theology. 29 1 2017. <wordpress.com/read/feeds/333491/posts/1312346053>.

—. The Basics 102. 29 1 2017. <wordpress.com/read/feeds/333491/posts/1310831034>.

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

Simundson, Daniel J. New Interpreter’s Bible The Book of Micah. Vol. V. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015`. X!! vols. App Olivetree.

 

 

 

A sermon for Advent 4

Isaiah 7:10-16, Romans 1:1-7, Matthew 1:18-25, Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18

We all know the Music of Handel’s Messiah, well at least the Alleluia Chorus. I would have said that he was no slouch when it came to lyrics, but then I learned, they were written by his good friend, Charles Jennens, a large land owner, patron of the arts,and devoted Christian scholar with particular interest in primitive Christianity; living as 1st century Christian did, and John Chrysostom, [i] the saint with the unpronounceable last name. So, I would now observe that Jennens, was no slouch when it came to storytelling. The lyrics are entirely from scripture, and he chose well, particularly from the new testament. Luke’s version, with his long journey, a city full of “no vacancy,” a sparse, spare manger, night shift shepherds, and angel choirs, is a really grand story. Jennens masterfully weaves it together, and Handel’s musical genius well its lasted centuries. 

But this is not the only biblical story of Jesus’ birth. Matthew includes a birth narrative in his Gospel account; and it’s quite different; and it’s as dramatic, on its own terms. We heard it this morning. So we know Mary is engaged to Joseph. We know she turns up pregnant. We know Joseph intend to quietly divorce her. Finally we know Joseph: listens to God’s messenger angel, marries Mary, and names the child Jesus. To our ears, Joseph seems rather harsh, a self-centered prig. Until we forget all our social customs, and immerse ourselves in Joseph’s world; for Joseph’s story, challenges how we live today. 

Let’s start with marriage. In the first century, there is no falling in love, asking her father for her hand in marriage. Sons’ fathers made arrangements with daughters’ father. There were contracts. A dowry was paid to ensure the bride’s future, and to compensate her family for the loss of a productive family member. The payment of the dowry made a marriage legal before any feast. [ii] Then there is Deuteronomy 22:23 ff 

 23 If there is a young woman, a virgin already engaged to be married, and a man meets her in the town and lies with her,  24 you shall bring both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death,

 The first thing we hear about Joseph, is that he is a righteous man; and that means he is very intentional about living his life by the law. His decision to divorce Mary is not out of anger or feeling of betrayal, it’s out of his deep religious commitment. Love as we think of it in marriage is simply not part of the equation. It is not Joseph’s choice, it is his obligation. [iii] Yet, even in the first century there were legal interpretations, made by Rabbi’s through the years. And there was mitigation in cases of marriage contract violations, though they were harsh and humiliating. [iv] It reveals much about Joseph and about Matthew’s teaching, that Joseph seeks to follow God’s word, i.e. be righteous, and be merciful, perhaps stretching the boundaries of mercy, as Joseph seems to be more generous to Mary than rabbinic mitigation suggest.

We still have names to ponder. Joseph is common in scripture. The first time we read about a “Joseph” is the one with a coat of many colors. He is the eleventh son of Jacob, the first by Rachel. He starts out as a bit of a brat, gets sold into slavery by his brothers, makes a name for himself in Egypt, ends up running the show for Pharaoh, and when Jacob’s family shows up starving from the famine he generously provides for them, setting up the flowering of the Hebrew people. Joseph is a shepherd to the Hebrews. 

Normally a son would be named after his father. But Joseph is told to name his son Jesus, a common Hebrew name. Jesus is derived from ‘Yeshua’, which is derived from ‘Joshua’, who is Moses successor. By name Jesus is established as Moses’ successor.  [v] The importance of this might be akin to a person believed to be the successor to George Washington. By implication Joseph is the shepherd to Moses’ successor, as the true leader of the Jews.

There is one more element in this ever growing complex weave of literary fabric. Joseph, a righteous, merciful man, has a dream in which God’s angle, God’s messenger, tell him: 

            “… marry Mary, and name the baby ‘Jesus.’”

