Please Phone Responsibly

I was watching the World Cup Final with a friend on Sunday, and a commercial came on that was breathtaking in its cynicism. I wish I could find it online.

It involved some sort of smart-speaker set or other home-networking device that was supposed to make a family gathering so much more fun and enjoyable. At the end of the commercial, the family sits down to a huge dinner, and a young woman picks up her phone, then decides to put it face-down on the table and ‘interface’ with her family instead of her device.

Get it? You can make your life revolve around devices, and let them into your home and become an extension of yourself (or are you an extension of them)? But life is still all about family and you can say no whenever you want.

At least cigarette ads have the value of a Surgeon General’s Warning. This ad has the equivalent of ‘please drink responsibly’ at the end of a Captain Morgan ad, which The Onion skewered so completely years ago.

I guess I can dream about a day when all advertisements for electronic media devices and the devices themselves carry warning stickers from the Surgeon General. May be hazardous to your health. Has been proven to cause compulsive, anti-social, and depressive behavior. And, oh yes, it’s addictive and you won’t be able to stop.

 

July 17, 2018 at 12:04 pm Leave a comment

Elections and Election

The Pastor’s Page from our recently published church newsletter:

PASTOR’S PAGE: Elections and Election

On Tuesday, November 8, Americans will elect a President for the next four years. In reflecting upon our election, it’s instructive to know the Bible and know the history of the ancient world.

First of all, no matter who wins, we can be very grateful for the process in which a President is chosen in our country. In ancient Israel and in other Near Eastern cultures, succession to the throne was often a matter of violence, sometimes a struggle between father and son (think David and Absalom, 2 Samuel 13-19) or between rival sons, generals, mothers and sons, etc. When a king came to power, he had no checks on his power, and he reigned until someone else killed him and took the throne, or he died and his son succeeded him.

It makes our system, no matter how flawed it may be, look extremely good. Our Presidents have checks on their power. They are in office for four years and may be re-elected only once. This, of course, was born out of the experience of Americans under King George III, but also, I believe, through a healthy skepticism of absolute power because all sovereignty belongs to God.

Although we are no longer a religious nation, I believe that it is part of our religious heritage that we have a system in which we live by a Constitution rather than an autocrat. In saying this, of course, I make no statements or assumptions regarding which party or candidate would better live by the Constitution. But I believe that our secular society has inherited this notion of limited, desacralized power precisely from a religious background.

Secondly, Christians are called to pray for whoever is to be our next President, no matter who it is. This may be hard for some of us, but St. Paul tells Timothy, ‘I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may live a quiet and peaceful life in all godliness and dignity’ (1 Timothy 2:1-2) Note carefully that Paul does not say that we are to pray ‘to’ the king, as was common in those days for the Romans to pray to the emperor, but ‘for’ the king, as an acknowledgment that God indeed is the sovereign over all sovereigns and sovereignties. Though the governing authorities may not acknowledge the rule of God, yet Christians do, and so they should offer prayer for the government, as we do at the weekly Eucharist.

Finally, the people of America elect a President, but God has elected a people to be his holy ones in the world. We, the baptized people of God, the body of Christ, living members of the Holy Church, anointed with the Spirit, are to be witnesses to his reign to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8). We do not identify the kingdom of God with the administration of a certain President, the rise of a certain majority in Congress, or with the accession of certain individuals to seats on our Supreme Court. Instead, we proclaim the advent of Jesus Christ as the kingdom of God in the midst of a broken and sinful world. God has made himself known in Jesus Christ and will continue to make himself known in the Church, and it is through him that we have true freedom (John 8:34-36).

Let us then go forward with confidence towards Election Day and beyond, trusting not in the powers of the world, but in him who won our freedom on the cross, defeating all evil powers, liberating us from fear and doubt, loosing us from our chains that we may serve him in this world.

 

November 8, 2016 at 12:17 pm Leave a comment

What is the chief end of blog?

Thank you for those who encouraged me to keep writing. I probably wouldn’t be had I not received this encouragement, as my default level of self-criticism is off the chart.

Nevertheless, a friend had an interesting question for me – why am I talking about ‘conservatism’ at all?

‘What is the end of goal of defining “conservatism”? It seems to me that it is just a label, and a fairly constricting one at that. I am sure many would describe me as a liberal, but I am not interested in making decisions out of adherence to that definition, whatever it is. Our public policy is much too complex to assume that proper answer to all issues/decisions can be gleaned by asking: what is the conservative/liberal/moderate/libertarian choice? I favor an individualized and context-driven approach to decision-making. If someone wants to attempt to assign a label to my collective decisions/choices, so be it, but that is simply the result of my choices, not the motivation for them.’

It’s a good question, and perhaps it is a valid one from the point of policy. However, I am not a policy-maker. If I had wanted to be, perhaps I would have gotten into politics, but that ship has sailed. I have one vote. I have neither time nor energy to contribute much more, aside from the occasional letter to an elected official or an unasked-for Facebook share.

Perhaps I have simply identified whatever calls itself ‘conservative’ as good and ‘liberal’ as bad, and have tailored my taste in hopes, dreams, and preferred outcomes to that identification. I don’t think this is true.

Maybe you have to start with the label. I feel a disaffection with the label as it is understood through popular culture, a disconnect with it as it is currently defined by its political leaders, and yet asking, is there something good in the ‘concept’ at all? Was there a central reason to adopt a label as appropriate to myself, even when one was uncomfortable with many of its connotations?

I suppose that would be the end goal – to see what is worth ‘conserving’ in the word ‘conservative.’ How does the idea of ‘conserving’ culture lead to renewal of self and a contribution to anyone else? It is being asked not for the sake of policy, because that’s beyond me. It is asked for the sake of the question, how should I live?

November 2, 2016 at 12:07 pm Leave a comment

A renewal

During this insane election year, in which so many assumptions have been turned on their head, I have been doing a lot of thinking about what it means to be ‘conservative.’

Of course, I do not primarily identify with the term ‘conservative.’ I am a Christian. I believe that too many people use the term ‘Christian conservative’ in a way that puts politics first and religion second, so that the term ‘Christian’ modifies the word ‘conservative.’

Those who call themselves ‘liberal Christians’ believe they are doing something different, when in fact they are aping the Religious Right and identifying the values of whatever wing of the Democratic Party they happen to belong to with the Gospel. Neither approach is valid.

