Reflections on the Gospels from a Justice Perspective written for St. Andrew's Episcopal Church by members of the congregation

Friday, April 22, 2016

The Love of the Cross

Justice Reflection 24 April 2016  John 13:31-35

Easter is the season when we celebrate the greatest of all happy endings, and the hardest possible beginning.  The good news:  Each of us is another resurrection of Christ!  The hard part:  There is no resurrection without the Cross:  When Jesus tells us to love one another, he means we must carry one another's crosses.  The love of the the Cross is not the good-feeling-we-get-when-we-do-a-good-deed kind of love, it's the roll-up-our-sleeves-and-get-dirty kind of love.  It's rubbing elbows with those who are disenfranchised and hopeless, angry and hostile, desperately sick, wretchedly poor.  It's serving the homeless man who stinks, the babbling mentally ill woman with the grocery cart full of junk, the little kid with lice, the angry young man who scares you.  The Indian mystic Ramana Maharshi was asked "How should we serve others?"  His reply: "There are no others."  It's that kind of love.  We can't do it alone, the crosses are too heavy.  We have to do it together.

The Old Testament prophets rarely criticized an individual; rather, speaking in God's name, they criticized the nation itself for not taking care of the poor, the sick, the homeless, the hungry, the naked.  (A good example is Isaiah 58:1-12)   Those prophets, whom Jesus quoted so often, knew that it's too much, it takes the entire nation to do it.  As Christians, we must let our faith form our politics, supporting with our taxes the programs which take care of those in any kind of need.  We must love one another if we hope to be resurrected people.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Luke 4: 14-21

Luke 4: 14-21

Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

When I read this passage, I try to imagine what Jesus felt, filled with the power of the Spirit. His experience was so powerful that word about him spread through the countryside. As he traveled and taught in the synagogues, everyone praised him. If you and I had been there, what would we have seen and felt? I’m reminded of watching others filled with Spirit; the sermons we hear from Andy and Dorota sometimes bring me to tears. Watching a beautiful dancer, or hearing beautiful music brings joy, and something moves in my heart. Being with my grandchildren fills me with love, and gratitude. There can be moments of pure blessing for each of us. It must have been something like that for the listeners as Jesus spoke to them.

Jesus’s connection with the divine convinced him that he had important messages to convey directly from God. And the messages were unequivocal: good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed, the Lord’s favor. That intensity of experience that he conveyed helped everyone who heard him realize that Jesus was fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy.

Are those teachings still needed as reminders today? How does each of us feel closer to the power of the Spirit? And how can we each share those gifts Jesus spoke about with others, helping to free the oppressed, to bring release and sight?

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

John 2;1-11

John 2:1-11
      On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, "They have no wine." And Jesus said to her, "Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come." His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you." Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, "Fill the jars with water." And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, "Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward." So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, "Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now." Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.'

      Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.  Jesus said to them, "Fill the jars with water." Note:  The jars were empty.

      The purity laws had served the early monotheists while they moved into and settled the strip of land bordering the Mediterranean on the east.  For millennia they had been in the midst of peoples with polytheistic religious beliefs; the purity laws had kept them apart, maintaining their identity as a separate people called by the one God.  The rites had kept everyone and everything locked in place: what was clean and what was unclean; what could be touched and not touched; to whom one could speak and not speak; when help could be given and when it could not.

      Purification rites had served a purpose in the development of monotheism, but the rites were no longer fulfilling a purpose:  They were empty.

      Jesus was about to teach about a new relationship with one's neighbors.  At the joyous occasion of a wedding, joining together two people and two families, Jesus transformed the rites that had kept people separate into a celebration -- with wine! -- of the joining together of all people.  Henceforth there will be no Other:  All peoples are chosen, all are one in God

Monday, December 14, 2015

20 December 2015 … Luke 1:39-45(46-55)

 20 December 2015  …   Luke 1:39-45(46-55)
“His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”

Reading the Magnificat  the week before Christmas keeps us grounded in the past and the future simultaneously.  In the 8th Century BCE, Isaiah writes in Chapter 11, “But with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.”  Again in Chapter 13, Isaiah writes, “I will punish the world for its evil, the wicked for their sins. I will put an end to the arrogance of the haughty and will humble the pride of the ruthless.”   When Jesus begins his ministry, he quotes from Joel when he tells folks he has come to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and free the prisoners from their chains.

These are important words for us as we prepare to celebrate the coming of Jesus.  They remind us that Jesus was born homeless, quickly became a refugee, and eventually became the man who would change history for all time.  These are important words for us as we prepare to celebrate Christmas in the midst of the chaos of the current struggles for power that are disenfranchising multiple populations, and creating ever more hungry and homeless people.   These words give us hope.