 And Joseph does. There is something in Joseph’s character, that allows him to receive God’s word, even though it beaks strong customs, the naming of first sons, and even breaks God’s law as set forth in Deuteronomy. And even though is sounds like a sound bite from the Reformation, which is a millennium and a half after all this, Joseph’s personal relationship with God is stronger than whatever is handed down to him by tradition or written law. Joseph knows God. And that relationship allows Joseph to be obedient to God, even though obedience makes him appear to be unrighteous, and subjects him to humiliation and ridicule.

What this morning’s Gospel reveals is a righteous merciful man obedient to God to the extent that he violates established norms and law to shepherd God’s anointed successor to Moses.

And oh yea, one more little tid-bit; Joseph, as is Mary, are two bit players, from two bit families from a two bit tribe. In no way, are they the ones anyone, including us, would look to, to bring God’s incarnate presence into the world, into our lives into your lives.[vi] There is no pedigree, there is no education, no training, no experience, no nothing, except: righteousness, mercy and obedience, from Joseph, and acceptance, 

“… let it be with me according to your word.” [vii]

 from Mary.

All of this rather muddles up, our preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. But that is only half of our Advent observation, the other being preparation for the return of the King. So, if one wants to actively prepare, to actively participate in what we pray for, every day, (at least I hope you do)

… thy kingdom come, thy will be done, one earth as it is in heaven.

we have a model to follow in Matthew’s birth narrative. From Joseph: be righteous in flowing the law, God’s as revealed in scripture and interpreted by faith leaders, and secular law, which, at least according to Paul, are also established by God for the benefit of God’s people; be merciful in the application of the law seeking not only your benefits, but just consideration of others, be obedient, be discerningly obedient, and when God calls you to act, against the current interpretation of God’s law, and / or secular law, do so  trusting in God. And finally from Mary, when called to accept the unacceptable, do so trusting in God.

It only took me a thousand or so words to get here but the Incarnation gives us four little words to prepare for the return of the King: righteousness, mercy, obedience, and acceptance. May they be your guiding light: to the truth of incarnation and to presence of our King.

Amen

 

————————————

[i] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Jennens
[ii] Eaton’s Bible Dictionary
     Holman’s Bible Dictionary
[iii] Douglas R.A. Hare, Interpretation, Matthew
[iv] M. Eugene Boring, New Interpreter’s Bible
[v] ibid
[vi] Lose, Working Preacher, Matthew’s Version of the Incarnation, December 17, 2013
[vii] Luke 1:38

______________________
Arland J. Hultgren, Commentary on Matthew 1:18-25, Working Preacher, 12/22/2013
Scott Hoezee, Matthew 1:18-25, Center for Excellence in Preaching, December 22, 2013

 

Camouflaged Cross

http://db.tt/WR13GrZ5

I was walking to a meeting this morning when I walked pass a truck covered with the above  camouflaged crosses. (I hope the link works) I immediately thought how powerful a symbol it is of problems so many churches face. Its a symbol of how we try to hide Jesus, at least how we try to hide Jesus’ cross. 

I’m reminded of Psalm 50 where God decries empty sacrifices of bulls. It reminds me of God’s continual call for justice, equality, righteousness, and mercy.  It reminds me of Luke 14:13ff: But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.

Unexpected, uncomfortable image shattering moment of truth.

Sermon for Proper 15

Isaiah 5:1-7
Psalm 80:1-2, 8-18
Hebrews 11:29-12:2
Luke 12:49-56

For Jack life is good. He has a wonderful wife, beautiful children, he’d say so himself, and good paying steady job, a more than fair boss, a nice house, and 2 cars. Yep, life is good. And this week is going to be just another example of how great life is. The entire family, his parents, siblings, spouses and their children, are on their way to a week skiing at a premier resort. Jack is very aware, he could not do this on his own, which makes it all the more special,  the relationships within his extended family, well, they are something to cherish, which he does, even as he secretly nurtures the belief he deserves it all.

