Thursday, September 29, 2016

Daily Lesson for September 29, 2016

Today's Daily Lesson comes from Luke chapter 6 verses 6 through 11:

6 On another Sabbath, he entered the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was withered. 7 And the scribes and the Pharisees watched him, to see whether he would heal on the Sabbath, so that they might find a reason to accuse him. 8 But he knew their thoughts, and he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come and stand here.” And he rose and stood there. 9 And Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?” 10 And after looking around at them all he said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” And he did so, and his hand was restored. 11 But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.

Here is an extraordinary story. Those who are said to be protecting what is holy (the Sabbath) by refusing people to be healed on the Sabbath get so obsessed with doing so that they end up defiling it with their malice.  And so Jesus asks, is it lawful to do good (what he is doing) on the Sabbath or to do evil (what they are doing)?

And I remember some of the most angry and virulent things I've ever heard were spoken in defense of a baptistery and sanctuary against their "desecration" by the so-called "wrong" people.

It shows just how unholy our protection of the holy can really be and just how badly we can miss the whole point.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Daily Lesson for September 28, 2016

Today's Daily Lesson comes from Luke chapter 5 verses 27 through 32:

27 After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, “Follow me.” 28 And leaving everything, he rose and followed him.
29 And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them. 30 And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” 31 And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

It is impossible to understand the radicality of this story without knowing the degree to which tax collectors were despised in Jesus' day. Though we may joke about IRS agents today, tax collectors in Jesus' day were seen as political opportunists, betrayers, and scalawag collaborators.

Just how dangerous it must have been for Jesus to associate with tax collectors came home to me several years ago at the bedside of a dying Vietnam veteran. Cancer would soon take his life and he wanted to come clean about something which had deeply troubled his conscience since the war.

He told me he had been in a South Vietnam village when he witnessed a Viet Cong collaborator who had been caught by the villagers.  With a very serious protection racket, the man had been extracting tolls from his own village in exchange for not letting troops in to attack it. When the villagers caught him unprotected, they drug him into the middle of the village and tortured and then executed him full public view.

In his confession to me, the dying veteran told me that he had always felt guilty for not doing something to intercede.  But this was war; and in the villagers' words, this was a "tax collector".

Jesus came to save even tax collectors.

We can hardly imagine how disturbing that really was, and how much it would cost him.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Daily Lesson for September 27, 2016

Today's Daily Lesson comes from Luke chapter 5 verses 17 through 20:

17 On one of those days, as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with him to heal. 18 And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, 19 but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. 20 And when he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.”

In the 1950s a one hundred thousand year old skeleton of a Neaderthal was found by archaeologist Ralph Solecki.  The skeletal record was shocking in all that had happened to it. The man had a multitude of very serious fractures. A crushing blow to the left side of his head had fractured his eye socket, displacing the eye and probably blinding him. Another blow to his right side had so incapacitated him that his right arm had withered to a point of disuse. The right lower arm and hand were missing altogether, while the right foot and lower right leg were damaged to a point of disability.

It was an astonishing discovery in the sheer brutality of what this person had suffered. But what made the discovery so extraordinary was not the bones' state of fracture, but rather their state of healing. The injuries sustained by this person were all in various states of healing when he died of likely natural causes. And the only conclusion that could be drawn from the evidence was that in spite of the prevailing idea the history of the human community entailed hundreds of thousands of years of advancement preconditioned by the survival of only the fittest, in fact the true history of humanity is a long history of the survival of the weakest supported by the community.

This severely wounded person could never have survived without the care and attention of those around him. In fact, with such debilitating injuries a whole community of people would have had to organize themselves around him. They would have had to devote hours per day to his survival and healing.   He would have been the center of their lives.

Though the discovery happened in the 1950s, I just read about the discovery recently. It is truly extraordinary to me. I don't quite know what to do with it. Except this; it is causing me to reflect on the organization of my day. What would it mean, I keep asking myself, to move the weak and the suffering and the vulnerable from the margins to the center?  What would it mean to take the hurting and wounded and place them more at the center of my own life?

I know the answer. I feel it already in my heart. In my own bones.

I would become more human.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Daily Lesson for September 26, 2016

Today's Daily Lesson comes from Luke chapter 5 verses 1 through

 On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, 2 and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon's, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. 4 And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” 6 And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. 7 They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” 9 For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” 11 And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.

This is a tough time to be one of Jesus' fishermen.  Churches are closing left and right. The so-called "Nones" (meaning those who claim to have no religious affiliation) have doubled in number over the last eight years.  And when was the last time a millennial walked into Wednesday night supper?The fish just don't want to bite.

Those who haven't already hung up the tackle and sold the boat have resorted to trolling around the lake's bank, playing it safe, making sure not to rock the boat.  The message and music are safe and so too we think are the ministers.  We first became fishermen because of the adventure of it all, the lure (pun intended) of being a part of something worth doing. But the times have convinced us it's better to cut bait, wash the nets, and maybe do something a little less risky with this year's budget, something like spend the endowment on new drapes for the fellowship hall.  That'd be a safe and necessary thing to do.

And then, Jesus stands again on the seashore and calls for us to get back out there -- to push out into the deep water. To get him back into the boat and let him teach us something, like how to unmoor, push out, cast away, leave home, risk.

A clergy friend ends each service with this benediction:

May the LORD grant you the grace not to sell yourself short -- the grace to risk something bold for something good. Grace to remember that this world is too dangerous for anything but truth, and too small for anything but love.

And suddenly, the fish start biting again.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Daily Lesson for September 23, 2016

Today's Daily Lesson is a poem:

God, save the Queen (City),
Now come of age
After her brother Jim and sister Jane
She, the pride of Carolina
The hope of the New South
She, a mixed Cinderella
How about that!
And both sides were proud
Neither could hardly believe it
And maybe there's a reason
Because, now, we see that she has it too
The mark, the stain, the struggle
This burden we call History
God, save the Queen (City)

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Daily Lesson for September 22, 2016

Today's Daily Lesson comes from Esther chapter 7 verses 1 through 3:

So the king and Haman went in to feast with Queen Esther. 2 And on the second day, as they were drinking wine after the feast, the king again said to Esther, “What is your wish, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to the half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled.” 3 Then Queen Esther answered . . .

Esther's story is a great tale demonstrating female agency in a very patriarchal society. Esther, who because of her physical beauty rises to the role of Queen (among an apparent host of other queens/concubines) demonstrates that she has more than good looks. She also has brains, shrewdly navigating the political world of the royal palace, and she has guts. She is the model of a woman of deep wisdom and courageous faith.

The most memorable line in the book of Esther is given not to Esther but to her cousin Mordecai as he pleads with her to act on behalf of their Jewish people by addressing the King. "And who knows," Mordecai says to Esther, "but that you have come to this royal position for just such time as this."  The line is Mordecai's; but the venture is Esther's.   She rises to the occasion.

Like I said, Esther is a story about agency -- and not just female agency, but really human agency. Agency requires choice.  Esther inspires and challenges us to make the hard choice to speak up, to get involved, to risk boldly rather thank slink away into the shadows. We all have our Esther moments when we are presented with a choice of whether to speak up or remain silent, stand up or keep sitting. Esther stood up and she spoke and it saved her people. And the lesson for all of us is the fact that sometimes just one courageous voice can tip the scales of justice.

The Jewish holiday of Purim commemorates Esther's action in saving her people from the evil machinations of Haman.  It's often a raucous affair full of comedic reenactments of the Esther story, sometimes (I've heard) even in drag.   Ha man's name is always jeered. I went to a Purim festival at our local synagogue a few years back. The script was Esther at a kind of teen melodrama set at the equivalent of Bayside High. Esther's people were "Saved by the Bell".  It was hilarious for those of us who grew up in the 90s.  Drag was not involved but I did see some 60 year old men squeezed into letter jackets earned at much fewer poundage.

But besides that unforgettable image, the other unforgettable takeaway I had was this question -- what does it do for a people to yearly be reminded of Esther's story, to be reminded that you are a part of a people who were almost wiped out, save for the courage of one?  And then this unavoidable question, if I were the one, if I were Esther, what would I have done?

In other words, the Purim play had me to ask, what would I have done in just such a time as that?  And, more to the point, what will I do in just such a time a this?

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Daily Lesson for September 21, 2016

Today's Daily Lesson comes from Luke chapter 4 verses 1 through 4:

 And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness 2 for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. 3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” 4 And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’”

Yesterday a friend reminded me of the end of Dorothy Day's autobiography "The Long Loneliness", her story of the genesis of the Catholic Worker and its work among the poorest of the poor in New York City. Day's profound insight was her understanding that we are all poor in some deep way and therefore all in need of connection.  She closes her book with these words, "We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community."

Jesus was famished after 40 days in the wilderness. The devil came with the idea to turn the stones into bread. It would have filled Jesus' stomach.  But Jesus knew it would not have filled his deepest hunger -- the hunger for love and connection which always comes with community. This is the bread which must be kneaded, baked, prayed and fussed over, broken, and finally shared.  It is the bread that, in the words of the Communion liturgy, must not only be taken but also given. This is the only bread that sustains. This is the bread of life.

On Saturday at 4pm St Benedict's Chapel will host our grand opening and ribbon cutting on our new building at 1615 28th St. It's a ministry to the homeless and the working poor and our mission is to feed body and soul.  And my prayer is that with good music, BBQ, hot dogs and hamburgers for the kids, and so-called rich and poor folks all enjoying the afternoon together, this party might be a sign of good things to come on these new grounds.  My prayer is that we'll all realize we have a little something to give and a little something to take away -- in body and also in soul.

We do all know the long loneliness. A full stomach can't cure it. But a full house might.