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

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.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Mark 9: 38-50

27 Sept.  2015       Mark 9:38-50
In today’s Gospel, Jesus points to three dangers to our current institutional church:  (1) the exclusivity of defining who are “authentic” followers of Jesus; (2) the exclusivity of “shoulds and oughts” versus the Gospel of unconditional love of neighbor; and (3) the numbness of complacency. 

I was privileged to spend an evening with Sr. Simone Campbell, organizer of the Nuns on the Bus, who addressed Jesus’ issues for our time.  She reminded us that Christians are called to "radical acceptance,” not exclusivity.  Since we are called as a community of human beings, we cannot leave anyone out. We make peace only by bringing everyone to the table, no matter how much we disagree with each other.  Our Presiding Bishop elect, Michael Curry, echoes the call into radical acceptance when he invites Episcopalians to become part of the Jesus movement.

Sr. Simone suggested that we could begin practicing unconditional love of our neighbor by reclaiming our foundational story of the common good, expressed in the Preamble to the Constitution. Rather than imagining ourselves rugged individualists, which she sees as the root cause of exploitation on all fronts, we could fight for a conversation about building a shared vision of “We the People” in 2015.  The General Convention of the Episcopal Church suggested doing this by going into neighborhoods.  We could choose to think more about how to bring our neighborhood together in conversation about the common good, including all those with whom we disagree.

Finally, Sr. Simone suggests that our complacency is our response to being besieged by antics and sound bites and polarizing event.  We have become numb; we lose our salt. Numbed by what we see, we don't engage in the hard work of conversation. We replace the hard work of real democracy with entertainment, and look at the performances, polls and ratings rather than face the crises we are in. Sr. Campbell concluded that we can replenish the salt within ourselves when we each do one thing and do it well.  What is your gift?  What do you do well?  And how can you use what you do well in community to work for the common good?

Monday, September 7, 2015

Mark 8:27-38 Justice Reflection

Mark 8:27-38      Justice Reflection

At the time of today's gospel reading, the Jewish people had lived under foreign rule for seven hundred years, sometimes in exile, sometimes in their occupied homeland.  Often they were persecuted, their religious practices banned, their holiest places desecrated.  They longed for the restoration of the glory days of David and Solomon, and they looked for another anointed one, the Messiah, to lead them to self-rule.  We can't know what Peter is thinking when he says to Jesus, "You are the Messiah," but it's not unlikely Peter is expecting Jesus to lead Israel to new glory days.

The people are better than Peter at identifying Jesus:  They put Jesus in the direct line of great Jewish troublemakers.  Elijah was a thorn in the side of Israel's royal household, and he had to hide out much of the time.  Most of the other Hebrew prophets were unpopular for rocking the boats of the comfortable and upsetting the precarious equilibrium of the fearful.  According to the Letter to the Hebrews, "… they were mocked and scourged, in chains and imprisoned, were stoned, sawn in two, put to death with the sword, destitute, afflicted, ill-treated, wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground.…"  John the Baptist was beheaded for condemning Herod's marriage to his brother Philip's wife.

Jesus' description of his future makes him look a lot more like a prophet than a national hero.
In today's gospel, Jesus puts us right in the middle of his future:  "For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it."  There's no wiggle room here: What is required of us "for the sake of the gospel" is very clear in scripture:  We are to imitate Christ, which means sticking our necks way out beyond our own security and comfort.  We cannot play it safe while poverty leaves people without hope, while children go to school too hungry to learn, while sick people have no access to medical care, while minorities are given long sentences in inhuman prisons for minor offenses, while God's creation is profaned for profit.

Prophets were not popular in Biblical times, and they are not popular today -- in our time, prophets have been assassinated, in this and other countries.  But the whole world is crying out in pain, and Jesus expects us to take risks to do something about it.  What are we going to do?

