Tag Archives: Luke

The plumb-line, the cross, and the circle

A parishioner reminded me earlier this week that I sometimes get political in my sermons. That was before two black men were killed by police and before five Dallas police officers were killed and seven others wounded by a lone shooter, a veteran who had served in Afghanistan. This morning I promise not to get political.

First of all, I am not a black man. And I am not a police officer. And I am not a military veteran. And I do not want to presume to speak about their frustration or their suffering or their families’ grief.

Instead I must offer some prophetic and pastoral words today. I am a Christian and an ordained minister, and the words of the Scriptures are directed at me, at us. It is my responsibility not only to heed the words of the Scriptures but to help you heed them, too.

We cannot judge,

            we must not justify ourselves,

                        but we can act like neighbors.

But first, let me start with a joke.

The Plumb-Line

I spent six hours driving back and forth from Charlotte through the mountains of western North Carolina for a business meeting on Friday. As I drove, I couldn’t help thinking of George Carlin’s observation that “anyone who drives slower than you is an idiot, and anyone who drives faster than you is a maniac.”

This is precisely the kind of “judgment” that the Scriptures condemn, the judging of other nations as good or bad, the judging of other religions as right or wrong, the judging of other people as worthy or worthless.

The prophet Amos shows us, in a vivid image, why our judgment is flawed.

He sees in a vision “the Lord standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand … then the Lord said, ‘See, I am setting a plumb line in the middle of my people Israel; I will never again pass them by’” (Amos 7:7-8).

plumbline1

A plumb line, for those who may not know, is an ancient tool to help builders make their work straight and level. The heavy weight at the end of the line was originally made of “plumb,” or lead (that’s why the chemical symbol for lead is Pb).

But that’s not the point; the point of Amos’ vision is that only God’s judgment is perfect, and when he holds a plumb line up to humanity everything is crooked in comparison.

Every nation, even our beloved America, is crooked.

Just last Monday – it hasn’t even been a week! – we prayed on Independence Day to the “Lord God Almighty, in whose Name the founders of this country won liberty for themselves and for us, and lit the torch of freedom for nations then unborn: Grant that we and all the people of this land may have grace to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace.”

Righteousness and peace? What a crock! What a self-righteous, violent, chaotic nation we are proving to be, if we could only see straight!

Just like the king of Israel, our nation won’t stand for judgment. And too often, our denominations and we religious leaders do just as Amaziah did and turn away the prophets for disturbing the peace. “Go somewhere else with your protests and activism; stop calling into question our righteousness and peace.”

Just like the priests of Israel, compared to God’s plumb-line, every denomination, every religious leader, is out of true. We offer our “thoughts and prayers” again and again and again, but we don’t get political in our sermons because we don’t want to rock the boat or offend anyone. Or we do get political in our messages, teaching (whether we mean to or not) that power and politics and success are what really matter.

But every person, every single one of us, is at least “half a bubble off plumb,” too. And here’s where it gets personal. What’s really happening when God’s plumb line hangs beside us is that we are ashamed. We see ourselves clearly, and we are ashamed.

Reflecting on “Dallas and American Contradictions,” Alexandra Petri wrote in the Washington Post on Friday that,

Being told that you aren’t living up to your own standards is an uncomfortable thing. …. [T]hat is an unpleasant thing to discover about yourself. So a lot of the anger in America now resembles the anger that you have at your mirror. ‘This isn’t what I look like,’ you say. ‘I look much better than that.’ It hurts to realize that the only reason you thought you didn’t have wrinkles was because the lighting was poor. But it’s not the fault of the light.

We cannot judge,

            we must not justify ourselves …

The Cross

We see ourselves clearly, and we are ashamed. The plumb line just hangs there, but we feel like we are being sentenced. Because we are ashamed, we try to deflect attention away from ourselves, to justify our behavior.

The lawyer came back at Jesus with a second question “wanting to justify himself.”

That’s an important “hinge word” to pay attention to. Because our behavior – our living up to our national ideals or our keeping the commandments – has been called into question, we are ashamed and we try to justify ourselves.

