Friday, October 23, 2020

Hebrew Testament text for Sunday 26 October 2020


 Leviticus 19:1-2,15-18

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying:

Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.

You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the Lord.

You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.



Reflection        Tuesday afternoon I watched as University of Arizona researcher Dante Lauretta’s audacious dream born in 2011 came true. Nine years, 1.16 billion dollars and the devoted collaboration of thousands of individuals kissed the asteroid Bennu with the Osiris Rex spacecraft 200 million miles away from Tucson, Arizona precisely on a spot the size of a couple of parking spaces. When the spacecraft touched down for a mere few moments and grabbed a sample of what might be the original grit of creation,  the ground crews eyes teared above their masked mouths as they pumped their arms and shouted celebration with a singular voice. “We did it. We did it!”  Sometimes this is exactly what we humans need to be set on fire and inspired to be more that we ever imagined; a dream, a big, audacious, adventurous, impossible dream.


Which makes me wonder if this is what God has in mind when compelling   Moses to deliver an even more audacious call to all of humanity, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” Please pause and chew on these words, swallow them, let them have their way with you. “You shall be holy.” There is no equivocation, You SHALL be holy. You MUST be holy. Now let me be clear, the injunction to holiness is not limited to a few special people called to holy orders or set aside for religious life. The you of “you shall be holy” refers to “all the congregation of Israel.” This second person point of view belongs to all the people being addressed, whoever hears these words. Today, this is you. YOU shall be holy. You MUST be holy.


We cannot escape it. We are created in the image and likeness of God. We are meant to be a holy people, people whose lives individually and collectively are conformed to God’s audacious call to to be holy. 


You may well argue, does not God make it patently clear that God is God and we are not? Surely our righteous ancestor Job, with whom neither the devil nor God could find fault, was quaking on his ash heap as God bellows out of the whirlwind to Job’s sick and suffering soul.

7 ‘Gird up your loins like a man;

   I will question you, and you declare to me. 

8 Will you even put me in the wrong?

   Will you condemn me that you may be justified? 

9 Have you an arm like God,

   and can you thunder with a voice like his? 

  …

‘Can you draw out Leviathan with a fish-hook,

   or press down its tongue with a cord?” (Job 40.7-9, 41.1)


Hearing that would be daunting but I say, acknowledging the distance between God and us is rather like reckoning the 200 million miles between the University of Arizona space lab and the asteroid Bennu. By daring to seek the unreachable, unspeakable fulfillment comes near. 


We are called to the audacious dream of holiness and just in case we get bogged down in details or derailed by arguments of what is just, lawful, merciful or true, our text from Leviticus graciously concludes with a succinct summary statement. “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”  In other words, to be holy as God is holy we are not to hate one another, not to hold grudges, but to act with mercy and love toward one another. 


We answer God’s call to live holy lives by treating the aged, the infirm and the poor with care and consideration. We speak truth and do not profit at the expense of others. We do not nurture resentment or seek retaliation. Rather, we show thoughtfulness, grant forgiveness and volunteer hospitality, even, and perhaps especially to those whom we believe occupy space 200 million miles away from us.


God compels Moses to deliver an audacious call to all of humanity, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” Although the dream of holiness may seem to be 200 millions miles beyond our reach, being made in the image and likeness of God,  nothing is  impossible for us when we direct our hearts and minds, our actions and resources to make God’s dream come true together. If we can kiss an asteroid 200 million miles away, surely we can be kind to our neighbors. 


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Saturday, October 17, 2020

Gospel text for Sunday 18 October 2020


Matthew 22:15-22        The Pharisees went and plotted to entrap Jesus in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.



Reflection

Are you Republican or Democrat? I say, “Yes.”

Are you pro choice or pro life? I say, “Yes.”

Are you capitalist or environmentalist? I say, “Yes.”