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Mark 5:21-43

This week's Gospel tells two stories of healing: the young daughter of Jairus, a leader in the synagogue and obviously an important man in the community, and a desperate, nameless woman who is so worn down with years of suffering that she doesn't dare ask Jesus to heal her but just reaches out in the crowd to touch his clothing. The structure of the passage, with one healing story sandwiched inside the other, makes us read them together. So we notice that Jesus lets himself be interrupted by the less important petitioner; indeed, he stops in his tracks, insists on hearing her story, and reassures her about the reason for her healing before he resumes his urgent errand on behalf of the important man and his daughter.

If we are in the habit of looking for political or economic messages in the Gospels, we might want to read this lesson as another expression of God's special care for the poor and downtrodden. But in fact Mark doesn't suggest that Jesus cares more for the destitute woman than for Jairus and his daughter. Jesus speaks tenderly to the daughter and performs an even greater healing in her case. So there are no losers in this pair of stories—only winners, all beneficiaries of God's enormous, overflowing mercy and love.

How can Christians in today's society bear witness to the endlessly loving, merciful nature of our God?  Last week's media provided some powerful examples from the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, where the congregation reopened its doors to strangers after the shootings and grieving family members of the victims offered forgiveness to the killer. On Sunday at least one African-American church here in Madison followed suit. At Christ the Solid Rock, candles were lighted and prayers were offered by name for each of the nine shooting victims and also for the shooter and his family. Pastor Everett Mitchell reminded the congregation that God sends down the blessing of rain on both the just and the unjust, and that we are called not to judge one another, but to love every person as God does.

Monday, June 1, 2015

7 June 2015 Mark 3:20-35

7 June 2015  Mark 3:20-35

In the history of human culture, self-identified communities formed first around family, then clan, then tribe, eventually growing to cities, city-states and nations.  But much of human behavior is still driven by those early roots of family, clan and tribe.  Those ties have a great deal to do with our religious, social and political thinking:  Without always realizing the pattern, we seek to defend and protect those closest to us, those most like us.

In today's gospel, Jesus says "Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother."  That makes relationships very fluid!  Jesus is saying that every person in the world is our family.

Cities and nations are more diverse than ever before, and we don't always understand the religious, social or political thinking of others.  A failure to seek common ground inevitably leads to broken communities.  We needn't agree on everything to be able to join together on whatever common ground we can find -- but that takes effort, a willingness to extend ourselves to our brothers, our sisters, to listen to them.  Then to care for them as beloved family members.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

John 17:6-19

I have a hard time with the adversarial language in John’s Gospel. In the lesson for this Sunday, Jesus describes “the world” into which he sends his followers as enemy territory, a place where they do not and should not feel at home. He suggests that they must strongly resist its evil influence, lest they themselves be corrupted. Reading language like this, it is easy to imagine that Jesus wants his followers to maintain an attitude of self-protective superiority, looking down on the neighbors he is sending them– and us– out to serve. Surely there is a better way to understand passages like this!

For me, at least, it helps to remember the language we use in the baptismal covenant, when we “renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God” and also “renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God.” Those spiritual forces and evil powers are not our human neighbors, whom we are commanded to love as we love ourselves, but demonic systems of privilege and injustice that harm our neighbors– systems like racism, religious extremism, militant nationalism, and “winner-take-all” economics.

Resisting and trying to dismantle the injustices that create poverty and violence is harder and more uncomfortable than just feeding the hungry or caring for the wounded, but it is part of our mission as followers of Jesus. After all, that’s what Jesus did himself. The “evil powers of this world” hated him for calling their authority into question, but by standing up against them he and his first disciples showed the way to eternal life.

Monday, May 4, 2015

10 May 2015 John 15:9-17

John 15:9-17 

I watched a video on Facebook about a month ago.  It can be found on You Tube at ( A young male person of color was sitting on what was the front steps of a completely wrecked house.  He opened with “the world is coming to an end” and for the next 3 minutes he listed everything from environment to discrimination, assaults and violence to sexual exploitation, consumerism to greed.  The list was long (he was talking fast) – long, discouraging and overwhelming.  When my brain would not accept another word, he finally stopped, stood us and said, “the only solution is Love… the kind of love that is mindful, forgiving and an act of kindness.  Love that changes our hearts so that anger becomes sympathy, hatred becomes compassion and cruelty becomes kindness.” He closed by saying, “The world is coming to an end.  The Path to a new beginning starts within you”

How can we accept the invitation from both today’s gospel and this young man to see all of our relationships transformed in the image of that love -- a love in which no one is anonymous or dispensable, no one is cast aside as irredeemable, and everyone exercises the kind of relaxed and joyful generosity that happens when nobody is keeping score in any arena. 

