Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Proper 8C June 30, 2013

          Today’s reading from the Epistle to the Galatians tells us that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The word translated “patience” in the New Revised Standard Version and “long suffering” in the King James is the Greek makrothumi’a.  It combines two words -  the adjective makros and the noun thumos, derived from the verb thuo – to make an offering by fire, strong passion, particularly strong anger or rage. We think of it as the opposite of short-tempered, or if there were such a word, long-tempered. God is long-tempered toward our sins. Jesus is long-tempered toward the inhospitable Samaritan village. One of the aspects of the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives is makrothumi’a or long-temper. Makrothumi’a is a gift of God, a gift we can receive and show forth in the world Jesus Christ redeemed by his death, a gift of the resurrection and new life.  May we seek after and show forth makrothumi’a.

          There are at least three roads from Galilee to Jerusalem. The main road now goes down the Mediterranean coast, and then east and up to Jerusalem. In Jesus’ time that was the long way around and rarely used.  Jesus knew two roads, the winter road along the Jordan valley to Jericho, then west and up to Jerusalem, and the summer road south over the hills through Samaria coming to Jerusalem from the north.

          Today’s gospel tells us the Samaritan villages did not welcome Jesus and his disciples. History tells us why.

          Galilee and Samaria in the northern kingdom of Israel had been conquered by Assyria (think Kurdistan) in 722 BC. Most of the people of Israel were dispersed into exile and lost to history. Their place was mostly taken by other conquered exiles who joined with the remnant and formed the Samaritan people.  

          The southern kingdom of Judah was conquered by the Babylonians (think central Iraq) 136 years later in 586 BC.  The Babylonians took most of the people of Judah, including their political and religious leaders, to Babylon where, as Psalm 137 has it, “We sat down and wept.”  But Psalm 137 continues, “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? If I forget you  O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill.” But unlike the earlier refugees the later exiles in Babylon were not lost to history. Led by Ezekiel and other prophets they continued to gather to worship, to study, to maintain the community. They gathered to hear God’s word read, to think about it, to argue about it, to make it part of them, and then to pray – to praise, to intercede for others, and to petition for themselves.  They kept the community together looking for the day when they could return to the land of their fathers.  That day came in just 50 years with the Persian conquest of Babylon.

But the conflict grew bitter between those who returned purified by the experience of the exile and those who had stayed behind. Jews and Samaritans were neighbors who did not love one another, did not eat together, did not intermarry.  So when Jesus and his disciples set out on two or three day hike along the summer high road from Galilee to Jerusalem, they were going through hostile territory. A few places fed and housed Jewish travelers, but most did not. The first place Jesus’ advance men came to turned them away.

None of us likes to be turned away, particularly when we on the road in strange territory. The natural reaction to this kind of rude and inhospitable behavior is anger. When we are badly treated we want revenge. Psalm 137 about the waters of Babylon shows that. “O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy the one who pays you back for what you have done to us! Happy shall he be who takes your little ones, and dashes them against the rock!”

When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, "Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" But Jesus turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village.”

To their anger and desire for revenge and destruction Jesus shows the fruit of the Spirit in makrothumi’a, patience, long suffering.  The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

Jesus’ response reminds St. Luke of the cost of discipleship. “As they were going along the road, someone said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head."  Jesus and his disciples had left the comforts of home to be dependent on the kindness of strangers.

          When Jesus called a disciple to follow him, the man said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” That might have meant right away, the funeral was that day, but it also might mean the man asked to wait until his father was dead and he received his inheritance.  I’m as prone as anyone else to procrastination, finding excuses to put things off. Retirement reminds me, “What are we waiting for?” God calls us when he calls us; God doesn’t wait around.

          But God does show us makrothumi’a. patience, longsuffering, long temper. He calls us to love and serve Jesus and he waits for us to do so with divine patience, long suffering, long temper, makrothumi’a.

          And to those who have responded to his call God gives new life and his Holy Spirit. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.” Amen.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Task Force on Re-Structurig the Episcopal Church

The Task Force on Re-structuring the Episcopal Church has a Facebook page which is asking what one thing would you like to see changed in the Episcopal Church.

        My response was to reduce the size of General Convention.

        I propose that every diocese be represented by at least one priest or deacon and one lay person, and that for every 10,000 over the initial 10,000 ASA the diocese elect another priest or deacon and a lay person. Each diocese is represented by one bishop with an additional bishop for every 10,000 ASA.  Based on 2011 figures:

        For 110 dioceses that gives 220+49 = 269 House of Deputies and 135 bishops.

        The additional representation includes one each from these:

Province 1
         Connecticut 17K
        Massachusetts 18K
Province 2
        Haiti 17
        Long Island 15
        New York 20
Province 3
        Maryland 11
        Pennsylvania 15
        Southern VA 10
        Washington DC 15
Province 4
        Alabama 10
        Atlanta 17
        Central FL 13
        North Carolina 15
        South Carolina 12 (adjustment may be needed)
        SE FL 13
        SW FL 14
Province 5
        Chicago 13
Province 6
        Colorado 10
Province 7
        Dallas 12
Province 8
        Los Angeles 19
Province 9
        Honduras 10

        If we elected by province and figured one priest or deacon and one lay person for every 10,000 ASA we'd have 126 in each house.