During the layover, he wanders over to his dad, standing by a large picture window, overlooking the busy tarmac, and starts up idle conversation. Before long the conversation is about family, how blessed they are, how amazing the extended family is, especially his wife. There is some chatter about sharing responsibilities and so on. Suddenly his dad gets quiet, his eyes change  to an uncomfortable pensive look, with unexpected tenor he tells Jack: I know what you mean. Your mother was like that, … and I damned near used her up!  After a moment of silence, he put his hand on Jack’s shoulder, and then makes his way across the gate area. It doesn’t take Jack long to move along. His dad’s reflection strikes deep, not only does it reveal a truth he sort of knew but carefully hid, it also reveals the truth about his relationship with his wife, he absolutely did not want to acknowledge. It is an unexpected, uncomfortable
image shattering moment of truth. The truth has been spoken; judgment made.

Jack’s airport window conversation, is reminiscent of Isaiah. Today’s verses are a love poem, turn lament, that names an uncomfortable image shattering truth. God expects plump juicy grapes, justice and righteousness, he finds sour smelling, bitter tasting wild grapes; he finds that justice is for the few,  and righteousness is a shelter for the elite. Judah does not defend the causes of the widow and orphan rather they covet and store up wealth for themselves they oppress the poor, they acquit the guilty, and deprive the innocent of their rights. (1)  Isaiah’s is a poem of puns God is looking for mishpat  (mish-pawt’) but finds mishpah looking for justice but finds bloodshed. God is looking for zedeka but finds azekah; (2) looking for righteousness but finds cries. It’s a poem of jarring turns, Judah is expecting a continuing love poem, but hears lament and judgment. And somehow we know, we are still causing divine lament are still subject to divine judgment. God seeks justice while we seek to slash food stamps, refuse to reformulate the voting rights rules, are absorbed by a fetus’ right to life, all the while ignoring the child’s rights after birth. God seeks righteousness all the while we dance a nuanced ballet, downplaying brutality to ensure our existing privileges: over-flight to the middle east, and rapid passage through the Suez Cannel. So much for sing you a love song.

And at least this morning, Luke does nothing to help ease our discomfort. Jesus is on about fire, likely lightning, a symbol of justice, and his baptism, a reference to his crucifixion. Much like Jack, we enjoy living in our inkblot world, where we decide what is right. But Jesus just says No! he insist on Kingdom values, all too often the reverse of ours (3).  We’ll allow Jesus to influence home decisions, so long as he stays out of our business life; we are okay with giving Jesus an hour on Sunday morning, so long as he stays out of Saturday night. (4) Again Jesus says No!  This is no “happy-clappy” Jesus. This Jesus is unsettling, he struggles with his ministry, he leaves us with more questions than answers. He is not Zechariah’s messiah who … guides our feet into the way of peace. (5) But he is the real Jesus, whose presence creates division.

Paul is even less helpful. After a long, dense, convoluted, impenetrable list  of unnamed biblical heroes, he writes, they do not get what was promised…  What? If bible heroes cannot get what was promised, what possibility is there for us regular ole, not even in the bible,  folks? Woe is us!

This is one of those Sunday’s when we need the long arch of scripture; what we have heard today, and what we know is there, God’s mercy in administering justice, and salvation through Jesus, God’s Christ. We need that long arch, not to allow us to relax, because God has, is, and will take care of everything, but to enable us to open the closed door, to our inner selves, under take a real self-evaluation engage in uncomfortable image shattering moment of truth, name our struggles, speak the questions, for which we know no answer. The latter half of Hebrew brings us to that long arch. Paul encourages them; us to run the race with perseverance. It is not an easy race, he all but says so; the word he uses for ‘race’ is the root for ‘agony.’ So yes, it is long and hard slog, and like the Jesus we just heard from we will struggle, we will have questions. However, we also have this huge cloud of witnesses, all those bible heroes, and more than a few ordinary faithful, who are cheering us on. It’s kind of like  running the final leg of a marathon into a stadium full of cheering fans. But these are no ordinary fans, they have run this race; they know the agony, they know the cost, they also know the way, they can, and will be your conduit to the love of God, in Jesus the Christ; they can, and will help you tap into  the courage and power so you can do what others claim cannot be done.

