Archives for the month of: September, 2014

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Forgiveness is important because inclusion is important.  Without forgiveness we tend to exclude, which means we are working at cross purposes to the God who is within us.  God is always trying to include, always looking for the creative way forward that keeps the community whole.

The Backstory

In the first reading from Genesis, we have an addendum to the classic story of Joseph, who was sold by his brothers into slavery in Egypt because they were jealous of him.  As bad as your family might be, I suspect that has not happened to many of you.  (Unfortunately though, families do still sell their members into slavery.)  You remember the story.  Joseph ends up eventually in charge of all the food stores of Egypt.  When his brothers come begging to the Pharaoh’s administration for food, Joseph does not reveal his identity.  Instead he questions the brothers about the family and demands to see their youngest brother, his only full brother, and the one who is taking care of Jacob, the very old father.  Judah is afraid that he will keep Benjamin as a slave and that that news will kill Jacob.  So Judah offers himself in place of Benjamin.  This conversation about family, about another suffering the same fate, about the father being despondent to the point of death moves Joseph to tears.  He embraces them and they cry on each other’s necks, we’re told.  Joseph forgives them; but note that it is a forgiveness that comes out of a desire to be family again.  Forgiveness is a tool of inclusion.

Family Dynamics Sometimes Shift

But alas forgiveness is not a simple matter in family situations.  Sometimes we forgive, and then something challenges that and we feel like taking it back.  Our story from Genesis tonight has the story of Joseph and his brothers above as the background.  Eventually Jacob, their father, dies.  The brothers, just like “modern families,” worry that the death of the father will open up an old wound and Joseph will now exact his revenge on his brothers—revenge he would perhaps not have had the courage to exact while his father was alive.  These things happen in families!  But Joseph is a good man and does not do that.  He chooses to forgive and keep the family intact.

The Not-Like-God King

In the gospel for tonight Matthew continues this theme of forgiveness being a tool of inclusion.   The story is about a king.  This king is not like God, except in one respect which we learn at the end of the story.  This king is not like God because he forgives only once and then when he does forgive he takes back the forgiveness that he has given.  Forgiveness was perhaps not something that flowed from his heart, but was a useful tool for running his operations.  The bad king in the story never interrupts the system of domination and exploitation.  He maintains his power.  Most of the wealth of the system moves from the producers to him.  When he forgives this servant of his (think of a high ministerial position in a kingdom), he gets to appear magnanimous in front of everyone, to have his honor preserved by the groveling (as opposed to rebellious) servant, and he keeps a talented worker.  So forgiveness “works” for the king.  The so-called “forgiven” official then goes back to “his people” and looks humiliated for not producing; so he beats up on them as a way to show that he is still in power over them.  Of course they can play the game too, so they go collectively to the king and say, “Get rid of this guy; he’s too severe.”  So now the king is willing to let him go because he can’t justify losing all those producers.  So much for the “forgiveness.”  These things happen in power structures.  It may have happened to you at work.  If you are really open to spiritual growth, you may have noticed how these dynamics show up in your own heart…which brings us to the point.

True Forgiveness Comes “From the Heart”

Forgiveness, the way the Teacher is teaching tonight, is a matter of the heart (vs. 34).  It promotes inclusion.  It sustains families and communities, like Sts. Clare & Francis.  It is not optional.  That is the only thing the real King is “unforgiving” about.  Jesus warns that there are consequences to our not forgiving after we have been forgiven.  We will never see the Kingdom.  Not because the King is actually unforgiving, but because we cannot live in the love of the real kingdom unless our hearts know how to forgive.  We just have to live isolated.  And that is not anyone’s vision of heaven.  Forgiveness may be hard sometimes, but it is the key to the kingdom, the key to community.

My Availability for Communion Depends on Forgiveness

Forgiveness is tricky business.  We live in a world where people hurt each other.  We have to be able to create boundaries for our own and our loved ones’ health and safety.  We also live in an imperfect world where the “forgiveness game” is played in a way that is nowhere near what Jesus is talking about.  So while we live with appropriate boundaries, we (in the real Kingdom) are always called to walk around available for communion.  Without forgiveness as a daily practice, that simply won’t happen.  I invite you to gather around the table of communion tonight; and when we are holding hands around that table I invite you to recommit yourselves to “forgive those who trespass against us.”  That is who we are called to be.  Amen?