“Our nation is not so bad.” At least America is not a warlike country invading other sovereign territories at will and destroying people’s homes and cities.

“Our political candidate is not so bad.” You know, the other ones misbehaved, too.

“Our religion is not so bad.” At least we’re not preaching violent fantasies and subjugating women and minorities.

So much of what we say and share on social media serves this self-justifying need – “I’m not so bad.” Other people are much worse.

At least I’m not like other people.

Does that sound familiar? It should, because it was the punch line of another parable Jesus told, the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector.

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other.” (Luke 18:9-14)

Justify is a hinge word because it has two meanings – we justify ourselves because of our shame, but the Gospel tells us our shame has been lifted and we have been justified by the grace of God through Jesus’ self-offering on the cross.

Paul writes that

while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5:6-8).

We must not try to justify ourselves – we must not try to take away our shame by deflecting attention onto others. We ourselves are the ungodly, the sinners for whom Christ died on the cross.

But do you hear the good news? We cannot justify ourselves, because in Christ we are justified by grace, through faith.

In the Advent season, the priest prays right before Communion that “we may without shame or fear rejoice to behold Christ at his coming.” Christ’s self-offering on the cross is the hinge that turns our self-justifying into justification.

The cross, standing stark and upright, takes up the plumb-line of God’s judgment and transforms it into the symbol of God’s grace, erasing our shame and fear.

We cannot judge,

            we must not justify ourselves,

                        but we can act like neighbors.

 The Circle

One of the loveliest prayers in the Book of Common Prayer is this prayer for mission:

Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen. (BCP 101)

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What could you accomplish if you could act without shame or fear, without the need to judge others, without the need to justify your actions?

You could accomplish just what the Samaritan man did in Jesus’ parable. You could stop focusing on yourself as better than anyone else, you could stop justifying your action (or inaction), you could see someone hurting and stop and help them.

The “Good Samaritan” is not actually the focus of today’s parable – even the way we talk about it shows that we miss the point. The Samaritan man focuses on the one in need, cares for him without judging him, and doesn’t have to spend any time justifying his inaction.

The Samaritan man – and us, if we follow Jesus’ invitation to “do likewise” – doesn’t waste any time deciding whether the man is worthy or deserved what he got, or should have given the robbers what they wanted. He simply binds his wounds and takes him somewhere safe.

My wife recently had tears in her eyes as she described to me how one father of an Orlando shooting victim refused to claim his son’s body — he hadn’t known his son was gay until he was killed — and how a local Seventh-Day Adventist Church offered to hold funerals for victims of the massacre who had no other place to go. She grew up in the SDA church, and had given her denomination up years ago for their judgmental attitudes, but here they showed that their focus was on the victims and their hurting families.

What Jesus says to the lawyer is that inheriting eternal life has nothing to do with judging others wrong. God’s plumb line makes clear your own crookedness.

It has nothing to do with justifying your actions by deflecting attention onto the sins of others; the cross casts its long shadow on your own sinfulness, at the same time taking away your shame and freeing you to act without fear.

Inheriting eternal life, according to Jesus, has to do with lessening the suffering of the people in your path. You don’t have to care for everyone, but you do have to respond to those who cross your path who are hurting.

Whether people meet you online or in person, on social media or in social settings, you create the circle of Christ’s outstretched arms of love; you bring people into Christ’s saving embrace.

Alongside the cross and within the circle of Christ’s love, the new plumb-line hangs as straight and true as ever: Did you lessen the suffering of the people you encountered today?

We cannot judge,

            we must not justify ourselves,

                        but we can act like neighbors, for God’s sake.

Go, and do likewise. Amen.

Keep your clothes on | Sermon for Proper 7C

 

The men were roughly clothed, generally in coarse blue cloth, very carelessly put together. The women came in with their invariably noiseless, gliding step, in very wild garb; they were shrouded in blankets, their heads closely covered with various wrappings ….

