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

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?