Province 1 - 56K - 6
Province 2 - 95K - 9
Province 3 - 102K - 10
Province 4 - 171K - 17
Province 5 - 62K - 6
Province 6 - 30K - 3
Province 7 - 77K - 8
Province 8 - 21K - 2
Province 9 - 19K - 2    

          Bishops and deputies could meet together but preserve the two house concept by voting separately and requiring concurrence of both bishops and deputies.

           This is not a new idea. I remember Bishop Thomas Fraser of North Carolina suggesting it to a group of clergy in the late 1970’s. It made sense then and makes sense now.    

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Proper 5C June 9, 2013

          Nain is to Shunem as Chunns Cove is to Haw Creek. Nain is on the northeast side of the ridge, Shunem is on the southwest side of the same ridge. Both are small communities south of Nazareth.  Both were the place of a miraculous resuscitation. Elisha, Elijah’s successor as prophet, brought back to life to son of a woman of Shunem (2 Kings 4) as Elijah brought back to life the son of the widow of Zarephath in southern Lebanon. Those are 2 of the 3 resuscitation accounts in the Old Testament. The 3rd is in 2 Kings 13. As Elijah was buried (2K13:21) “a marauding band was seen and a man was thrown into the grave of Elisha, and as soon as the man touched the bones of Elisha, he came to life and stood on his feet.”

There are a number of Old Testament prophecies of resurrection in the last day. In the Prayer Book Burial Office we hear Job 19:25, “I know that my redeemer liveth and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though this body be destroyed, yet shall I see God; whom I shall see for myself and mine eyes shall behold, and not as a stranger.” Isaiah 26:19 has “Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead” and Daniel 12:2 says, “Many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake.”

In 3 places in the New Testament Jesus raised the dead before his own resurrection Easter Day: this event in Nain, Jairus’ daughter (Luke 8:40-56, Mark 5:21-43, Matthew 9:18-26) and Lazarus (Jn 11:1-44).  

          After Jesus’ resurrection, St. Matthew reports (27:52-53)  And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose,  And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.”  In Acts 9:36 Peter at Joppa raised Tabitha or Dorcas from the dead. “She was devoted to good works and acts of charity.”  In Acts 20:10 Paul at Troas raised Eutychus, who went to sleep during Paul’s sermon and fell out a window.  In Acts 14:19-20 Paul was beaten, stoned, and left for dead at Lystra, but “when the disciples surrounded him, he got up and went into the city.”  Paul does not use the language of new life in Galatians, but Paul’s experience of being “called through grace” and the radical change in life which followed are very like death and resurrection.  

          In St. John 5:28 Jesus said, “ the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth.”  And also familiar from the Burial Office, John 14:2, “In my father’s house are many mansions, I go to prepare a place for you.”

          In 1925 Eugene O’Neill wrote a play, “Lazarus Laughed.”  It is a long 4 act play with more than 100 parts and a Greek style chorus. It is more read than performed.  Lazarus’s first line is, “Laugh! Laugh with me! Death is dead! Fear is no more! There is only life! There is only laughter!” As Lazarus continues to rejoice in life those around him, caught in the fear of death, become more and more frightened and the Roman Emperor Tiberius finally had Lazarus burned to death.  The text is on line.

          But O’Neill’s play invites us to consider also the son of the widow of Nain, the son of the widow of Zarephath, the son of the woman of Shunem, the man who fell into Elisha’s grave, Jairus’ daughter, Tabitha or Dorcas, or sleepy Eutychus or Paul. What was their new life like for them?

          What did they do the next morning? Did they go on doing what they did before? How was their life different?

          Spiritually we are like all these them because we have been reborn in baptism. In baptism the old man died and we received a new spiritual life, an eternal life. Does the daily remembrance of our new life make a difference in how we live?

          Hebrews 9:27 reminds us that it is “appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment.” These 8 people who died once had to die a second time. This body will die, but we who are spiritually reborn in baptism will be raised to share in Christ’s eternal life.

          Six years ago last October I had surgery on my pancreas for a non-malignant growth and spent 3 months recovering. That experience reminds me that every new day is a gift from God. We all know that, but serious illness is a powerful reminder. I think resuscitation after death was also, at the least, a powerful reminder.

          We are reminded of God’s continuing love and providence. We are reminded to focus our attention on God who gives life. We are reminded that God gives us life and all that we have for God’s purpose – that we may love and serve God with all we are and all we have, and our neighbor as ourselves.

