Sermon for St Mark’s, Pentecost 15
Show us the road to freedom begins in forgiveness, that we may pray for those who trouble us, bear less and less malice until we are truly clean, and not become bitter when others do not meet us in reconciliation. Prayer of Brother Roger of Taizé
There is an old Vermont farmer proverb: A couple was moving to a small town in Vermont, and on the day they arrived, on the outskirts of town they passed a classic Vermont farm. It was a lovely, peaceful Norman Rockwell scene. As they passed the front gate, there was the farmer standing by the entrance, just standing. The driver pulled over to the side, and said to the farmer, “Hey old man, is this a friendly town to live in?” The farmer noticed the couple for the first time, and said, “The town you came from, was that a friendly town?” The driver considered, and said, “Yeah, I think so.” Said the farmer, “Then you’ll find this town friendly enough.” Moral of the story? Be sensible of the baggage you carry as you move through life.
It works with friendly towns. Makes sense. If you bring friendliness you probably will find friendliness. It works with forgiveness, too. If you bring forgiveness you will probably find forgiveness. The converse is more obvious – if you are unforgiving, forgiveness will elude you.
So, for your consideration, who do you need to forgive? From whom do you need forgiveness? And what about self-forgiveness? Isn’t that the hardest? In light of Jesus’ dramatic parable this morning, I offer a few observations on forgiveness, aspects to encourage your thinking, and practice your transfiguration.
First, forgiveness is not a distinctly Christian virtue. Religious people and non-religious alike request and grant forgiveness almost every day. Many of the incidents are small, often unintentional, but when they are serious, or intentional, or repeated, they need care and attention. Everyone knows forgiveness, and has experience.
Second, to Peter’s question whether seven times forgiving a repeated offense is enough, you need to know Jesus’ seventy-seven prescription was not pulled out of the air. There was a certain man, named Lamech, familiar to Jesus and his disciples from the early Hebrew history (Gen 4.24). Lamech once boasted to his wives about his capacity for retribution. If attacked, he would exact vengeance seventy-seven-fold. That memorable number applied to forgiveness would have been stark to Jesus’ hearers. Jesus’ way is to practice forgiveness early, instead of retribution. Life is not saved by getting even. Because you never get even: the offended party gets even, and then the other gets even more “even”. Then comes the grudge, then a feud, and vengeance becomes excused as “justice”, violence runs rampant, and eventually the whole world burns. A far cry from a friendly Vermont town, but just as predictable.
Third, while we are enjoined to practice unconditional love, we are also expected to practice conditional forgiveness. Jesus’ formula last week about going privately to one who has offended you, and if unsuccessful take a couple of church members with you on a second visit, and if that doesn’t work tell the whole congregation (the congregation probably knows all about it by then) underscores that offenses must be addressed before they can be forgiven. Trivia can be overlooked or explained away, but the serious offenses can be forgiven only on condition they are addressed.
Remember this is a kingdom parable, not social advice. This is about the heart of God, which always works for reconciliation, healing of memories and relationships, and the wonder of life. Even when reconciliation is not possible, it is about the offended party releasing as much of the sting as possible, so that one is not further crippled by holding grudges. Another maxim is this: holding a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to get sick.
Remember as well, we pray “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” That does not mean we forgive just enough to by, just enough to get our own sin erased from God’s notice. It is not bargaining, or earning God’s forgiveness. It is remembering where we came from. We have been generously forgiven, so it is a kingdom expectation that we will be generous with our forgiveness. Once there was a brother in a monastery who was caught stealing. A trial was held, and the Abbot was expected to conduct the trial and make final determination. Abbot Makarios refused, saying he had been forgiven so much, how could he sit in judgment. It is compassion which drives the will to forgive, and compassion unpracticed dries up.
It is interesting that this Gospel story is paired with the Exodus story of the Hebrews crossing the Red Sea, but more sensational is the destruction of the pursuing Egyptians. We are taught to see it as God liberating his people. The Egyptians saw it differently. These slaves were owned by the Egyptians. They were property under the law. And in their rebellion, these slaves running away was damaging to the whole country’s economy and to the dignity of Pharaoh and the self-respect of every Egyptian. They were just in their pursuit. Ah, but the story is told from the perspective of the escapees, who saw destruction of the Egyptian military as God’s vengeance. However, compassion moves across religious lines, sometimes upturning religious certainty. I remember a Rabbinic commentary that there was no rejoicing in heaven when the sea closed in on the Egyptians. The Rabbi taught that unlike the Hebrews when the sea closed in, in heaven YHWH was silent. When one of the angels asked about this unexpected reaction, YHWH explained the sadness. “The Egyptians are my children, too!” I wonder if Jesus knew that story, or if the Rabbi lived later than Jesus, if he knew what Jesus was teaching.
All that said, the rest of the story is that forgiveness is hard work. If I didn’t tell that side too, then the Church is really out of touch with real life. Forgiveness is hard work. It has been said that the most natural human emotion is revenge. You don’t have to think. There is no discipline required to hit back. The most unnatural human emotion is to forgive. That is God’s business, and it is why we work for transfiguration of our spirits into God’s Spirit, our hearts into God’s heart. We must master pride, resist blaming, heal our own wounds and remember that we have been forgiven. Forgiveness is hard work, but pulling one self out of quicksand is also hard work.
This is a “For What It’s Worth” sermon. You know about forgiveness. You have practiced it all your life. Perhaps there is some new insight here, but you know best your own history of forgiving. For the rest of that history, though, I leave you with Brother Roger’s prayer:
Show us the road to freedom begins in forgiveness, that we may pray for those who trouble us, bear less and less malice until we are truly clean, and not become bitter when others do not meet us in reconciliation.
A Sermon for Marilyn, Priest
Ordination, 9th September 2017
More than a few years ago, many more, I offered a Sunday morning adult class entitled, “What’s Good About the Episcopal Church?” It was pure propaganda, I guess, because I was young and loved the Church and knew there was much to commend it. However, few people came. That was in the Diocese of Virginia, in the seventies, and few people came, they told me, because they too loved the Church and saw little need to rethink the matter. Those were the times when a new social study appeared in bookstores entitled, The Power of Their Glory: America’s Ruling Class: The Episcopalians. Those with hair the color of mine may remember that book. Others will say, “Are you kidding me?”
