Tag: Truth

Who Is My Neighbor?

lovethyneighborPsalm 25:1-10
Luke 10:25-37

Fill in the blank:
“Into a bar walks a Rabbi, a Priest and a…” Minister.
“Moe, Larry and…” Curly.
Donald Duck’s nephews are Hey, Dewey and… Louie.
Not into cartoons? How about the movie: The Good, The Bad and… the ugly.

These sets of three we just KNOW. They’re tied together. Jesus’ time had them too. One of these sets of three was a Priest, A Levite and… an Israelite. So if you wanted to tell the bar joke, it would go: A Priest, A Levite and an Israelite walk into a bar…” Usually, the joke continued that the priest only wanted to study the law. The Levite only wanted to do the law. And only the Israelite is smart enough to both study God’s Word and do God’s word.

Jesus sets up this set of three in today’s story. First — the Priest passes the man in need. Then, the Levite passes the man in need. We know how the joke goes, right? Here comes the Israelite to save the day and do better than both of these ‘men of God.’

But instead of an Israelite, Jesus says the third person to come along is the backwards, persecuted, dirty, outsider Samaritan.

… it would be as shocking as if I opened with a joke going, “A Rabbi, A Priest, and an ISIS Suicide Bomber walk into a bar…” That’s not how the joke goes, and really… it’s crossing the line from joke to insulting.

… Politically correct was never Jesus’ way. Jesus’ way is God correct. Politically correct means to think about your words, and not use words that harm others. It’s a very good thing!

But God correct means speaking the Truth of God even when that truth is painful to hear, or acknowledge.

The lawyer — someone extremely educated in the scriptures and laws of the time — had asked Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Instead of simply giving the lawyer the answer, Jesus did the true Rabbi thing of answering a question with a question.

Jesus asked, “What is written in the law? You’ve studied it a whole lot – how do you interpret it?” Both men acknowledge the Bible has a lot of ways to read it, and lots of different understandings. However, they have the same reading: to inherit eternal life, one must “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”

DOING this love is how one lives eternally.

But this is a lawyer. It’s his job to nail down the facts. So… just who is my neighbor? Just who am I responsible to love? And that’s when Jesus gets politically incorrect and tells his story about the Priest, the Levite, and the Enemy. “Which of these three, do you think, acted like a neighbor to the man?”

The lawyer cannot even bring himself to say “The Samaritan.” He can’t admit that dirty, dirty word; that enemy. He changes it to the softer but still true phrase, “The one who showed mercy.” Whomever was merciful.

Jesus’ answer?

Go and Do likewise. Go and Do.

Go and love your neighbor.
Thy homeless neighbor.
Thy Muslim neighbor.
Thy black neighbor.
Thy gay neighbor.
Thy white neighbor.
Thy Jewish neighbor.
Thy transgendered neighbor.
Thy Christian neighbor.
Thy Atheist neighbor.
Thy racist neighbor.
Thy addicted neighbor.
Thy neighbor.

Love them. Show them kindness and mercy. Love yourself. Show yourself kindness and mercy. Love God – by showing all of God’s children the very same kindness and mercy God has shown you.

When Jesus tells this story, Jesus never identifies who the man is other than what crime happened against him. He was beat up by robbers who took everything he owned. The man is stripped of anything to identify him: he may be Jewish, he may be a Priest, he may be a Levite, he may be a Samaritan. He could be rich or poor. Young or old. Jesus keeps the details sparse so we can imagine ourselves as the man.

When you are so, so desperate for help… your neighbor is ANYONE who helps you out.

I read about a church where a woman was going through a messy divorce. Her fellow church members told her, “Keep your chin up. God will take care of you.” Her minister told her, “We are praying for you.” There was another woman in the community who had three kids who didn’t name anyone as their dads. She went to the woman and said, “Let’s get coffee; I’ll buy. Bring your kids, they can play with mine. You need a friend and I want to be one.”

Everyone in the church was well meaning, but none went out of their way to help. The outsider, the stranger, the one judged… she went out of her way to someone not like herself. But she knew what it was like to need a friend; what it was like to raise kids all by yourself; and she acted as this woman’s neighbor.

Who our actual next door neighbors are isn’t the message of this parable. Rather, it is about who is acting neighborly: a neighbor is anyone and everyone who goes out of their way to help another. Anyone and everyone who provides for our needs and who takes care of us.

Jesus’ story goes two ways then: it asks, are we neighbors? and who are our neighbors? In other words… are you going out of your way to help others; and are you letting others go out of their way to help you?

It’s that second one that really sticks in my craw; you too?

I spent a lot of time and energy trying to be invulnerable. Trying to be a self-sustaining one-woman island. I don’t need other’s help – I’m fine. I HELP OTHERS. OTHERS don’t help me. I donate to charity. I don’t take charity. I give out favors. I don’t rack up debts. I never want to be a burden. I give compliments, I don’t take them and I assuredly don’t take your pity and aide.

*tch* We rural folk, we’re strong. We survive it all. And this do-or-die-independence Jesus challenges. Jesus says being a neighbor involves not only giving help, but also being willing to receive it — and receive it especially from those not part of our immediate family and friends.

That hits me right in the chest.

When Jesus invites us into this parable as the beaten man, Jesus points out we’re all vulnerable. We all have times when we NEED assistance and help. We all have times when there are too many bills, or too much house work, or our bodies aren’t working as they ought, or we just are sad or lonely. We have times we’re stuck in the gutter and left in the ditch. And most of us choose to stay there, drag ourselves out, wallow in the mud, get infected wounds and suffer… rather than lifting a hand up and asking for help. Asking for someone to lift us back to our feet.

We ask God, if we ask anyone at all.

But what if God is working through those around us, and the answer to our prayer: God, help me through this! is God placing helpful people willing to be our neighbors in our lives?

Our psalmist writes, “God leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble God’s way. All the paths of God are steadfast love and faithfulness,” Humble. Humble enough to give love. Humble enough to receive love.

It isn’t often socially acceptable to receive help… as in, by asking for help or receiving help you’re somehow less than others… but this humility and openness is a necessary way of following God’s path.

It is through giving AND receiving help, we build a web among us, a community among us. We knit the body of Christ closer and closer. One who only gives, and one who only receives, is like a dropped stitch; or like a tractor that only has forward or reverse but not both. You can work around a dropped stitch or a tractor missing gears… but it’s a whole lot harder than if you just had both. Giving and receiving, receiving and giving, is what makes us neighbors. So go and be loved by your neighbor!

Be open to being loved by
Thy homeless neighbor.
Thy Muslim neighbor.
Thy black neighbor.
Thy gay neighbor.
Thy white neighbor.
Thy Jewish neighbor.
Thy transgendered neighbor.
Thy Christian neighbor.
Thy Atheist neighbor.
Thy racist neighbor.
Thy addicted neighbor.
Thy neighbor.

And do likewise. Love them back. Amen.

Praise the Source of Faith and Learning

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
John 16:12-15trinity

The Emperor is in a bind. The Christians are fighting each other tooth and nail. Some love the Ecumenical Council that was held a few years ago, and some hate it. Christianity is becoming so diverse its not even one religion any more. If the Emperor can’t unite his people, how is he ever going to stand up against the outside invaders and other religions? How is he ever going to deal with Christians when they can’t agree who represents them? So the Emperor calls for another council – and says Christians — you need to come together.

So they come to chat — all the different bishops and priests and representatives of the different churches. And they ARE super diverse. They speak different languages, they follow different religious leaders, and they come from different cultures.

But they come, and they come with their big questions:

Was Jesus divine?
Was Jesus human?
Was Joseph Jesus’ biological father?
Was Mary a young maid or a virgin?
Was Jesus God?

Picture the room of five hundred plus people!

So over here, there are followers of Arius or Ebious, and they argue Jesus was all human, and not divine. He was either adopted by God at his baptism, or at his incarnation, or after his death, and given the powers of God through the Spirit. They state Jesus was definitely NOT God. I mean, if Jesus was God – why then did it seem Jesus didn’t always know everything? And who was controlling the world while Jesus was on Earth?

Some in this group concede Jesus became divine from the Spirit — and others say he did not. He was always mortal, like us, but so pure God favored him.

Now a days, some of this thinking is still found in some Asian churches and in Islam.

Across from those who said Jesus was all human, there sat the Docetists, and Marcions. They believe the complete opposite and say Jesus was all divine, not human. They argue God cannot suffer, cannot change, and cannot be corrupted. Therefore, Jesus – as God – could not suffer, change, be tempted by sin, be corrupted with human flesh, or even die. What we witnessed was just an illusion meant to teach us.

Similar to them are the Monophysites who argue what was human in Jesus was absorbed by divinity, leaving just a shell of humanity on the outside but all divinity on the inside.

Marcion went so far as to say the greatest God didn’t make this world, because this world is fallen and flesh is so bad. There were intermediaries… such as the Word… lesser gods who did the work.

