Saturday, July 14, 2018

Gospel text for Sunday 15 July 2018

Mark 6:14-29        King Herod heard of Jesus and his disciples, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”

For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.

Reflection      Here is an interesting twist. Both men in this story know truth. John knows Jewish law forbids a man from marrying his brother’s wife. Herod knows John is a righteous and holy man and even likes listening to him speak. What distinguishes John from Herod is not their access to truth but rather their willingness to act on it.
When we dig deep down to the bottom of our souls we know what is right, what it true, even though sometimes we must plow through dung and dross to get there. So the question is, “What does it take to stand up, speak and act on truth?” I believe it requires two things. First we put our faith in God with us rather than in ourselves. If I believed doing this life was up to me alone I would wrap myself in cotton and lock me in a closet. But thanks be to God I know, God is with me no matter what. Second, as people of God we acknowledge there are standards by which we measure our behavior. Does our behavior demonstrate love of God, our neighbor, our enemy? Do our words and our actions lead us toward greater or lesser good for all people? 
Speaking and acting on truth is not neutral. Regardless that social, political and religious  pundits proclaim we live in a “post-truth” context, not all perspectives, positions or actions proceed toward good. As Christians we understand truth is both deeply personal and broadly communal.  Deeply personal because the deepest truth of our self is not other than that of Divine Presence with us. AND  Broadly communal because we affirm the interconnected, interdependence of all creatures and creation. Life is about me and life is about more than me.
It take courage to change not only our minds, but also to act decisively to change the course of events. In a grandstanding moment Herod made a regrettable and ill conceived promise. Full of himself he failed to see his vulnerability to Herodias’ special interest.  Then refusing to appear handled, he chose to act against what he knew was true, and was “deeply grieved.” 
John the Baptizer also faced a choice. Would he keep his mouth shut about Herod’s adulterous relationship and thus protect himself or would he speak truth to power? John chose the latter and we know where it got him because acting on truth exposes human failings and upsets the status quo. 
We dare not get so cynical or news weary, discouraged or afraid that we exchange our standards of truth and right action for the handling and false promises of special interest groups or self-serving governors. It takes courage to speak and act on truth, courage to change the course of events because when we do there is every chance, we will be handed our heads on a platter. So act now!
If you found this post interesting you may want to attend 
“Moving Prayer into Action,”
a forum at Church of the Apostles, on Sunday July 15th at 10:45 am where we will hear stories of oppression, persecution and marginalization from our Muslim, Mexican, Sikh, and Holocaust Surviving neighbors and learn about ways we can put our prayers into action to change the course of events. 
All are welcome to attend. 12111 N La Cholla Blvd, Oro Valley, AZ 

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Saturday, July 7, 2018

Gospel and Collect for Sunday 8 July 2018

Collect of the Day        O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor: Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Mark 6:1-13        Jesus came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.
Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

Reflection        A Judean peasant, a carpenter, the eldest son, Jesus should be making tables and providing a subsistence living for his mother and sisters and brothers.  Based on his childhood friends and neighbors purported knowledge, Jesus can not or should not be doing the things he is doing. In the eyes of the people who think they know him, Jesus is something more than expected, living beyond the bounds of his berth.

But wait a minute. Are not all of us more than meets the eye? Are we not more than the tidy categories defined for us by mid level bureaucrats on  US Census forms? Are we not more than gender, age, race, ethnicity, profession, social status, education, religious preference and political affiliation? And, if we are more than meets the eye, then logically other people must also be more than we can see. 

A few weeks ago I attended the celebration of a dear friend’s daughter’s marriage. Born of affluent, southern and Dallas stock the porcelain skinned WASP bride glowed in the arms of her brightly tattooed, chestnut skinned, Mexican husband. This striking couple offered me the opportunity to recognize that, much like the people in Jesus’ hometown, I was wearing a pair of glasses that prevented me from seeing beyond the surface appearance of our groom. Here is what happened. 

The young man, whom I will call Edward, stood in the middle of the cathedralesque great room of the bride’s family home addressing the guests.  “I want to thank all of you for being here. You have no idea how much it means to me to see our two families and friends together in this beautiful place. Whoever would have imagined this is possible?” Tears escaping the dark saucers of his eyes, Edward paused to compose himself. “Thank you, thank you….” I cannot remember more because I stumbled upon a block in my heart. I was surprised to hear him speak so well, so gracefully, so confidently. And I was horrified. I had no idea that I was wearing racist, classist glasses and I felt ashamed. 

