Posts Tagged 'love'

For Sept. 1, 2013: Proper 17, Year C

The Reading            Jeremiah 2:4-13

The prophet Jeremiah was active in the sixth century AD, in the decades before and during the occupation of Jerusalem. From him we get the English eponym “jeremiad”, referring to a scorchingly critical denunciation. Today’s reading is a classic example: Jeremiah relates the words of the Lord as prosecuting attorney, building a case point by point against the people of Israel for ingratitude, sin, and chasing after other gods.

The Response            Psalm 81:1, 10-16

“Oh, that my people would listen to me! that Israel would walk in my ways!”

The Epistle            Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16

The letter to the Hebrews was written to guide people who sought to live as followers of Christ in a world that did not make that easy. Our series of readings from Hebrews concludes today with excerpts from the last chapter. The advice it gave in those days remains valid in ours.

The Gospel            Luke 14:1, 7-14

“‘When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed.’”

 

Further thoughts

The phrase “Know your place” has been brought into play throughout human history to remind the poor and dispossessed that it is their duty to bow to and support the rich and powerful; sometimes it is used to advise the all concerned that wealth and power and their absence correlate directly with God’s esteem. Today’s readings, however, take a much more radical perspective.

Through Jeremiah the prophet and through the psalmist, the God of Jacob excoriates Jacob’s powerful descendants, the priests and kings, for forgetting what their place had been: helpless slaves in Egypt that God nevertheless saw fit to redeem, and then leaders whose lives and actions and regard for strangers and orphans should set the best possible example for God’s people to follow. The rulers, priests, and prophets have abandoned their proper places: God will judge, and consequences will follow.

The reading from Hebrews reminds early followers of Christ of their place: in the world in love, tending the needs and wounds of strangers and those in trouble and doing their best with God’s help not to inflict wounds on those in their families. In a world in which strangers might be enemies and hierarchy extends to the family, this counsel seems to ignore both prudence and social norms—but it is the place of love.

In Jesus’ parable, the wedding guests seek the places they think they deserve at the banquet, and they risk getting it wrong. I think the parable and the following comment call us truly to see those around us, recalling that another’s worth in God’s eyes is not a reflection of net worth. We might also reflect that those who cannot repay us in the world’s terms nevertheless honor us by their presence and by the God-given grace to receive with thanks and without resentment or shame.

For July 28, 2013: Proper 12, Year C

The Reading            Hosea 1:2-10

The prophet Amos over the last two weeks condemned Israel in terrifying terms for defrauding the poor. The book of Hosea is even more shocking and graphic: at God’s command, Hosea tells us, he marries a woman who will cheat on him flagrantly, to symbolize Israel’s faithlessness—and, eventually God’s capacity for forgiveness.

The Response            Psalm 85

“Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Truth shall spring up from the earth, and righteousness shall look down from heaven.”

The Epistle            Colossians 2:6-19

The church at Galatia, with its mix of Gentiles and converted Jews, seems to have experienced a good deal of friction about how to eat and drink and celebrate rightly as a Christian. Paul reminds the Galatians and us that what matters is that we are made right with God through the sacrifice of Jesus: the rest is human thinking.

The Gospel            Luke 11:1-13

“‘How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’”

 

 

Further thoughts

The story of Hosea and his bride is difficult to read. The command by God Almighty to find a whore, or at least a woman who will certainly both sleep around on Hosea and make sure he knows all about it, and marry her surely contravenes both Talmudic law and the considerable weight of what custom has to say about the purity of the woman one marries. The language is incredibly alienating: the wife is depicted as not merely unfaithful but repugnant, and the children are given abusive names that signify brutality (Jezreel was the site of Naboth’s house that King Ahaz coveted and it was where Ahaz and Jezebel were killed), callousness, and unwantedness. It has been suggested that verse 10, which reverses the second and third children’s names, was added by a later hand; this verse takes some of the sting out of what precedes, but we’re still left with a blameless man holding his nose while condescending to marry someone that no sane man should want.

The epistle and gospel make a much bigger shift. The reading from Colossians depicts the sacrifice of Jesus as the product not of God’s contempt but of God’s love; the benefits of whatever Jesus underwent in this world are extended to us if we simply believe in his Name—including a key ritual, circumcision, for which the female body has no good analogue—and everything else is just window dressing prescribed by humans. In the reading from Luke, Jesus’ disciples probably expect an arcane and stately ritual when they ask to be taught to pray; they want something that marks them off from others as insiders. Instead, Jesus gives a format that a two-year-old could master in which God Almighty is “Daddy” and the “we” includes the whole of God’s beloved world.