The Gnostics nodded, and agreed with Marcion. This world is fallen and needs to be escaped. We need to become purer and escape to the heavenly world. Jesus, who only appeared to be human, was from this heavenly world to teach us the secret knowledge of how to ascend.

Sitting near the Docetists was the Apollianarist. They agree Jesus was divine. Yet they said for Jesus to be divine, he couldn’t be corrupted with sin. Sin is the opposite of God. What is sinful? For the Apollinarist it wasn’t human flesh that makes a person sinful, but a human soul. All souls are born with Sin. Therefore, they think that although Jesus was a mortal with a human body, his soul was the Word. His soul was divine and not a human soul.

Nestor wasn’t happy with this all divine or all human arguments. He said Jesus was BOTH human AND divine. He said Jesus was clearly the Word made flesh, but also a human. These two natures — divine Word and common human — were together in Jesus but not mingled. You see, it takes the power of God to forgive Sin, and Jesus forgave Sin. But also it takes God meeting humanity on our terms – as human – because we can’t meet God as gods. So Jesus had to be both all human and all divine.

Of course, then others began to say ‘Nestor! You’re arguing Jesus was divided within himself!’

So along came some who argued these natures comingled into something new: like how red and blue make purple. Divine and human comingled into a new being called Christ.

And along came Modalist. Why do we have to define what part of Jesus was God and what part wasn’t? There is only one God, but we experience this one God in different aspects or modes. It appears God is made of three people: Father, Son and Spirit, but in actuality, this is just an appearance, not a reality. Much like a person can put on a new hat for a new job, but is still the same person. God can act as Creator, or as Sustainer, or as Redeemer, but God doesn’t actually have three persons who make up one.

Trinitarians shake her head at the Modalists and say, no no – you’ve got it close but wrong. God doesn’t put on new hats and stop being the old hat. God is three persons, but unified as one God. God is Father/Mother/Parent who creates, Son/Jesus/Christ who redeems, and Spirit/Ghost who sustains. All of these simultaneously. Word-God was incarnate, while Spirit-God remained active in the world and Father-God is who Word-God prayed to. Otherwise, wouldn’t have Jesus just prayed to himself?

Therefore, God the Father is not God the Son nor God the Spirit. But any of the three and all three together are God the Godhead.

If that, or anything I just said, is incredibly hard to get your head around… you’re SO not alone. Not at all.

Many pastors, Christians, and theologians simply say “God is a mystery.” This isn’t a cop out. This isn’t being lazy. This is admitting that after thousands of years and tankers of ink and forests of trees… no one is able to wholly explain God. We’ve tried. We’re still trying. But in the end… God is a Holy Mystery.

In this church, we use Trinitarian formula. We sing the Gloria Patri of “Glory be to the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost.” But, when we get down to thinking hard about our theology, and studying what we say and do, often we are Modalists. And sometimes, we’re Gnostic. And sometimes, we’re other of these groups.

Officially – Trinitarians was decided as the true way of understanding God at this Emperor’s council of Chalcedon… however, not every church agreed. And some churches that agreed moved towards other teachings.

You see, for two thousand years we’ve been arguing over these, trying to understand, and trying to explain how we experience God. Each time someone begins to get their finger on it, someone else comes along with a different experience of God.

So, when we can say God is a Mystery, even after we’ve tried and tried and tried to figure God out, we affirm that God is greater, more awesome, more complex than we creations are able to fathom. We praise God by saying: we’ve learned all we can, we’re still learning, and yet you still give us more.

Today’s scripture reminds us that Jesus told us there’s way more to this world and reality and Jesus and the Spirit and God than we can bear. But generation by generation, we are being led in our walk with our Mysterious God and coming to know the Truths God has woven into God’s beautiful creation.

Those Truths are often hard to explain and describe. The Ancient Israelites tried to preserve some of the Truths of their understand of who God is with the Wisdom Literature: Proverbs, Psalms, Ecclesiastics, Song of Songs, and so forth.

The ancient Israelites imagine wisdom as a lady. She stands at the center of downtown, where first and main meet; she is on every channel and newspaper; she stands on the street corners and she rings you up; she is said to be speaking and crying out everything to EVERY person.

Wisdom cannot be silenced, contained, or locked away. She must cry out.

And what does wisdom say?

“Holy God created me. Holy God used me in setting up the earth. God used wisdom in making the heavens and the soils. God used wisdom in making the mountains and the seas. When God used wisdom to set the order of the world, I was there – dancing with joy – and God danced with delight too – what delight is this creation and the human race!”