However can I be devoted to God if I am wearing glasses that separate me from others? I cannot be devoted to God if I stop at what I think I know about a person and fail to recognize the depth and breath and beauty of their being? I cannot be devoted to God with my whole heart if I am not united to each person I meet in pure affection.

The good news is, by the grace of God that tender moment at the wedding celebration my heart broke open. Hot tears washed over my stumbling block, transfigured my guilt and the smile that arose from the ashes of my shallow vision, joined me to a room full of well wishers, united in bonds of pure affection because, you see, mine was not the only tear cleansed heart. 

What if  instead of taking offense the people in Jesus’ hometown were willing to be surprised, to be overtaken by something new?  Might the sick have been healed and the possessed liberated? Might Jesus have been fruitful, opening the eyes, the minds and the hearts of friends and family to be devoted to God and united in bonds of pure affection?

What about us? What if instead of reducing people to what we presume to know about them, what if we humbly assume that just like us they are much more than meets the eye?

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Saturday, June 30, 2018

Independence Day lections for Sunday 1 July 2018

Hebrews 11:8-16      By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a  place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old-- and Sarah herself was barren-- because he considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, “as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.”

All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.

Reflection       As I see it, church and state cannot possibly come into alignment given the incredible diversity of understanding in our country of who or what or if there is God and what constitutes moral or ethical behavior. We will never all be on the same page. Nonetheless, as citizens and friends, strangers and immigrants in this country I believe we can agree that there is one boulder that bridges the divide between church and state. Freedom.

Just a few weeks before the Revolutionary war two hundred and forty three years ago,  Patrick Henry spoke to the House of Burgess in Virginia urging the delegates to join efforts for Independence from Great Britain. His words, “Give me liberty or give me death” echo through the centuries as a battlecry for freedom. We hear Henry’s words in Moses’ demands to Pharoah, “Set my people free.”  We hear Henry’s words in Jesus’ proclamation, “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me… (having) sent me to proclaim release to the captives.” (Luke 4.18) We hear Henry’s words in Abraham Lincoln’s confrontation of “the monstrous injustice of slavery.”  We hear Henry’s words in Nelson Mandela’s, “For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

Today we face a challenging question. Do we believe in freedom enough to do whatever it takes to respect and enhance the freedom of others? As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. so eloquently wrote,  “We have flown the air like birds and swum the sea like fishes, but have yet to learn the simple act of walking the earth like brothers.”

The fourth of July is Independence Day, celebrating freedom of the American colonies from Great Britain in 1776. Public displays of patriotism abound; flags, fireworks and parades, bar-b-ques, watermelon and baseball games, simple ways Americans celebrate their gratitude for the freedom we enjoy, the American way.

As we look forward to this government paid holiday I find myself scratching my head and wondering “How well are we walking on this land of the free, enhancing the freedom of our sisters and brothers? How free are the poor to access health care and reproductive information? How free are people to work and businesses to engage in free commerce? How free are women to access pay and position equal to their male counterparts? How free are employers to hire whomever they choose? How free are our LGBTQ friends and neighbors to pursue their happiness?  How free are folks to protect themselves and not participate in things in which they do not believe? How free are men to express vulnerability or uncertainty? How free are refugees, asylum seekers and migrants to find safe haven and make a better life in this country? How free are each of us to speak and expose unpopular truths? How free are we to tell people in power what they do not want to hear?”

Do you hear this litany? When we ask all of these questions we realize, they do not line up  on one side of the political aisle nor do they align with a particular religious perspective. Even within our Christian tradition people of good faith see different ways to move toward what they believe is good. There is no simple prescription for freedom. The one thing we may say is, if freedom is freedom at all, it must be freedom for all. Returning to Mandela’s words, “For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” 

How then shall we “live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others?”

As people of God we locate ourselves in a with God world. That means we act decisively to make God’s presence known among all people, especially the poor, weak and marginalized, the strangers and enemies. As people of God we privilege relationships over personal gain. It is not all about me. It is all about we. As people of God we not only have compassion for the suffering but we also act unconditionally to offer them relief. And so we ask ourselves, am I making God’s presence known by respecting and enhancing the freedom of others?