Susan Fenimore Cooper, daughter of the famous novelist, shared these impressions in a series of articles called “Missions to the Oneidas” in The Living Church in 1885 and 1886.

I spent this past week at the Episcopal Tri-History Conference in Oneida, Wisconsin.

Parishioners at Church of the Holy Apostles and members of the Oneida Nation were our very gracious hosts as participants from the three historical societies of the Episcopal Church met to consider the encounters between Episcopal and Anglican churches and the indigenous people of North America.

Despite the appreciative portrayal of writers like Susan Fenimore Cooper, the tragic history of those encounters is more about European and American colonists’ attempts to “civilize” indigenous people or, frankly, to take their land, send them to distant reservations, and transport their children to residential boarding schools in order to “kill the Indian and save the man.”

The archivists and historians in the US and Canada have become painfully aware how church and state conspired over the last three centuries to make indigenous people and their cultures disappear.

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I wonder if the prophet Elijah standing by the entrance to his cave on Mt. Horeb appeared like the Oneida women, wrapped in his mantle and shrouded in the “sound of sheer silence.”

He, too, was being threatened with disappearing – Jezebel and Ahab had marked him for death after he prevailed over the false prophets loyal to the king and caused rain to fall after three years’ drought. He had run forty days and nights into the desert, far from his home.

But God gave Elijah a command: Stand on the mountain. Wrap your mantle around you and do not be swept away by the wind, the breaking rocks, the quaking ground, the fire, the noise.

Elijah must not fear those who seek his life, but he is to go back across the desert and fulfill God’s mission.

Keep your clothes on, and keep speaking truth to power.

+ + + + +

What a powerful jolt Jesus got as he stepped off the boat after crossing the Sea of Galilee!

“What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me!”

The poor Gerasene man’s many demons shouted in his head and caused him to shout at Jesus.

Jesus gives the demons a command – leave this man alone – and they rush out into a herd of pigs, leaving the man sitting at the feet of Jesus, “clothed and in his right mind.”

Though the townspeople are even more freaked out than they had been by the naked man living in the tombs – and he and they both probably wish he’d leave with Jesus – the man is sent home instead to share the good news of what God has done in his life.

Keep your clothes on, and keep sharing good news with your family and your neighbors.

+ + + + +

Paul had neighbors all around the Mediterranean, and Galatia must have been a fairly cosmopolitan Roman province, where “Jews and Greeks, slaves and free,” men and women lived and worked.

He really struggled to keep the members of his congregation there from going back to the old Law, though, to rules and regulations about who was in or who was out, what food was right to eat, what days were appropriate to observe as festivals.

Paul also struggled, according to Edward Blair, against “the Jewish nationalism of the time, which was emphasizing separation from Gentiles and strict loyalty to everything Jewish, not only in Palestine, but in the Roman world as well” (Blair 297).

His people’s focus on legalism and political separation, their disunity, is disheartening to him. “I am afraid that my work for you may have been wasted,” he says.

“As many of you as have been baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

Keep your clothes on and act like you are one in Christ Jesus!

+ + + + +

Bishop Mark MacDonald is now the National Indigenous Bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada.

In his keynote address at this week’s conference, Bishop Mark spoke about the resilience of Native American communities like the Oneida Nation and like many of the First Nations among whom he ministers in Canada.

The Oneida, for example, though they sided with the colonists in the Revolutionary War, lost their land in New York state to their neighbors and had to relocate to Wisconsin. Here in Wisconsin, the same New York fur traders and logging companies who had driven them from their land tried to do it to them all over again.

Nevertheless, over the past 200 years, the Oneida Nation has rebounded in many ways. On the civic side the Oneida Nation is a leader among Native American communities, and on the religious side Owanah Anderson, the former native missioner of the Episcopal Church, praised Holy Apostles as “the Canterbury Cathedral of Native American ministry.”

But Bishop Mark went on to talk about a harder truth. Despite centuries of policies enacted by church and state meant to dispossess them of their land, wipe out their language, and eliminate their religion and culture, the conversion of indigenous people to Christianity has been widespread. Some 80% of First Nations people in Canada are baptized, Bishop Mark said, a much higher percentage than their “more rapidly secularizing” neighbors.

