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Proper 8, Year C

Galatians 5:1, 13-25
Luke 9:51-62

Dear All,

I'm back from an unexpected and quite exhausting out-of-state trip. I apologize for not posting on this week's gospel -- a particularly challenging one -- earlier. This Sunday's gospel shows a man telling Jesus that he wants to stay to "bury" his father before leaving to follow Jesus. The man does NOT mean that his father has died already and that he needs a day or two to make funeral arrangements. He is saying that he has a duty as a son to care for his father in old age, to see that he has what he needs while he's alive and that he gets an honorable burial once he does die. And Jesus tells this man to "follow me, and let the dead bury the dead." Jesus instructs a man to abandon his family. This is serious stuff, and it deserves to be taken up from the pulpit in parishes -- most especially in this age in which being a "Christian" is supposedly synonymous with "family values" that are identical with those held by respectable people in our culture.

Please see my brief entry specifically on Luke 9:51-62 here, the theme of our cultural "family values" being in tension with discipleship that I treat at greater length here and here. I think that will help preachers for this Sunday. The bottom line is that we've got a profound "teaching moment" in this combination of gospel and epistle. Our passage for this Sunday from Luke underlines that our family is all our sisters and brothers in the Body of Christ, and as human beings our family is all in the human family, as we're all God's children. As counter-cultural as it was and is, Jesus taught (and lived) that we are called to care about and for EVERY mother or father and EVERY child as we would care for our own mother or father or son or daughter. ALL of our relationships are to generate the fruit of the Spirit; there is no one who because of a lack of ties of blood or marriage or our assessment of "deserving" toward whom we are licensed to behave with "enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy," to quote a particularly challenging part of Paul's catalog of behaviors uncharacteristic of those who "live by the Spirit."

And please also know some good news for the lectionary blog; after a long time in which my schedule was heaviest in the earlier part of the week and trips like the one this week were all too frequent, I'm entering into a summer that's largely unstructured, and even after that my schedule will be quite different from what it was over the last academic year. In short, I intend to return to my tradition of blogging the lectionary on Monday or very close to it. I appreciate your patience as it's drifted later in more recent times, and hope you find the blog all the more helpful when I post earlier.

June 29, 2007 in Discipleship, Galatians, Jesus' Hard Sayings, Kinship/Family, Luke, Ordinary Time, Year C | Permalink | Comments (3)

swag with a mission

I was musing today about a variety of things -- the Anglican Communion, ecumenism, interfaith possibilities -- and found myself thinking once more that the most promising route forward is often working together around a shared sense of mission. And I thought to myself, "I wish I could get a t-shirt with the Anglican Communion's Five Marks of Mission":

  • To proclaim the Good News of God's reign
  • To teach, baptize, and nurture new believers
  • To respond to human need by loving service
  • To seek to transform unjust structures of society
  • To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth

And so I designed one. There are a variety of men's and women's t-shirts, sweatshirts, and tote bags with this site's icon of the Trinity with Blues Brothers-style hats and sunglasses and "We're on a mission from God" on the front:

Sarahlaughedmissionshirtfront

... and with the Five Marks of Mission on the back:

Sarahlaughedmissionshirtback

If you'd like clothing or a tote bag with this design, pop by the new SarahLaughed.net Café Press store. I have a number of other "I wish I had a t-shirt with this" ideas and don't want too bewildering an array of choices at the store, so I plan to rotate periodically which design is available. If you like this one, please do pounce on it! For each purchase, $2.00 goes to support SarahLaughed.net.

June 23, 2007 in Personal Notes, Site News | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Proper 7, Year C

Galatians 3:23-39
Luke 8:26-39

But those who had seen it told them how the demoniac had been saved.

That's what Luke 8:36 says. The NRSV says "healed" rather than "saved"; I don't know why. "Healed" is true, of course, but in my view, it doesn't tell the story nearly as well.

"Saved." When Jesus found him, the man had been "for a long time" not in a house in the city with family, with friends, but among the tombs, with the dead, shut out from among the living. He was vulnerable to all kinds of dangers -- to the elements, from which he lacked clothes as well as a house to protect him, and also to all of the predators the city gates shut out at night. Apparently someone, probably family, tried to help him, but they couldn't help. They gave up. And for a long time he'd been dead to the world, living among the dead.

It's natural to want to shut out someone like this man. He's as frightening as he is frightened, I think, and not just because of the yelling, the antisocial behavior, the unnatural strength. It's his vulnerability. He is vulnerable to the elements of sun and cold, wind and rain that we mostly understand, but more frightening still is his vulnerability to countless other forces much harder to understand and beyond our ability to control. The Legion that speaks from him reminds his former neighbors of the other legions out there, forces that can tear someone from family, from safety, from community, from everything that makes the world make any sense or have any warmth.