Freedom is not free. It may well cost our lives or land us in prison. But the desire for freedom was sufficient for our ancestors to take the risk, cross the pond and enter this unknown land. The desire for freedom was sufficient for our fledgling nation to wage and win a revolution against Great Britain. The desire for freedom was sufficient to ignite the mass protests of the civil rights movement culminating in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The desire for freedom compels us to action.

The thing is, if we want freedom we must stand up for it and, like our ancestor Abraham, be willing to step onto new ground without knowing where we are going. And yes, this does create disorder, shakes up the status quo. So by faith we must stay the course, even when it means  like our barren sister Sarah we must wait through our old age to bear new life. And yes, like Abraham and his descendants we may well die before receiving the promise of the city of God, but as people of God we continue to pave the way of respect and access to freedom for all people. 

In our lifetime we may never see the City of God fulfilled, but every word we speak and every action we take will either add to its foundation or tare it down. Let me suggest before we speak and before we act we would do well to ask ourselves, “How do my words and my actions respect and enhance the freedom of others?” 

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Saturday, June 23, 2018

Hebrew Testament Test for Sunday 24 June 2018

Image result for image facing the giant

1 Samuel 17: 1a, 4-11, 19-23, 32-49        The Philistines gathered their armies for battle. And there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail; the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. He had greaves of bronze on his legs and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders. The shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron; and his shield-bearer went before him. He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why have you come out to draw up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants; but if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us.” And the Philistine said, “Today I defy the ranks of Israel! Give me a man, that we may fight together.” When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.

Now Saul, and they, and all the men of Israel, were in the valley of Elah, fighting with the Philistines. David rose early in the morning, left the sheep with a keeper, took the provisions, and went as Jesse had commanded him. He came to the encampment as the army was going forth to the battle line, shouting the war cry. Israel and the Philistines drew up for battle, army against army. David left the things in charge of the keeper of the baggage, ran to the ranks, and went and greeted his brothers. As he talked with them, the champion, the Philistine of Gath, Goliath by name, came up out of the ranks of the Philistines, and spoke the same words as before. And David heard him.

David said to Saul, “Let no one’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are just a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth.” But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father; and whenever a lion or a bear came, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after it and struck it down, rescuing the lamb from its mouth; and if it turned against me, I would catch it by the jaw, strike it down, and kill it. Your servant has killed both lions and bears; and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, since he has defied the armies of the living God.” David said, “The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.” So Saul said to David, “Go, and may the Lord be with you!” Saul clothed David with his armor; he put a bronze helmet on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail. David strapped Saul’s sword over the armor, and he tried in vain to walk, for he was not used to them. Then David said to Saul, “I cannot walk with these; for I am not used to them.” So David removed them. Then he took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the wadi, and put them in his shepherd’s bag, in the pouch; his sling was in his hand, and he drew near to the Philistine.

The Philistine came on and drew near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. When the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was only a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance. The Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. The Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the field.” But David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This very day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head; and I will give the dead bodies of the Philistine army this very day to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the earth, so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand.”

When the Philistine drew nearer to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. David put his hand in his bag, took out a stone, slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead; the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground.

Reflection        The battle between David and Goliath is a battle between Israel and the Philistines, a fight for the life of the tiny, vulnerable nation of Israel and represents the confrontation of a vulnerable individual with an overbearing power structure. When with a single well placed stone David finds Goliath’s soft spot and wins the lopsided battle, it is a victory for Israel as well as affirmation of God’s ultimate victory over the powers of sinful behavior. 

If sin is “missing the mark” then clearly the giant Goliath is full of it for he failed to respect the power of the God of Israel and thereby left himself open to fall flat on his face. Not so for youthful David, who, knowing the power of God with him, hit the mark, spot on, and felled the imperious giant.

Our story of David and Goliath (not to mention the full brush of human history) makes it clear, conflict is inevitable. So the question is not, how do we avoid conflict? Rather it is, how shall we engage it? St. Paul answers this question in his letter to the Romans saying,”Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light.” (Ro 13.12)

What does it mean to “put on the armour of light?” I believe it means at least two things. First, we must shine the light at ourselves and identify those behaviors that separate us from God and one another, things that make us “miss the mark,” such as abuse, degradation, arrogance and gluttony. Not to mention; jealousy, greed, selfishness, denying the needs of others, dishonoring strangers’ personhood, fear of the unknown, complacency, self satisfaction, running away from the challenge? To put on the armour of light first we must admit the ways we have missed the mark and kept ourselves in the dark.