When next I offered the class, in the eighties, I was in western New York, and more people came. The difference was that some of those people were antagonists. “Yeah,” said one, “I want to hear what you think is so good about this Church, but I know you have to say that. You are paid.” I probably didn’t change any minds.
But in the current millennium, a social paradigm has emerged that surprises many Church folk. A generation has risen of thinking people, productive, active young citizens, who have no experience of church in any form. Sunday worship is not a “given”. They have never been inside Church buildings, know only what scandals the newspapers reported, and while most are not disapproving or disgusted, they are certainly disinterested. “What’s Good About the Episcopal Church?” among them would draw more yawns than people.
Yet by the grace and intention of the Spirit the Church continues, and we Episcopalians are learning.
We are learning not to take our heritage lightly, nor to play fast and loose with what we stand for.
We have learned that getting out of Church is at least as important as getting into Church. If what we say and do inside the Church has no expression outside the walls, then it has no meaning inside the walls.
We are discovering that Jesus would probably not attend our Church, but would prefer to meet us where people suffer, where people are in need, where people are weeping.
We are learning the Church is not God, but also that we can share real friendship with God.
We are learning that we need other Christian denominations (the Lutherans especially have been our teachers), and that there is much to be learned about this magnificent God from other religions.
We are learning that while fear is an effective motivator, it is not the Gospel of Jesus.
We continually renew our vows to respect the dignity of every human being, and to work tirelessly for that peace which begins in justice.
We are rediscovering the splendor of the whole creation, the beauty of this world, the wonder of life, and the mystery of love.
Eric Law and Stephanie Spellers, in their book The Episcopal Way, wrote in the final chapter entitled “Falling in Love with God Again”:
There is plenty to love, celebrate, and share about this generous, beautiful, incarnational, ancient and future way. But remember: it is a way. It is a path for walking, an approach for following Jesus… Change is necessary, to meet new cultural contexts. Change is good, when it translates the gospel for new communities to hear… And change is holy, when we engage it faithfully and without losing our essence. (p102)
So, friends and neighbors, today is a particularly happy day of change for the Episcopal Church. In this sacred place and with the people of The Dalles and Hood River; with the parishioners of St Mark’s and St Paul’s and the clergy of the diocese, we honor, endorse and welcome Marilyn Roth to new leadership. It is a day of hope, of expectation and is one more affirmation of what’s good about The Episcopal Church. Marilyn has grafted her Baptist roots and Quaker theological education into her Episcopal practice – good change. She has served notably outside Church as Chaplain with Mid-Columbia Fire and Rescue and she brings practical communication experience from the publishing community – special gifts. And Marilyn has that mystical quality of presence, doesn’t she, which may be best described as “She gets it!” So with confidence in her and confidence in our future as people of faith, we celebrate her ordination as Priest among us and as Priest outside the walls.
Now it is traditional in Episcopal ordinations at this point for the preacher to deliver a “Charge” to the ordinand. The Charge presumes the preacher knows something the ordinand doesn’t. A Charge may be helpful. It may be challenging. It may be inspirational or it can add a burden. I confess I remember little of the Charge from my ordinations. However, as Marilyn knows, “charge” is not my style. I am more authentic when I bless, and blessing is also her style. So Marilyn, in affirmation of your new role as Priest, a benediction just for you:
May you hold in your heart that you are chosen, and that through your “Yes”, your congregations and the larger communities are blessed, and the Holy One is honored.
As you walk as Priest with your people, may they draw confidence from your presence and wisdom from your teaching.
As you encounter others’ expectations, and your own, may you never forget to play. And remember that often, one good laugh is worth a thousand right answers.
May you recall, when the light grows scarce and your energy is depleted, that even those created a little lower than the angels require rest and recreation.
May your study of Scripture be a lamp unto your feet, and challenge your closely-held notions of God.
May you not fear prophetic words when the Gospel calls for resistance.
May the sufferings of your call bring new integrity and confirm your reliance on the Spirit who is as close as your breath.
May you approach the dying with respect and warmth, always learning, and in light of your own mortality.
May your time at the Table, as host and guest at Eucharist, be sustaining and comforting, and may you never lose your sense of awe as Celebrant of Holy Mystery.
Come now, friend, and embrace your new calling. You are welcome among us, and we seek your blessing. Amen.
Sermon for St Mark’s, 3 September, ‘17
Transfiguration of Peter
“What was a bandit but an emperor on the make; what was an emperor but a bandit on the throne?”
Those are words of John Dominic Crossan, the Jesus scholar, observing the social and political climate in the hundred years or so around the resurrection of Jesus. Specifically, Dr Crossan wishes us to understand the turbulence into which Jesus was born, and to get us thinking about why Jesus might have forbidden the disciples from broadcasting him as Messiah, and this morning, why his stunning rebuke of Peter for wanting to protect Jesus from arrest and death.
Let’s look at three cases where an unusual character rose to great power in the Roman Empire. First, in Spain there was a man Viriathus, an unknown, who by organizing a campaign moved from shepherd to hunter to bandit to general (140-130 BCE). Then in North Africa, Tacfarinas, (20s C.E.) rose from shepherd to soldier to bandit to general. Some political career, yes? Third, there is Maximinus, in the 230s CE, shepherd to bandit to soldier to emperor. Perhaps you can better appreciate Crossan’s quip: “What was a bandit but an emperor on the make; what was an emperor but a bandit on the throne?” (The Historical Jesus, p172)
But the turbulence was more malignant than these stories tell. Local heroes, early “Robin Hoods”, advocated the violent overthrow of Rome, all having some measure of success before they were quashed. In 47 BCE there was a man named Ezekias who revolted, and ten years later, there was a guerilla group in Galilee known as the “Cave Bandits” who caused trouble for the authorities. After Jesus’ resurrection, there was a revolt led by a man named Tholomaeus, which lasted two years, and later there was even a bandit named Jesus who raised havoc for about a year around the time of the Gospel of Mark. These were revolts consisting “largely of peasants and landless laborers ruled, oppressed and exploited by someone else” (Crossan, p169). These were unsuccessful, in that Rome always put them down, but turbulence spread among the people. And then there were the religious reformers, the messiahs.
