Archives for the month of: June, 2013

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Photo by Víctor Nuño at Flickr.com
June 22, 2013
Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sts. Clare & Francis
Zec 12:10-11; 13:1
Galatians 3:26-29
LK 9:18-24
Homily by Frank Krebs

The Real Deal
There is an episode in the old TV series  West Wing where two young political assistants are talking.  One is trying to convince the other that the Martin Sheen character is worth getting behind in his presidential candidacy.   The one persuading says, “He’s the real deal.”  Working with him is a real chance to do some good.  And it will mean a lot of work.

In a related way Luke is telling the gospel story this evening so that we will see Jesus as “the real deal,” the one worth following if we want to change the world.  So Luke’s story has a kind of mini-climax here where we see the true nature of Jesus (that is, this is God’s chosen, see Luke 9:20) and we see what is asked of those who are attracted to him.  The key to getting this is that the two are related (the nature of Jesus and the price the followers will pay).  Let’s think about this.

Full of Myself?
Whom are we attracted to as a good person?  Someone who is “full of himself/herself”?  Not really.  We are attracted to someone who has a generous spirit, who listens well to others, who acknowledges the dignity of those around him or her, who works to alleviate the suffering of others—that is a good person, right?  When we think of a “good person,” we don’t think of big egos. 

Now it is interesting that there is a strange strain of thought in Christianity that identifies God as All Powerful, All Knowing, Deserving of All Praise, etc.  If God actually thought that about God’s own Self in that fashion that would be, well to be truthful, kind of creepy.  That’s an image of an ego looking in the mirror.[i]  God is not “full of herself.”  In fact God is the great emptier of self.  Paul says in Philippians 2:

6 [Christ Jesus] who was in the form of God,
   did not regard equality with God
   as something to be exploited, 
7 but emptied himself,
   taking the form of a slave,
   being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form, 
8   he humbled himself
   and became obedient to the point of death—
   even death on a cross. 

James Finley[ii] says that God is such a perfect lover that she has become hidden.  We only experience God in her gifts, in the love and hope and trust that work their way within us to enable us to also live a life outside of ego.  To acknowledge Jesus, to be mysteriously drawn to this figure (so far from being full of himself) is to find ourselves wanting to similarly empty ourselves and go “ego-less.”   

A Daily Practice
It’s clear from this gospel and all the gospels that the life of discipleship may well lead to a literal cross.  It has happened many times in the course of history and will no doubt happen again.  But Luke in this passage wants to focus on the daily nature of this call. 

23Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves [their egos] and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)

Since Luke is suggesting that we make this a daily practice, we might want to employ a traditional Christian practice called the “daily examination of conscience.” All it means is a kind of review of my day.  The point is not to feel guilty about things we may have done or not done.  The point is to increase our awareness of opportunities for selflessness.  May I suggest a few questions?

Were there opportunities for generosity, that is, for letting go of what was freely given to me?

Were there opportunities for listening to another’s story rather than focusing on my own?

Were there opportunities for honoring, noticing, or acknowledging someone who is not typically recognized?

Were there opportunities to be an ally for the oppressed, that is, to work to end someone else’s suffering?

Meditation is a great way to witness the ego disappearing.  Rearing children, I’m told, is a way of having the ego torn from us in some ways.  But questions like those above at the end of the day might open us up to opportunities to walk more consistently behind the “real deal.”  Amen?


[i] To be sure in worship we might use phrases like, “awesome,” “you are my everything,” “you know everything,” “I can’t praise you enough,” etc .  But this, as Marcus Borg pointed out at a lecture at Eden Seminary a couple of years ago, is the language of love.  This is not meant to be philosophical language about God. 