The ancient Israelites didn’t know God as hating this world and thinking that creation and flesh are fallen and bad. They wouldn’t agree with the later Gnostics. They knew God to take great delight in Creation.

This was in direct contradiction to some of the other creation stories from the people around the ancient Israelites. Some of those stories included gods battling and dying, the world being the destroyed body of an evil god, or gods not really liking, sometimes hating, humans.

The ancient Israelites experienced God differently. We can experience God who loves us through their recorded wisdom.

Our Scriptural creation story says from the very first spark that ignited our sun, to the barren rocks that pulled towards each other to form our earth, a wise and loving hand has been present. A wise and loving hand guided the formation of water, and a wise mind set to motion the systems of rain and evaporation. God danced with delight – the Proverbs say – danced with delightful wisdom when God moved atom to atom, cell to cell, and started the processes of LIFE itself. In the creativity among us, in the wealth of life, in the species that continue to evolve and change, out God delights and loves and wisely intercedes.

My Scriptural understanding of God says that those theologies, those understandings of God as remote, not involved, or even hating us, are shortsighted. God is not far away. God is not inaccessible. God is not pretending to be among us. God doesn’t pretend to love or pretend to know what it’s like to be human.

God IS love. God BECAME human. God’s new world is among us closer every day.

… but yet… other people, other good Christians and wise theologians, experience God differently.

That is a marvel for me: religion, the journey, the walk and education with God is NEVER over. Each time I read a page, understand a single bit of God, I turn the page and find a whole new story.

Every moment, every day, every person is carrying a unique story of God.

Wisdom is embracing these stories, and laughing with joy at the diversity of God – the Mystery of God – who invites us on this walk, teaches us along the way, and always, always has more to offer.

So it’s sort of like God gives us insight, and Truth, and wisdom… but yet God is always more. God also gives us faith, and mystery, and encourages us to be curious and to be humble in our knowledge. We need other people’s perspectives!

So… this Trinity Sunday… let us Praise God! The source of both our faith and learning! Amen.

What Just Happened?

Meister_der_Palastkapelle_in_Palermo_002.jpgLuke 19:28-40
Philippians 2:5-11

Can you feel it? Something is afoot.

It doesn’t matter if you are a Trump or a Sanders supporter… either are promising something new. A revolution. To make America great again. Can you feel the energy? The possibility? The people gathering, a new SOMETHING on the horizon!

Or maybe you’re a Cruz, a Kasich, or a Clinton fan: why rock the boat? Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater!

There is uncertainty. What will home look like? Who will lead us? What kind of future are we striding in to? Who will control what that future looks like? Can you feel the struggle, the hope, the worry, the dreams, the possibility, the feeling that we are on the cusp of a unique moment in our history?

… Or maybe you don’t. Maybe you’re one of the many who are already sick of the political ads, and political Facebook posts, feel like you’ve lost friends and the election isn’t even here yet. You just want this whole thing to blow over so you can go back to your normal life.

And you know, we are speaking of politicians. Not potential messiahs.

The level of built up possibility, energy, change on the horizon was even greater in Jerusalem when the people saw Jesus arrive. So too the wish things would just go back to normal! And, he wasn’t a potential new president of a democracy; he was the potential promised savior from God AND new king AND herald of God’s reign on Earth.

Just as we go to rallies to wave banners, and greet politicians with cheers and whistles. We sing their victory songs and repeat their chants. So too, did people 2000 years ago.

When Jesus arrived, they ran out with their banners — in this case, palm branches and tall grasses. They cheered and whistled. They sang a victory song from scripture and changed the lyrics to be “Praise the KING who comes in the name of the Lord” rather than “Praise the one who comes.”

Today, we gather around potential presidents knowing they’ll take the stage, teach us, inspire us, lead us – and we hope they end up at the capital where they do a ritual – swearing in – and become our leader.

In Jesus day, too, the crowds gather with stars in their eyes and dreams on their sleeves – inspired, ready to be taught and lead. They hoped he’d head for the temple – the capital – and do a ritual sacrifice where he proclaimed the city belonged to God and no longer Caesar.

People around Jesus cried, “He is the promised Davidic King! He will take us to war, destroy our enemies, liberate us, and we will be great again!”

Others cried, “He is the promised prophet! He will turn the people’s hearts back to God, rid our institutions of corruption, and restore our faith!”

Still others proclaimed, “He is the Messiah! The one who brings God’s holy reign on earth; when peace and prosperity flourish and all things are made whole!”