The second thing that putting on the armour of light requires is getting out of our comfort zones and taking the risk to step onto unfamiliar ground, which we are able to do because we are confident that God is with us, empowering us to be beacons of light, to act effectively to overcome weapons of violence and systems designed for destruction. Like young David, we are armoured with our confidence in God with us which means we show up and confront the misanthropic giant.

It is time for us to wake up, to let the message sink into our minds much as David’s stone sunk into the giant’s forehead. It is time for us to wake up and remember, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor, therefore love is fulfilling the law.” (Ro 13.10)  Our old moralistic, dual thinking perspective arguing issues of right and wrong, good and evil has led us into paralysis,  a seemingly impenetrable stalemate between opposing armies. 

Doubtless young David spent many hours in prayer while tending his sheep through long starry nights AND when it was time to act, he stood up and faced the giant. Prayer that fails to lead to action misses the mark. As people of God we are intended to fulfill God's law and do no wrong to our neighbors. So rather than judge our neighbors asking, “Is this good or is this evil,” because good and evil will always exist, let us ask instead, “What is most life giving and sustaining in this situation?” and “How am I to act knowing God is with me right now?”

**Nietzsche, Friedrich, The Will to Power (Walter Kaufmann and R. J. Hollingdale translators). New York: Random House, 1967. pages 532–533.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Hebrew Testament Text for Sunday, 10 June 2018

Prophet or king, to whom shall we listen?

1 Samuel 8:4-20        All the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, “You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to govern us.” Samuel prayed to the Lord, and the Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. Just as they have done to me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so also they are doing to you. Now then, listen to their voice; only—you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”

So Samuel reported all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; [and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers.] He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”

But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; they said, “No! but we are determined to have a king over us, so that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.”

Reflection     Events have an interesting way of recurring and we humans have a way of forgetting what we learn. Nearing the end of his life it turns out Samuel’s sons are not unlike his teacher Eli’s sons had been, corrupt. “When (Samuel) made (his sons) judges over Israel… they did not follow in his ways, they took bribes and perverted justice.” (ISam 8.1,3) And the people come to Samuel demanding he anoint for them a king.

Theologians suggest two possible reasons the people want Samuel to  anoint a king for them. One train of thought suggests Samuel’s sons could not be trusted to govern them hence the people want a king “like other nations.” In this case it seems the mass of people want to transfer their alliance from the God of Israel as spoken through the prophet Samuel to an earthly king. This is emblematic of the human inclination to conformity, believing, “If other people do it, it must be right.”

A second school of thought  suggests it is an elite group of elders who come to Samuel asking him to anoint a king because having a king would contribute to their personal gain in wealth and power. Remember, “the best of the peoples’ fields, olive orchards and vineyards would be given to the king’s courtiers.” Power and wealth have an uncanny way of consolidating and self-sustaining.

In either case, Samuel is frustrated but, ever reliant on the Presence of God with him, he listens for the Word God to guide him and hears, “Listen to the voice of the people for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me (the Lord God) from being king over them.”

Faithful to what he “hears” from the Lord, Samuel warns the people about what it will be like to have a king. “He will take your sons and daughters and make them fight his battles and work his fields. He will take your best fields  and tax your businesses to fatten the purses of his rich friends. He will make you slaves, serving his ambition.” But the people refuse to listen. Twenty-six hundred years later, what have we learned?

Why are we humans so tempted to put our faith and pledge allegiance to earthly kings (read caesar, magnate, tycoons)?  Why do we turn our backs to God in favor of the flashing lights and prestidigitation of social, political and religious drama? Why do we still succumb to targeted sound bytes and seditious news pics designed to ignite fear and mistrust of one another? To what voice shall we pledge our allegiance? The voice of the prophet speaking on behalf of God or the voice of the self-serving king?

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Friday, June 1, 2018

Hebrew Testament Text for Sunday 3 June 2018

Bishop Michael Curry, center, leads an interfaith march during a Reclaiming Jesus event in Washington on May 24, 2018. RNS photo by Jack Jenkins

 1 Samuel 3:1-20         Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.
At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down. The Lord called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” Then the Lord said to Samuel, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle. On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. For I have told him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever.”

Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. But Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son.” He said, “Here I am.” Eli said, “What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also, if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.” So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. Then he said, “It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.”