I experience these as forced choice questions, questions designed to assign me to a particular category or group, questions aligned with a narrowly defined set of values or ideology, questions meant to make me smaller and separate me from you. I do not want to bite. 


Do you want drinkable water and breathable air or freedom from government over reach? What answer could we possibly have but, “Yes?”


Using forced choice questions to distract, divide and entrap people is nothing new. This is what we witness in our gospel text as the Jewish religious officials, the Pharisees, along with the men who profit by collecting taxes for the Romans, the Herodians, try to entrap Jesus with their question, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”


The first thing to remember is, the Pharisees and the Herodians are opposing groups. The Pharisees enforce strict worship of God in prayer and study of the Jewish law. The Herodians support the monarchy of Herod who is the source of their livelihood. Together they are trying to force Jesus to choose sides. If Jesus protests against paying taxes to Rome, the Herodians will quickly accuse him of treason and inciting the people to rebel against Roman authority. If Jesus supports paying taxes to Rome he will be counseling the Jews to use idolatrous coins  that not only sport Caesar’s image but also the inscription, “Tiberius Caesar, Augustus, son of divine Augustus.” Jewish law definitively prohibits the use of such idolatrous objects. Furthermore, Jesus’ followers who are suffering beneath the burden of excessive taxes will feel betrayed. 


We have all been there, caught between a train and a platform. Are you for profitable business or are you for healthcare? Are you for free speech or for civil discourse? Are you for free enterprise or environmental regulation? Whenever we are faced with these forced choice questions our antennae need to rise and we must become wise, wise as Jesus, and refuse to be distracted, divided and entrapped. Refuse to bite.


Let us with wisdom look at a contemporary example of a forced choice question intended by each party to entrap and incriminate the opposition. Are you for environmentalism or capitalism? How do we begin to wisely engage this question? Wisdom begins by asking, what are the fundamental values and downsides of each? Please pardon this simplified description.


Capitalism affirms peoples rights to private ownership (many of us own our home and car). Capitalism maintains our freedom to use our resources for profit (invest our money), and privileges individual rights (to own property including guns and to have custody over our bodies). Overall, capitalism has led the U.S. to great economic success. 


Environmentalism values protection and conservation of natural resources (many of us are mindful of our use of power and water). Environmentalism privileges the common good (we care about our neighbors and our planet). Environmentalism has protected public lands and provided national parks and seashores available for all to enjoy. 


A downside of environmentalism is that action aimed for the common good can impinge on individual rights eg to do fracking on my privately owned land.  A downside of capitalism is private ownership of resources does not incentivize action aimed at the common good, eg manufacturing practices tend to privilege profit over the side effects of contaminants on the shared resources of earth and air. 


So let me ask again, Are you for capitalism or environmentalism? If we are honest with our selves what can we say but, “Yes?” What then shall we do?


As people of faith I believe we must refuse to be distracted, divided and entrapped. Distracted by the high emotion with which each group spins their story, divided by shrinking ourselves to fit into a singular category or group, entrapped by political ideologues, who, like the Pharisees and Herodians are bent on winning by getting us to shrink into their side. We must not bite.


As people of faith we affirm that all of creation is good, including the earth and all that dwells in and on and around her, so, we are environmentalists. As people of faith we affirm that from the beginning human beings are very good with the right to freedom and fullness of life, so, we are also capitalists. Therefore, the question is not, “Are you for capitalism or environmentalism?” The question is, “How do we embody our value for both the individual and the collective, for personal agency and the common good?” 


Is it fair to appropriate Jesus’ words and say, “Give therefore to the individual the things that are the individuals, and to collective the things that are the collectives?” 


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Thursday, October 8, 2020

Epistle & Gospel texts for Sunday 11 October 2020


 Philippians 4:1-9        My brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.

I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.


Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.


Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.


Matthew 22:1-14          Once more Jesus spoke to the people in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.