          As we will say at the end of today’s service, “And now, Father, send us out, to do the work you have given us to do, to love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord. To  him, to you, and to the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and forever. Amen.” Amen.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Proper 4C  June 2, 2013

          The centurion said, “Lord . . . I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; . . .But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me;  . . .”  When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd . . .  he said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”

          We exercise authority under authority. Authority is received and exercised in faith. Our faith is that God is at work in the world he created, the world in which Jesus redeemed all who call on him, the world of the Holy Spirit of love, and truth, and power.  Our task as Christian people is to join with the Spirit’s to make God’s will a reality. God’s authority is given us to do that work.

Authority comes with faith. Today we heard the Prophet Elijah exercising God’s authority in his conflict with King Ahab and the priests of Baal. We heard St. Paul exercising God’s authority writing to the Galatian Christians. And we heard Jesus’ authority healing the Centurion’s servant and his teaching that authority, divine and human, is received and exercised in faith.  

          Our Old Testament lessons this month will be about Elijah in continuing conflict with the alternative religion of his time.  For the next 6 weeks our Epistle readings will be from Galatians, St. Paul dealing with false teaching in the church. In the Gospel from now to December we will follow Jesus’ ministry of teaching and healing, a ministry that led to conflict with the leaders of the people, that led to the cross of Good Friday, the empty tomb of Easter, and the power of God in the mighty rushing wind and tongues of fire as the Holy Spirit of love, truth, and power comes to the church to show us God’s will and to give us the power and authority to seek to accomplish God’s will.

          King Ahab of the northern kingdom of Israel had a problem. Israel was politically unstable. It had 3 violent changes in government in 53 years.  Fathers seized power, ruled about 20 years and were succeeded by sons who were quickly overthrown.  Ahab’s father Omri had overthrown Baasha’s son Elah.  Baasha had overthrown Jeroboam’s son Nadab. Jeroboam had over thrown Solomon’s son Rehoboam and divided the kingdom.

          Ahab tried to create political stability through religious uniformity. He chose to support the Baal Astarte religion of his Lebanese wife Jezebel and to reject the religion of the neighboring kingdom of Judah. Ball was the storm god, shown as a bull. Astarte was the earth goddess. The Baal Astarte religion was a nature religion based on the cycle of fall and winter rain to grow barley and winter wheat. To bring the fall rain and encourage the storm god to make the earth goddess fertile farmers would go to the Baal temple and participate in sympathetic magic – sexual intercourse - with women worshippers of Astarte.  For some it was a popular religion. But cyclical earth religions are based on the idea that things don’t change. They may get a little worse, but they don’t get much better.  

          Against Ahab’s effort to unify his kingdom in worship of Baal and Astarte Elijah proclaimed the will of God. God is God of all. He created all that is, visible and invisible. He is God of nature. He created the fertile earth, He sends the rain. But God is more than simply a God of nature. God is a God of history. God created all that is for his purpose - that we may love and serve him in our time until he brings his creation to an end. God brought the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt into freedom in the Holy Land. God sets us free from the compulsions of sin, free to love and serve him. God is a God of freedom. The nature religions are people trapped in the cycle of nature and historically that leads to slavery.

          Ahab called for a religions face-off. God gave him victory, and a bloodbath followed. When Queen Jezebel heard Ezekiel had murdered her priests she ordered him to leave or die. In exile in Sinai Elijah heard the Lord (19:12) in what the KJV calls “a still small voice” and the NRSV “a sound of sheer silence.”  The Lord told Elijah to foment revolution – to anoint Hazael king of Syria, and Jehu king of Israel, and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abelmeholah his successor as prophet in Israel.  The Lord promised to leave 7000 in Israel, “all the knees that have not bowed the knee to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” Throughout history the Lord of history has preserved a spiritual witness to his love, truth, and power. God grant us grace and power and his authority to be God’s witness in our time.  All authority is a gift of God, a gift given to guide and empower us to do God’s perfect will.

          Our Epistle tells how Paul had evangelized Galatia in central Turkey, preaching in the synagogues to Jews and “god-fearers.” God-fearers were gentiles attracted by the ethical standards of Judaism. But the men were not able to undergo circumcision surgery and the women were not able to keep the laws about foods and family life. The Galatians received the good news of Jesus “who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” with joy.

          But once we are converted, once we have received the good news of Jesus with joy, we live out that joy in our lives in a continuing spiritual conflict between law and grace. The teachers from the Jerusalem church were  accustomed to the habits of prayer and obedience to the 613 commandments in the Torah – the law of God365 negative, one each day in the solar year, and 248 positive, the number of bones and organs in the human body (Babylonian Talmud, Makkot 23b-24a)  They said these are required. Paul and Jesus said, No! Love God, love our neighbor, and love because you are loved.

          Aristotle wrote, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.”  I invite you to consider:  What do we habitually do in gratitude to Jesus for his death and resurrection, led by the Spirit to exercise God’s authority?  Do we habitually pray? Do we habitually give our time and talent? Do we habitually look for opportunities “to love and serve” God “as faithful witness” to the presence and power of Christ in our lives?  How do we exercise our God given authority in our lives? How to we live out our faith?    

          Can Jesus say of us, as he did of the Centurion, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”