Yes, Jesus was proclaimed messiah but as one in a long line of messiahs, all advocating a violent solution. Heralded in memory as truly heroic and godly was a man named Judas, nicknamed “the hammer” because of his remarkable guerilla tactics. Judas Maccabeus threw out the ruling Syrian dynasty, purged corruption from the religion of Israel and restored the Temple in Jerusalem. The feast of Hanukkah commemorates the restoration of Jewish worship in 164 BCE, when eight days of oil for the Temple Menorah was provided from one day’s supply. For the messiahs to follow, there was always hope that a new Maccabeus, a new hammer, would initiate the final victory over Rome.
Here are three such messiahs, violent rebellions based in religion, from a few years before Jesus was born. One was in Galilee, a messiah named Judas, son of Ezekias who led the political uprising I mentioned in 47 BCE. Judas’ motivation was religious, but his tactics were no less violent than his father’s. In the same year another messiah, Simon, a slave in the service of Herod the Great, attracted a following because of his size, his handsome figure, and his bodily strength. With a band of men Simon attacked the palace at Jericho, and the result of his rebellion: “a great madness settled upon the nation.” (Crossan, p201, quoting Josephus). Third, an illiterate shepherd named Anthronges kept power with his four brothers for a long time, partly because, no doubt, the people remembered a certain predecessor, another shepherd who was Yahweh’s favorite and king in Israel, the awesome David of Jerusalem.
This is a short list. There were other messiahs, common among oppressed societies. There was Menachem, grandson of Judas the Galilean, also Simon, son of Gioras, both of whom stirred the people long after Jesus’ resurrection. You will remember that John Baptist was asked if he was the messiah. Would he take the sword and bring down the Roman idolaters?
My apologies if this sounds more like lecture than preaching, but it was this wildfire of violence that Jesus wanted desperately to avoid. There was always the danger in his day that a gathering of seekers could become a mob, and not only did Jesus resist the destruction that came with revolt. His whole message was non-violent, and driven by an intimidating, sacrificial love which the world has rarely seen.
It is that singular, holy love which makes Jesus’ place in the world unique. It is that love which inspired his ministry for three years, and because he would not back down or backtrack, it drove him to the cross. It is that love which made the cross more a symbol of victory than defeat, and his final words, “It is accomplished”, is a song of faith.
It is that love which inspired Paul to write, to you and to me this morning:
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers”. (Romans 12.9f)
“Get behind me, Satan.” It must have been startling for Peter to be so named by a man he loved. Stumbling block? Easier to swallow, and we can see how Peter was potentially a stumbling block, but the result is the same. Peter’s protectionism was diverting Jesus’ purpose, and it was courting disaster if the crowds became mobs, even for Jesus’ cause. Peter was a man of boats and nets, a commercial fisherman who fed the people, but when pressed, he knew how to use the sword (John 18.10-11).
The substance of Jesus’ criticism, though, is that Peter (and you and I) think like humans. Of course, we do. But the challenge is for Peter, and us, to come to think as God thinks. To see as God sees. To love as God loves. What is going on is not Peter’s condemnation, but Peter’s transfiguration. For Peter it took time, but he was transfigured into a godly man Jesus would have respected.
For you and me, what is at stake is our transfiguration. Though it takes time, may we become transfigured into godly disciples, men and women Jesus will respect. Amen.
N.B. Dr Crossan’s primary sources are Antiquities of the Jews and The Jewish War, by the first century Jewish historian Titus Flavius Josephus (37-100 CE).
Sermon for St Mark’s, 27th August 2017
Pentecost 12 – Who do YOU say that I am?
Did Jesus have all his fingers? When he began his ministry, it was as a travelling rabbi, but until that time Scripture identifies him as a “carpenter’s son” (Matthew 13.55). In Jesus’ day the son followed the father’s trade, so Jesus was a skilled carpenter, a worker with axe and mallet and saw. Joseph probably went out into the land and cut down trees to finish them as lumber for house beams, furniture, and tools, and so would the young Jesus. It is not an easy skill. I have known carpenters and woodworkers, and it is not uncommon for them to have scarred hands and missing fingers, accidents in the trade. Do you think Jesus had all his fingers?
I asked that question of a Confirmation class once. My goal was not the answer, but to get them to think about Jesus, to wonder about him as a person, not just a religious notion. I tried to help them assemble a picture of him as a person who walked this same earth, though a time long ago. Jesus was never a Christian, but a faithful Jew. He was not a white man; did not have blue eyes. He was dark skinned, black or brown eyes like others of his nation, probably around five feet tall, maybe a little more. A carpenter of his time would have been illiterate, reading some words and numbers, but not able to write a letter. Yet Luke indicates Jesus read the prophet Isaiah in synagogue (4.16f). Another fact which may support his literacy is that the word “carpenter” was also a code name for “scholar”. Jesus was radical in some of his teaching (turn the other cheek), brilliant before adversaries (Render unto Caesar) and comfortable with the oppressed and despised people of his day (lepers and tax collectors). He turned his religion on its ear, when he insisted the law of love is higher than the law of righteousness. Jesus was possessed by an intense prayer life, and he had a prayer book, which maybe he read, but certainly knew by heart. There is a copy of Jesus’ prayer book within your arm’s reach. It is the Book of Psalms, and you will find it in the middle of your Book of Common Prayer.
We heard this morning from Mathew that when Peter acknowledged Jesus as “Messiah”, Jesus ordered the disciples not to tell anyone. He was quite serious about that. Jesus knew the danger of exalted titles. Next week we will hear the same Peter called “Satan” for challenging Jesus’ directives. Jesus even resisted being called “good” (Mark 10.17). Nevertheless, Jesus has been misidentified as John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets (Matthew 16.14). He has been described as Messiah, Prince of Peace, and only Son of God. His opponents knew him as peasant, magician, bandit and rebel. We call him Lord, Savior, Redeemer, Christ and Blessed Jesus. Even other religions honor him as prophet, holy man, great Teacher.
The question that matters, though, is the question he put to the disciples. To those who knew him best, his own friends, he said, “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16.15) That is our question. Who is Jesus to you?