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Justice Reflection, Easter Sunday, April 5, 2015 Mark 16:1-8

Justice Reflection, Easter Sunday, April 5, 2015

Mark 16:1-8
When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint Jesus.  And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.  They had been saying to one another, "Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?"  When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back.  As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed.  But he said to them, "Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.  He has been raised; he is not here.  Look, there is the place they laid him.  But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you."  So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

The stone has already been rolled back, the impossibly happy ending has happened, "just as he told you," but did they dance in joy?  No, they fled in terror.

My favorite prayer of thanksgiving from the Book of Common Prayer states, "We thank you for the splendor of the whole creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life, and for the mystery of love."  How can this impossibly happy picture exist side-by-side with all the suffering, misery, anger and violence in this world?

I once had a cartoon of a vested preacher orating from the pulpit, "And on the eighth day, God said, 'Let there be problems,' and there were PROBLEMS."  Thanks to the 24/7 media, in addition to the problems large and small in our own lives, we are bombarded with problems everywhere on the planet.  The eighth day seems to fill the whole week, every week.  We get compassion fatigue.  We are overwhelmed.  We flee in terror -- what can we possibly do?  The impossibly happy ending seems like a naive fairy tale.

Actually, there are a lot of things we can do:  Decline to enter into contentious discussions.  Carry in our elderly neighbor's groceries.  Sign up for a shift driving people to their polling places to vote.  Buy extra groceries for the food pantry.  Tip low wage workers at least 20%.  Set up a Little Free Library in your front yard and fill it with books for early readers.  Keep an eye out for blankets and warm socks at thrift shops and next winter get them to where the homeless are.  Most importantly, we can help our children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews grow into confident, loving, open-minded adults.  Trust that every small kindness you do is magnified many times over by the Risen Christ.  The Impossibly Happy Ending is real and we are part of it.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

22 Mar 2015 John 12:20-33

22 Mar  2015     John 12:20-33  

Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out."  Who is this "ruler of this world" that will be driven out?  The better question is, who is the ruler of my world that needs to be driven out?  I look closely in the mirror and realize that the rulers of my world have always been ambition, hard work and achievement.  I worked hard to become self-sufficient and to raise my children to be self-sufficient.  I always thought of those characteristics as virtues, not some “ruler” who needed to be driven out.

But when I look more closely, I realize how clearly hard work, ambition and achievement ruled my life – drove my decisions, determined my actions, filled my calendar, and directed my checkbook.  I am astonished by how easy it was to get sucked in to waiting to use my voice, my power, and my life for justice until I thought I knew enough, was financially sustainable enough, or had influence enough to believe that I could accomplish positive change. Yet by waiting, by not acting, I find myself directly participating in social injustice

How can we choose to decide that the time is now?  How can we choose to simply act to make some corner of the world a little more like the visible sign of God's love and God's justice even without more research or more ability to be heard?  Those who use their power to maintain their privilege would like nothing better than for us to sit back and wait.  Now is the judgment of this world.

Monday, March 9, 2015

15 March 2015 John 3:9-21

15 March 2015   John 3:9-21

Nicodemus, a religious leader and teacher, questions Jesus regarding the meaning of his teachings about water, flesh and spirit. Jesus tells him that although he is a teacher of Judaism, Nicodemus does not understand the truth God has sent through the Son of Man, Jesus.

Jesus instructs repeatedly that eternal life is promised to those who understand that the flesh and the spirit exist simultaneously. Jesus reminds us that truly receiving God is to live in the awareness of His love for all of us, all the time, here and now. He taught that when we share our love and loving actions with others, no matter their station in life, we are expressing God’s love to them.