Of course, shutting out the person who reminds us of what we fear doesn't work. If anything it exacerbates fear as it exacerbates division. The Legion that attacked the man among the tombs doesn't pay much attention to city gates, and neither do the other legions.

Jesus paid attention, though. He paid particular attention to those shut out, literally and metaphorically -- those who had nothing and so sat outside the gates to beg, the lepers and others considered 'unclean,' women called "loose" after they were rejected by their husbands and not received by their fathers. Jesus healed people. When Jesus healed a leper, he wasn't merely restoring someone with a physical diseases to physical health. He wasn't just healing a leper. He was healing a community, restoring to community someone who had been shut out from it. Jesus confronts every power that tears us from wholeness, from one another, from knowing the love of God in loving community.

Those powers are legion. In the ancient Mediterranean world, people believed that knowing and using a spirit's name could give you power over it. The Legion oppressing the Gerasene demoniac tries, in effect, to gain power over Jesus by naming him, shouting out to "Jesus, Son of the Most High God." Jesus retaliates by demanding to know the spirit's name. Belief in demons has fallen out of favor in the circles I spend most of my time in these days, but naming remains a powerful step in confronting the powers that oppress and divide us.

In our epistle for this Sunday, St. Paul names the deep divisions of his society -- between Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female -- and names the truth, that in Christ these divisions are to be overcome. Poverty. Racism. Sexism. Religious Bigotry. There are many such powers in this world, a thousand varieties of hardness of heart that shut out some people, and shut us in just as surely. But in Christ we are all children of God through faith -- none less worthy of good food and clean water, shelter, medicine, or education, of love and hope.

In Christ we are empowered to name that truth and called to name and confront the powers that obscure it. And as we follow Jesus, as we participate in his ministry of healing and reconciliation in the world, we find that the outcast restored is not the only one saved. We were made for the unity with one another and with God that was and is Christ's mission, and the healing of a breach with a sister or brother is restoration for the whole Body.

Have you experienced that? Have you caught a glimpse of what it might be like for each one of us when all of us live as God's children? Declare how much God has done for you. Declare what Jesus is doing for the poor and outcast. If you find yourself feared as they were -- as Jesus was in the city after he healed the Geresene demoniac -- name that too, as you pray and work for reconciliation. You are of the Body of Christ, sharing in Christ's power to heal, Christ's mission, and Christ's wholeness. Faith has come, and with it the hope and love that sees every child as a child of promise.

Thanks be to God!

June 21, 2007 in Community, Galatians, Justice, Luke, ONE campaign/Millennium Development Goals, Ordinary Time, Reconciliation, Year C | Permalink | Comments (0)

Proper 6, Year C

1 Kings 21:1-10, (11-14), 15-21a
Luke 7:36-8:3

I once heard a story -- and was told it actually happened -- about a very rich man who was both Christian and deeply religious. He was deeply troubled by the thought of his wealth, as he remembered Jesus' saying that it's harder for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God than for a camel to get through the eye of a needle (and he also knew, presumably, that there's no such thing as a gate called "The Eye of the Needle," through which a camel get through on its knees if its pack is removed -- that's an invention born of wishful thinking). He decided to do something about it. He redid his will, leaving all of his vast wealth to a single person, the richest person he knew. He didn't want to doom the soul of a poor person by bestowing all of this wealth that could keep him or her from God's kingdom.

This was a very, very silly man.

He wasn't silly to worry about the state of his soul when he was living with such riches in a society in which many don't have enough to eat. That much is a natural and potentially healthy response to reading what Jesus had to say to and about the rich. He was silly in what he thought he was called to do about it. What he did exacerbated rather than diminished the chasm between the rich and the poor, and as I've blogged about before, whenever we're widening such chasms, we can be sure that we're on the wrong side of them.

The Gospel According to Luke emphasizes this particularly, and Luke-Acts strongly and repeatedly condemns behavior widening the divide between the "haves" and the "have nots" in language that should make those of us who live in the wealthiest nations in the world think and pray long and hard about how we might respond. The Christ presented by Luke is no "Buddy Jesus" who just wants you to have the right attitude toward your wealth; he has very strong words about the proper use of it.

Luke-Acts also presents numerous positive examples of Christians who use their resources -- their their power, and their voice as well as their money -- to narrow or bridge those chasms and to further Christ's mission on earth. We get several of them in a single story this Sunday.