For June 30, 2013: Proper 8, Year C

The Reading            2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14

We resume our review of the history of God’s people with the second book of Kings. Today’s reading tells how Elisha inherits the mantle—literally—of his adoptive father, the great prophet Elijah. Elisha requests a double share of Elijah’s spirit not from greed but because that is the proper share of the true heir. Elisha certainly needs it to serve as God’s voice to the kings of Israel and Judah, who as often as not turn their backs on God.

The Response            Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20 Page 693, BCP

“I will cry aloud to God; I will cry aloud, and he will hear me.”

The Epistle            Galatians 5:1,13-25

Some members of the church at Galatia argued that being circumcised and keeping the Jewish feasts meant that one could do whatever one wanted otherwise. In today’s Epistle reading, Paul argues forcefully to the contrary. It’s worth pointing out that, of the fifteen works of the flesh he cites, more than half are clear offenses against other people: that is, failures to love our neighbors as ourselves.

The Gospel            Luke 9:51-62

“They said, ‘Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’ But he turned and rebuked them.”

 

Further thoughts

A common theme in all three of today’s reading is the connection between power and love.

The reading from 2 Kings omits the verses in which, at the stopping points in the journey of Elijah and Elisha, all the other prophets of Yahweh keep asking Elisha whether he knows that his master will be taken from him. One suspects that they dare not approach the powerful prophet Elijah himself, so instead they test his apprentice’s power. The relationship between Elijah and Elisha is not merely a master-apprentice relationship, however: Elijah has been Elisha’s father in all but the biological sense. It is the love between them that gives Elisha the power to stay with Elijah in spite of being told he may leave, to the very end; one senses also that Elisha’s stubborn love is a greater comfort to Elijah on his final journey than the great man would like to let on; and it may well be as much a sense of loss more than anything else that impels Elisha to make the first test of the power that he has inherited.

The passage from Galatians is less symbolic. Paul explains—perhaps with some exasperation—that the salvation of God confers power, but not the power to do whatever one darned well pleases irrespective of the effects on others: it is instead the power in others’ lives that one gains without seeking it through reliably acting in love, and it is the power of each exercise of love to heal and hallow the worn and aching hearts in this worn and aching world.

Jesus underlines the point by living it. His followers must not throw their weight around, nor have they leave to expect wealth, renown, acceptance, or even a place to stay that isn’t someone else’s to give. Ours are not to be the lives in which the loose ends are neatly tied up and under our control. Instead, Jesus tells us, we should prepare to give our love and even ourselves for the sake of restoring God’s justice and mercy for all souls.

For April 28, 2013: 5 Easter, Year C

The Reading            Acts 11:1-18

This week’s reading from the book of Acts skips past Peter’s precedent-shattering visit to the Roman centurion and his family in Joppa to show what happens on his return to Jerusalem: he is grilled by the believers there, who have been taught from birth that they must keep away from Gentiles. How do we know who belongs to God?

The Response            Psalm 148

“Kings of the earth and all peoples… old and young together… let them praise the Name of the Lord.”

The Epistle            Revelation 21:1-6

Revelation this week closes with a vision of a redeemed world in which all the pain and grief that came into the world with Adam and Eve are no more. Strikingly, the holy city Jerusalem is not found far off in heaven: it comes as all our tears are wiped away by God’s own hand, and it comes to Earth.

The Gospel            John 13:31-35

“‘By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’”

 

Further thoughts

In this weary world it is impossible to love without grieving, because it is impossible to love without loss. Because not even mothers (whatever their small children may believe) can be in more than one place at one time, we suffer separations large and small; lacking God’s-eye insight into each other, we endure misunderstanding and being misunderstood. We grieve when others don’t live up to our expectations for them or when we don’t or can’t live up to theirs; we give each other grief, in more senses than one; and of course we grieve both for those who die before we were ready for them to—which takes in practically everyone—and, as we begin to see it coming, for our own death.

On some level we all know this. It is part of what makes Jesus’ charge to love another so darned hard: Sooner or later—sooner and later—it has to hurt, and hurt deeply. The reading from Revelation paints for us a luminous picture of a world in which that pain is no more… but Lord knows we’re not there yet.