To quote more modern prophets: 
“Permanence, perseverance and persistence in spite of all obstacles, discouragements, and impossibilities: It is this, that in all things distinguishes the strong soul from the weak.” (Thomas Carlyle)
“Only the weak are cruel. Gentleness can only be expected from the strong.” (Leo Buscaglia)

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” (Martin Luther King Jr.)

Monday, November 30, 2015

6 Dec. 2015 Justice Reflection, Luke 3:1-6

6 Dec.  2015 Justice Reflection,  Luke 3:1-6

Luke names the seven most powerful men in that time and place, and their positions as overlords of the Jews -- but only as time- and place-markers, not as key figures in the important point of the story.  The key figure is an unimportant eccentric in the wilderness, John the Baptist.

Why is John in the wilderness, instead of in the villages and cities where the people are?  Many people, then as now, were in a wilderness:  lost, confused, afraid, struggling, seeking shelter.  John gives us a 1st Century GPS to help them find their way out:

"Prepare the way of the Lord -- straighten the paths, level the terrain, smooth the rough areas."

What are the crooked paths, the mountains and valleys, the rough spots in our communities today?  What are the obstacles facing people struggling to make their way?  What are our 21st Century GPS devices for helping them find their way out?

Equal rights.  Literacy.  Education.  Health care.  A living wage.  Personal safety.  These are basic needs and rights.

What is our role?  First, acknowledging that our society has consigned large groups of people to the wilderness, and God is calling us to change our society.  As Jewish theologian Abraham Heschel wrote:  "Few are guilty, but all are responsible." Our faith must inform our politics.

Then, as Church, we are called to 'incarnate' with our brothers and sisters in the wilderness -- to be with them in the flesh.  People outside the wilderness with maps are no use to the people lost in the middle.  This is why John was in the wilderness rather than in the villages and cities!

To be with them in the flesh means to make our boundaries more porous to them, and to risk encroaching on their boundaries.  This takes courage on both sides, but the connections and relationships our parish already has can facilitate.

And then we must listen.  Listen to their fears, their hopes, their expectations, their needs as they see them.  And trust that God will show us together the way out of the wilderness.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

John 11:32-44

1 Nov 2015  John 11:32-44
Today’s gospel is sandwiched between Jesus’ escape from attempted stoning and arrest and the Chief Priest, Caiaphas, pronouncing that it was to their advantage that one man die for the people rather than the whole nation being destroyed.
I can imagine Jesus weighing the cost of the choices open to him when he received the news of Lazarus’ death.  He was safe across the Jordan so he could grieve with his sisters and then go on his way – a good option since Lazarus was already dead.  His other choice was to give life back to Lazarus, knowing that it would be that very act that would seal his own death.
The raising of Lazarus reminds us that life always comes at a cost. To bring life to others costs us something of our own life.  What is the cost of standing in solidarity with the vulnerable and marginalized and speaking out for justice?  What is the cost of leaving our sanctuary and taking our faith into our neighborhood?  What is the cost of standing for what is right when our neighborhood is our city, our county, our state?  To trust another costs us something of our independence and our right to question and accuse. What is the cost of accepting and affirming instead of questioning and accusing?  The core question is how wiling we are to pay the price.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Widow's Offering, October 25 Justice Reflection

Mark 12:41-44

'He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she
had, all she had to live on.’

October began with the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, who repudiated his wealthy merchant family and the life of a prosperous young man, and became an impoverished mendicant whose whole purpose was to rebuild the Church and serve the poor.  The radical risk he took was made possible by his naked trust in God's providence.

The next week Jesus told us about a rich man whose crops yielded such a great harvest his barns couldn't hold it all. Rather than sharing the excess, he decided to build bigger barns.  He wouldn't risk running short.

Last week Jesus continued the contrast by drawing our attention to God's loving care for the natural world of which we are a part:  We need not be anxious about even the basics of life, we can trust that God will provide all we need.

This week Jesus observes the crowd putting money into the temple treasury.  Many are as rich as the man with too-small barns; out of their abundance, they give large sums, although they undoubtedly keep back sufficient to maintain their way of life.  And then his eye is caught by a poor widow, so poor she has only two small copper coins, not worth much, but all she has to live on.  What will she do?  She takes a radical risk, as St. Francis did, and gives both coins.

We are in the season of making pledges to St. Andrew's for our annual budget.  We are closing the first year of our Capital Campaign to rebuild our parish church, in part so we can better serve the larger community.  We are considering what other end-of-year donations we can make to care for "the least of these".

It's a good time for each of us to think about where we are on the continuum of security vs. risk, of anxiety vs. trust as we make decisions about returning to God what we've been given.