“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”

 


Reflection        Jesus addresses this parable to the religious officials of his time, Jews with elite positions in the synagogue and state, Jews who refuse to receive his message of a new way of living for everyone including the rich and powerful. In Jesus’ teaching tale members of the elite class are invited to the kings’s son’s wedding having no idea who the bride might be. This is not a proper invitation so the first round of guests not only ignore it, some even react with violence. But, having already offended the status quo, the king bends the breach even further, extending a second invitation to anyone who will participate. And therein lies the secret. 


Everyone who attends the wedding banquet is meant to fully participate, to be married to a new way of living, the way of living revealed by Jesus. Apparently the entire second round of guests received and understood this message except the one who showed up in street clothes instead of a wedding robe. It is easy to get flustered by the fuss the king makes about required attire, but this is a parable, a teaching tale. So the question is, “What does the wedding robe represent?”


I believe the wedding robe is the outward and visible sign of the wearers inner desire to participate in Jesus’ new way of living, the way firmly rejected by the religious officials bent on protecting the status quo. Which brings us to St. Paul’s counsel to the Philippians. “…whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Do these things.


These things are the garments in which we, the people of God who choose to follow Jesus must be dressed. People will recognize that we belong to Jesus because our robes radiate truth, honor, justice, purity, “whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable… anything worthy of praise.” Our robes are the way we appear in society. It is what people see when we walk into a room, it is what people read when they open our email or see our social media post. Our robes are the way we reveal who and whose we are. Are we truthful, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable and worthy of praise? Or are we deceitful, deceptive, unfair, false, unpleasant, unethical and worthy of censure?


Could it be that many of us cringe when we hear this teaching tale because it implicates every one of us? We are the religious elites,  people who claim to belong to God but far too often fail to wear our righteous wedding robe. Let’s face it. The way we live and breath and treat one another and the earth is scandalous. From disturbing emails forwarded to angry jabs, and threatening gestures, far too often we wear insult rather than honor, disrespect rather than devotion. 

I beg you, please, stop before you forward another inciting email, before you like or even dislike another social media post (do you know a dislike counts as much as a like to push a post to the top of the hit list?) Stop before you despise or disdain another person. Stop and say to yourself, she or he like me is created in the image and likeness of God. And like me he or she may not be living into the fullness of their God given identity, but the shells I aim at them ricochet to shatter my glass tower, sending me into terrible dark moods where all I can do is weep and fret and gnash my teeth. Can you relate?


We are caught in a cyclone of social, political, physical, emotional and spiritual upheaval.  If ever we needed to wrap ourselves in our righteous wedding robes, it is now. Being clothed in whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, an excellent we will not be bound, hand and foot, and find ourselves weeping and gnashing of teeth. If we keep on doing the righteous things that we have learned and received and seen in Jesus,  the God of peace will persist with us.


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Friday, October 2, 2020

Hebrew Testament & Gospel texts for Sunday 4 October 2020

 


Isaiah 5:1-7

Let me sing for my beloved

my love-song concerning his vineyard:

My beloved had a vineyard

on a very fertile hill.

He dug it and cleared it of stones,

and planted it with choice vines;

he built a watchtower in the midst of it,

and hewed out a wine vat in it;

he expected it to yield grapes,

but it yielded wild grapes.

And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem

and people of Judah,

judge between me

and my vineyard.

What more was there to do for my vineyard

that I have not done in it?

When I expected it to yield grapes,

why did it yield wild grapes?

And now I will tell you

what I will do to my vineyard.

I will remove its hedge,

and it shall be devoured;

I will break down its wall,

and it shall be trampled down.

I will make it a waste;

it shall not be pruned or hoed,

and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns;

I will also command the clouds

that they rain no rain upon it.

For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts

is the house of Israel,

and the people of Judah

are his pleasant planting;

he expected justice,

but saw bloodshed;

righteousness,

but heard a cry!



Matthew 21:33-46

Jesus said, “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.” So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.”