He suggests that about 5% of indigenous people practice their traditional religion, and about 5% practice “normal” European Christianity. The broad middle – most of whom are baptized, remember – make their way in the world as best they can, and are to be commended for their resilience in the face of efforts (even by fellow Christians) to make them disappear.

The resilience of communities like the Oneida, Bishop Mark says, “reeks of resurrection. It smells like the Gospel!”

The resilience of others in the face of hardship and death may smell like the Gospel, but that Gospel often comes shrouded in clothes that look strange to us.

+ + + + +

Some keep their clothes on and act like they are one in Christ Jesus, but they’re wearing beaded necklaces, praying to the Great Creator, and singing in their native language.

Some keep their clothes on and share good news with their neighbors, but we find their their political views troubling.

Some keep their clothes on and speak truth to power, but their club music is loud and unfamiliar (and we don’t know the dance steps).

Some keep their clothes on and share good news with their neighbors, but their stories of mental illness and stigma, recovery and healing make us uncomfortable.

Some keep their clothes on and act like they are one in Christ Jesus, but they make us aware of our own biases and cause us anxiety when they behave differently than we do.

+ + + + +

It’s in the differences between us, and the resilience with which we all deal with the situations we live in, that the Gospel will be found if we have eyes to see – to see past what Mother Teresa calls “Christ in all his distressing disguises.”

It’s in the power of the resurrection over everything that threatens to make anyone disappear that we recognize we have all “come within the reach of Christ’s saving embrace” (BCP 101).

We all came up out of the same waters of baptism, we were all reeking of the oil of anointing, and we all put on a new baptismal robe.

Let’s embrace our enemies, our neighbors, even our fellow-Christians – as strange as they may seem – like Christ Jesus would and does embrace them! Let’s make sure that we are looking for resurrection rather than looking to make anyone disappear.

That’s what it means to keep our clothes on and clothe ourselves with Christ. Amen.

 

 

 

Featured image: Oneida woman ca. 1900 from Sarah Orne Jewett Text Project.

Constantly, boldly, patiently | Eve of St. John the Baptist

You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. (Luke 1:14-17)

Constantly speak the truth

How does one “make ready a people prepared for the Lord”?

Much of my own ministry has to do with teaching the basis, what the Church calls “catechesis.”

From my “Episcopal 101” class for adults on Sunday mornings, to the Education for Ministry group I mentor on Sunday afternoons, to this blog and the teaching I do about the Daily Office, I spend a lot of time helping people use the resources of the Christian tradition.

Many members of my parish are devoted to small group ministry and the ongoing relationships of accountability that help nurture disciples.

How do you help prepare people for the Lord? What does that mean to you?

Boldly rebuke vice

John has some very sharp words for those who come to see him preaching and baptizing at the River Jordan:

You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance …. And the crowds asked him, ‘What then should we do?’ In reply he said to them, ‘Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.’ Even tax-collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, ‘Teacher, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.’ Soldiers also asked him, ‘And we, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.’ (Luke 3:7-8, 10-14)

Share your coat — I must have at least six coats that I no longer wear. Why are they still hanging in my closet? Who else needs a coat?

Share your food — While my wife and I regularly host parties and invite people into our home, I don’t make a habit of helping at the meal program hosted by my parish each week. Who else needs a meal?

Live within your means — I’m finally doing better at this, partly out of necessity but also partly because of my own recovery. Buying things fulfills the same kind of craving that other substances do, so I’m working daily to watch my spending. Who else could I help if I stop helping myself?

Don’t rob anyone — This one is harder, because it’s not as simple as saying “don’t steal.” I’m beginning to read Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, which starts with the reminder that we all belong to each other and to the one creation. Nothing is in fact ours alone. Who else could use a drink of water or clean air to breathe?

Patiently suffer

John spent some time in prison before he died, and he wasn’t entirely sure if it was worth it.