And as a bonus, we get several clear affirmations of women's status as disciples of Jesus whose gifts are vital in the life of the community. Let me start at the end of this Sunday's gospel reading with a passage often overlooked by those who think we need noncanonical sources to see women portrayed as leaders in early Christianity. In Luke 8:1-3, we find out quite a few important things in a little bit of text:

One is that it's not appropriate to say "the twelve disciples," as if Jesus only had twelve disciples, all of them male. The opening verses of Luke 8 clearly indicate that Jesus traveled not only with "the twelve" (who don't have any particular function in Luke or Acts other than existing as a group of twelve, thereby symbolizing the twelve tribes of Israel and Jesus' authority to reconstitute Israel; other than that, the twelve function as do the other disciples in Jesus' inner circle), but also with other disciples, and a number of those disciples were women. Luke names three -- Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna -- and says there were also "many others."

Another thing we see in this little bit of text is that Jesus' disciples, both men and women, were freed by following Jesus from behaving according to gender roles their culture prescribed for them. Men did not have to act conventionally as males by competing with one another for honor, retaliating when attacked, working in their fathers' trade, or proving their masculinity by sexual conquests or even begetting children. All of that is shocking in Jesus' culture. It may have been even more scandalous, though, for the gospels to commend how Jesus' female disciples behave. It's weird enough in the first-century Mediterranean world for men to adopt an itinerant lifestyle; Greek, Roman, and Jewish cultures alike would have held that the family honor demands men staying with their extended family to care for their parents and give them an honorable burial, to protect the honor of the women of the family, and to have sons to carry on the family name. But it's even more weird in the cultures in which Christianity was born for women to travel as Luke depicts. Women traveling without their male kin would be seen as unattached or "loose women"; these women are behaving in a still more shocking manner by traveling with men who are not their kin -- or at least, not by blood or marriage. Furthermore, they are women of means who are deciding for themselves how to spend their money; Jesus' followers have set up a society among themselves in which there are no patriarchs to make such decisions, as all act as sisters and brothers to one another.

That leads to a third thing we observe in this Sunday's gospel: that, especially in light of Jesus' ministry forming all God's people as a single family of sisters and brothers, we are called to make use of our resources in particular ways. We are called to use our resources to care for the poor among us in the human family as for our own flesh and blood, exercising a radical hospitality and generosity with one another. Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna are portrayed by Luke as honored patrons of the community of Jesus' followers because they do that, providing for the whole community out of their means. And the woman who anoints Jesus in Luke 7 similarly is commended for providing hospitality for Jesus, in contrast to Jesus' supposed host, who is too busy testing Jesus to see whether he is truly an equal to care for him as an honored guest.

Is the radical impact of this passage dulled by Luke's referring to the woman who anoints Jesus as "a sinner" and noting that Jesus' female patrons had been healed by Jesus? I don't think so. Jesus not only announces that the anointing woman has been forgiven (and therefore she is fit for polite society, although she clearly prefers Jesus' company), but he also commends her faith. Similarly, noting that the women who traveled with Jesus and served as patrons to their fellow disciples establishes clearly that they were not traveling with Jesus because some infirmity or impurity forced them out of their homes, but rather they followed Jesus as a matter of choice, a freely given response of to grace. And so their patronage of the community is also a freely given expression of who they are in Christ -- free to follow Jesus, and set in a new family of sisters and brothers who travel with them. In some ways, Queen Jezebel in the book of 1 Kings gets a bad rap; she is only behaving, after all, according to the conventions of this world, in which the rich get richer and the powerful use their power to consolidate their privilege. What's the point of being king if it doesn't mean you get what you want in the kingdom? But the women in this Sunday's gospel know better. They know grace, and so they extend grace to others, a radical expression of their radical freedom as Jesus' followers.

Thanks be to God!

June 14, 2007 in 1 Kings, Luke, Stewardship, Women, Year C | Permalink | Comments (2)

Proper 5, Year C

Galatians 1:11-24

If I were preaching this Sunday, I think I'd do something that's rather unusual for me:

I'd be preaching on the epistle. I'd be preaching about something that springs to my mind every time I read Galatians, and especially the first half of the letter. It's something that is also prominent in my mind these days when my electronic deliveries of Anglican news arrive:

You can't read Galatians with anything approaching care without noticing that there were serious disagreements about serious matters in the earliest churches. Heck, you can't read any of Paul's letters with anything approaching care without noticing that much, but usually people think of most of those other conflicts as ones between Paul, who was clearly right (what with his being a saint and his letters getting in the canon and all), and anonymous nasty heretics, who were clearly wrong, and probably should not be thought of as being Christian at all.