For me, Jesus has many faces. Through study, I know Jesus by all those names – prophet, holy man, great Teacher; peasant, revolutionary, master of debate and parable, awesome in ability to love. In my heart, I have come to know him as companion and elder brother. Witness to my foolishness, healer of my memories, he is one who smiles at my accomplishments and who speaks through me at holy moments. I believe strongly that Jesus was a man of laughter, as well as tears. Jesus is often silent when I pray to him, but I sense he is listening. And I know he knows my sin. All my desires are known and no secrets are hid, but there is no danger in Jesus knowing I fall short. In my spirit I know him intimately, as he knows me. I experience him particularly at Eucharist, in moments of great beauty or simple tenderness. I see the face of Jesus in my wife, in my son and daughter, and in the wise and loving people I have known. I recognize Jesus in the smiles of infants and toddlers, in the gaze of lovers of all ages, in the eyes of those who are dying, and in the heartbreak of deep grief, tragedy, and human suffering. For me, there is no question: Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
And yet, all of that really matters little, except that I do not ask you to answer a question I am not willing to answer myself. So back to you, in this moment, and later in your quiet time. Who is Jesus to you? Does he have all his fingers?
You might be interested to know that one of my young students thought seriously about Jesus’ fingers. At the next meeting of the Confirmation class, she was quite confident that he did have all his fingers. She quoted John’s Gospel that at his crucifixion: “No bone of his shall be broken” (19.36).
The amazing Albert Schweitzer, physician, theologian, and recipient of the Nobel Prize for Peace, (1875-1965) is perhaps best known for monumental historical life-of-Jesus research. The last four sentences in his 400+ page book tell a truth which has resonated in countless souls, and may catch hold in yours, or perhaps is an invitation yet to be accepted. About the risen Jesus Schweitzer wrote:
He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lake-side, He came to those men who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same word: “Follow thou me!” and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfill in our time. He commands. And to those who obey, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in his fellowship, and, as an ineffable, mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.” (The Quest for the Historical Jesus, 1906, p403)
Who is Jesus to you? Come, if you wish, and let’s talk. Amen.
I have begun to wonder how to protect my soul from the sound bytes of our culture. Television now broadcasts news 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. FACEBOOK has become the political engine to share our individual views with our friends. Online news sources send email prompts to open their latest byte of information. And the list goes on. How does one stay informed, and still sustain a love for all people, regardless of their political positions?
It is unfortunate that our news commentators continue to align our political freedoms with terrorists and murderers. I call this lazy reporting, where the driving force to sell advertising is held in greater value than sharing the basic facts with their listeners and readers. I can’t change the multitude of sound bytes entering my little world, but I can change what I do with that information. I can begin to listen.
I can LISTEN TO SCRIPTURE. I can LISTEN TO THE STORIES OF PEOPLE. I can LISTEN TO MY OWN HEART.
LISTEN to our Scripture lessons today. To gain a context to our scripture lessons today, we must start back in Matthew 15:1, where you find the Pharisees and scribes challenging Jesus about Jewish norms and rules. Jesus handles them with ease, quoting the prophet Isaiah, “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” Jesus doesn’t try to argue with the Pharisees over Jewish dietary laws, instead, he strikes to the core of the issue, and tells them that their hearts have strayed from God. By pointing out that the real problem stems from a wayward heart, Jesus gives us a clue on how to live with our neighbors, those we like, and those we don’t like. Jesus tells the Pharisees and scribes, along with his disciples, to listen to their hearts.
Jesus does not mince words with the Pharisees and scribes. He bluntly tells them they are blind guides leading the blind. The words of Jesus are dangerous statements, and the disciples themselves challenge Jesus by asking him, “Do you not know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” Jesus finally explains to the disciples, “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles.” It’s not eating the right food or living in a certain way that informs a person about a true measure of their holy life. Jesus is asking a more rooted question, “Do you know what lies in your heart?” Are you listening to your own sound bytes? Don’t be surprised if you struggle to answer this question for yourself, because Jesus, himself, wrestles with knowing his own heart in later verses of our Gospel lesson.
JESUS LISTENS to the Canaanite woman. I think most of us believe that when Jesus emerges from the waters of baptism, he has it all together, that his seeking, questing, yearning, and struggling moments are behind him. But the story of the Canaanite woman shows us that Jesus still struggles with his spiritual life. We get a glimpse of the human Jesus, where a woman’s plea for help reveals a healer who becomes bogged down in cultural restraints he has yet to break out of. We see two healers, the woman and Jesus.
In Matthew his disciples’ response to the Canaanite woman’s plea is to beg Jesus to send her away. Then Jesus announces to the woman, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Can you believe Jesus really said this? But it gets worse. The woman kneels before Jesus and pleads, “Lord, help me.” Jesus answers, “It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” We find from reading this Scripture text there isn’t a way to make Jesus look like the wise, loving healer. The true healing takes place in Jesus when the woman quickly responds, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” Can you imagine what must have shot through the heart and mind of Jesus? Frustration with this pesky gentile; embarrassment that he was being upstaged in front of his friends; anger that he was losing control of the moment; probably all these feelings and more … but I believe he also experienced a rush of incredulous amazement which overwhelmed his Jewishness and his maleness and his cultural restraints, causing his eyes and heart to respond to the plea of this mother. “O woman, great is your faith!” Jesus finally hears the soul of this woman, her faith and her cry for help. JESUS LISTENS to her story, and heals her daughter.
LISTEN TO YOUR HEART. If you need to choose between these three categories of listening, then please choose this one. During this last week I have found myself listening to the words of others as they tried to make sense of the tragedy in Charlottesville, Barcelona, and Finland. I thought if I listened to more people, there would be a way to make sense of what happened. But I was seeking my answer in the wrong place.
The truth is, I need to listen to my own heart to find those places that still need healing within me. I need to feel the pain of those families who were struck helpless by people who want to do harm to others. I need to call these tragedies what they really are, “hate-filled murder.” Why hedge our words in meaningless rhetoric. I imagine that Joseph, at the age of 17, spent many years searching his own soul, or he could not have broken down in tears before his brothers. Joseph suffered, but his suffering turned into love for others. The passage in Genesis says, “He kissed all his brothers and wept upon them.” After feeling betrayed, sold into slavery, sent to prison, and feeling the unending loss of family, Joseph, somehow, learned to listen to God and his heart. He broke out of a family system that supported lying, secrets, bullying, hatred, and special treatment. It doesn’t say how he broke away from those character traits embedded in his family dynamic, but somewhere along the line he learned to forgive.
When you enter a circle of suffering with God and others, and if you are not broken by it, you will be made holy by it. You will find the presence of a God who is waiting to heal and hold you close. If you are willing to listen to your own failings, and point to your own doubts and mistakes, you will encounter the holy in your suffering. If the failings of mankind have not brought you to tears, then begin to listen more carefully. Jesus will be found in the midst of your tears.
So we listen. We listen to Scripture. We listen to the stories of our friends. We listen to our own hearts. Jesus says, “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” We must choose our words and actions carefully, knowing that ultimately it is right and good to denounce violence and hatred and idolatry. To do otherwise stops love from having power over evil. Amen.
Sermon for St Mark’s, 13th August 2017
A Fascinating Library
Sermons recently have been intense, or serious in topic, sermons about our transfiguration, about unconditional love, conditional forgiveness, and assurance that when we die and make our journey home, Someone knows we are coming. This morning we might lighten up a bit, pull back from intense scrutiny and wonder together about a familiar story from Matthew.
Jesus sent his disciples ahead of him after a dramatic feeding of 5000 people on the shore of the Galilean Lake. He had a desire to pray, and as he preferred prayer in solitude, he sought privacy. The disciples, no surprise, got into the boat Jesus had been teaching from before the feeding miracle, and set off for another shore. The Galilean Lake, also called Sea of Galilee, is an inland, freshwater body 13 miles long and 8 wide, and is shallow enough that it is famous for intense storms which arise quickly. Jesus spent most of his ministry on its shores, and the disciples, as commercial fishermen, knew well its rules and temperament.
Sailing along the shore towards Genessaret, then, a storm did come up, and the boat was in trouble. This story is similar to another (Matthew 8.23f) in which Jesus is in the boat with the disciples when such a storm came up, and in that danger, Jesus calmed the storm. In our story, Jesus is recognized and offers encouragement, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Then Peter, who is willing more than the others to trust Jesus, tests what he is seeing, “If it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Not a bad response to what might be mistaken in a threatening, storm-tossed night around three in the morning. Peter recognized Jesus, and at his bidding stepped out of the boat. You know the conclusion – he became frightened, and Jesus reached out and helped him back in the boat. Not surprising, the disciples were amazed, and worshiped Jesus.
So as we wonder about what we have heard, you might ask, “Is there any explanation which might make the story more compatible with our 21st century minds?” Two thoughts from the scholars might interest you. One is that the boat is closer to the shore than the dramatic painters depict, and that Jesus is walking in storm-tossed surf. Peter sees him just visible, and Jesus says “Come”. Peter does fine at first, but then in the undertow begins to sink. Matthew’s point is that Peter trusted Jesus enough to venture out, and that stands solid regardless of whether the boat is near shore or farther out.
A second observation is that this story may be a misplaced resurrection appearance. You remember that after the disciples heard the story from the women that they had seen Jesus on the third day after crucifixion, Peter, overwhelmed with this wonderful, barely believable news, decided to go fishing, perhaps to sort it all out. While out on the lake, they saw Jesus on the shore, and Peter rushed to him. The poignant moment in the story is that on the shore with the risen Jesus, Peter was forgiven for three times denying Jesus. Today’s story might fit the post-resurrection narrative.
What if we compare the two storm stories?
The popular interpretation for contemporary spiritual life is that spiritual persons should be confident to “step out of the boat”. We are encouraged to “think out of the box”, “go the extra mile”, and that “when the going gets tough, the tough get going”, so some of this wisdom had translated itself into the secular consciousness. Be bold, dream big, take risks – hence the title of a book by John Ortberg, If You Want To Walk On Water, You’ve Got to Get Out Of The Boat.
The opposite seems true in the other storm story. I remember John Dominic Crossan teaching about the story of Jesus asleep in the boat with the same disciples, same lake, and a similar storm. When they were at the end of their ropes with fear, they woke Jesus, and he calmed the storm. Again, the message is “Be not afraid”, but trust in Jesus. “Be not afraid” is the most commonly repeated one-liner in the Bible. The implication, though, in this first story is “You better get in the boat”. Dr Crossan believes it is a message to Christians in Matthew’s day who were going astray to remain with Jesus, with the young Church, and not be distracted by persecutions and diversions of their times.
Here is a spiritual observation which might not readily occur to western-thinking Christians: one does not always have to think in an “either/or” frame. Often the Spirit moves in the world of “both/and”. Sometimes the best answer is not singular. Perhaps there is learning from more than one possibility. Once I had a conversation with an apprentice native American shaman, and asked if God is a notion contained only in our heads and hearts, or is there a reality outside our imagination and distinct from it, which we name God. His answer was “Yes”. The Spirit of God is larger than any frame which says there is only one right answer. In the practice of medicine, the search must be for the one source of a problem (either/or). In the unraveling of history, the story is more complicated, depending on getting all the facts, and whether the accounts are written by the victors, or by the victims. In the world of Spirit, the answers may often be “both/and”. God certainly dwells in our hearts and minds, but God is also larger than our hearts (I John 3.20) and exists outside and beyond our best imagination.
Are there not times when we as Christians should step out, risk our energy for the Gospel, for the helpless and oppressed? Are there not times when conscience demands we swim upstream and challenge the way things seem to be going? And are there not times for us to come together, to bless and heal and strengthen the church, to protect its wholeness, even circle the wagons, and hear again the message of hope and confidence in Jesus? Times to get out of the boat. Times to get into the boat. Both/And.
My hope is you will read your Bible, and enjoy. Read for color. Be surprised when it does not say what you have always thought it said. (Where does it say God helps those who help themselves? That is Ben Franklin, not Jesus.) Look for surprises: did you notice that when Peter stepped out into the water to come to Jesus, that he did not bring Peter to shore? They both got back into the boat, the place of safety for that moment. Your Bible is a fascinating library, often uncomfortably candid. So read, and think, and wonder. Perhaps the Spirit of God will find you there. AMEN.
Sermon for St Mark’s, 6 August 2017
Transfiguration: A Great Love Story
Jesus’ disciples suffer from unfair criticism in the Church. There is a common disdain about these who walked with Jesus but did not recognize from the first that he was Messiah. They saw miracles, heard his teaching, knew him intimately – the New Testament says they still didn’t get it. I have heard preachers point out how ignorant they were, the implication being that we would have recognized Jesus right away. I had a professor in seminary refer to Peter and the others as “dumb bunnies”. Unfair.