The Christian message cannot be boiled down to finding one’s own beliefs in Scripture and therefore validating the message of one’s heart or one’s party.

Having safely put myself above the fray, I can proceed to my question about what it means to think ‘conservatively.’

Conservatism does not equal ‘Republican,’ as the media wants us to believe. Why does the media want us to believe this? Because the media is in the business of selling stories, and stories work best (or at least are best in the time-frame the media has) with binaries. Therefore ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ has equaled ‘Republican’ and ‘Democrat.’ (Liberals of the Bernie Sanders type understand that ‘liberal’ does not necessarily equal ‘Democrat.’)

Why then am I focusing on the idea of ‘conservatism’ rather than ‘Christian?’

  1. To sort out and discipline my own thoughts about what it means for me to think of myself as a conservative, and to think ‘conservatively.’
  2. To tease out the idea of both ‘Conservative’ and ‘Christian’ from being ‘Republican.’
  3. To think on what values, attitudes, and actions need ‘conserving’ in my own life, the life of the Church, and the life of the culture.

Finally, why me? And will anyone read this? Why should anyone care what I think? Is this just an exercise in pomposity, as some of my friends and family will have no doubt experienced?

My guess is that there is a frustrated public intellectual within me. And with the technology of blogging, I can exercise that frustration. But also there is a thought, or a question: Do I have something to say? And maybe this becomes an exercise in listening as well.

I guess we will find out the answer.

October 26, 2016 at 9:58 am Leave a comment

Bonhoeffer on stupidity (entire quote)

Taken from a circular letter, addressing many topics, written to three friends and co-workers in the conspiracy against Hitler, on the tenth anniversary of Hitler’s accession to the chancellorship of Germany.

‘Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice. One may protest against evil; it can be exposed and, if need be, prevented by use of force. Evil always carries within itself the germ of its own subversion in that it leaves behind in human beings  at least a sense of unease. Against stupidity we are defenseless. Neither protests nor the use of force accomplish anything here; reasons fall on deaf ears; facts that contradict one’s prejudgment simply need not be believed- in such moments the stupid person even becomes critical – and when facts are irrefutable they are just pushed aside as inconsequential, as incidental. In all this the stupid person, in contrast to the malicious one, is utterly self-satisfied and, being easily irritated, becomes dangerous by going on the attack. For that reason, greater caution is called for than with a malicious one. Never again will we try to persuade the stupid person with reasons, for it is senseless and dangerous.

‘If we want to know how to get the better of stupidity, we must seek to understand its nature. This much is certain, that it is in essence not an intellectual defect but a human one. There are human beings who are of remarkably agile intellect yet stupid, and others who are intellectually quite dull yet anything but stupid. We discover this to our surprise in particular situations. The impression one gains is not so much that stupidity is a congenital defect, but that, under certain circumstances, people are made stupid or that they allow this to happen to them. We note further that people who have isolated themselves from others or who lives in solitude manifest this defect less frequently than individuals or groups of people inclined or condemned to sociability. And so it would seem that stupidity is perhaps less a psychological than a sociological problem. It is a particular form of the impact of historical circumstances on human beings, a psychological concomitant of certain external conditions. Upon closer observation, it becomes apparent that every strong upsurge of power in the public sphere, be it of a political or of a religious nature, infects a large part of humankind with stupidity. It would even seem that this is virtually a sociological-psychological law. The power of the one needs the stupidity of the other. The process at work here is not that particular human capacities, for instance, the intellect, suddenly atrophy or fail. Instead, it seems that under the overwhelming impact of rising power, humans are deprived of their inner independence, and, more or less consciously, give up establishing an autonomous position toward the emerging circumstances. The fact that the stupid person is often stubborn must not blind us to the fact that he is not independent. In conversation with him, one virtually feels that one is dealing not at all with a person, but with slogans, catchwords and the like that have taken possession of him. He is under a spell, blinded, misused, and abused in his very being. Having thus become a mindless tool, the stupid person will also be capable of any evil and at the same time incapable of seeing that it is evil. This is where the danger of diabolical misuse lurks, for it is this that can once and for all destroy human beings.

‘Yet at this very point it becomes quite clear that only an act of liberation, not instruction, can overcome stupidity. Here we must come to terms with the fact that in must cases a genuine internal liberation becomes possible only when external liberation has preceded it. Until then we must abandon all attempts to convince the stupid person. This state of affairs explains why in such circumstances our attempts to know what ‘the people’ really think are in vain and why, under these circumstances, this question is so irrelevant for the person who is thinking and acting responsibly. The word of the Bible that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom declares that the internal liberation of human beings to live the responsible life before God is the only genuine way to overcome stupidity.

‘But these thoughts about stupidity also offer consolation in that they utterly forbid us to consider the majority of people to be stupid in every circumstance. It really will depend on whether those in power expect more from people’s stupidity than from their inner independence and wisdom.’

-Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from ‘After Ten Years’ in Letters and Papers from Prison (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works/English, vol. 8) Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2010.

 

May 11, 2016 at 10:23 am 7 comments

Reflections on Monday Daily Lectionary, Feast Day of St Athanasius

For the first two readings of today (Leviticus 25:35-55 and Colossians 1:9-14), the connecting thread is ‘liberty.’ God liberated his people from Egypt. They therefore are created for freedom. The Israelites are forbidden to lend to the poor at interest, but to take care of those in need. They may not buy each other as slaves, but must hire them, and they will be released at the Jubilee year. (An unsettling note to modern ears attuned to individual rights is that Israelites may buy people of foreign nations as slaves. But in a world of slavery, the notion that the rich could not buy the poor of their own nation as slaves would have been a major advance in the understanding of God’s will.)

The reading closes with the rules for ‘redeeming’ a slave; for buying the slave’s freedom. Here, the connection with Colossians is clear; for 1:14 says, ‘[The Father] has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.’ One wonders as we use the word ‘Redeemer’ in referring to Jesus, whether we understand what that means. It cost Jesus his life to buy us back for God.

The people are created for freedom, but what is life in freedom? According to the last verse of our reading from Leviticus, life in freedom is a life of service to God. Slavery to work, to sin, keeps one from serving God. ‘For to me the people of Israel are servants, they are my servants whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God.’ (Lev. 25:55).