[ii] In his book Christian Meditation

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There are many ways to describe life as a parent of small children – “an unfolding delightful adventure” and other times “trying and tedious.”  I’m surprised how often, when I stop to observe, both qualities of parenthood exist in every moment.  Take a singular example.  I walk into a room where my four-year-old has cut confetti and scattered it all over the floor, pressed playdough into the carpet and stuck markers without tops in places I didn’t even know he could reach.  I walk in and, if I’m in my default mode, I react.  “What a mess!  Look at what I’m going to have to clean up!”  It’s all about me; I don’t think to wonder why the room is in such a state.  “Pulling teeth” to get help cleaning up the mess, frustration and tears usually ensue.  But on those rare days when I’m aware enough to stop and suspend judgment long enough and ask, “Whatcha doin’, honey?”  I’m often grateful, surprised, and overwhelmed with gratitude.  “I’m making you a present, mommy,” or, “I’m teaching my sister how to cut paper.”  If I suspend judgment long enough to see this little person in front of me, I’m rarely disappointed. 

We pass judgment on people, big and small, all the time without seeing them or stopping to ask why they do what they do.  John Steinbeck wrote, “I wonder how many people I’ve looked at all my life and never seen.”  Today’s gospel is an invitation to suspend judgment long enough to see the gift, see the love, see the grace in life’s unfolding.

All four gospels have a version of this story of an unnamed woman anointing Jesus.  The other three use it as a foreshadowing of Jesus’ death (anointing his head with oil) and an affirmation of his role as messiah.  This story in Luke is in the middle of his active ministry and says something about Jesus’ life and instructs us about our own.

As a people and a culture permeated with Christian influences, we think we know these stories.  But do we really see these characters – the woman and the Pharisee.   We already bring the judgment that the Pharisee is the “bad guy” and the woman is the “good example.”  But the story doesn’t support those assumptions.   Jesus enters into relationship with these people, the Pharisee and the woman, on neutral ground and their behavior both supports and defies our judgments. 

The Pharisee: The Pharisee invites Jesus to dinner implying openness to Jesus’ teachings and Jesus accepts opening up the possibility of relationship.  This man is not “bad” or beyond hope.  He, like all of us, though is inconsistent.  He shows Jesus respect calling him “Teacher” and being concerned about Jesus’ purity.  But he also neglects to show him the full measure of hospitality expected in the culture.  He seems influenced by the negative buzz that began in previous chapters and continues here that Jesus and his followers are gluttons and drunkards, friends to sinners.

The woman: Then we have the unnamed woman, who in the end is the “good example.”  She, remember, is the one who barges into a dinner party uninvited and ministers to Jesus in ways reserved for private exchanges between a man and a woman.  Her extravagant action is a picture of eroticism in this culture.  Loose hair implying a loose woman, paying attention to his feet, this unsightly part of the body, pouring oil on them – this is more than an act of hospitality.  It’s not a stretch to see the intimacy and the sensuality, even two millennia removed from context. No wonder the others at table were so appalled.  But even in this compromising position, Jesus remains neutral, reserves judgment.  He doesn’t stop her or react.  Instead of thinking, “this is just feeding the fire for more gossip and more opportunities to tarnish my reputation,” he receives and names the experience as an act of great love.  We don’t know fully this woman’s intention or source of tears.  There’s a sense of self-giving without regard for her reputation and Jesus responds to this… seeing her as gift and not as label, and he invites the Pharisee and his guests to “see” this too. 

Jesus teaches us a way to be in the world.  Suspending judgment is a form of forgiveness (a word thrown out a lot in this week’s lectionary).  Instead of a onetime act of forgiving a wrong, forgiveness can be a way of being – giving people space to be and act without adding the burden of judgment – like a forgiving shoe or a forgiving waist band.  This way of being is a gift both to the person who can find their full potential within the space; and it’s a gift to the one being forgiveness – people begin to surprise us and living becomes interesting and exciting.  Instead of conflict and contention, relationships become the seedbed for Communion.

Our opportunity to practice this way of being in the world in nearly constant as we respond to our own inner thoughts, our closest loved ones, and strangers.  We always have a choice about how to be.