Well, we can't quite do that with Galatians. In Galatians, Paul describes a very bitter fight he's had (and is having, I'd say; I see no indication in the letter that the disagreement has yet been resolved) with none other than Peter. I've occasionally heard people try to say something along the lines of, "well, they weren't fighting about anything important. It was just about dietary laws; of course Paul was right, but Peter came around to Paul's point of view in the end anyway, so it wasn't a huge deal." I personally wouldn't bet my life that Peter did end up agreeing with Paul, since the only indication that might be the case is the book of Acts, and Paul's practices of table fellowship as described in his letters don't follow the guidelines they supposedly agreed on in Acts 15 (e.g., there's no indication at all in Paul's letters that he thought Christians needed to avoid meat with blood in it). And in any case, at the point Paul writes Galatians, he thinks that Peter is completely wrong -- "self-condemned" and acting in "hypocrisy" in a manner such that others were "led astray" -- and on a matter that is, in Paul's view at least, about the very "truth of the gospel" (Galatians 2:11-14).

So who was the nasty heretic who should have been kicked out of the church, or at least out of all positions of leadership: Peter or Paul? Who is it who's not a real Christian: Peter or Paul?

The answer, I think most people would say, is neither. Most Christians I know today would say that Peter was mistaken on this matter. I wonder occasionally whether Peter ever regretted not being a more prolific letter-writer or being more intentional about cultivating a fan base, as Christians don't have any documents from Peter's pen to give his point of view directly. I'd be willing to bet that if we did have Peter's version of the conflict, there'd be some harsh words about Paul's point of view. And all of this makes me wonder:

If Peter and Paul can disagree passionately about something that Paul and perhaps even both of them thought was about the very "truth of the gospel," and if we can celebrate them both as apostles of Christ and heroes of the faith, why does it seem to happen so often in our churches today that any serious disagreement about an important matter of faith becomes an occasion to condemn one party as not only completely wrong, but outside the bounds of Christianity itself? And don't say that the difference is that money and property weren't at stake then; when famine befalls the Christians in Jerusalem, at least some of whom seem to have been on Peter's side of this conflict, Paul spends no small amount of political capital to get churches he founded to take up a collection for their sisters and brothers in Christ in Jerusalem. Who should have been expelled from the first-century communion of churches: Peter or Paul? Whose witness to Christ was superfluous? Whose ministry was not needed? And if these are silly questions to ask about Peter and Paul, what makes them any less silly to ask about any of our sisters or brothers today?

I think Paul was right about something in Galatians that we often gloss over. I think he was right about the dietary laws; he was right that while Jesus himself seems to have kept those laws, it's a logical extension of his practices of table fellowship (e.g., his feeding of the five thousand, as I talk about in more depth here) to say that "the truth of the gospel" Jesus proclaimed with his words, his life, and his death, and which the God of Israel affirmed in raising Jesus from the dead, is that all of us, having been made one Body, not only can but must live out that truth in the breaking of the bread. We are Christ's Body, called to give of ourselves to and for the world as Christ gave himself; as the Body of Christ, we are to be the presence of the Bread of Life in the world. Breaking bread with one another is an excellent warm-up exercise in that vocation, and if we won't do that with one another, our vocation in the world is in serious trouble.

Someone in a Sunday morning adult formation class once said to me that she missed the altar calls of her youth, and thought that Episcopal congregations were remiss in not offering them at least a couple of times a year. My answer was that we have an altar call every single week, and many congregations multiple times per week. We are called to the altar every time we celebrate the Eucharist. We come together, we confess our sins and ask God's forgiveness, we hear the Good News that we're forgiven and we proclaim words of peace to one another, and then we approach the altar and, as sign and symbol of our conversion and the reconciliation that Christ has effected and is effecting with and among us, we receive Christ. We literally take Christ in as we receive the bread and wine. We have an altar call every time we break bread together because we're called to conversion, to reconciliation with God and one another in Christ, and to live more deeply and fully into that conversion in everything we do. We have an altar call at least once a week because we need that kind of conversion, that sign of reconciliation, not once in a lifetime but countless times. I think of it as a good day if I experience conversion several times before noon. I don't think I'm speaking only for myself when I talk about needing that.

So this Sunday, this altar call, let's be intentional about what we're doing. When we speak words of peace to one another, I pray we're particularly mindful of what it is we're saying -- not "peace be with you, as long as we agree on the important stuff," but "peace be with you." Let's be mindful that as we do this, we're enacting among one another what we believe God is doing in the world. Reconciliation of the whole of Creation in Christ is God's mission, God's program, and as we receive the bread this Sunday, let's be mindful of the call to us as Christ's Body, the very "truth of the gospel" we have received from the apostles, to get with the program.

Thanks be to God!

June 8, 2007 in Community, Conversion, Current Events, Discipleship, Eucharist, Forgiveness, Galatians, Ordinary Time, Reconciliation, Year C | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack