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

Thursday, May 23, 2013

John 16:12-15: "I still have many things to say to you."

Jesus said to the disciples, "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, she will guide you into all truth." (John 16:12-13, The Inclusive Bible).

What kinds of things does Jesus have in mind when he refers to truths that his followers "cannot yet bear" to know, but will be taught in the future by the Holy Spirit? From the Book of Acts and the rest of the New Testament, we can see his early disciples gradually being impelled by the Spirit to accept the radical inclusiveness of God's love  a love that insists on the equal value before God of foreigners, Gentiles, eunuchs, and slaves. From our own vantage point in history, we can see the Spirit's continuing influence in the role Christians have played in the long campaigns to abolish slavery, protect the human rights of women and children, and combat racism and homophobia.

But clearly the words of Jesus apply to you and me too. Do we really accept the radical inclusiveness of God's love, or do we still resist believing that there are no outcasts or second-class citizens in God's kingdom? In our heart of hearts, do we respect the equal human dignity and value of people with severe disabilities? addicts? undocumented immigrants? people with prison records? others who are shunned or marginalized in our society? Is the Spirit trying to guide us in this direction?

Monday, May 6, 2013

John 17: 20-26

12 May 2013   John 17:20-26 

A picture of some African boys seated in a circle with their legs straight out and their feet touching appeared on my Facebook timeline many times in the past few weeks. The accompanying story is that someone placed food some distance away and told the boys that the first one there could have it. Instead of racing against each other, however, the boys joined hands and ran as one person. They could not conceive of the idea that one of them should get something that the rest could not share.

We marvel at such stories and pass them on. We marvel because seeing ourselves as “one” is hard for those of us born into a culture of “rugged Individualists” who are supposed to “pull themselves up by their own bootstraps” in order to "attain the American dream.” While those core values have built a strong nation, the downside is that all of us, through our action and our inaction, live as if anything important is a zero-sum game. The rich can't get richer unless the poor get poorer. Goodness can't survive unless evildoers are punished or killed. I can't feel secure unless others are excluded. We reject negotiated settlements unless they are achieved at the expense of the other.

Whether consciously or unconsciously, we seem to rule much of our behavior by a theology of scarcity. It is hard to love when we are competing for scarce resources.   When we cannot love, we cannot do justice.   Injustice is the inevitable outcome of a theology of scarcity.   Are those African boys actually wiser than we are in the ways that matter most?

Saturday, May 4, 2013

5 May 2013: John 14:23-29

"I get the Father and the Son, but could you explain the bit about the Holy Ghost?"

My Jewish nephew approached me with that question many years ago, when he was a  first-grader in an English church-affiliated school, and I've never forgotten my embarrassing inability to give him any coherent answer. I said that "Ghost" conveys the wrong idea and recent translations use the term "Spirit" instead, but that substitution didn't solve the real problems. Like "Ghost", "Spirit" seems mostly to suggest a being that lacks such essential aspects of human existence as embodiment and visibility, rather than a living, powerful presence. And it doesn't suggest anything about what the Spirit does or why it matters.

In retrospect, I wish I had remembered the Old Testament passages that portray the Spirit as the breath of God, by which He created the universe and gave life to Adam in Genesis, and the  means by which He continues to create and renew the life of all creatures (as in Psalm 104). I didn't even remember that Christians call the Spirit "the Lord, the giver of life" every Sunday in the Nicene Creed. And of course I didn't know that the 2013 theme for Vacation Bible School at St. Andrew's would be "Breathe It In: God Gives Life"! 

Is the Spirit of Life still teaching us today, as this week's Gospel suggests? If so, it seems likely that the Spirit is urging us to love the earth and its creatures as God does, and to do what we can to ensure their continued health and vitality. Besides caring for our fellow human beings, is the Spirit calling us to protect endangered species and threatened ecosystems? lower our carbon emissions? conserve and recycle as much as possible? lobby on behalf of stronger environmental regulations? take other kinds of action that the disciples in Jesus' time could not have imagined?