25th Sunday of the Year

Sts. Clare & Francis

Saturday, September 20, 2014
Genesis 50:15-21 (focus text)
Romans 14:1-12
Matthew 18:21-35 (focus text)
Homily by Frank Krebs

Photo by Amy Bundy on flickr.com

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The last several months on the world stage have been difficult. I sense a common theme of separateness through the various hotspots around the globe: Sunnis and Shia around the Arab world are saying to each other “I am not like you.” Jews and Palestinians are saying they have nothing in common. Ukrainians are now saying to each other “I am separate from you.” In our own backyard a white policeman in Ferguson, Missouri has been filmed calling black fellow citizens “(expletive) animals.”

While these are extreme cases, I bet most of us can sense an instinct towards separateness within ourselves. As such, today’s Gospel may come as a shock. Jesus sees the world differently than we do. He says “whoever welcomes you, welcomes me.” More alarming he adds “whoever welcomes me, welcomes the One who sent me.” What? Jesus’ world seems way, way more connected than ours. How does this work?

The Connected One

If we look around the gospels we see Jesus statement is not just pretty poetry. Jesus says essentially the same thing at least four more times in Matthew’s Gospel alone. In fact, the climax of the Gospel, the vast judgment scene, Jesus doubles down on this connection saying “when I was hungry you fed ME….when I was naked you clothed ME… for whatever you did for the least of these my sisters and brothers you did to ME.” (Matthew 25).

An increasingly popular theological term for the language Jesus is using is “non-dualism,” particularly among some Franciscan writers. (See below). Dualistic thinking separates things – physical vs. spiritual, heaven vs. hell, male vs. female, good vs. evil, saved vs. unsaved etc. When we reach the age of two we are all dualistic. Students of human development tell us that our tiny ego has to separate from the mother to be formed, just like a teenager needs to become a dualist in relation to family. The spiritual path is very much a return home, a journey back to connection and oneness. Perhaps this is why Jesus talks about dying to self so much. We have to “unlearn” this separation to grow spiritually.

Folks who study hundreds of years of contemplative experiences tell us these experiences are virtually never dualistic! Love loses itself in the other. Our contemplative experience confirms that Paul was absolutely right when he wrote to the Romans “Nothing can separate us from the love of God.” Try as we might, finite creatures like us cannot get outside an infinite God. If we are experiencing separateness from God, it is an illusion. I am in God, you are in God. Jesus was right; whatever happens to you in some way does happen to me.

Non-dualism In Everyday Life

I would like to offer you a meditation technique that puts us in a posture for non-dualism. Let’s quiet ourselves for a minute and become conscious of our breathing – in and out. As you breathe in I want you to imagine God saying to you “I love you, ____.” You fill in your name in the blank. As you breathe out you return that love to God. I recommend you use the word “Christ” saying on the exhale “I love you, Christ.” In our tradition the word “Christ” often refers to Jesus in all. As the writer to the Colossians says “Christ is before all things and in Christ all things hold together.” (Col 1:17). (Read that line a few times!).

This little meditation may help us glimpse Christ in all things, holding them together. It may be a flower, a bird, a person, a tree. Little by little we love Christ in the world and become awakened to the connection. By doing so, we chip away at the dualism that is all around us and in our faith tradition.

I am attracted to how non-dualism positions me toward the world. If Christ is holding everything together, everything is sacred. This corrects what most us learned about “original sin,” which is extremely dualistic. Sin becomes marring what is sacred. Polluting the world or my body is desecration. Warehousing people in jails is desecration. Racial profiling is desecration. The wars we reference tonight are desecrations of what is sacred. Our ministry is to step by step, little by little, call forth and restore the sacredness of people and things.

We do not need to know about Jesus to know that non-dualism is real. It is in our human DNA. At the beginning of the cold war President Kennedy went to Berlin which had been broken in two and isolated by the Russians. His speech captivated the world when he said in English and German “All people of goodwill are citizens of Berlin, I am a citizen of Berlin.” A similar feeling of connection arose around the world after 9/11. Friends and foes across the globe waved American flags and gathered at our embassies saying in various ways “today we are American, what happens to you happens to me.”

I hope Jesus’ words of radical connection are good news for you tonight. Perhaps you are experiencing separateness from God or others and the gospel brings hope. Perhaps your ongoing service to family or to clients could be encouraged by a reminder of how connected you are to those you serve. Regardless, let’s come around the table tonight breathing out the prayer “I love you, Christ” as Christ appears to us in many shapes and sizes around the table.

 

Amen

George von Stamwitz

Sts. Clare & Francis Ecumenical Catholic Community

Liturgy for the 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time

Saturday Evening, August 23, 2014

Focus text: Matthew 10:40-42

Photo by Guilherme Oliveira on flickr.com

 

For reading on non-dualism try, The Emergent Christ, by Ilia Delio.