And some proclaimed, “He is the Son of God!”

King, prophet, messiah, God…

If you weren’t in the crowd, you were standing to the side shaking your head at the words being thrown around. You were thinking, “Can’t we have this Jesus business over with and get back to normal life?”

Others, not waving fronds, grumbled, “These people are blockheads; this is some charismatic carpenter with pie-in-the-sky ideas. He just says whatever the people want to hear. Look at this ragtag lot – jobless peasants, cripples, sinners, the mentally unstable and the foreigners – following their pied piper.”

The claims of king, prophet, messiah, God; the people, welcoming Jesus as their victorious conqueror and king… these are very troubling developments to the people in charge of keeping order. This might be fun and exciting for the rabble today… but tomorrow, when Pilate hears there is a king? When Caesar, who is called the Son of God, hears there is a new Son of God? What then? Will the people cheer and rejoice when this ‘king Jesus’ brings fifty-thousand soldiers bent on bloodying their blades and scattering the people, murdering the educated, and enslaving the children? Only the stones will be left to testify what once was here. Only the stones will remember the great people and city that was Jews and Jerusalem.

The ones worried about the coming future tell Jesus, “Rabbi – tell your disciples to stop!”

Jesus replies with a reference to scripture. What Jesus references is the prophet Habakkuk who heard God say: (Chapter 2)

…Look at the proud!
Their spirit is not right in them,
but the righteous live by their faith.
Moreover, wealth is treacherous;
the arrogant do not endure.
They open their throats wide as Sheol;
like Death they never have enough.
They gather all nations for themselves,
and collect all peoples as their own.

Shall not everyone taunt such people and, with mocking riddles, say about them,
‘Alas for you who heap up what is not your own!’
How long will you load yourselves with goods taken in pledge?
Will not your own creditors suddenly rise,
and those who make you tremble wake up?
Then you will be booty for them.
Because you have plundered many nations,
all that survive of the peoples shall plunder you—
because of human bloodshed, and violence to the earth,
to cities and all who live in them.

‘Alas for you who get evil gain for your houses,
setting your nest on high
to be safe from the reach of harm!’
You have devised shame for your house
by cutting off many peoples;
you have forfeited your life.
The very stones will cry out from the wall,
and the plaster will respond from the woodwork.

‘Alas for you who build a town by bloodshed,
and found a city on iniquity!’
Is it not from the Lord of hosts
that peoples labour only to feed the flames,
and nations weary themselves for nothing?
But the earth will be filled
with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord,
as the waters cover the sea.

In other words, when Jesus says, “If I silence the people who are testifying, the stones and wood and plaster will cry out the truth: The arrogant, the wealthy, the creditors, the people who think they are safe because of their possessions and because they have destroyed the people they don’t like – those people are being lowered. The people who live by faith alone are being raised up.

This feels like oppression to the oppressors. This feels like liberation for the oppressed.

What just happened?

Jesus has told the religious leaders, and the politicians, and the people around him that God is going to do a new thing – and it is nothing at all like that most people are expecting and many won’t like it.

It is a reversal from the norm, a scandalous equality. The knowledge of the glory of God has arrived – and even if the people are silenced, God’s truth can never be silenced.

This is God’s truth: That all of us are brothers and sisters, equals.
God’s truth is that equality is not something to exploit. We ought to serve one another, not lord over one another.
God’s truth is a king on a humble donkey, not a war horse.
God’s truth is a messiah who says show love to your enemies, not sword and war.
God’s truth is a savior who doesn’t save even himself from suffering – but who saves us from isolating Sin.

God’s truth is that love – not hate or fear – is the strongest power on Earth.

And God is love.

Jesus’ reply is God’s truth is so integral, so a part of the world, that no politician, no media, no person or people can ever fully silence love.

During this Holy Week and always, may we have a mind like Christ’s – and not exploit others. Let us be humble, servants, loving. Let us confess Jesus is Lord – and we follow the humble, loving, peasant God, who died a shameful death, and who defeated the evils of the world to be resurrected into eternal life. Let us live into that eternal life – and as we wave our palm branches, celebrating, let us remember we celebrate one who loves us enough he willingly walked into the city of his death, let himself be betrayed, captured, let himself be made a fool of, let himself be crucified… let us go with him to dark Gethsemane and let us rise with him next Sunday victorious in love.

Amen.

Given to Saint Michael’s United Church of Christ, Baltimore, Ohio, Palm Sunday 2016