Sylvia Boorstein, Ph.D. writes in, Happiness Is an Inside Job: Practicing for a Joyful Life, about waiting in an airport security line.  She overhears a couple behind her arguing.  One says, “You know it’s your fault that we’re late.”  The other retorts, “That’s ridiculous.  It’s your fault.”  They go back and forth for quite a while.  She looks back and they are carrying golf clubs and tennis rackets, clearly beginning a vacation.  Boorstien reflects that even if they did miss their plane there would be others; maybe the plane they’re trying to board will be delayed or have problems.  We can never know how our day will unfold and to begin a vacation arguing and blaming is probably not contributing to the peace and relaxation they seek.  To contrast that experience, Boorstien observed a couple finally through the security check leaning in to kiss each other, a kind of “congratulations for having made it through that ordeal.”  We always have a choice – to judge and blame OR to kiss. 

This weekend is Father’s Day and so I’ve been thinking about my dad.  He’s not one to gush or say too much, but he offered me an experience recently that helped me to feel for myself the fruit of this gift.  As my dad, he gets calls from the extended family about me when my life is in flux (as it has been).  Everyone wants the “real story” on Jessica.  I asked him recently what he says to them?  He looked me in the eye and said, “What can I say, Jess?  I tell them that when I talk to you on the phone you sound more like Jessica than you have in a long time.”  In those brief moments, without qualification or judgment, I could feel me becoming more myself in his gaze.  I experienced Communion with him – a deep abiding connection that is always there but I only glimpse in moments like these.  What a gift!

As a church, we can be countercultural in the simple act of reserving judgment, practicing forgiveness (that is allowance or space).  As individuals we can begin at any moment… why not now?  As we gather around the Communion table some of us may be smelly from spending the day outside, others may have had a hell of a week and come with furrowed brow, others may express their spirit in ways that we might not choose – but if we come to this Table suspending judgment, waiting long enough to really see… I suspect we will see, taste, experience, know Communion.

Rev. Jessica Rowley
11th Sunday in Ordinary Time
June 15, 2013
Focus text: Luke 7:36 – 8:3 (an unnamed woman washed Jesus’ feet with tears and anoints them)

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Photo by Wonderlane at Flickr.com
10th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sts. Clare & Francis
June 8, 2013
1 Kings 17:17-24
Galatians 1:11-24
Luke 7:11-17
Homily by Frank Krebs

Maybe we don’t say this obvious truth very often but Luke or any gospel writer is trying to tell us about Jesus.  The gospels are not exactly biography, but they are meant to be icons or paintings that interpret for us who Jesus is.  So what are we learning about Jesus in this gospel? 

We are learning that Jesus through a story about this widow.  This is not so much a story about a young man being raised from the dead, though it is that.  But it is much more a story about this woman.  So while it is telling us about Jesus, it is doing this by focusing on this woman.  There is a large crowd with her.  Jesus sees her.  Jesus has compassion on her.  Jesus speaks to her.  Jesus gives the son back to her.[i]  So who is coming more back to life, the young man or the woman?  Luke employs the son’s coming back to life as a way of pointing to her coming back to life.  What does Luke mean by her coming back to life?

When he raises this young man from the dead, he has compassion on a woman who has lost her husband and now her only son.  She is not only shattered with grief over the loss of these two persons in her life.  The social means of support and connection that she received through her husband and son are gone.  She is alone and without support.  Her social wellbeing, her physical wellbeing, her economic wellbeing, etc. is gone.  She is not thriving. 

Why do I say that Luke has this in mind?  Because this is the great biblical tradition.  When we say that God gives life, what do we mean by life?  Do we mean that a heart is beating?  If God were to be assured that everyone’s heart were beating, would there be “salvation.”  Would there be the Reign of God?  The Hebrew scriptures picture the Spirit hovering over chaos at the beginning of creation.  Is this breath of God entering all living things just making sure they are alive in a minimal sense?  Clearly not.  When, in the Creed, we call the Holy Spirit “the Lord and Giver of Life,” do we mean ticking hearts and operating lungs?  No.  Rome could be dominating everyone.  There could be oppression everywhere and there could still be plenty of ticking hearts and functioning lungs.  To call God the Giver of Life is to look to God as the continual Creator, the over and over again re-Creator, who is growing things and people to the point of thriving.