Some decades later life goes on for Jack and family. They have known their share  of grief and troubles. There have been, are divisions. There are struggles.
There are questions that have no answers. But now, all those previously hidden troubles can be named, and are thereby diminished in their ability to be the source of further troubles. Life is good, only now there a few more sweet grapes.

1.  Working Preacher, Isaiah,
2.  Center of Excellence in Preaching, Isaiah,  Hoezee
3.   “                                                           Luke, Hoezee
4.   ibid
5.   Luke 1:79

lectionaryscripturenotes.com http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/
Proper 15 | OT 20 | Pentecost 13, Cycle C

episcopaldigitalnetwork.com http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/2013/08/02/13-penteco st-pro per-15-c-2013/,   Rev. James Liggett

cep.calvinseminary.edu http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php
        August 18, 2013 (Ordinary Time)
                Luke 12:49-56, Scott Hoezee
                Isaiah 5:1-7, Scott Hoezee
                Hebrews 11:29-12:2, Stan Mast

http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1752
        Isaiah 5:1-7, David G. Garber Jr.
        Hebrews 11:29-12:2, Erik Heen
        Luke 12:49-56, Emerson Powery

Sermon on August 11, Proper 14

Isaiah 1:1, 10-20
Psalm 50:1-8, 23-24
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
Luke 12:32-40

I’m tired of prophets so bluntly telling the truth; always going on about injustice empty worship, hardhearted ways, the love of greed, money and power, love of self, sometimes to the point of idolatry. I’m tired, of Galatians, Colossians and Hebrews consistent thump of Jesus, Jesus, Jesus! I’m tired of Gospel wrenches messing up a carefully balanced, nuanced life with fear not, be ready, the messiah, Jesus is coming, is here. Today is the perfect day to preach from the Psalms; except that Psalm 50 is a court room scene, a cosmic court room, where God is the prosecutor, the judge, and most of the jury; where all the heavens are witnesses for the prosecution, or jurors, in a predetermined prosecution. I’ve had enough of high court drama, with Private Manning’s guilty verdict, and sentencing proceedings; and Major Hassan’s listless defense, both in military courts. I’m tired of the endless drama of the Edward Snowden affair, of congressional non-legislating, and the presidential two step, all in the court of public opinion. I’m tired of all the moralizing. After all this is the postmodern age. Each of us is free to discern and meld together whatever bit of spiritual truth that allows us to be comfortable with whatever “i”-faith emerges. We can even talk about it, w-e-l-l as long as we stick to little “t” truth; any big “T” truth of your “i”-faith might be offensive to another’s i”-faith. It’s just like a church camp program leader once said, mimicking the campers attitude: It’s all about me!

And it is all about “me:” singular, distant, isolated, alone. In a more and more connected world, where there are more cell phones than land lines, and cell phones have a more and more dazzling array of functions, and are less and less about person to person conversation. In a growing world of avatars and virtual environments are there any real intimate person to person relationships left? And if we are unable to be honestly present to each other, we cannot be in an honest personal relationship with God. And that, above all, is the single profound truth in all today’s scripture readings. Indeed in all of scripture: God wants to be in honest personal relationship with every living person (past, present and future), with the entire cosmos. The divine desire is so strong, deserved harsh justice is dealt out in mercy. The divine desire is so over whelming, God’s self does the necessary work to bridge the gap between the broken cosmos, and her creator God. The divine desire is so complete, there is nothing you can do to gain it; there is nothing you can do to lose it, it is now simply woven into the very fabric of existence. No secret knowledge, no complex rituals, no perfunctory parameters are necessary; God’s love, God’s, mercy, God’s grace, is just there. Have faith.
 
And faith is such a hard thing to hold on to. Competing big “T” truths assail each other. The “i” world runs smack into the truth that God made “us” in God’s image; us – male and female, diverse, yet one; us – plural many, yet one. And every now and again, we are blessed to see the results of faith; others may call it organization, but those with eyes see, and those with ears hear, differently.

This week, Operation Healthy Delta is such an exemplar. The Delta Regional Commission, the Department of Defense, the City of Blytheville, Mississippi County, Blytheville Public Schools, our hospital, businesses, churches, and lots of individuals: soldiers and ordinary folks have come together to provide medical, dental, eye, and wellness care to anyone who walks in the door, within the capabilities of the 10 hour day. Organized? you bet. An exemplar of God’s love at work transforming lives? no doubt.