As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.

Reflection      This is the story of God and God’s people. It is a story of call and response, and in order to respond we must first be listening which is why Eli counsels Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if (the Lord) calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’ But listening is not enough. Like Samuel we must also transfer alliance from our worldly teachers and authorities to the presence of God with us, even when it means speaking hard truths out loud, even to our teachers and authorities as did Samuel with Eli.

Recently 1.9 billion people were blessed to listen to the call of a present day prophet, the Episcopal Church’s own Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, who preached at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in what one news source described as “a moment of divine intervention.” 

The progressive Christian leader Jim Wallis wrote, “God used a royal wedding to have the gospel preached probably to the largest audience at one time.” Then speaking about his commitment to join with faith leaders to promote the Reclaiming Jesus Movement Bishop Curry explained, “My hope and prayer is that what we’re really doing is helping the average Christian person of faith find their voice. We’re trying to find a way to bring people together and the values that we share is our starting place for doing that. We don’t tell people how to vote,” Curry said. “We don’t tell people exactly what policies they must stand for. We identify what are the values that will guide you in your life. But the rest? That’s between you and God.”

What are those values? As the voice of today’s prophet Curry preaches,“Love the neighbor you like and the neighbor you don’t like. Love the neighbor you agree with and the neighbor you don’t agree with. Love your Democrat neighbor, your Republican neighbor, your black neighbor, your white neighbor, your Anglo neighbor, your Latino neighbor and your LGBTQ neighbor. Love your neighbor! That’s why we’re here!”*

He concludes, “In these incredibly polarizing and frankly demoralizing times we need a moral message that’s anchored in faith not ideology and politics.” Essentially Curry is counseling us to transfer our alliance from the voices of politicians, ideologues and the media to the interior voice of the Word God with us, a Word we hear from trustworthy prophets. 

Like Samuel I believe our Presiding Bishop is a trustworthy prophet and I pray that “none of his words will fall to the ground.” God is not silent, remote or uninterested even though we may look at our lives or the world in which we live and want to shout, “O God, where are you in this? “ It is time for us to stop listening to media campaigns and political posturing and transfer our alliance to the Word God with us and love our neighbors, especially the ones that are most difficult for us to love. 

When we lay down our politics and personal predilections to embody the values proclaimed by our prophets, we too will be trustworthy. 

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Saturday, May 26, 2018

Hebrew Testament Text for Trinity Sunday 27 May 2018

Isaiah 6:1-8        In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; 
the whole earth is full of his glory.”

The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”

Reflection     “The whole earth is full of God’s glory” in spite of the shameful state of affairs erupting throughout the nation twenty-six hundred years ago and today.  And, God needs someone to speak to the people and remind them that God is present and active no matter how terrible things appear. No doubt caught by a knot twisting in his belly, Isaiah pleads that he is not fit for the task of speaking on behalf of God, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips…” Whereupon a seraph, a Spirit of God,”holds a live coal that had been taken from the altar” to Isaiah’s lips, a ritual act to illustrate the inner cleansing of Isaiah’s heart and mind. Herewith Isaiah experiences God’s invitation, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” He responds, “Here am I; send me!” and proceeds through the course of his life to preach and counsel three different kings and die a martyr’s death.

Isaiah puts his faith in his experience of Divine Presence that invites his incarnate response inspired by the Spirit. Benevolent Father calls to faithful Son through the effectual action of the Spirit.  God is made known in the relationships of the transcendent, incarnate and demonstrative.

Leaping forward six hundred years, might Jesus have heard rumors of the prophet John the Baptizer shouting in the wilderness? “People, listen up. Your world is in a shameful state. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. If you keep doing the same thing you can expect the same response. So repent, turn around, change your minds your hearts and the way you live. Now, as an outward and visible sign of your intention to do just that, come down to the river and I will baptize you with water.”

And did Jesus go to the river, saying “Here I am,” and allow John to immerse him in the cool river waters? Was it in that act of faithful acquiescence that Jesus consciously experienced the Spirit of God with him and came to claim his identity with God? Of course, this is all speculation, but when it comes to God what else can we do? 

For me the Trinity is nothing if not the community of God. Putting our faith in the benevolence of Divine Presence,  responding by imitating Jesus’ life and ministry, empowered by the effectual Holy Spirit, we live and breath and find the courage to say, “Here I am, Lord. Send me.”

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