How can we live into God’s grace and abundance? Following Jesus’ teaching requires courage to take those right next steps, even if we don’t know what is around the bend. In the season of Lent, can we remember that we are living in full relationship with God here and now? Remembering that God loves us all equally, can we receive God’s love and enjoy sharing it with our fellow beings? Can we express God’s love for our planet, our neighbors, and ourselves? Spreading God’s love far and wide helps us feel both loved and loving.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

8 Mar 2015 John 2:13-22

8 Mar  2015  John 2:13-22 

The story of Jesus and the money changers is a familiar one, and one in which it is easy to assume we are aligned with Jesus and ready to drive away the profiteers trading at the doorways of our religious establishments. However, what does making "his Father's house" a marketplace look like nowadays? The moneychangers were just doing what was culturally expected in making sacrifices of doves and sheep convenient by providing them for the worshippers.  We might want to remember St Francis and his refusal to get into the ways that the church of his day did "business as usual." . St Francis took Jesus seriously enough that he gave up his wealth and comforts, left the church of his time and built a community that was out in the world rejoicing in nature and caring for the poor, being with the "unhoused" and "unchurched."

There are movements within our denomination today that are asking us now to reimagine "church" for the 21st century, as something other than a place where we can come comfortably and companionably and have our bodies and souls cared for Some years ago, Episcopal priest Malcolm Boyd (who died this week at age 91) asked “are you running with me, Jesus?” as he challenged us to engage with him in radical inclusion through the civil rights movement and AIDS activism out in the streets,  campuses and coffeehouses.  Excluded by his church for decades, he was finally welcomed back. As a gay man, he rejoiced in being part of an inclusive church community.

Like Fr. Boyd and St. Francis, we should resist the division between “the church” and “the world” not by accepting the exclusions and money-making tendencies of both institutions but by challenging both to live up to Jesus’ radical “housecleaning.”  There is a lot of work to be done in and for the church. Making our physical building really God’s house where all are made to feel welcome will cost us time and money and inconvenience. But we are also asked to make efforts to take church out of the building and out of the business of doing "transactions" with God.  The "temple" Jesus describes in this gospel isn’t a building, but his body, which is the body of all people.  Loving our building and welcoming people to it and leaving it in order to share God’s love with those outside are not alternatives but two sides of a single mission.  As Christians who need to stay fresh and close to our real purpose, we should ask whether we use the idea that "church is not the building" as an excuse for not making the effort to support it or as a challenge to do much more than merely come here "for comfort but not for renewal."   

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Mark 8:31-38: "Those who want to save their life will lose it . . ."

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”

I’ve always found this to be one of the hardest and most challenging passages in the Gospels.  Jesus seems to be saying that the best way for us to become his disciples is to lay down our weapons and stop defending ourselves. That might mean literally allowing ourselves to be killed rather than fight back, if we should ever be threatened with death. Holy martyrs die that way, and so did Jesus himself.

Even if we imagine that we would be heroic enough to do likewise, though, most of us will never find ourselves in such a life-or-death situation. How is today’s lesson actually relevant to us?

Perhaps Jesus is urging us to stop worrying about the possible loss of the material goods, powers, and privileges that we have used so far to demonstrate (both to others and to ourselves) who we are and why our lives matter in this world. Are we willing to follow him if that might mean risking our social status, for example? Or our career goals, or retirement savings, or some of our family relationships? Are we willing, in other words, to let ourselves become more vulnerable by the usual standards of our old life?

What if we can’t give an honest “yes” to that question? The good news is that we are not expected to reach that level of commitment all by ourselves or all at once. As a first step, we might return with some regularity to the wonderful collect for the Fifth Sunday in Lent in the Book of Common Prayer:      
    “Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.”

Friday, February 20, 2015

22 Feb. 2015 Mark 1:9-15

Mark 1:9-15 

My beloved son, in whom I am well pleased. God's pleasure and approval is made known but then God immediately sends Jesus off into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan (and tended by angels). What can these apparent contradictions mean? Is it really so great to be loved by God if it means be exiled to the wilderness for forty days (biblical way of saying a heck of a long time)? But Jesus isn't sent into the wilderness as a punishment, which we can see by God's continuing loving care expressed in the metaphor of being tended by angels. And for us Lent is not supposed to be God's punishment or a time of self-imposed torment, either.