 

 

May 2, 2016 at 1:05 pm Leave a comment

Background on Readings, July 12 (Proper 10)

TEXTS: Amos 7:7-15; Psalm 85:8-13; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:14-29

Our Gospel lesson today, the amazing story of the state murder of John the Baptist, deserves some background explanation. Herod Antipas (the Herod mentioned in today’s Gospel text) was one of the sons of Herod the Great, the infamous tyrant who ruled over Judea and Galilee as a puppet of the Romans at the time of Jesus’ birth. After the death of Herod the Great, the Romans split his territory between his surviving sons. Herod Antipas ruled over Galilee and Perea; his brother Herod Philip over what is now southwest Syria, and Pontius Pilate was the Roman Procurator of Samaria, Idumea, and Judea, the area around Jerusalem.

palestemap

On a visit to Philip, Herod Antipas persuaded Herodias to divorce Philip and marry him; probably not because he ‘loved’ Herodias, but because he desired to show up his brother and to prove who was the most powerful of the sons of Herod the Great. Herodias finds her fulfillment as an object of the desire of a powerful man, and is enraged when John the Baptist proclaims that Herod has sinned by marrying his brother’s wife, which is forbidden by Torah (Lev. 18:16; 20:21). She wants John dead.

John is thrown into prison, but not executed, because Herod ‘likes to listen to him.’ The only way Herodias can have John put to death is if Herod is maneuvered into a position where he has no choice. In his rashness and desire to please his guests Herod promises the girl who performed at his party whatever she asks for (the phrase, ‘half my kingdom’ is probably an exaggeration, as when someone says, ‘ask for the moon.’) Herodias’s daughter takes her mother’s order to ask for the head of John literally. Though Herod is shocked by the girl’s request, he cannot take back his promise for fear of looking weak in front of his guests. Such weakness would undermine his position, just as John the Baptist’s criticism undermines Herodias’s. Ironically, Herod’s attempt to avoid looking weak proves his weakness.

John the Baptist Salome

John the Baptist, the last and greatest of the prophets, dies like them (and like Jesus his cousin) because his words threaten someone’s power. We see the same theme in the Old Testament reading, where the priest Amaziah wants to muzzle Amos, an itinerant prophet who is preaching against King Jeroboam of Israel. Amos says ‘he is no prophet,’ which seems confusing. What Amos means is that he is not a professional. His vocation is not a family tradition, passed down from father to son, but instead Amos has received a direct call from the LORD. Therefore, he’s not bound by geography nor by the ‘rules.’ He will say what God wants him to say, whatever the consequences.

The introduction of the letter to the Ephesian Christians is a recounting of the story of salvation. God has bestowed grace upon his people through the Beloved, and people receive redemption and forgiveness through his sacrifice on the cross. The apostles received the knowledge of this mystery, and the Ephesians have believed through their preaching, and have received the Holy Spirit, which is a pledge of the whole salvation which they will receive in the fullness of time.

July 9, 2015 at 4:23 pm

95 Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Reformations – A Rejoinder

Don’t take my word for it – read the original. And the original of the original.

95 Theses for the 21st Century Church

Disputation of Doctor Clint Schnekloth on the Power and Efficacy of Reformations (2014)

Rejoinder by The Rev. Maurice C. Frontz, STS, M.Div.

(Original theses in regular type – rejoinders in bold italics.)

Martin Luther famously posted 95 theses for consideration and discussion (though there is some debate as to where he posted them, and whether they were as singularly nailed to a blank door as is often depicted). Although the following theses make no claim to the same cohesion and rigor as Luther’s 95, they do riff on them.

 

These are indeed not as good as Luther’s. However, they are better than Matthew Fox’s.

1. Jesus Christ, when he said, “Repent,” willed that our whole lives should be lives of repentance.

The Ninety-Five Theses, or the Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences indeed are not truly about indulgences, but about repentance.

 

2. Although penitential disciplines are infrequently exercised in the contemporary religious landscape, they are still the starting point for life.
3. This stands in tension with the dominant faith of North America, moralistic therapeutic deism, which emphasizes that God exists, helps me live a good life, and is there for me in my needs.

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, the dominant faith of Americans, excludes true repentance, because repentance involves a God who stands against us in judgment, the very antithesis of the God of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.

 

4. Because moralistic therapeutic deism is the dominant faith of most people in our culture, regardless of actual religious tradition, true repentance will be misunderstood by many.

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism misunderstands repentance as turning to the true self and self-actualization. The purchase of self-help methods is the practical mode of repentance in Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.

5. When it is misunderstood, it will also not be practiced, and instead practices will arise to take its place–especially self-sufficiency, partisanship, and closed confessionalism.

Where closed confessionalism is present, the judgment which is God’s will be abrogated to those who are office-holders in closed confessionalism, without the assent or understanding of the community.

 

However, true confessionalism, if, when, and where it is practiced, will exercise God’s judgment within the confessional community. It will also invite others outside the community to stand within the community and therefore under God’s judgment as comprehended by the community.

 

I await enlightenment as to whether a true confessionalism is possible, and if not, if there is an alternative.

6. Glory and success will become the markers of communities that forget repentance; the weakness and suffering of God (and the human) will in those places be denigrated.

As the preaching of indulgences led to a neglect of true repentance, so the preaching of the indulgence of the self has also led to a neglect of true repentance. Both theologies are and were theologies of glory.
7. In large part, although secularism is not to blame for this shift, it is the rise of secularities that has created the conditions for this type of religiosity to take hold in our context(s).

If the preaching of indulgences granted by the Pope was the product of a religious society, one wonders if the preaching of indulgence granted by ‘secular’ society can be seen as the product of an similarly religious society, dedicated not to the authority of the Pope, but to the authority of the will-ing self.
8. We have before us the condition where the religious and non-religious can equally disregard repentance because selves have become buffered.

The differentiation between the religious and secular should not be seen as the opposition of religion to secularism, but instead as the opposition of the religion of the individual will-ing self, to religions in which individuals find themselves within communities within space and time.
9. This rampant individualism, each buffered self doing its own thing, is actually a shift in the culture away from rather than towards true freedom.

“Man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.” 
― 
John Calvin
10. We find ourselves each doing our own thing, which amounts to the same thing, so we live under the hegemony of experiencing bondage as freedom.

The fiction of ‘doing one’s own thing’ is experienced in much the same way as the fiction of a bought plenary indulgence. It keeps one in the slavery of experiencing oneself as an agent unbounded by God, and it is preached to the ruin of souls for the financial profit of the few.
10. True freedom arises in recognizing our common humanity, our common createdness, and in so doing letting down the barriers to our individual selves.

To experience one as a created being is to accept the limit of both our death-bound selves and the limit of the other. But an individual self, like a confession, must have semi-permeable barriers, without which there are no distinct selves which may encounter others and be encountered as others by others. Only dead things have impermeable barriers or no barriers. This is true physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
11. This, or something like it, is an aspect of repentance; being open to the other in order for the other to free us from who we have caged ourselves into being.

The first ‘other’ to whom we are to be open is Christ. We are not to encounter others except through the medium of Christ Jesus, who stands both among us and between us (Bonhoeffer)
12. One of those others to which we are open is Scripture. We are open to the possibility that the Scripture might tell us who we are.

The Scripture’s primary revelation is the revelation of God. The witness of Moses, the prophets and the apostles was to God first of all and his revelation through Christ. The self is experienced in relation to God, the ‘wholly Other’ (Barth). When one is open to the ‘possibility’ of Scripture, one needs to beware of being open also only to the ‘possibility’ of the God whom Scripture proclaims.

 

13. However, we also read Scripture against Scripture, because the past errors of our reading have read themselves into Scripture itself.

Great care must be taken when one reads Scripture against Scripture. One wonders how a way of reading Scripture which takes as its hermeneutic principle reading Scripture against Scripture does not fulfill the rule of reading itself (and quite probably its own errors) into Scripture itself.
14. So we read Scripture against Scripture in order to repair gender inequality, address racism, overcome heterosexism, break down the stratification of classes.

A dominant hermeneutic always runs the risk of reading the Scripture through the lens of the hermeneutic rather than the hermeneutic under the lens of Scripture. This is the error of Moralistic Therapeutic Deists, but it is not exclusive to them. Scripture indeed must be interpreted, but in being interpreted must retain its function of expressing God’s judgment rather than human judgment. A sense of humility under the Scripture is an indispensable part of reading the Scripture. So is reading Scripture with the Church throughout time and space.
15. “The secular is not the taken-for-granted opposite of religion but a set of conditions in which modern ideas of religion are constructed.” (Varieties of Secularism, 25)

Indeed, secularism becomes its own religion, or as with therapeutic moralistic deism, a parasitic religion which attaches itself to other religions.
16. The fragilizing of our options, secular or sacred, is another instance of the centrality of repentance, of mutual repentance, in order to honor the conditions of our mutual fragility.

‘For the unity of the Church, it is not necessary…’ etc.
17. In this way, new communities can exist in place of the old.

As long as these communities maintain their continuity with the ‘old,’ which of course were not ‘old,’ but appropriate to their time and situation, and took as their constituting rationale the deposit of faith, however uncritically examined.
18. Where there was the parish, hierarchical and centered in the church, now there are new parishes, patterned networks of mutual reciprocity that share geographical space and exist for the good of the neighborhood.

Both hierarchy and reciprocity are necessary for the old and new parishes; hierarchy, for the sake of the identification with Christ of the parish within the community and not simply as an extension or reflection of the community; and mutual reciprocity, so that the parish does not exist simply for the sake of the hierarchy.
19. It is not good to live above place.

Seeing as I cannot fly, I agree with this statement.

Living-in-place has become nearly impossible in a highly mobile, virtual world. Even those who ‘live-in-place’ do so by choice, which makes one think that it is not truly ‘living-in-place.’
20. In a quantum world, the idea of being localized to a place, though not relativized, has been radicalized.

The idea of place has become another consumer product – something which can be entered into and out of for the sake of a new experience, even one of habituation, but never a given in the sense of the ‘places’ in which humans were once born, lived, and died.
21. So the new parish is both local and in one place, but also networked to all the places where there are places.

22. We know that the secular is truly present not when the new parish has lost its sacredness, but rather when the blend of secularities within a place is held sacred in its mutual indwelling.
23. Everywhere secularities happen, cuius regio, eius religio becomes true again but differently.
24. The whose of whose region (cuius) becomes the network itself rather than the governor.

Non-governed networks sound awfully nice. Let me know when the first one works. The first thing every online forum needs is a team of moderators. I’ve seen what happens when this doesn’t happen.
25./The network in the new parish becomes the new parish when it recognizes itself.
26. The first mark of this network is repentance, repentance to living above place, setting up dividing walls, living inattentively.

The need for dividing walls (permeable membranes) is a non-negotiable feature of the current structure of reality. Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, but people have skin and bones, and communities need structure and boundaries.
27. Repentance is paying attention.

‘The first service one owes to others in the community involves listening to them.’ – Bonhoeffer, Life Together
28. Repentance is laughing again.

‘Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.’ Philippians 4

‘Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongues with shouts of joy.’ –Psalm 126

 

29. Repentance laughs at itself, and its inattentions.

30. The buffered self lacks humor because its only posture can be ironic, but ironic in the sense of you standing there, being seriously ironic.
31. A mark of repentance is laughing at things others find funny.

This is true unless the laughter is irredeemably ironic. For example, I do not find Chelsea Handler funny. Ironically, I find her sad.

32. Communities arise and take shape when they can be humorously human together.

The current Pope has this down pat.
33. Reformation is formation, and formation is neurological. Reformation includes reforming the brain.

34. But the brain isn’t everything, even if consciousness has been an obsession of theologians and philosophers since Schliermacher through Husserl.

What involves the brain necessarily involves the body, since brain is body. We are not Gnostics. (Does that mean we’re a-gnostics?)

35. Reformation includes the the formation of all things, tending towards the grain of the universe and the future of God.

Now you’re starting to sound too much like Matthew Fox. J
36. This formation requires repetition.

Catechesis is central to all religions, including secular and moralistic therapeutic deistic religions. Those who refuse to accept this don’t deserve a break today and cannot live their best life now.
37. Repetition is central to identity in an age of distraction (Kierkegaard, Deleuze, Pickstock)

Distraction is itself a repetition which de-links itself from culture which is learned or formed by repetition. In this way, the repetitive experience of distraction immerses us in a culture in which our identity is not fixed in a community, but is permanently fluid, endlessly morphing as it attaches itself to various ephemeral experiences and opinions which it tries on for size and then discards as last season’s fashions.

38. The future of the faith is linked to our best approaches to non-identical, or complex, repetition.
39. Repetition of some kind is integral to repentance properly understood, repentance not as grief over wrong-doing, or shame at failure, but turning and moving in a different direction.