One suspects that the believers in Jerusalem all went through some of this grief on Peter’s return to Jerusalem. One imagines brash, openhearted Peter rushing back to share the exciting news about the astonishing new definition of “God’s people”, only to hit the brick wall of the Judeans’ opposition; one visualizes the Judeans, horrified by accounts of Peter’s apparent dereliction and determined to make things as right as they possibly could. This situation could easily have led straight to impasse—to the sort of schism that has recurred, regrettably, throughout the history of religions and philosophies. Instead, however, both sides contained their disappointment and grief long enough for Peter to explain well and for the Judeans to listen well. They loved each other not only that much, but that well.

And perhaps that is exactly where the new Jerusalem is: not there in heaven, but here, and here, and here, in the hearts that we care for and cherish and in the hearts we miss with tenderness, in the praises we raise together and the prayers that we pray with and for each other, and in the drying of each other’s tears.

For Oct. 14, 2012: Proper 23, Year B

The Reading            Job 23:1-9, 16-17

The book of Job, composed between the sixth and fourth centuries BC, poses one of the great questions of life: if God rewards virtue, why do bad things happen to good people? In today’s reading, as Job grieves in ashes for his children and his lost wealth, he demands a hearing with God—and he is terrified that God is no longer anywhere for him.

The Response            Psalm 90:12-17

The Epistle            Hebrews 4:12-16

Today’s reading from the book of Hebrews continues to explain to a Jewish audience why and how Jesus is the Messiah. The word of God here refers not to scripture but to God’s ongoing revelation and discernment of our hearts; unlike Job, however, our judge is Jesus, who knows exactly what it is like to be human.

The Gospel            Mark 10:17-31

 

Further thoughts

The lectionary today gives us some difficult and chewy food for thought. It was accepted wisdom in Judaism that God always rewards the virtuous with material wealth and therefore that loss or absence of the good things of life was a sign of guilt. This is the assumption that Job’s friends in the fourth century BC made earlier in the book when they called upon him to confess the sin that must have impelled God to take away all of his children, all of his wealth, and even his health. It is also a source of the shock and grief of the man whom Jesus instructed to sell his possessions—for they were his badges of rightness with God—and of the subsequent astonishment of the disciples. To put it in 21st century terms that are all too common, if even God’s evident favorites can’t enter the kingdom, what hope is there for the other 98%?

Job resists his friends’ insistence that he find a sin to repent: to have earned the depth of grief, destitution, and pain he is in, he would have to have behaved viciously, but his conscience is clear. In any case, even if Job deserved punishment, how is it just to his ten children to kill them? It follows logically that, whatever the source of these disasters, it is not God’s justice. Job retains enough confidence in his friends to challenge them to their faces, rather than just writing them off as idiots; today’s reading follows that outburst—and, significantly, enough faith to challenge God, too, even angrily. He is aware that God is not a merchant bartering righteousness for goodies. He who dies with the most toys doesn’t win: he simply dies like everyone else.

Here may be the root of the rich man’s quandary, and often ours. We understand buying and selling and scarcity: we give up time to gain income or income to gain time; we trade money for goods and services, and if we hand over more money we expect better stuff or a greater return; all in all, it seems sensible, and we tend to expect that God’s favor also is to be bought, whether with money or power or charm or good behavior.

But the kingdom of God operates differently. We come into the world with nothing except our skin and what lies within it—and even that is on loan. What gets us into God’s good graces is simply God’s good graces, through the sacrifice of Jesus, and what keeps us believing that that grace is there for us is giving love to and receiving love from each other.

For Aug. 5, 2012: Proper 13, Year B

The Reading            2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a

In last week’s reading, King David got another man’s wife pregnant, because he could, and then attempted to cover his tracks by arranging for that man to die in battle. There is no such thing as private sin, however. In today’s reading the prophet Nathan, acting for God, tricks David into pronouncing judgment on himself. The penitential Psalm 51 that follows is David’s heartfelt response.

 

Response            Psalm 51:1-13

 

The Epistle            Ephesians 4:1-16

Psalm 51 is David’s reaction to Nathan’s affirmation of his guilt—and our own, as we survey the devastation our behavior causes. The fourth chapter of Ephesians teaches us how to live so as not to do such damage: by bearing with one another in love, by speaking truth in love, and by building up the Body of Christ in love.

