Exaltation of Weapons

Some distortions are so brazen it’s difficult to understand their appeal. This Sunday’s feast day of the Exaltation of the Cross is one such distortion. Would Christians consider celebrating a feast day named The Extolling of the Electric Chair or The Acclaim of the AK 47? Would Christians wear one of those instruments of death around their neck as a piece of jewelry if it were the weapon used to kill Jesus? While the normalizing and sanctifying of the additional weapons seems bizarre each is no less bizarre than the Exaltation of the Cross.

The exaltation of any deadly weapon, certainly the cross, is in direct proportion to the diminishment and distortion of Jesus’ life witness. It’s also a specific repudiation of Jesus’ teachings about the cross. He repeatedly identified the cross as an instrument of torture in the arsenal of those intent upon killing him. He also told followers to take up their cross thus encouraging disciples not to fix weapons upon others but rather bear and transform, as he did, the people and weapons fixed upon us. The Roman Emperor Constantine is responsible for starting the cult of the cross within Christianity. As he convinced Christians it was a sign of salvation so subsequent warriors have convinced Christians the weapons of their era would save them. Thus diverted and diverting Christians have exalted the sword, the crossbow, the rifle, the A bomb, and, of late, the drone.

It is because U.S. Christians have been so diverted from Jesus’ weaponless witness that a self-identified Christian named Pat Robertson, with millions of followers, could exalt in the weapons of this era and encourage their use. This past week he heartily encouraged open carry for Christian congregants not only in society but in their churches saying: “Blessed are the fully Armed for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Prayer: Dear Jesus, I hold your loving witness in highest regard.

Question: What are the consequences of a Christianity diverted toward the cross and away from Jesus’ life witness?

September 14, 2014  Gospel  John 3:13-17   Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross  

Responsibilites of a Prophet

What are the responsibilities of a prophet? Old Testament prophets fulfilled their responsibilities by lording sinner’s guilt over them with threats of doom until the offender repented. Jesus’ prophetic witness wasn’t intent on harm but instead on transformation shown in his reaching out to hierarchs time and time again. Disciples’ prophetic witness is also to reach out time and time again; first to offending persons, then to others for help with them, and to the church if need be to help resolve the conflicts they produce. Prayerfully asking for help in anything in Jesus’ name assures disciples of Jesus’ Presence.  

What if the offense done by a church member is not to another individual but, instead, to the church itself? What are the responsibilities of a prophet in the case of self-identified Christians who call on Jesus’ name all the while they violate Jesus’ prophetic witness and thus destroy church? It is the case of Ted Cruz, for example, a self-identified Christian who publically calls on Jesus’ name while he promotes the violence of guns, the death penalty, and war as well as reduced taxes for those who are rich but austerity programs for those who are poor with Mr. Cruz being particularly threatening towards poor children crossing the U.S. southern border. Mr. Cruz spoke of his Christian faith and the positions it moved him to support during a Liberty University speech which he opened by quoting Jesus from this Sunday’s Gospel: “The Word tells us when two or more are gathered in His name, He will be there.” Mr. Cruz was confident in Jesus’ Presence at a gathering focused on encouraging other self-identified Christians to do their utmost to defend, violently if need be, the U.S. constitution while he spoke not a word of Jesus’ prophetic witness for the Community of God.  

It’s difficult to take a public figure aside and tell them of the harm they do to Jesus’ faith community. If disciples have done so with Mr. Cruz, it was unsuccessful. If disciples reached out to the church would the church be of help or is the church more and more devoid of Jesus’ prophetic witness reflecting instead many of Mr. Cruz’ same non-Christian perspectives?

Prayer: Dear God, I commit myself to a peaceful heart when relating with those who, in your name, violate your way and ask the same of those who need to deal with me for such an offense.

Question: Who are the self-identified Christians I can reach out to about Jesus’ prophetic witness when they distort it?

September 7, 2014  Gospel  Matthew 18:15-20  Twenty Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Names

The name Satan conjures up monstrous images; such as maleficent creatures robed in red. If rendered human still the images are monstrous conjuring up evil people. The word evil, however, was originally defined as disapproval. It could mean one was in league with the devil but that name too has an original meaning that is more tame. Devil essentially means one who slanders and is actually the Greek translation of the Hebrew name Satan. Satan itself is defined as an adversary and originally signified, as in the story of Job, a type of prosecuting attorney. Satan is thus a name given to someone or something that opposes us or trips us up.

What is to be made then of Jesus saying to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan.”? It’s especially noteworthy given Peter just finished naming Jesus ‘Christ’ and Jesus in turn renamed the former Simon, as Peter, Rock. One lesson perhaps to be made of the Jesus Peter exchange is to be more aware of a person’s mission in this life; to respect and encourage it. Another lesson in all this naming might be to re-humanize people we may have let drift into caricatures. This would be helpful in considering both Jesus and Peter. We might be less willing to do so for those we have aligned with Satan throughout history. Re-humanizing them however might help us to re-humanize people alive and well in our own time that we have consigned to the category of evil. Doing so might re-humanize us a little too.