In this sense, the theology and practices of penance can be revitalized, as Luther desired them to be, shorn of the doctrines of ‘satisfaction.’ Repentance must also include confession or return to baptism, a regular repetition of the experience of knowing oneself both as sinner under the judgment of God and beloved prodigal welcomed to the Father’s house.
40. The new direction to which we are to turn is the one promised to us, and given to us, in Christ.

I would only say that the direction in which we are to turn is toward Christ and to follow after Him. (This may be saying the same thing in different words.)
41. The age of distraction attempts to cloud the articulation of promise, and hide the gift.

The age of distraction is a denial of gift itself. It denies the gift of vocation and negates the possibility of ‘a long obedience in the same direction (Nietzsche, quoted by Eugene Peterson)’
42. Christians are to be taught again and again to enter into solidarity with the poor.
43. Christians are to learn again and again to think of themselves based on what they have been given, not what they earn.
44. Christians are to understand their whole lives as non-identical repetition of Christ’s own life in them.

It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God; who loved me and gave his life for me. (Galatians 2)
45. Christians are to be taught this means they are completely open to the other, and the discovery of faith in the other as the rediscovery of their own.

46. Christians are to be taught this includes the religious other, perhaps especially the very other.

Christians are to be taught to respect the faith of the religious other precisely as an-other faith.

 

Christians are to be taught not to co-opt and domesticate an-other faith as the same as or similar to their own for the sake of easing their own consciences, silencing their own questions, and quieting their own witness.

 

Christians are to be taught not to judge others into heaven, just as they are taught not to judge others into hell.

47. Christians are to be taught that their very identity rests not in bounded identity, but open solidarity.

Christians are to be taught that their very identity rests in Christ. Their identity is bound to Christ, and as he was open to the other, so they are to be made open to suffering the other for the sake of Christ. Such an identity will not infringe upon the identities of others, but it will invite them to identify with Christ, even at the cost of discipleship. Christians are to be taught that such an invitation is not to be ruled out prima facie as an exercise of naked power.

 

Christians to be taught that solidarity with others does not extend to an unqualified ‘yes’ to their expressed wants, needs and desires. Christians are to be taught that solidarity with others might involve speaking truth to them. Christians are to be taught that solidarity with others gets messy. Christians are to be taught that God may have his own purposes (Lincoln, 2nd Inaugural).

 

48. Christians are to be taught they will discover this identity again and again in the Eucharist.
49. Christians are to be taught they are washed into this identity in baptism.
50. Christians are to be taught that this identity is sustained in Scripture, but never at the expense of the other or the community.

Christians are to be taught that the community which stands under Scripture must discern how it together will stand under Scripture. Members of a community must be bound to each other in truth and unity. Let Euodia and Syntyche be of the same mind in the Lord. (Philippians 4).

 

Those Christians who rewrite Scripture out of desire to love others as Christ has loved them ought to first listen to the experiences of those who experience themselves as other and yet consider themselves bound by Christ to the plain sense of Scripture. (See the blog http://spiritualfriendship.org/ to hear some of these voices.)
51. Christians are to be taught again and again to confess their faith, but hold it light.

I am afraid that this says everything and nothing.

52. Those fully committed to secularism are still haunted by the transcendent. Immanence is too full for itself.

This is true, as some of the most ardent converts are those who were without God and who were convinced not by rational argument, but by beauty.
53. Those convicted in faith are still haunted by secularism, for the transcendent is ever-receding in greater and greater immanence.

The immanence of God is a starting point for witness in the world, but witness to God is never content with pointing to God’s immanence.

54. Part of the continuing reformation is recognizing that not everyone is haunted by secularization, and so not everyone is haunted like we are.

We must try and understand them, as they must try to understand us.

55. All institutions who have entered into full communion agreements in the late modern era who have agreed about communion but have not yet joined up their institutions have not actually entered into full communion.

Even those in full communion who have joined up their institutions (in 1988, for instance) may have never entered into full communion. Full communion this side of paradise may, like ‘free will,’ be nothing but a word (see Luther, Heidelberg Disputation XIII). And yet, the unity of the Church must be sought, and it will only be received in the continuing experience of its lack.
56. The speck in the eye is the best magnifying glass. (Adorno)

Ouch.
57. To magnify our sin, perhaps God has hardened our hearts so as to remain in the institutions we deserve.

Amen.
58. Yet just deserts are not at the heart of repentance. True repentance leads to dessert.

A feast of fat things, indeed.

59. That there are food deserts gives indication we have not yet accomplished Christian unity.
60. The failure of each religion is entwined in the success of the others, and the hunger of the poor.

The success of religion should be seen in the ways in which the hungry have been fed, the naked have been clothed, etc. The hungry who have been fed rarely make the twenty-four hour news cycle. This is not to ignore the fact that there are those who go without.
61.No direct correlation between the disunity of the church and the hunger of the poor has been established, but unity and an end to hunger both should be tried.
62. There is one church.
63. The church is holy.
64. The church is catholic.
65. The church is apostolic.
66. No one knows what these terms mean in a divided church in a secular age.

Has anyone ever known what these terms meant?
67. If it means anything it means unity in diversity.

How much unity? How much diversity?
68. If holy, then holy precisely in lowliness.

Now you’re talking.
69. If catholic, then whole only in part.

Amen, brother.
70. If apostolic, then apostolic arising from the grass rather than handed down by the hands of the apostles.

And you were going so well, too.
71. If the 20th century was the century of the Luther Renaissance, the ecumenical movement, and Vatican II, then the 21st century will be the century of the Nietzschean Renaissance, the ecological movement, and Vatican III.

Be careful what you wish for. You may get it.
72. Which is to say, Reformation will include the atheist, the earth, and Rome.

73. It remains to be see whether this new conversation will include the Holy Spirit.

It will. It will also include the Zeitgeist. The task of the theologian is to distinguish between the two.
74. If it does, the task of this century will be to properly think through the work of the Spirit in penitential reform.
75. The further task of this century will be to reconsider architecture and faith, architecture once again wedded to the suffering of the world.
76. The worship wars will end, and those who worship may simply go home.

And yet, those who worship will seek community, if only in the home or in the virtual world, and those communities will desire liturgy of every kind, catholic or otherwise, in order to worship.
77. The economic forces of late modernity will send most clergy home as well, blending once again what has too long been put asunder… the laity and clergy.

The so-called ‘conservatives’ are probably way ahead of the curve here.
78. But all prognostications, all future theorizing, will be proven wrong, sometimes by being proven right.