Luke is clearly painting Jesus acting as God.  Jesus is not just a prophet as the crowd is figuring out.   Luke tells us the readers what the crowd does not yet know: he is the Lord.  This is the compassion of God we are seeing at work, a love of life that goes beyond ticking hearts and functioning lungs.[ii]

For us at Sts. Clare & Francis to be followers of Jesus means to act in union with him with the  same kind of compassion and passion for life, an ever expansive life.  When we see widows just barely getting by, or economically disadvantaged groups struggling to hold together a cemetery for their loved ones, our heart goes out with a kind of passion that says, “This should not be happening; these folks should be thriving.  How can I make a difference?”  That is the call of us at Sts. Clare & Francis, to follow the Giver of Life.

 


[i] This insight is from The Gospel of Luke (The New International Commentary on the New Testament) [Hardcover] Joel B. Green (Author)

[ii] This perspective is from The meaning of “life”: the giving of life as a criterion for ecumenical hermeneutics. (Essay): An article from: Journal of Ecumenical Studies [HTML] [Digital] Peter-Ben Smit (Author)

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Photo by tawatchaifr_com at Flickr.com
June 1, 2013
Sts. Clare & Francis
Feast of Corpus Christi
Luke 7:1-10 (focus text; substituted by Frank)
Homily by Frank Krebs

At this point in Luke’s gospel, Jesus has just finished a long instruction to the disciples similar to the famous “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew.  He was giving his most important teaching.  Among other things he talked about how there is no “credit” in loving someone who can pay you back.

 ‘If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. (Luke 6:32-34)

Well, actually, that is exactly how the system was played then…as now.  People rack up social credit for doing things for each other, IOUs that they can “pull in at any time.”  What might look like generosity is really more like bartering. 

In tonight’s gospel the elders are obviously still playing this game.  A centurion has built their synagogue and, in their minds, has accumulated a lot of credit; and, they assume, the centurion now wants to spend it on his sick servant.  Notice that the elders speak to Jesus the way an aid would speak to a politician, “He is worthy of this favor from you because, one, he loves our people; and, two, he built our synagogue.”  So he is worthy; he has credit.  Because Jesus decides to go to the Centurion’s house, maybe this confirms in the elders’ minds what they were assuming, namely that  Jesus is repaying a debt.

But for Jesus there is a bigger picture. And he has just explained this bigger picture to his followers (that would be us) in the previous chapter, as I noted above.  (see Luke 6:27-36)

The whole social system is being challenged by Jesus.  He rejects a system where you only heal someone because you owe them.  What about the working poor who could never afford to be in your debt?  Turning this whole idea of “credit” around, Jesus says, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?”  Here he means “credit” in the sense of the larger ledger of life, the one that only your conscience and the living God see.  Jesus is rejecting a world where the wealthier one is, the more IOUs one can pull in.  Not everyone can afford to build a synagogue.

So if Jesus is not playing the game that everyone else is playing, why is he going to the centurion’s home?  Assuming he is motivated by his own teaching, he is going out of love of “the enemy” (Rome) and “the other” (a Gentile).  Jesus has opted out of the prevailing game.  He plays a different one.

But, guess what?  Luke tells us that the centurion has opted out of the game too!  The centurion sends another delegation to stop Jesus before he gets to the house.  This time they are his own friends, not religious elders as intermediaries or even his soldiers—but his own personal friends!  This is a very personal gesture.  And they specifically say that the centurion does not count himself as worthy of this favor just because he built the synagogue.  “I am not worthy,” he says through them.  “I don’t see myself as having any credit to spend.  I am asking you to do this just because I am asking you and because I trust that you are compassionate.”

This is like pay dirt for Jesus.  He’s found what he is looking for.  “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”  (Luke 7:9)

Perhaps the next time Jesus entered the synagogue at Capernaum, he gazed at the structure and wondered why the centurion did build the synagogue.  Jesus might have asked himself, “Could it be he was simply being generous?”  And it’s a short step from there to imagine Jesus wondering, “How far out of the system is he willing to step?  Would he listen if I asked him to free his slave?”

What is the Master asking of us tonight?  In the yoga class of life, what is the next big stretch beyond “tit for tat” toward generosity and trust?

 

[My understanding of this text was influenced strongly by The Gospel of Luke (The New International Commentary on the New Testament) [Hardcover] Joel B. Green (Author)]