In St Luke’s Gospel this morning, at least three of the disciples did see who he was. It was intimate – just four: Peter, James, John with Jesus in a remote mountain place where Jesus went to pray. At face value, these three had a divine vision of Jesus as Messiah; at the least, it dawned on them that he truly was the one sent from God. Prayers answered; hopes fulfilled; huge relief, but little awareness of how it would change them. This moment, this discovery, the Church calls “Transfiguration”.
Come round now to our day, and your own faith practice. Transfiguration is the spiritual process of becoming who we truly are, created in God’s image. The matter is really ours – becoming who we are as bearers of God’s image.
The questions is – will we claim our deepest truth, the essential goodness of a soul of the same substance of God? Imagine you as God’s image?
That is a personal choice. Made in your own heart and mind. It is not about perfection. It is about choosing the grace already in your spirit, and when you waver or go off course, return and claim again that “God-ness” in you.
It is a familial choice – to share that grace with those closest to you, teach and live good news, and if you are raising children, hold that as standard for their quality of life. Here is a place to practice our power to bless.
It is a communal choice. We are to live Christ’s good news in our relationships, in our work lives, among our neighbors, and in the decisions we make as brokers of the common good.
It is about being light in our world, and while we acknowledge shadows and darkness around us, we do not become afraid. Remember St John’s affirmation – “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1.5)
A word about shadows and darkness: The Church has marked the Transfiguration of Jesus the Christ, each year on 6th August, today. The Church is annually recalled this day to our conviction that Jesus is the anointed of God, to bring us again into the heart of God and commission us as light for the world. That tradition began in the mid-1400s, and it continues in our worship this morning. August 6th.
There is another observance of 6th August. On the Feast of Transfiguration, a day for Jesus, an atomic bomb was dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima in 1945. That day, and three days later when another bomb decimated the city of Nagasaki, the end of World War II was hastened, at the cost of more than 120,000 civilian and combatant lives.
Trinity Church in Bend used to host, for two weeks in summer, Japanese students who were on an English language immersion program. In March 2013, we suffered an arson attack, and we were unable to host the students that summer. The day of Transfiguration is etched in my memory because that summer after our damaging fire, when there were still burned beams exposed and no roof at Trinity, the principal and the head teacher of the Japanese academy sending students, came to Bend. They brought gifts and pledges of support to our wounded congregation. The day I met the Japanese academics and received their support? It was August 6th, 68 years to the day of the bombing, the Feast of Jesus’ Transfiguration.
Bill Bryson, in his book, A Short History of Nearly Everything, remarked that “the human is the only animal that can kill at a distance.” Friends, the shadows are real, and they find root in our own souls, but remember: hate must be taught. Only love is original.
Spirituality means working out your own transfiguration, living your true being. May I offer a few affirmations for your transfiguration?
You are chosen. You are beloved, and your life is part of a great love story. Begin here.
Spirit confirms that Jesus is still among us, as close as our breath.
Only love is original. Hate must be taught. Work toward unconditional love.
The road to freedom begins in forgiveness; but practice conditional forgiveness.
The way of truth and love always wins out. Grief and trouble, like storms, are temporary, and will pass.
The Kingdom of God is among us, even though as yet incomplete.
When you make your own journey home, Someone knows you are coming.
The Church observes Jesus’ transfiguration on 6th August, but it is also the disciples who were transfigured. “Jesus only looks different to his disciples. It is Peter, James and John, who are really transfigured, their eyes now open to see Jesus as he really is, clothed in light and revealed as the Son of God.” (The Rev’d Jason Cox, St Columba’s Church, Washington, D.C.)
May you find and cherish such moments of transfiguration, moments of clarity which allow you to see the world in a new light, as God’s sacred workplace and playground. May your transfiguration allow you to see the creatures of God as beloved. No exceptions. Amen.
Sermon for St Mark’s, 17th July 2017
Pentecost VI: “It’s not about Jesus”
A sower went out to sow, and then he disappears. At least for the sower, the story is over.
It is good to have a clear parable. Today’s from Matthew (Parable of the Sower) is not complicated, like the more provocative ones, and in this one it is easy to speculate on roles. Jesus is the sower, casting seed of the kingdom, and we are soils, some thorny, some rocky, some hard cases, and some fertile. Or, closer to the truth, “we” are fertile, “they” are thorny, and rocky, and the hard cases.
Remember though, “they” think you and I are the hard cases, thorny and rocky… or just wrong. I remember a bumper sticker: “I think I love Jesus, it’s just his followers who frighten me.” Or in Utah, a roadside sign proclaimed the volunteer cleanup is by a group named “Freedom from Religion”.
What if we consider another perspective? Maybe Jesus is not the sower – here is the clue. The sower is in and out of the story in one sentence. If the sower were about Jesus, wouldn’t he have more of a role? Again, maybe we are not the soil; maybe “they” are not the dirt after all. Maybe we are the sowers – anonymity can cover lots of “yous” and “mes”, too many to name. Further, we are too success-oriented for this parable, perhaps for the kingdom. Here’s why: one message in the information about the soils is that sometimes you will find success, sometimes you won’t. Life is just that way. The only way, though, you can guarantee failure is if you don’t step out and sow the seed.
Let’s think a little more: there are four places in the parable, but only two types of ground – fertile and unfertile. The encouragement in the message may be get out there, and don’t be discouraged by fear of failure. Here’s another idea: what about the yield thirty-fold, sixty-fold and hundred-fold? If you sow one seed, say of corn, and it returns one ear with a hundred kernels, that is good, but not miraculous, really. And if it is about church growth, would you want even a ten-fold increase at St Marks’? Last Sunday’s 10:00 attendance was 41. Where would you put 410 people this morning?
I believe the central message for us sowers is “Be not discouraged.” Often our good intentions work, sometimes they won’t. Life is just that way. But be ready for surprises. Think about this: If you were given a choice of where to serve as a sower, where to tell of your faith, would you prefer a college dorm, an impoverished neighborhood, a correctional facility, or a church meeting?
I have four stories from Hospice for your thinking, surprises all. And I confess I believe one of the many names of God is… Surprise!