Everything and nothing is true.
79. The end will not happen, because it already has.
80. The end will not happen, because it is on the way.
81. The end will not happen, because it is happening.

Please, Lord, bring us to the end! 🙂
82. To wit: Even if a unity of faith is not possible, a unity of love is. (Hans Urs von Balthasar)

And yet there must be an approximate unity of faith; at least enough to posit the desirability of love and a limited mutual understanding of what living in love might entail. Those who doubt this are asked whether they would like to spend some time talking religion with Abu Bakr al Baghdadi.
83. Again: We must learn to regard people less in light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

Lutheran pastors are to be taught that those who quote Bonhoeffer, including this respondent, must beware lest they become like the historical Jesus-questers who were skewered so neatly by Schweitzer.
84. Again: Reformation names the disunity in which we currently stand. We who remain in the Protestant tradition want to say that Reformation was a success. (Stanley Hauerwas)

Is the Church a success? And yet God wills it.  
85. Again: To sing about freedom and to pray for its coming is not enough. Freedom must be actualized in history by oppressed peoples who accept the intellectual challenge to analyze the world for the purpose of changing it. (James Cone)

Christians of both leftist and rightist persuasions are to be taught that actualizing freedom in history is dangerous business which usually if not always leads to unintended consequences. Christians are to be taught humility in the presence of the God of history. Christians who desire the actualization of freedom in history ought to be wary lest they be ‘the first up against the wall when the revolution comes.’ (Douglas Adams)
86. Again: “And so I ask God to rid me of God,” Meister Eckhart says. The God who is known and familiar is too small for him.” (Dorothee Soelle)

Christians are to be taught that the apophatic and the cataphatic cannot be exclusionary, but they belong together. Christians are to be taught that the fullness of God is revealed in Jesus Christ, and that this Christ, who will be fully known in the eschaton, can be known, in time, by Scriptures and Sacraments in the Church. A truly apophatic theology is only able to preach no-God, and the apophatic theologians had to start cataphatically.

87. Again: “Once one understands that the evolving community of life on Earth is God’s beloved creation and its ruination an unspeakable sin, then deep affection shown in action on behalf of ecojustice becomes an indivisible part of one’s life.” (Elizabeth Johnson)

One does not need to be a feminist theologian to believe this.

88: Again: This is an anthropological discovery of unimaginable proportions. At exactly the same moment as God is revealed as quite beyond any human understanding marked by death, entirely gratuitous love, so also it is revealed that the human understanding marked by death is something accidental to being human, not something essential. Here we have the linchpin of any understanding of original sin: that what we are as beings-toward-death is itself something capable of forgiveness. Furthermore we can see that the only way we are able to appreciate our true condition as humans-marked-by-death is precisely as it is revealed to us that that condition is unnecessary. It is in this way that the doctrine of original sin is the culmination of the revealed understanding of being human: the shape of divine forgiveness revealed in the resurrection of Jesus shows itself to stretch into our congenial involvement with death. The doctrine of original sin is the doctrine of the un-necessity of death.” (James Alison)

And yet this un-necessity of death is not accessible to us now except through the Christ proclaimed in the Scriptures.

89. In the midst of all this thinking and reforming, we are called to remember that it is music that will carry us forward. Reformation is sung.

Luther said it first.
90. Too many reformations have been iconoclastic, to the detriment of art. Reformations grounded in repentance will honor the icons of the saints.

In refusing to destroy visual art, let us also be merciful to faithful icons/saints, who while living the faith imperfectly, sought to live it within the culturally bound strictures of the parishes of America in the mid-to-late twentieth century; for we are their spiritual heirs. Let us also not forget to minister to them with faithfulness, as they await the fulfillment of the promises made to them by Christ, and not to wantonly cast them aside as relics who have had their day.
91. Additionally, many reformations have been too static, too focused on stability, whereas the mark of true Reformation is agility. Reformation dances.

Does Reformation speak in tongues? I think St Paul had a few things to say about order and stability, for the very sake of agility and freedom.
92. Away, then, with all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, “Peace, peace,” and there is no peace!
93. Blessed be all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, “Cross, cross,” and there is no cross!
94. The Reformation is dead.
95. Long live the Reformation.

Christians are to be taught that ‘Reformation’ is not an eternal principle, but rather a non-repeatable historical event or set of historical events which was given the moniker ‘Reformation.’ This is especially important for Christian theologians.

 

October 22, 2014 at 11:39 am 2 comments

Jesus and the rich young man (Mark 10:17-31)

The Rev. Maurice C. Frontz, III, STS
Pentecost 20 (Proper 23B)
St Stephen Lutheran Church, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
14 October 2012

17 As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19 You know the commandments: “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’ ” 20 He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22 When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. 23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” 28 Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

This Gospel story is filled with temptations for the preacher.
On the one hand, it has been used as a stewardship sermon text.
Simply unburden yourself of some excess wealth by giving it to the church,
and you will be saved.
On another, preachers are tempted to immediately engage the question,
‘Are we being asked to give away all of our money?’
and to explain how the answer is, miraculously, ‘No’
when by all accounts it ought to be ‘Yes.’
Very few preachers will simply answer ‘Yes.’
Very few employed preachers, that is.

The pressure that this Word of God exerts on us,
especially upon us of the twenty-first century Western world,
can be simply fantastic, if we do not keep it at arm’s length,
If we actually allow it into our souls and spirits,
who knows what it might do.
No wonder the preacher is tempted
to relieve the pressure,
to refuse to allow this story about Jesus
to either engage him or his hearers,
but to concoct an immediate application,
something that we can do to get around Jesus’ words,
to save ourselves from the seemingly implications.

Jesus is on the way to Jerusalem,
presumably to the people, he is headed there to try and become king.
The disciples know, but do not accept or understand,
that he is headed there to his death.
But as he is setting out on his day’s journey,
there comes a man, presumably in a great rush,
who needs to ask the great Teacher a very important question before he leaves.
‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’

It is an honest question.
If it were a dishonest question,
Jesus would not speak with him in love,
as our text says,
but give him a ‘Get behind me, Satan,’
and be on his way.
But he does not.

Jesus questions him about the commandments of God.
Again, we need not trouble ourselves
with accusing the man of secret sin,
but must take at face value his confession,
‘Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.’
Leave aside for the moment our understanding,
which is true, that we cannot save ourselves by keeping the Law.
This man earnestly strives to know and keep God’s commandments.