And I know this in the endless example of countless little things:
·       The compassion of the soldiers and volunteers
        getting it done.
·       The deep appreciation and patience of those seeking help.
·       The generosity of 15 area churches and organizations who are providing lunch           every day.
·       The hospitality of our community in throwing an end of clinic dinner to                         introduce our southern California guests to true southern cooking.
·       The unsolicited appearance of water, fresh fruit, and baked goods.
·       and so many others things.
This past week, today, and Monday and Tuesday two disparate groups of people have meet each other in an interdependence of divine mutuality in which everyone has been blessed, in which everyone has been a blessing. Therein is radical gospel equality, therein is mercy, therein is justice, therein our lamps are burning bright, therein is our readiness. And with all my heart, in faith, I know Jesus has walked amongst us.

http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/, Proper 14, August 11, 2013

episcopaldigitalnetwork.com http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/2013/07/16/12-pentecost-proper-14-c-2013/
By the Rev. Ben E. Helmer, 12 Pentecost, Proper 14 (C) – 2013, Beyond material worth

Center for Excellence in Preaching, August 11, 2013 (Ordinary Time)
      Luke 12:32-40, Scott Hoezee
      Isaiah 1:1, 10-20, Scott Hoezee
      Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16, Stan Mast
      Psalm 50:1-8, 22-23, Doug Bratt
 
Working Preacher, Proper 14, August 11, 2013
      Isaiah 1:1, 10-20, David G. Garber Jr.
      Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16, Erik Heen
      Luke 12:32-40, Karoline Lewis

Jump the ditch.

Sunday August 8, 2013
Proper 13
Hosea 11:1-11
Psalm 107:1-9, 43
Colossians 3:1-11
Luke 12:13-21

I have a predilection to continue to use the language in the 1st chapter of Hosea in reference to Gomer, Hosea’s wife. In part because of its shock value, but more because of its apt description of the Israel’s relationship with God. In-spite of the reality that she has sold herself to other powers, ie. Assyria, and other gods, historically the Ba’als, but often whoever current regional power worships, Israel, at least her Kings, prophets, and priests, believes that all is fine with God. It’s not an honest assessment. Also, I’m often concerned it’s an apt parallel for our, the United States’ relationship with God. There are many, among the people, and our leaders who believe with all their hearts God is forever cheering U-S-A; U-S-A. In-spite of continuing struggles with living into the radical equality of the Gospels Paul so avidly proclaims, in-spite of continuing failures to enact principles of mercy into our system of justice, in-spite of abject failure of justice (as defined in scripture, not the vast accumulation of civil and criminal code) within our boarders, many hear God’s voice cheerfully bellowing U-S-A; U-S-A.

Truth is both Israel and the US are much like Gomer. As did Gomer, we have sold ourselves to the functionaries of other gods. Israel perhaps literally, the US may be not so much, but certainly in our behavior relative to equality, mercy and justice. Israel sold out to other gods. We’ve sold out to money and power, in so much that we worship that we value money and power more than each other, more than others, more than God. We’ve sold out, so there’s no longer a reason to listen for what the Spirit is saying to God’s people, and we don’t.

A seminary classmate had an obscure, but noticeable scar below and around her right eye. It seems there is a large ditch in her back yard. It was quite an attractive challenge. All the neighborhood kids challenged each other to jump the ditch. It came to be a rite-of-passage. Her dad repeatedly warned her not to jump the ditch. It was wider than it appears. Its sides were not stable. There were many exposed rocks and roots, that could do real damage when, and it is not if but when, you fall short. For a long time she obeyed. At least she knew she was simply too small, too weak to jump the ditch. But then one day, kids her own age jump the ditch. They challenge her. They encourage her. They taunt her. And sure enough, despite all the warnings, she decides to jump the ditch. Running as fast as she can, when she reaches the near edge she launches herself high, and far … may be high enough, but not quite far enough. She lands chest first on the far side, her face smashes into a cluster of roots and rocks. Everyone screams. Half the kids run. A few reach down to help. Her dad, happens to come around the corner, races to her side (without jumping the ditch, there is a convenient way around). He quickly examines her bleeding face. The initial determination is that she is hurt, but not injured. She prepares herself for the blistering excoriation she knows she deserves. She is surprised when her Dad assures her she will be okay; when he tells her how glad he is she is okay, when he gathers her into a merciful loving hug. 