That old childhood saying never was true: Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.  

Prayer: God of all, help me to remember every person is created in your same image and likeness.

Question: Who are the people I need to re-humanize?  

August 31, 2014 Gospel Matthew 16:21-27 Twenty Second Sunday in Ordinary Time 

Authority

One model of authority is to rule over people. A rather clear sign of such authority is the threat or use of a weapon. The weapon might be a fist or a gun. It could be a knife or a tongue sharpened like one. Whatever its shape weapons always cut both ways. They hurt the one targeted and the one using it. The harm done the victim is obvious, so too the offender, if they are judged a criminal. Less understood is the harm done one who is deemed justified in threatening or using a weapon. What is the harm done to an NRA member brandishing open carry, a police officer who shoots an unarmed man, a nation deploying drones against civilians?

Some people in the U.S. support the ‘rule over’ authority model and the people who exercise it. Other people are concerned about an increased normalization of “rule over” and the use of violence to effect it. Which perspective we hold may say something about our status or gender or color. These qualities may also say something about how we interpret Jesus’ authority. Those who rule over people have long interpreted Jesus as authorizing their rule. So it is that Peter being given the keys to the kingdom of heaven in this Sunday’s Gospel is interpreted to authorize ‘rule over’. An entire hierarchical system has been rationalized around the interpretation. It’s odd how things Jesus never did, like rule over people or like use weapons to effect that rule, have been normalized within his faith community. It’s not only odd, it’s harmful. What is the centuries worth of harm done to members of a supremacist class that claim the right to rule over people and do so in Jesus’ name? Is it the same harm done to the gun owner, the cop, and the nation that assume such rule; is it a loss of authority?

There comes a time when authority shifts. It shifts from external to internal; from rulers who tell us what we should do to conscientious people in communion determining what is best to do. It’s entirely possible for a person to make the shift. Is it possible for larger groups, such as Ferguson Missouri or Jesus’ faith community, to make the shift? Can we shift from an oppressive external ‘rule over’ to a collaborative internal power with? Can we model for humanity how to make the shift?

Prayer: Jesus, help us to live with others and not rule over them.

Question: How do we minimize the harm done by people who cannot make the authority shift?

August 24, 2014   Gospel Matthew 16:13-20  Twenty First Sunday in Ordinary Time

Play

Jesus is more playful than we might think. This quality is apparent in his many parables when, rather than teaching dogma he offered stories and metaphors that needed to be played with so as to be understood. His verbal exchanges revealed that same playfulness. That quality is at the heart of his encounter with the Syro-Phoenician woman in Sunday’s Gospel.

Conversely, neither the Old Testament nor the deity most often portrayed within it are known for their playfulness. Religion was serious business. It made demands, such as worship; worship that Israelites, and foreigners who wanted to be more than dogs in their eyes, needed to perform. It consisted of making burnt offerings and sacrifices at Yahweh’s altar. Doesn’t sound like much fun? It apparently wasn’t of much interest to the playful Jesus who’s never described as worshipping in such a manner. When the disciples are being quite serious about getting rid of a bothersome woman and foreigner, Jesus, is perhaps, being a bit playful when he doesn’t give in to their reactions. Jesus is likely being playful with the woman as well when he doesn’t give in to what may be a reaction on her part; appearing to worship him when she calls him Lord and Son of David. Her offer of praise, true or not, does not elicit a response from Jesus, though it’s likely their repartee drew a broad smile to his face. It seems Jesus doesn’t need to be praised or to be worshipped. He never asked for it let alone demanded it. Doing so would have made Jesus a much too serious fellow.

Play is one of the best qualities we can develop as children growing up. It’s one of the best qualities we can maintain as we keep on growing. It’s all about spontaneity, imagination, and creativity; about being delightfully engaged. It energizes us and enlivens us. It’s so very different from worship that requires burnt offerings and sacrifices as to be its opposite.

Prayer: Dear God, help us to be your playful Presence with people.

Question: How could I be a bit more playful in this life?

August 17, 2014  Gospel Matthew 15:21-28  Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Mystery

What is the leap of faith we make to believe in God and to believe that in Christ, God is with us? Such a leap moves us into the realm of mystery. The mystery of God is not revealed in beliefs about being judged or rewarded or punished (or being saved from all that) for such beliefs are not beliefs at all but qualities and people in the known world; i.e. judges, parents, teachers, ?ourselves?. Believing God is a heavenly version of an earthly person is not a leap of faith. It is projecting the known into the unknown.  