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures:

‘The stone that the builders rejected

has become the cornerstone;

this was the Lord’s doing,

and it is amazing in our eyes’?

Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.”

When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.



Reflection        In the beginning God created heaven and earth, light and dark, water and dry land, every creature and living thing, capped off creation with human kind then blessed and charged man and woman to, ’Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over. (all creatures and creation) …’ And it was so.God saw everything that (God) had made, and indeed, it was very good.” (Gen 1.28-31) In God’s economy everything and everyone is taken care of, except, that does not seem to be the picture today.


Time and time again we get tangled in dried grapevines, trip out of the garden, fall face first into the dirt because we presume to be what we are not. Because we presume to be the purveyors of power and privilege (the proverbial landowners) rather than the benefactors of blessing, blessing given whether we deserve it or not. Recall the parable of workers paid equally whether they worked all day or only for one hour? (Matt 20.1-16) This tale annoys lots of folk because the landowner pays people who work one hour the same salary as people who work ten. Why?  Because in God’s economy the issue is not what we earn or what we deserve. God’s is a blessing economy run on generosity and justice.


The way we participate in God’s blessing is not by presuming to be its originators. We, the people of God are meant to be the living breathing vessels through which God’s blessings flow, flow abundantly, flow without measure to bless as we are blessed, regardless of whether or not we think someone deserves the blessing. 


After Jesus tells the parable of tenant’s misbegotten attempts to steal the vineyard from the landowner he assures the religious officials and all of us that the story does not end with the killing of the landowner’s son. It is just the beginning because every one of us who hears and heeds this story will receive our inheritance, God’s blessing. As people made in the image and likeness of God we are blessed to live according to God’s economy, producing “the (good) fruit of the kingdom.”


What are the good fruit of the kingdom? Us. As the prophet First Isaiah declares, For “…the people of Judah (the Israelite people of God living in exile in the Southern Kingdom)  (the people) are God’s pleasant planting (even though they are in diaspora). We, the people of God are the “pleasant planting” or fruit of God’s kingdom. And, God expect(s) justice (from us), but (sees) bloodshed; righteousness, but hears a cry!”  Like the tenants in the landowners vineyard we protest, “What are those people doing here? They have not worked, they do not deserve this produce. They are lazy. If we give some to them there will be less for us. Let’s seize, arrest, send them away.” Sound familiar?


And can you not hear Isaiah singing, “O, you, people of God, don’t you know you are God’s pleasant planting? God expects justice from you, not bloodshed, righteousness not protests.”


The earth in all its abundance is given to us not because we earn or deserve it, but because we are the pleasant planting of the vineyard, the people of God’s kingdom. But when we turn away from God and like the tenants in Jesus’ parable refuse to extend the blessing, seizing, beating even killing people who want a share, when we fail to respect our sisters and brothers who, also being made in the image and likeness of God and are rightful heirs of the blessing, we can be sure of one thing. We all suffer. We suffer because suffering is the natural consequence of tending God’s kingdom with greed and dishonesty rather than trustworthiness and generosity. 


I have no idea why but we humans tend to spin a web around our social and political silos, to establish rarified groups that share a specific quality be it race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, economics, education, geographic location or political party. In so doing we lose the broad-based economy of God’s kingdom, the kingdom that from the beginning includes all of creation and calls it “very good.” Instead of claiming our inheritance, our identity as people of God with a sweeping base of alliance, “many people, one body,” we fracture into bundled troops fighting for our difference.


There is no question, people occupy a myriad of independent and intersecting subgroups of humanity, from race to age to political party. As long as we allow our attention, emotion and behavior to be driven by what divides us rather than what draws us together we deny our true and trustworthy identity as people of God and cut our selves out of the kingdom of blessing. 


How do we end the marginalization of particular groups of people? I believe we do so by refusing to be distracted, divided and destroyed by dualistic arguments of who is in and who is out, who is deserving and who is not. We end the marginalization of particular groups of people by holding fast to the all inclusive alliance of God’s economy wherein everyone and everything is blessed to be a blessing, regardless of whether we deserve it or not.