John summoned two of his disciples and sent them to the Lord to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’ When the men had come to him, they said, ‘John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus had just then cured many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, and had given sight to many who were blind. And he answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me.’ (Luke 7:18-23)

Whether he was “offended” by Jesus or not, John was patient in his imprisonment, even to the point of speaking with his captor on several occasions before his beheading.

“Herod feared John, knowing he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him [from Herodias]. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him” (Mark 6:20-21)

What frustrating situation in your life are you struggling with right now? Who might you speak kindly to, even when things aren’t going your way?

Collect of the Day

Almighty God, by whose providence your servant John the Baptist was wonderfully born, and sent to prepare the way of your Son our Savior by preaching repentance: Make us so to follow his teaching and holy life, that we may truly repent according to his preaching; and, following his example, constantly speak the truth, boldly rebuke vice, and patiently suffer for the truth’s sake; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Enough, and more than enough

Today is, so to speak, a “patronal feast” of this blog, since this is one of three times in the two-year Daily Office lectionary that Hebrews 6:19 is read.

We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.

That verse, however, is only one part of the origin story of the “Daily Office Anchor Society.”

The name was first used as a tongue-in-cheek description following a retreat for newly-ordained GenX clergy held at the DeKoven Center in Racine, Wisconsin many (increasingly many) years ago.

At one point in the weekend we all realized that each of us had received at our ordinations a copy of the leather-bound, slipcased Daily Office Book along with the well-meaning expectation that of course “you’ll be saying the Offices every day now.”

Dave Walker’s “Cartoon Church” from the Church Times paints a pretty good picture of what we were up against.

That expectation of piety, coupled with virtually no exposure to the Offices (how often does *your* church have Evensong, huh?), we all experienced as an anchor dragging us down.

Being a card-carrying member of the “Daily Office Anchor Society” was not really a good thing.

The leather-bound, slipcased Daily Office Book, displayed on our shelves but rarely used, became a visible symbol of our failure to meet expectations — other people’s expectations, the Church’s expectations, and our own.

Daily Office Book

These days, nearly 20 years later, I no longer feel that the Daily Office represents a weight of expectation, a letter of law or institutional requirement against which I am judged.

Praying the Daily Office is instead a portable practice (I use a leather-bound BCP and Bible, but you could use the Forward Day by Day app on your iPhone) that allows me to participate in the Church’s ceaseless prayer and to “travel light” like the seventy disciples that Jesus sent out in today’s Gospel passage.

After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. (Luke 10:1-6)

There is a sense of lightness, I think, that is the fruit of time spent in Jesus’ presence.

The seventy found, even though they had no supplies (no buildings, no tools, none of the stuff we usually haul around with us), that their relationship with Jesus was enough — and more than enough.

It’s this sense of lightness, I think, that the recent Memorial to the Church seeks to recall us to.

The Episcopal Church has enough, and more than enough, if it accepts the call:

To recommit itself to the spiritual disciplines [Daily Office, Eucharist, etc.] at the core of our common life, to go into our neighborhoods boldly with church planters and church revitalizers, and to restructure our church for the mission God is laying before us today.

The seventy returned to Jesus with joy, exclaiming over the power they had been able to tap into. “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!”

I have found in my own life, through experiences of loss and grace and through practices of recovery that build hope — what Richard Rohr calls the “coded Gospel” — that my relationship with Jesus is enough.

The Daily Office, for me, is the way I spend time in Jesus’ presence most mornings so that for the rest of the day I can travel lightly into my neighborhood and hold lightly my expectations about what success looks like.

In this way, the Office serves me as a “sure and steadfast anchor” connecting me to Jesus, who is my hope.

How do you stay connected to Jesus? What builds hope in your life? What helps you to set aside expectations and find that you have enough, and more than enough?

Pay attention to how you listen (and look)

For while they live among his works, they keep searching, and they trust in what they see, because the things that are seen are beautiful. (Wisdom 13:7)

The writer of the book of Wisdom expresses a theme common to our discussion of science and faith.