What does Jesus do next?
He says, ‘You lack one thing.’
After hearing this story so many times,
we ought to know what that one thing is, don’t we?
This man is too rich.
He has been trampling on the poor all his life.
He has lied to himself, he has told himself that he has kept the law, \
that he has been good,
but in reality he is evil – sitting fat and happy amidst so much wealth
that he can’t see beyond the money
to those are in desperate need.
He’s just like those people that the Prophet Amos rails on about;
those who turn justice to wormwood and bring righteousness to the ground.
The one thing he has to do is give the money away and he will truly be good, and be blessed.
He has to give up his sin in order to be saved.
Am I right?

That’s very interesting.
Where does it say that in the text?
I think that the editors of the lectionary were wrong
to pair the reading from the prophet Amos with this Gospel text.
Perhaps it would go better with the story of the rich man and Lazarus from Luke’s Gospel.
Jesus does not chastise this man for being too rich.
He does not bring out an accusation that he has dishonored the poor,
he does not point out how evil he has been,
how he has been living a lie all of his life
What Jesus says for the man to do is this: ‘Come, follow me.’

‘But wait, Pastor, you forgot about the part where he says about selling all that he has,
and giving it to the poor, and he will have treasure in heaven.’
Oh, yes, that is there.
If Jesus had just said,
‘Come, follow me,’
it wouldn’t make sense, would it?
So he has to make clear what has to occur before the man can follow him,
before he can be with Jesus,
the one thing he lacks.
He has to get rid of what is keeping him away from the one thing needful.
To whom better should he give the proceeds of this moving sale
than the poor, who truly do need them?
It’s a win-win.

It’s quite easy for us to assume that the one thing that the man lacked
was charity, was humility, was a sense of balance in his life.
Instead, we come face-to-face with the idea that what he lacked was Jesus.
Jesus wanted this man with him,
not to be one of the twelve apostles
but to join the great throng of disciples.
Because Jesus loved him,
Jesus was calling him to follow him,
and the thing that was in his way of this particular man was this man’s possessions.

‘But, Pastor, what about his wife and children?
Should he have just left them behind?’
we protest in vain.
Funny. I don’t see in the text
that says anything about him having a wife and children.
Perhaps if he had brought his wife and children,
Jesus would have said something different to him.
I’m not in a position to know.

Jesus does not call this man evil,
but neither does he pronounce him ‘good.’
‘No one is good but God alone,’ he says.
We come to this story saying, ‘How can we be good,’
and expect an answer of what we need to do in order to be good.
Instead, we hear that what we need is not to be good or to do good,
but to be with God, revealed in his Son Jesus.

If I were to end the sermon here,
some of you might go home thinking,
‘Pastor said that it doesn’t matter what we do with our money.’
God forbid!
It matters because our money does not belong to us, but to God,
who entrusted it to us for our sustenance and for the doing of his will.
It matters because Jesus said to his disciples,
‘How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!’
Again, not because those who have money
are more evil than others,
but because money so quickly becomes our god,
our good without which we cannot do,
it becomes our snare, our stumbling block,
our touchstone for whatever we do.
We’re constantly thinking about it and worrying about it
– do we have enough? Will we have enough?
Can I spare this or that?
Money prevented the man of the story, who sought to love God, from following Jesus.
It kept him from the one thing he lacked.
What could it do to us?
How hard it is for us who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!
Harder than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.
We are called to be with Jesus,
and so however much or little we have,
Jesus calls us to orient our lives so that our wealth
becomes the tool for serving God
instead of the thing that keeps us away from God.
This is made harder by the fact
that the way we follow Jesus is usually a stationary following –
we don’t follow a man on the move.
We gather in the presence of the community,
in the presence of the Word proclaimed and the Sacraments administered,
and here we encounter Jesus.
Maybe that’s a good place to start.
What is keeping us from weekly Sunday worship with the community?
What is keeping us from delving into the Word,
from time in prayer, from fellowship with our fellow sinners called to be saints?
What keeps us from being with Jesus in the place where he calls us to be?
Are we willing to give that up in order to be with Jesus?

Then, as the man in the story would have undoubtedly found,
we will find that those who would follow Jesus
are soon sent in Jesus’ name to others who need him.
Are we willing – and able – to be sent in Jesus’ name?
To our co-workers? To our neighbors? To our family members?
To those in need of the Gospel?
For one day, for three days, for a year?
What gets in the way of being sent in Jesus’ name?
Are there others that we could send in our stead,
those who we could support to preach the Gospel that saves us?
Will it cost too much? What would we have to risk, or give up?
I have a feeling that when we as individuals and when we as a congregation
start asking this question –
Are we willing and able to be sent to others in Jesus’ name
and send others in Jesus’ name? –
our life together as a congregation will change.
It might be a little less comfortable, but it certainly will be even more exciting.

In a way what Jesus asks us to do – be with him and depend upon him –
is just as difficult as what he asked the man in the story to do.
It would be much more clear-cut should he ask us to sell all that we have and give to the poor.
And yet we have his help.
We have his word that nothing shall be impossible with him,
even our own salvation.
We have his word that we will never lack for what is important,
that we will have in this life the things we need,
and even joys we never thought we’d have,
with the persecutions that come with being a follower of Jesus.
Finally, in the age to come we will have eternal life in him.
He is all that we need and in the end he is all that we will have.

October 14, 2012 at 7:53 am Leave a comment

Joseph Forgives his Brothers

The Rev. Maurice C. Frontz, III, STS
Narrative Lectionary Week 3 – Joseph Forgives His Brothers
St Stephen Lutheran Church, Pittsburgh PA
22 September 2012
 
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
 
The story of the Bible is a story of a God who calls and promises.
In Genesis 12, God called Abraham to go to the land which he would show him,
and promised him the land, a family that would outnumber the very stars of heaven,
and through him all the nations of the world would be blessed.
Abraham trusted that God would keep his promises.
And Abraham and Sarah did have a son, and that son Isaac had two twin sons, Jacob and Esau,
and those sons didn’t get along too well.
Jacob was the one who inherited his father Isaac’s blessing,
even though he had to do some pretty shady stuff
in order to get it.
(It was all his mom Rebekah’s idea.)
 