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Friday, September 25, 2020

Epistle for Sunday 27 September 2020

                                              
                                  Ruth Bader Ginsburg         

                 March 16, 1933  -  September 18, 2020


Philippians 2:1-13       If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,

did not regard equality with God 

as something to be exploited,

but emptied himself,

taking the form of a slave, 

being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form,

he humbled himself 

and became obedient to the point of death-- 

even death on a cross.


Therefore God also highly exalted him

and gave him the name 

that is above every name,

so that at the name of Jesus

every knee should bend, 

in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue should confess

that Jesus Christ is Lord, 

to the glory of God the Father.

Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.



Reflection       Wednesday morning while staring at my computer screen, hot tears carving a watercourse across my chin, witnessing Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s flag swaddled coffin preside from the top of the Supreme Court steps, the question that rattled my mind is this. 

                                                    “What makes a person great?” 


Even in her death the greatness of Justice Ginsburg crushes cinderblock with lace. On Friday we witnessed best another quantum leap, Justice Ginsburg, the first woman to lie in state in the United States Capitol. As Paola Fuentes Gleghorn writes in an online Sojourner’s article (September 24, 2020),  “…many of the things I take for granted began with (Justice Ginsburg’s) work. As a woman, I can have a credit card in my name, open a bank account, and buy a house through a mortgage without a husband's signature. I can also inherit land, and I am protected from being fired if I become pregnant, none of which was possible for every woman in the United States before the 1970s.”  Almost all of these rights can point to the 1971 case in which Ginsburg argued and convinced the “Supreme Court that the 14th Amendment made discrimination on the basis of sex unconstitutional.”


Please consider this. Although the title justice is a noun referring to a person who presides over a court, I would argue that in Ginsburg’s case it is also a verb. For English majors, a transitive verb, one that is directly attached to a noun. I believe great people are people whose deepest truest values inform their actions and transform lives, their integral value is their title and their tithe. Justice Ginsburg embodies justice, just actions born on the back of her battles for dignity and opportunity for all people.  


Great people live great values, values that rattle like beans inside a dried gourd, values that play the person from the inside out.


We are all meant to live great values, values that inform us from the inside out. Which of course means, we are all meant to be great people. Clearly, not every great person has the status and stature of Justice Ginsburg. Still, there is no getting around it. We are all meant to be great people, living great values that rattle us, shake us up and move us from the inside out.


Here is the thing. Lives lived from the inside out, informed by values that rattle our core, mean we are sure to face adversity. Justice Ginsburg was no stranger to adversity. Her mother died of cancer one day before her high school graduation. As a young wife and mother her husband Martin was drafted for two years. Shortly after he returned and they were both enrolled in law school, Martin was diagnosed with testicular cancer. What did Ginsburg do? She attended both his and her classes, kept up her husbands work and ranked at the top of her Harvard class while law school officials derided her for taking a man’s place. Justice Ginsburg’s battle for dignity and opportunity for all people was both personal and transpersonal. It reached from the inside and rattled the outside because great people live great values that move them from the inside out. 


Here is what Justice Ginsburg has to say to all of us, “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” 


Acting deliberately to insure dignity and justice for all people is the way we embody our core values, values that should rattle us from the inside out, values that inspire compassion and sympathy and attract people to join us. Let us never forget, our core value driven actions do not incite anger and violence nor inflame divisiveness and destruction.  They cultivate consolation, cohesiveness and compassion. 


Most of us will never climb the steps of the United States Supreme Court but that does not let us off the hook. We are meant to be great people living great values. We are meant to follow in the footsteps of great people like Justice Ginsburg and Jesus, people who found their title and made their tithe by aligning their lives in the will and the work of God. 


By our actions we honor the legacy of Justice Ginsburg and Jesus. What action will you take this week aimed at procuring dignity and opportunity for all people? Please share a comment to let us know. 


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join you.”


Friday, September 11, 2020

Epistle for Holy Cross Sunday 6 September 2020


 Philippians 2:5-11

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,

did not regard equality with God

as something to be exploited,

but emptied himself,

taking the form of a slave,

being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form,

he humbled himself

and became obedient to the point of death—

even death on a cross.


Therefore God also highly exalted him

and gave him the name

that is above every name,

so that at the name of Jesus

every knee should bend,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue should confess

that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.



Reflection       Jesus’ decision to enter Jerusalem, host a farewell supper with his closest friends, and allow one of them to betray his whereabouts to his persecutors is not a personal decision. He does not act to insure his security, safety, esteem, power or control. Jesus’ action is not personal. It is transpersonal.


An individual who operates with a transpersonal mindset is one "in which the sense of identity or self extends beyond the individual or personal to encompass wider aspects of humankind…..”*  The transpersonal perspective is integral and undivided, it recognizes and honors all of humankind as interconnected and interdependent.

Jesus is operating from a transpersonal perspective. Standing surely in this inclusive view Jesus is faithful to truth as he knows it. He claims his nondual birthright as the son of humanity and the son of God. Political and religious officials call this treason and blasphemy. Jesus calls it truth. He is willing to  give up his life rather than give up his truth. 

Right about now you may be thinking, “That is great for Jesus but what does it have to do with me? Jesus’ capacity to seek justice and love unconditionally is unparalleled. I cannot compare to that.”

Wait a minute. Can you hear Jesus’ words to the disciples challenging our smallness? “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these…” (John 14.12) 

I believe we humans have set the bar too low. As it is with every generation, we are meant to exceed the good done by those who have gone before us. “How,” you ask? Fortunately St. Paul has a succinct instruction for the Philippians and us, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…” 

What is the mind of Christ? It is the transpersonal point of view that sees every person and all of creation as sacred, interconnected  and interdependent. Furthermore, the mind of Christ compels action aimed at what is right.

When Paul counsels us to put on the mind of Christ, he is imploring us to grow beyond our small self’s demands that we strive to insure our personal needs for security, safety, attention, affection, power and control. He is admonishing us to live as Christ lived; engaging life from a transpersonal perspective, patiently and practically taking care of other peoples’ needs, even to the point of sacrifice. 

Which brings us to a perplexing paradox. When we sacrifice for the good of others, we lose nothing. We are not debased or shamed. Rather, we are stretched beyond the ordinary bounds of human understanding, we are raised into the transpersonal experience of glory, honor and triumph. 

This is the mystifying paradox of the cross. When Jesus allows himself to be bound, nailed and raised up on the cross he is not raised to shame and humiliation. He is raised to glory, honor and triumph; he ascends to victory and proceeds to breed hope in our hearts.

We have set the bar too low, made ourselves too small. What if we stood in our place with Jesus and claimed our birthright as children of humanity and children of God? What if we raised our sights to transpersonal heights and  doubled down on our commitment to action aimed at what is right, even when it means personal sacrifice? What might our world look like then?

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1 Walsh, R. and F. Vaughan. "On transpersonal definitions". Journal of Transpersonal Psychology. Vol. 25, No2, pp. 199-207, 1993.


Friday, September 4, 2020

Hebrew Testament text for Labor Day, Sunday 6 September 2020

 

Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 38:27-32

So it is with every artisan and master artisan 

who labours by night as well as by day;

those who cut the signets of seals,

each is diligent in making a great variety;

they set their heart on painting a lifelike image,

and they are careful to finish their work.


So it is with the smith, sitting by the anvil,

intent on his ironwork;

the breath of the fire melts his flesh,

and he struggles with the heat of the furnace;

the sound of the hammer deafens his ears,

and his eyes are on the pattern of the object.

He sets his heart on finishing his handiwork,

and he is careful to complete its decoration.


So it is with is the potter sitting at his work

and turning the wheel with his feet;

he is always deeply concerned over his products,

and he produces them in quantity.

He moulds the clay with his arm

and makes it pliable with his feet;

he sets his heart on finishing the glazing,

and he takes care in firing the kiln.


All these rely on their hands,

and all are skillful in their own work.


Reflection        The August 31st issue of the New Yorker includes an essay titled, “Survival Story: A New York City bus driver faces a pandemic and an uprising.” (p48-55) Terrence Layne is a fifty one year old bus driver, married father of three, who took advantage of 1980s education programs in prison and has worked his way up to shop steward in the NY City Transit Authority. Tuned in to his colleagues terror of contracting Covid-19, one morning in late March Layne stopped his bus on 116th St, put his phone on the dashboard and recorded this message.  


“Brothers and sisters. I want to thank you all for stepping up and coming to work today and showing what leadership looks like. We are performing an essential and invaluable task. We are not only delivering hospital personnel to their jobs. What about the person who needs dialysis? What about the person who needs regular cancer treatments? … Ordinarily we are not appreciated, not valued… If no one else recognizes you, know that I do.” Layne posted his message to three transit workers Facebook groups. 


Layne explains to the New Yorker interviewer, “ People think of front line workers  - the grocery workers, transit workers, first responders, cops, firefighters - as having helped the city get through it. But that’s not what happened. We helped the city survive it.” 


“Without (the workers) no city can be inhabited…

Yet they are not sought out for the council of the people…”


These wise words, penned by the teacher and philosopher Joshua one hundred and eighty years before the common era, in what we now refer to as the Wisdom of Sirach or Ecclesiasticus, outlive time in their trustworthiness. Joshua’s wisdom points to the value of craftsmen; ordinary people who “labor by night as well as by day. All these (who) rely on their hands, and … are skillful in their own work.”


Is it not interesting, three times in our wisdom text Joshua spotlights the place in which the craftsperson sets her heart?  Artisans “set their heart on painting a lifelike image,” the blacksmith “sets his heart on finishing his handiwork,” and the potter “sets his heart on finishing the glazing.”  The artisan is not setting her heart on becoming a ballerina. The blacksmith is not setting his heart on getting rich and securing his retirement. The potter is not setting his heart on becoming a governor or religious official. 


Living in the way of wisdom each laborer Joshua commends sets their heart on the thing that is right in front of them. Their attentions are not flying on wings of wild imaginings, heading for fantastical places. They are not distracted by arguments of who is right and who is wrong, whether it is more laudable to be a blacksmith or a potter (translate to today, Republican or Democrat).  In the view of wisdom, a person is notable, laudable and esteemed, when they apply the skills they have to the work that is right in front of them. In other words, a person who lives the wayof wisdom consents to who they truly are and applies their skills (their particular gifts and treasure) to the context in which they find themselves.


Today we observe Labor Day, established in the late 19th century by the labor movement to recognize and pay tribute to the often invisible workers who make the United States strong, prosperous and keep her going even in the most titanic times. I believe it is not an overstatement to suggest that the well-being of this country stands on the shoulders of, “All these (who) rely on their hands, and all are skillful in their own work. (Because, as Joshua proclaims) without them no city can be inhabited.” 


The opening collect for Labor Day begins, “Almighty God, you have so linked our lives one with another that all we do affects, for good or ill, all other lives.” This is a sentence worth pondering. “All that we do affects, for good or ill, all other lives.” Terence Layne reminds his colleagues that their decision to show up and drive their bus means that someone gets to their dialysis appointment or can receive their cancer treatment. Nurses, medical assistants and grocery workers can get to work and tend to strangers needs for food and comfort. 


This Labor Day begs us to ask ourselves, “How is my life linked to the people around me? How do my actions effect them, for good or ill? What action will I take today aimed at what is right?”


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