Either the amazing beauty of millions of galaxies testifies to the creative power of God, or the distant stars bear mute witness to the emptiness and loneliness of our plight.

It matters how you look.

For the Wisdom writer, those who “live among his works” but who are “still searching” haven’t looked closely enough or carefully enough.

They’ve seen the beauty of creation, but haven’t recognized the Creator.

They’ve clicked on the image in this post, the most detailed image ever compiled of the Andromeda Galaxy (M31). Perhaps they’ve noticed that it contains 1.5 billion pixels, but they haven’t comprehended “the bright immensities” (Hymn 459) that span what little we can see of the universe — more than 14 billion light years back into time.

The Wisdom writer goes on to wonder, “If they had the power to know so much that they could investigate the world, how did they fail to find sooner the Lord of these things?” (Wisdom 13:9).

In the Gospel passage appointed for this morning, Jesus has just gotten through explaining the parable of the sower to his disciples (spoiler alert: they didn’t get it) and is trying another example on them, the parable of the lamp under a jar.

Jesus interrupts himself — I picture him rolling his eyes at a bewildered James and John (the “dunderheads” as John the evangelist calls them) — and says “Pay attention to how you listen; for to those who have, much more will be given; and from those who do not have, even what they seem to have will be taken away” (Luke 8:18).

Pay attention to how you listen.

When they come to him and say, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside” and he replies “my mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it,” then pay attention to hearing the word of God.

When you are in trouble and cry out that everything is hopeless, and Jesus replies “Where is your faith?” — then pay attention to the Word of God himself!

It matters how you listen, and it matters to whom you listen.

In the middle of a swirling storm, in the howling wind and the snap and strain of the lines, in the cries of the disciples pulling at the oars, Jesus speaks softly and the storm responds in kind.

In the tug and pull of relationships Jesus says “notice,” and the lines of the family are redrawn. And in the real anxieties and worries of your life, Jesus says “just a little faith is enough.”

Even in the rendering of starlight that you’re looking at on your smartphone, God the “maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen,” says “Here I am.”

So pay attention to how you listen (and look).

Deep gloom enshrouds the peoples

Arise, shine, for your light has come, *
and the glory of the Lord has dawned upon you.
For behold, darkness covers the land; *
deep gloom enshrouds the peoples.
But over you the Lord will rise, *
and his glory will appear upon you. (Isaiah 60:1-3; BCP 87)

Yesterday evening, my Twitter feed and then the news filled with images and video of Walter Scott being shot so casually by North Charleston police officer Michael Slager.

Meanwhile, back on NCIS (Tuesday night is NCIS night) the usual storyline unfolds, and Gibbs very casually shoots the arms dealer who has killed a Marine; as often happens on NCIS, the show ends with an emotional appeal for gifts in memory of fallen Marines.

On NCIS: New Orleans, a hostage situation unfolds, met with the entirely understandable armoring of the FBI and a Navy SWAT team.

Through the gloom, the evening starts to feels like the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion — the Roman Empire says  “force wins,” the religious people say “it’s better for one person to die for the country,” the criminal gets taken down, and protests over his death are met with a carefully crafted story and an extra layer of security: “Otherwise, his disciples may go and steal him away” (Matthew 27:62-66).

It’s so hard to proclaim Easter when it’s gloomy like this. It’s so hard not to retreat, not to try to close out the news.

Alienation

But it gets better.

This morning in my Facebook feed, a friend shared a link to a reflection by New Jersey relationship columnist Anthony D’ambrosio on marriage and divorce.

One of the five reasons D’ambrosio cites “why marriage just doesn’t work anymore” is our alienation from each other because of all the devices and screens that surround us (I chuckle as I read in the living room; I can hear my wife tapping away on her laptop in the kitchen).

I can also hear the disciples walking on the Emmaus road shaking their heads in dismay. “It wasn’t supposed to be like this. We had high hopes.”

Communion

The stranger who joins them, and who accepts their polite invitation to a meal, opens the eyes of their faith in the way he breaks and blesses the bread (Luke 24:13-35).