In many ways, ancient Israel, the US, in fact most of the world’s, most of God’s people continue to try and jump the ditch. We know better. We are aware of the dangers and consequences. We even know we deserved to be punished when we try, whether we clear the far side or not. And there are plenty of preachers who preach about the sin of jumping the ditch, in all its various manifestations. There are plenty of preachers who rail on about the consequences, the punishment that awaits those of even dare think about jumping the ditch. But that’s not where I am today. In part because I know something of jumping ditches, and not quite making it to the far side; of jumping ditches clearing the far side, and discovering it lacking; both scenarios are something of a mess. Maybe that’s why Jesus’s story of the Rich man’s barns resonates so profoundly.

 At first glance, we would hold the rich man in high esteem. [i] He has done what we are told we should do. He planned for the future. His barn’s, are equivalent to modern insurance and 401ks. Quite the opposite of my classmate, he seems to have jumped the ditch often and successfully. He is everything modern financial planners, legislators, political pundits, (well at least some) hold out as the very model of a modern self-made businessman. On closer examination, just as Gilbert and Sullivan’s modern major general is not quite what he seems to be, neither is the modern self-made businessman, nor the ancient farmer. The farmer’s language is absolutely self-centered. He talks and thinks only about himself. In truth ~ he talks only to himself. He takes all the credit, gives no credence to the perversities of numbers, better known as chance, nor God, nor others, who labored on his behalf. He gives no word, no thought to sharing the abundance he can never use, with those to whom the perversities of numbers dealt a very different hand. And recalling that fornication, in its oldest and broadest meaning is forsaking God for idols[ii], in this case himself, the rich farmer is the very manifestation of Paul’s list of unsavory traits: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, greed, anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language; if not plainly then at least by inference.

Actually the rich farmer seems to have successfully completed another jump. He seems to have Jumped the Shark,[iii] he has successfully jumped to a point beyond redemption. That is the apparent story of Gomer, who, like ancient Israel, has sold herself and is beyond redemption. It is the apparent story of my class mate’s leap across the ditch. That is the apparent story revealed in so much of the social, political and religious behavior in the US, and much of the world. But, the surprise in scripture, the surprise in my classmate’s tale, the surprise for us, is not the farmer’s fate ~ the loss of his soul, but undeserved mercy. The surprise is the Kingdom of God is here, perhaps not fully, but most certainly transformationally. The surprise is when we perversely jump the ditch, or the shark, and then discover ourselves, not in eternal nothingness but embraced, by mercy, within the grace of God; to be so transformed, that we are welcome strangers, not only to our neighbors, but to ourselves.

 

 

[i] The Working Preacher.com,  Commentary on Luke 12:13-21, Elisabeth Johnson
[ii] Wikipedia; note [3] Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. 2001.
[iii] Wikipedia – an idiom created by Jon Hein that was used to describe the moment in the evolution of television show when it begins a decline in quality that is beyond recovery,

lectionaryscripturenotes.com http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/
Proper 13 | OT 18 | Pentecost 11, Cycle C

episcopaldigitalnetwork.com
 http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/2013/07/15/11-pentecost-pro per-13-c-2013/
By the Rev. Anjel Scarborough
11 Pentecost, Proper 13 (C) – 2013
RELATIONSHIPS ARE THE TRUE TREASURE
 
Center for Excellence in Preaching, Proper 13 August 4, 2013
       Luke 12:13-21,  Scott Hoezee
       Hosea 11:1-11, Scott Hoezee
       Colossians 3:1-11, Stan Mast
       Psalm 107:1-9, 43, Doug Bratt
 
WorkingPreacher.com
       Hosea 11:1-11, David G. Garber Jr
       Colossians 3:1-11, Richard Carlson
      

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.