What we who are loved by God and pleasing to God are asked to do is to go out and struggle with the demons, the powers of darkness that wish to separate us from that love. In the face of the powers of corruption and callousness and greed that turn our rich and beautiful earth into a place of misery for millions, we may feel we can't risk the disappointments that come from caring about those who are struggling in the darkest and most dangerous wildernesses. We are asked to go there and face our demons, whether they are named Anxiety or Despair or Cynicism. We are sent in this Lenten season out into the wilderness of our city and our country, to places that seem not much like the realm of justice we thought God was offering, to encounter the demons there that tell us to go home, there is nothing useful we can do. Our resources seem few and our progress precarious. Yet we are asked to have faith that the struggle is not ours alone and that we will be cared for by angels even when we feel most isolated and ineffectual. Easter does come, and death will be trampled down.

Monday, February 9, 2015

15 Feb. 2015 Mark 9:2-9

15 Feb. 2015 Mark 9:2-9 

The Transfiguration in this Sunday's gospel happened on a mountain top the disciples were granted a vision of a perfectly complete unification of the promises of Gods love.  Every one of us, especially as children, has experienced a split second when the world is perfect, whole, the Kingdom is spread out before us.  We are in awe of something we dont understand and yet know its the way things really are.  Theologians call this a perception of the numinous.’  Sometimes we call it a mountain top experience.”  Usually its so powerful, we can only marvel in silence, wanting it to last.

But it doesnt last, does it?  Suddenly its gone as quickly as it came.  “Suddenly they saw no one with them any more, only Jesus.”  What happened?  Why were the disciples left with such an imperfect world and only Jesus?  Why are we left with such an imperfect world and only Jesus?  Why didnt God create a perfect world to begin with?  Why is there so much suffering in this world that God could have made perfect?

Or did God create a perfect world not a perfect world in the daily news, but a perfect world for human beings to grow in holiness?  How so?  As Christians, we believe that our growth in holiness, in becoming more Christ-like, depends not on transcending suffering, but on facing it with courage and trust.  And we need only Jesus to show us how.

This is not a perfect world and it will never be a perfect world, and yet it is replete with opportunities to grow more Christ-like.  What can we do today, this week, to become more Christ-like toward our suffering brothers and sisters in this community of Madison, Wisconsin?

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

8 Feb 2015 Mark 1:29-39 Casting Out Demons

8  Feb  2015  Mark 1:29-39        Casting Out Demons

“And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons”

I wonder what demons Jesus would cast out in this country.  I turned to the Book of Revelation for some guidance and found demons named: abandoning one’s focus on God’s love, pretending to be someone one is not, acting in conflict with one’s best interest, tolerating false prophets, failing to act, and being neither hot nor cold but merely lukewarm.

Martin Luther King, Jr. in his “Letters from the Birmingham Jail” addressed the demons of failing to act and being lukewarm in the cause of justice. He said, 

Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.  We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.”

“I have wept over the laxity of the church. There was a time when the church was very powerful.  In those days the church was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an arch defender of the status quo. But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.“

When good people are silent and the church is lax, it becomes easy to lose focus on whose we are and who we are called to be.  It becomes easy to hide in fear and to tolerate false prophets of exclusion and hate rather than remembering that the Good News of God’s Love is for all people.  Fear transforms the holy work of building God’s community into the “holy” work of policing the world - perceiving others as threats rather than neighbors.  Fear of Muslims, atheists, Gays, undocumented immigrants, “inner city criminals,” Black people, non-English speakers, “big government” gives demons permission to multiply.  Fear becomes a lens through which we view the world outside the church building as an immoral war zone.  Fear enables false prophets to become legitimate.  Fear encourages the fearful to vote and act against their own best interest.  Fear silences us.  Fear is the enemy of Love.

How can we choose to remember the mighty acts of God in history and remember to trust completely in the God who spoke the world into being, calmed the seas, healed the blind, and raised the dead, and choose to cast out these demons fearlessly?