First, I received a request from the wife of a patient: “My husband is troubled and needs to talk to someone.” Who would know better? I went to see this man, Joe, who was Jewish, but non-practicing. I came to their apartment, and she answered the door, weary and stressed. She said, “THANK YOU for coming.” I walked in, and he almost shouted, “What are you doing here!” It was not a question. I said, “I came to introduce myself. I am Roy Green, the Chaplain from Hospice.” He roared, “OK. You introduced yourself. Now you can leave.” Hard case? I did see him a few more times before he died, and the treatment was rough each time, but I learned that was his style. His long-suffering wife just put up with it. Did I accomplish any spiritual healing? Don’t know. But Joe did give permission for me to visit a few more times.
Second, I was driving to call on a patient in Christmas Valley, about a two-hour drive from Bend. On the way, I received an emergency call to visit a new patient who was imminently dying. I did not know the woman, nor the family, but the Chaplain was called, so I turned around, and in about an hour was at her bedside. She was “non-responsive”, but I spoke to her about her journey, as I understand it from Scripture. And when I gave her a blessing, she died. The grieving family, who had been stressed and weeping, was relieved, and almost congratulated the lady, “She did it, she did it.” Did I do anything for her? Who knows? Did I help the family? Never heard from them. But I went when called.
Third, as senior Chaplain I received the difficult cases. There was a man whose neurological disease meant he did not speak. He was a tyrant. I was called by the family to see this man, who looked intensely at me the whole time, and said nothing. At their request, I went every other week, and though his eyes bored into me, I tried to say something helpful, knowing nothing about this man. I was usually at a loss. Once when I mentioned forgiveness, though, a single tear came from his eye, but that was the only response. I even tried musical meditation for him, and learned at his funeral that he hated music. When he came to his last days, and the doctor said he was within hours of dying, he lived ten days beyond what medically he should have. His wife said he was just being hateful.
Finally, a young Baptist minister friend once asked if I would speak to his young adult fellowship about hospice work. At last, an audience which can understand spiritual speech. I explained the care plan – about forgiveness, and remembering those we love, and our expectations of God – but one of the adult leaders interrupted to say, “But don’t you have to make sure they accept Jesus before they die, or they will burn in hell?” I explained that was not the purpose of Hospice, that I did not press my religion but respected the individual religious heritage of the patient and family. There was uproar, not from the young people, but from the adults, and one left the room to go pray that my presence would not contaminate her young adult charges with evil. So much for sowing seed at a church meeting.
Who knows if I was successful in these encounters or not. Does it matter? Perhaps. But the next time I was called to go into a home or assisted living or hospital, I went. Most preachers will tell you about times they spoke about A, B, C, and D in a sermon, and someone came later with deep appreciation for saying “H”. Truth is, the Spirit can do marvelous works with our labors, but not if we stay home. So, this sermon is not about Jesus. It is about you. It is not about success. It is about you and me sharing good faith with abandon. It is about commending the faith that is in us, with heart, and a smile when we can.
And did you notice, I delivered the whole sermon and never used the word “evangelism”? Amen.
St Mark’s Sermon for Pentecost V
Often I come across a thought I wish I had thought, a saying I wish I had said, or words I wish I had written, but when that initial sentiment passes, I am just grateful for the discovery. Sometimes the source is unexpected and the insight a surprise, like from a child, but there are also sources who are consistently reliable, like a dear friend. My critics say I cannot speak in public without quoting John O’Donohue, and while I do not always quote, I quite often consult him. Here is a sample, and even though these are not my words, nevertheless with all my heart I believe them true:
“There is a quiet light that shines in every heart. It draws no attention to itself though it is always secretly there. It is what illuminates our minds to see beauty, our desire to seek possibility, and our hearts to love life.” (Benedictus, p14)
What a blessing!
At the close of the Gospel reading this morning, Jesus spoke these familiar words, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11.29,30).
My yoke is easy, and my burden is light. The image of a yoke makes sense, even if, to us, it is hardly friendly. A yoke in Jesus’ time was often double, implying that in the work of Jesus, we are not alone. If we take one side of the yoke, he will take the other. OK. There is another implication – an inexperienced animal was often yoked with an experienced animal for training in how to do the work. So, the promise behind Jesus’ words is that if we take up his “yoke”, not only will he be with us in life and our work, he will show us the way, and walk it with us.
The final thought can be troubling, though: My yoke is easy, and my burden is light. From what I read about Christian witness, it is often anything but easy. Even if we are not called to be martyrs, there is the promise of suffering for Jesus, and even living day to day a life of love, grace and forgiveness is not what I would call easy or light. Christianity can be a struggle. Choosing that life – love, grace and forgiveness – gives meaning and hope, and the assurance that we are friends of God. That makes the burden bearable, but though we may carry on without complaint, a burden is a burden.
Another insight I wish I had discovered on my own, but did not, is to read that last line – my burden is light – taking “light” as a noun, rather than an adjective. Jesus is saying his burden is “Light”, with a capital “L” if you like. His burden, his task, is bringing Light to the dark places of the world. Light to illumine, or Light to heal, or Light to point the way, and here is where the insight from John O’Donohue connects:
“There is a quiet light that shines in every heart. It draws no attention to itself though it is always secretly there. It is what illuminates our minds to see beauty, our desire to seek possibility, and our hearts to love life.”
Call it “quiet light”, call it “soul”, call it one’s “true self”, there is a quiet light that shines in every heart, EVERY heart. If we are created in the image of God, and we are, then at our very core, in the truest part of ourselves, we are good, and there is light. It must be so! We are created in God’s image, and by grace are children of God. How can it be otherwise? In a Christmas meditation several years ago, John wrote, “There is a place deep within you, where you have never been damaged or diminished; where there is serenity, courage, confidence, forgiveness and the endless adventure of imagination.” Marvelous, no? And do not serenity, courage, confidence, and especially forgiveness, come from the very deep parts of you, from your center, from your soul? From the light in your soul? “It is what illuminates our minds to see beauty, our desire to seek possibility, and our hearts to love life.” These are profound blessings sourced in the heart of God.
Jesus said, “My burden is light.” The burden Jesus asks you to take up is your Light. First, to see and honor the Light in your own soul. It is there, shaped by the fingerprint of God. Then, let your Light shine. Become Light in your family, among your friends, in your world. “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5.16) Remember that? And bring your Light, the Light of Christ, to the places where you uncover darkness or shadow. You may find a shadow in pain, when a friend is suffering. You may find shadow in grief, when a loved one has departed. You may find darkness where people have not their daily bread, or where children are bullied, or where communities live under the threat of injustice. There may be shadows from your own past which can also receive healing from the Light of Christ that is within you. You may find shadow in the valley of death, but bring your Light, and learn Christ’s Light, to banish the fear.