O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread: Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (BCP 223)

Perhaps simpler gestures of communion will pierce the deep gloom that enshrouds us.

Perhaps seeing each other through the eyes of faith — not as dangerous criminals, not as armed storm troopers, not as self-absorbed people pushing each other away on purpose — perhaps seeing each other is the first step to seeing the Risen Lord.

“Over you the Lord will rise,” says Isaiah, “and his glory will appear upon you.” Perhaps if we make time and space (and a place) to sit with each other, we will have a chance truly to see each other.

Give us eyes to see each other, O Lord, not to look past each other. Give us pause before we alienate one another again. Give us hunger to share a meal with each other, and in our breaking bread together to see you with us.

For ourselves and on behalf of others

Have mercy on us, O Lord, have mercy,
for we have had more than enough of contempt,
Too much of the scorn of the indolent rich,
and of the derision of the proud. (Psalm 123:4-5)

In light of the renewed anger in Ferguson following last night’s announcement that the grand jury will not indict police officer Darren Wilson in the killing of Michael Brown, and in light of the repeated calls for “peace, peace where there is no peace” (Jer. 6:14), the Daily Office and today’s readings speak a word we need to hear.

We begin Morning Prayer each day by reminding ourselves that we come together “to set forth [God’s] praise, to hear his holy Word, and to ask, for ourselves and on behalf of others, those things that are necessary for our life and for our salvation” (BCP 79).

For ourselves

Morning Prayer begins with the Confession of Sin for a reason. We need first and foremost to admit what we’ve done wrong and recommit to doing right. We do this every day because we stumble and fall every day.

In today’s Gospel reading, the blind beggar from Jericho speaks with our voice: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Luke 18:38). We are all blind to the depth of our sins, but God’s mercy opens our eyes so that we can see truthfully. We see our sin, but we also see that we are held in love.

Seeing clearly convicts us, every day, of our need to repent.

And we have a lot to admit to and repent for. In today’s Old Testament reading, God has Zechariah act out a prophecy against us.

“Be a shepherd of the flock doomed to slaughter,” God tells Zechariah, for “Those who buy them kill them and go unpunished; and those who sell them say, ‘Blessed be the Lord, for I have become rich’; and their shepherds have no pity on them” (Zech. 11:4-5).

We who are rich and comfortable and safe in our houses — that includes me and that includes nearly everyone reading these words — we benefit from the same social order that kills young black men and goes unpunished.

We are made to feel safe and secure by the police and the legal system and courts and judges, by a system that focuses our attention on the career of Darren Wilson instead of on the body of Michael Brown.

In the media coverage of looters whom we can look down on, in public officials’ calls for peace and order and restraint, in our own desire to get back to our Thanksgiving cooking and Christmas shopping, we demonstrate that we “have no pity on them.”

On behalf of others

But “my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord” (Isaiah 55:8). We who are called to follow Christ are called instead to put on “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16).

When we pray for others in the spirit of Christ, we see that they need the same love that we depend on day by day. We see that even though their experience is different than ours, their human spirit is the same.

The founder of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, Richard Meux Benson, writes:

In praying for others we learn really and truly to love them. As we approach God on their behalf we carry the thought of them into the very being of eternal Love, and as we go into the being of him who is eternal Love, so we learn to love whatever we take with us there.

As we approach God “on their behalf” …. on their behalf, not ours … we ask different questions.

What do they need in the midst of their situation? The looters, the police, the young people, the larger St. Louis community?

What strength do they require to endure their heartbreak? What consolation do they need in their grief? Michael Brown’s family, Darren Wilson and his family, the young and old who live in Ferguson?

What inspiration will show them how they can serve? The lawyers and the judges, the pastors and the police, the protestors and the property owners?

God knows what I have done and left undone, God knows what I need, and God loves me every day.

As I turn my thoughts and prayers to the needs and concerns of other people, whom God also loves every day, as I approach God on their behalf, perhaps I can begin to learn to love them as God does.

Perhaps I can also learn to act toward them like God does through Jesus.

Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen. (BCP 101)

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