Ever notice that the heroes in the Bible really aren’t all that heroic?
In Sunday School we were taught to be like Jacob –
except for the lying to his dad part.
We were taught to be like King David –
except for the murder and adultery part.
We were taught to be wise like King Solomon –
except for the worshiping other gods part.
We were taught to be like the apostle Peter –
except for the denying our Lord when it came to crunch time part.
We were taught to be like St Paul –
except for the persecuting Christians part.
 
In fact, there is only one hero of the Bible.
That hero is God –
God who keeps calling his lost people
and promising them rescue from their enemies,
and in the end comes among them in Jesus Christ
to accomplish his every Word.
 
But if there are no heroes in the Bible,
Joseph comes close.
Joseph, the favorite son of Jacob,
the one whose multi-colored coat got the other boys so jealous,
and the one whose dreams of greatness just drove them over the edge.
 
Now all the very modern commentaries on this passage rightly point out
that Jacob’s family was a dysfunctional family.
Jacob loved Joseph’s mother Rachel much more than his other wife Leah
or either of their handmaids whom he also took as sexual partners.
(Ever notice how not only are there no heroes in the Bible,
there’s more sex than you’d expect there to be?)
Anyhow, the first son born to Rachel was loved more than the other mother’s sons,
and lavished with all sorts of attention,
and so of course it was perfectly natural that the other boys
would became so enraged with jealousy
that they would plan to get rid of him completely.
 
Here’s where the commentaries begin to break down.
So what?
It doesn’t matter how much favoritism Jacob showed to Joseph.
It doesn’t justify first thinking of murder and then selling Joseph into slavery,
which amounts to about the same thing,
since who knows what’s going to happen to Joseph once he’s gone.
In fact, it doesn’t even matter that Reuben plots to save him
because he fears his father’s wrath more than he hates Joseph.
 
What matters is that the God-called response to injustice is not hatred.
It is not ‘natural’ for jealousy to result in blind rage and murder.
Jealousy itself is not ‘natural.’
It is was not ‘natural’ for Adam and Eve to be jealous of God.
That is part of the unnatural nature of our sin.
The fact that we live against our nature, that we live in sin,
is the only reason we say, ‘Oh, yeah, I can see how a couple of dreams
justify throwing your younger brother into a pit.’
 
I don’t care how dysfunctional Jacob was as a parent.
I’m not blaming Jacob for the actions of the sons,
which were treacherous and murderous and full of hatred.
When you are wronged, as you most certainly will be in this life,
you have no God-given right to hate the person who wronged you.
That is a deeper slavery than any that the brothers had planned for Joseph.
 
We human beings are called by God to a life of bearing each other’s burdens.
You cannot bear the burden of someone else while you hate them.
The call to forgiveness is the call to love – to love the one whom ordinarily you would hate –
because God’s call and promise is community.
God intends for human community to be restored through Jesus Christ,
and those who live in Jesus Christ are called to be restorers of community
by bearing the burdens of those who wrong them.
 
Ten sons of Jacob break the community of Abraham’s family in their hatred.
The community of the family whom God had chosen to bring light to the world
is now divided, as so many families and communities are
because of jealousy, because of hatred, because of the desire to be first.
The reading for tomorrow morning will talk of our unnatural desire to be first in everything –
most important, most respected, most well-known,
and Jesus will speak of greatness as being last and servant of all.
It doesn’t happen here.
 
Except in one person.
The person who the story leaves thrown into the pit, begging for mercy,
and then is sold into slavery.
Joseph rises, and falls, and rises again and falls again,
and ends up number two-man in the kingdom of Egypt,
guiding them through a famine with Solomon-like wisdom.
When his brothers come, begging for bread,
Joseph gives it to them, even before he knows that his father lives.
But when his father dies,
the consciences of the ten brothers afflict them.
Or is it their conscience?
Is it not fear that Joseph only spared them
because he loved his father more than he loved them?
Now that Jacob is no more,
what is to stop him from showing no mercy,
as they showed no mercy to him?
 
The call and promise of God is to community –
community with God and with others in God.
And so when Joseph’s brothers come and ask, beyond hope, for his mercy,
Joseph himself restores the community that has been broken.
The debtors, the brothers, cannot restore it,
because no action could ever undo what they had done to Joseph.
It is Joseph himself, the one who was wronged, that must restore the community,
and restore it he can, and restore it he does,
because he trusts that the goodness of God is greater than any evil done to him
and that the God who made promises to Abraham
can bring even good out of evil.
 
Do the brothers have a part to play?
Absolutely!
In recognizing and confessing the wrong they have done
and receiving the forgiveness offered.
That is our role as well,
for we too have been jealous that we must have a Lord,
one greater than us who will rule over us.
And we have cast him into the pit, sentenced him to death,
but beyond our greatest fear – and our greatest hope –
he is risen and lives with his Father in heaven.
What can we do but recognize what we do,
when we hate those of whom we are jealous,
when we return evil for evil
and do not live in the community God offers?
What else can we do but turn to God-in-Christ,
our brother, our reconciler,
and ask for mercy, for forgiveness?
What else can we do but live in the forgiveness which is offered,
the forgiveness which comes from God’s own hand?
 
There is one hero in the Bible,
and that is God,
the God who enfleshes himself in Jesus Christ.
But in Joseph, the Old Testament
gives us perhaps the clearest type, or pattern,
of the one who was to come
to fulfill all the promises made to Abraham.
In Joseph, who was dead and was raised to life,
and who himself wiped away the wrongs done by his brothers,
we see an image of the one who wipes away our wrongs.
 
Let us then go forward in imitation of the One, who like Joseph of old,
pleaded for mercy for his despisers
and despised no one.
Let us live in Christ’s love.
It is a love which ‘keeps no record of wrongs,’
as the words of 1st Corinthians, read to so many couples
beginning their marriages, reminds us.
Let us be the ones to offer forgiveness to those who have wronged us.
When we ourselves are in the wrong, let us ask for forgiveness,
from God and from others.
Let us not shrink from examining our own hearts.
And when there are people who refuse to live in relationship,
who will not accept forgiveness because they will not admit their part,
when we are caught in desperate circumstances
and cannot see the possibility of restoration,
let us pray to the God who can bring good from evil
and for whom all things are possible.
 
But most of all let us trust in him who will accomplish all things through us
by the power of his Holy Spirit –
who wipes away our wrongdoing
and welcomes us back into full community with him:
Jesus Christ, our Lord,
who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.
 
Amen
 
The peace of God, that passes all understanding,
keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.

September 24, 2012 at 10:14 am Leave a comment

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