 

The Gospel            John 6:24-35

 

Further thoughts

The books of Samuel paint a highly mixed portrait of David. On the one hand, it is David who connives and cheats, who keeps wanting more and who is not above manipulating his friends and fighting for their enemies to get it, whose appetite for power and its perquisites grows the more he gets, and who has the valiant Uriah disposed of, perhaps at least as much because Uriah’s self-control contrasts so tellingly with David’s self-indulgence (and one always wonders how much real choice Bathsheba ever had in all of this). On the other hand, it is David who follows God and God’s gifts to greatness, who dances unselfconsciously before the Ark of the Covenant, who repeatedly protects Saul even when Saul keeps trying to kill him, whose yearning for God pervades the psalms that he really does seem to have composed, and who—when Nathan finally gets his attention—genuinely and contritely accepts that he has offended not just the humans around him but the God whose man he is.

How can one reconcile those two Davids?

One reconciles them, because one must, the same way each of us must reconcile the warring selves within all of us. Earlier chapters of the letter to the Ephesians make it clear that I also am God’s creature, born with the yearning to make good with my gifts—and so is everyone else; bitter experience tells me that I am just as capable as David of abusing my gifts stupidly or even wickedly, sometimes even out of good intentions—and so is everyone else.

Today’s epistle reminds me that all God’s children are born this way, with gifts that surely need to be channeled but that it is a sin against the Spirit to deny. The foundational gift, as today’s epistle notes, is love, by which I understand the ability to see others not through the lens of my own wants and hurts but through the eyes of the God who died for the sake of even the worst of us.

For July 15, 2012: Proper 10, Year B

The Reading            Amos 7:7-15

Around 750 BC, with Assyria and Egypt occupied elsewhere, Israel enjoys peace and prosperity—for the wealthy and powerful, and at the expense of the poor. God calls Amos out of Judah, the southern kingdom, to pronounce judgment. The plumb line that Amos sees in God’s hand is a string with a heavy weight at one end that shows whether or not a wall is perfectly upright. The wall that is not upright cannot be allowed to stand.

The Response            Psalm 24

The Epistle            Ephesians 1:3-14

Today we begin reading from the letter to the Ephesians. The church at Ephesus in modern Turkey, like the church at Corinth in Greece, was a mixed Jewish and Gentile community. In the opening verses of the letter to this church, a Jewish apostle—possibly Paul—writes poetically of God’s intention before the world ever existed to adopt in Jesus Christ not just the people of the covenant of Abraham but all of creation, including each one of us.

The Gospel            Mark 6:14-29

Further thoughts

Late last week the commission investigating the Penn State football program released the results of its investigation of the climate in which sexual abuse of young boys went unreported and unstopped for a period of fourteen years. The report is unsparing in assigning blame at the highest levels. Like today’s Old Testament reading and gospel lesson, it gives a terrifying picture of the urgency of doing the right thing sooner rather than later: the longer one holds off, the more horrifyingly pervasive the damage will be and the less likely it is to be remediable. These readings also point to the unanticipated costs of doing and saying the right thing: Amos is shamed and exiled and John the Baptizer loses his life.  We ourselves are likely to see ourselves in the roles of Amos or John here; as human beings, however, we are surely at just as great risk of being so caught up in our own prerogatives or even our own human-crafted “righteousness” as are Amaziah, Jeroboam, or Herod.

In between, though, and counterbalancing the horror of being human, is the vivid and poetic rhetoric of the letter to the Ephesians. In the original Greek, the passage is one very long sentence that blesses God for blessing, choosing, designing for love, adopting, redeeming, giving grace to, forgiving, gathering up, giving an inheritance to, and sealing with the Holy Spirit not just the physical descendants of Abraham but all peoples. In short, God is crazy in love with us and has no hesitation about showing it. To put it another way, it’s not just that our pictures are in God’s brag book: we ourselves are God’s brag book.

That is a very tall order to live up to. I for one can’t do it on my own. The key here is love: by me, of you, through God. If I can walk in love as Jesus shows me, and if I let your love help me back to my feet when I stumble, and if each of us loves everyone else in exactly that way, then our love through God helps you and me and him and her and them uncover the real “you” and the real “me” and the real “him” and “her” and “them” that make each of us, in God’s eyes, just exactly what God always wanted.


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