At the conclusion of this service, as at all worship, there is a blessing. It comes from God through the words, the heart and action of the priest. It is a sacred privilege and duty of priests and bishops to bless in God’s name. But what about deacons? If you come to the rail when Marilyn is here you may receive a personal blessing from her, and it matters. You may often receive a blessing from a close friend, or from someone who loves you deeply, and it matters. How about grandparents? Can they bless grandchildren? Can parents bless their children? Of course! Moreover, you may receive surprise blessings, like gifts of light from unexpected sources. And you may receive blessings from persons you don’t even know and will never see again. We call those persons angels. Just watch, and see.
And remember, you are always a source for blessing – blessing those you love, blessing the creation with thoughtful living, blessing the stranger with your hospitality. You might inadvertently be one of those angels, unawares. So even you may bless in the name of love, in the name of hope, with confidence in the name of God. For there is a quiet light that shines in your heart. God put it there. God is that light.
Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me… For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Friends, “Each person has a unique intimacy with God… May we all receive blessing upon blessing. And may we realize our power to bless, heal and renew each other.” (Benedictus, p17)
Alleluia, and Amen!
Sermon for St Mark’s, 2 July, 2017
“The First Fourth”
Tuesday will be the first time we celebrate the anniversary of our independence as a nation, the first since the new administration took office. This is the first fourth of July to come around in the calendar, so Tuesday is “the first fourth.” In 1776, the fourth was a Thursday, a day when visionaries risked life and fortune for the highest ideals of nation and dignity. That day a new principle of government was declared, a new order President Lincoln described later as, “a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
Only a few among us did not have to åmemorize those words, “Four score and seven years ago our forefathers brought forth on this continent…” These are the most famous written by Lincoln, a speech written in a time of war on our own soil, when neighbors and families aimed muskets, artillery and curses against each other. And this Tuesday, we find again neighbors and families at odds. There is hard division in our beloved country, and while we still stand for liberty and justice for all, there is certainly enough confusion and anxiety for all.
Into this confusion and anxiety, Jesus speaks: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say unto you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5.43). We understand the first part, about hating enemies. Mark twain, in one of his witticisms, wrote, “The Bible tells me to love my neighbors and love my enemies, probably because they are the same people.” Yet Jesus thinks differently, a sharp distinction when we see all over the news messages of division, exclusion, kicking people out, heading to the streets to champion opposing views. Jesus concludes, “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” A clearer translation is “Be whole, as your heavenly Father is whole.”
So how do we reconcile the hope of Jesus who lives in us, with the tensions we live in? Is there a path through the present wilderness to wholeness? Or must we forget Jesus for a while?
In June, Linda Bitter, Ruth Tsu and I attended a seminar sponsored by Gorge Ecumenical Ministries. The presenter was Heidi Venture, and her task was to help us understand values behind our and our opponents’ positions. Her teaching was based on research in moral psychology, especially Jonathan Haidt’s book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion.
Maybe before we make enemies of our neighbors – you know them, “those idiot liberals” and “those narrow-minded conservatives” – we might look at the values behind different traditions. It is naïve to think that any who oppose us are just wrong. So let me encapsulate a few discoveries of Heidi Venture and Jonathan Haidt. These might show us a path which lessens our current anxieties.
Dr Haidt proposed six moral touchstones, six values, which are cherished by most all of us. See if you cannot honor all six. First value, then, is compassion, caring which makes us sensitive and responsive to persons in need and those who are suffering, and makes us despise cruelty. Understandable and good, yes?
Second, there is the value of fairness, in which everyone gets her or his free chance to succeed, and which rewards the good in citizens and punishes cheaters.
Number three is loyalty – honoring family, our nation and our commitments, fosters trust and appreciation, but makes us wary and protective against those who betray.
Authority as a value, is number four. We are taught to respect legitimate authority, honor those who are our mentors and leaders, chosen for their wisdom and commitment to the cause. Respectable authority is essential to the good function of any organization – familial, political or religious – and we challenge systems when authority is misused, or people are not behaving properly in their leadership.
Liberty is a seasoned value for Americans, and in free cultures across the world. It is an expression of human dignity, that we cherish our independence, that we think for ourselves, and form coalitions for the common good. When liberty is oppressed, we resist. We do not tolerate bullies or tyrants and challenge oppression of any stripe.
And finally, as in the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Here is the value of sanctity. It is what we hold sacred in community, our noble truths, how we respect creation. Sanctity also gives permission to protect ourselves and others against any corruption in life or in the earth which has the power to pollute or destroy our high ideals
Compassion, fairness, loyalty, authority, liberty and sanctity: six moral foundations. Who can argue? But here is the interesting part – our morality can bind us, and blind us. Morality binds us in groups for the common good, but it can blind us to the fact that there are good people on both sides of arguments, something to be learned from those who think differently than we do.
In Dr Haidt’s research, the highest priority for conservatives is preservation of the institutions and traditions which sustain a moral community. How can we argue with that? We can disagree on application or solutions, but the value behind the conservative position is solid and good. On the other hand, the highest priority for liberals is care for the victims of suffering and need. Again, remedies for suffering can be argued, but compassion and protection for victims is noble.
What was most helpful for me in this seminar is a way to see the noble good in those who do not think as I think. If we step consciously into a place of listening for understanding, and choose to respect the dignity of every human being, the equation is changed, and there is balance, a way through our present confusion and anxiety. It does not mean surrendering values, but recognizing the values of the other, and moving towards daylight from a position not of agreement necessarily, but of respect.
Compassion, fairness, loyalty, authority, liberty and sanctity: six moral foundations. I believe Jesus would, and did, have something to say along these lines. With these at the fore, we might recognize his counsel: “I say unto you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” We are invited to bring Jesus to the table with us, and to see Jesus across the table.
This Tuesday is the first fourth, a day which finds confusion and tension in our beloved country. When the Church gathers, we are also divided, good Christian people who see things differently. As citizens of the United States, let us cherish our deep values – compassion, loyalty, fairness, liberty – and as Christians, remember our highest loyalty is to God, under whom there can be liberty and justice for all. We have too much that is sacred, too much we hold dear, to remain enemies in our own camp. Amen.
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.