Mystery is the reverse. It’s experienced when the unknown permeates that which we know, or think we know. For all of the science informing us about life in the womb and in the stars, every baby born is no less miraculous, all the galaxies no less wondrous. Their mystery continues to unfold. So too the mystery that is God and our communion with God. Elijah encountered such mystery not in the tumult of storms but in a still small voice. When Peter leaps off the boat to walk across the water and meet Jesus it’s because he has heard a still small voice, “Come Peter, walk.” He does so and enters into the realm of mystery and it is miraculous and wondrous. How can it be then that the power that propels us to leap off the boat does not sustain us in our walk across the water? Do we, sometimes, have more faith in the storms surrounding us than in God who is with us; present within the quiet and within the chaos and within ourselves? What is the faith Jesus nurtured in prayer, personally lived, and encouraged for us if not faith in God who is so very much with us as to be within us?

A story is told of ancient times when humans neglected and abused Divinity. The gods became angry and decided to hide it. The first suggestion was to carry Divinity to the top of the highest mountain and hide it there.” “No, humans will eventually climb every mountain in search of it.” “Then let’s sink it in the deepest ocean.” “No, for they will learn to dive into the ocean and will find it.” “We could take Divinity into the heavens and hide it far away.” “No.” said the other gods, “In time humanity will travel to the stars and find it.” They were close to giving up as it seemed there was no place that human beings would not search for Divinity. After a pause one god said: “Here is what we will do. We will hide divinity deep in the center of their own being, for humans will never think to search for it there.”

Prayer: Dear God, we give ourselves to the mystery of your being with us by being within us.

Question: What will it take for me to believe in the spark of Divinity within?  

August 10, 204  Gospel Matthew 14:22-33  Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Ache

At various times, for our own reasons we have all felt within us an ache – for something that seemed unable to be satisfied; a longing - for things to be different than they are. Often, it’s a personal ache: for a spouse to love us as they once did, to hold in our arms again a loved one who has passed away. Jesus’ heart ached for John the Baptist - murdered and gone. His heart ached for each person in the vast crowd who sought his healing touch. It seems many of us have hearts that ache for the world these days.    

Much of humanity is aching for the world to be different than it is. Our world need not consist of a Coke Cola corporation that in villages across the world owns all the water so that locals are dying of thirst – “All you who are thirsty, come to the water!” Our world doesn’t need Syrian President Assad blocking food aid to his own people who are starving to death - “You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat.” Our world need not include those who bomb people flying over Ukraine and children living in Gaza – “Come to me heedfully, listen, that you may have life.” Some problems seem so large, too much for us to do anything about and our hearts ache even more. We are paralyzed as the disciples were when they saw 5,000 men and so many more women and children aching to be satisfied. We tend to think there’s not much we can do - that we don’t have enough - but Jesus is there spurring us on, helping: “There is no need for them to go away; give them something yourselves.”

We always have enough because we have each other and together any ache is satisfied. Sip by sip, loaf by loaf, peacemaker by peacemaker our ache for the world to be different is satisfied.

Prayer: Dear God, give us generous hearts.

Question: Who are the family members, friends, and community folks I need to thank for keeping me going?

August 3, 2014 Gospel Matthew 14:13-21 Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Treasure

St. Lawrence, whose feast day is coming up, fits nicely with Jesus’ teaching this Sunday on the Kingdom of God as a treasure. Lawrence (?225-258) served his particular Christian faith community by caring for those who were poor; he distributed the goods of the community to people according to their need. He lived in Rome during a time Roman officials, specifically Emperor Valerian, were targeting Christians for persecution. Lawrence’s friend, Sixtus, had recently been condemned to death and was executed; the evidence suggests Sixtus was beheaded.

In addition to the officials wanting Christians dead, they also wanted any treasures they possessed. Therefore, when officials came to arrest church members and learned that Lawrence handled the community’s finances, they singled him out for attention. As the story is told, the officials told Lawrence they would be back tomorrow and demanded that he produce for them the treasures of the Church. Lawrence gave them his word he would do so. When the officials returned the next day, Lawrence said to them “I have kept my world. Here are the treasures of the church.” He then opened the doors to the community’s gathering space for the officials to see a great number of poor, leprous, lame, and blind people as well as widows and orphans. “These are the treasures of the Church.” said Lawrence. Needless to say the officials were not amused. They led Lawrence away to be executed.

Those who are poor will always recognize Jesus as their treasure, they will always gather round him as church, and they will always experience persecution. And what of we who are not poor? Who or what do we recognize as our treasure? Are we church? Will we ever experience even pushback for the faith we express?  

Prayer: Dear God, help us to treasure the least among us.

Question: What is the one treasure I seek and is it really worth my life?

July 27, 2014  Gospel Matthew 13:44-52  Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Weeds and Wheat

The story is told of a man driving a winding country road. He is almost run off it by a woman who rounds a curve too wide. As she gets back onto her side she yells at him, “Pig!” He promptly responds, “Idiot!” only to round the bend and crash into a pig. We don’t always know the circumstances of any person’s life or the benefit they have. We do know, from Jesus’ parable on weeds and wheat, that whatever or whoever we think are weeds it’s best not to respond by harming them but rather by healing them.  

Some Christians, certain they are wheat and others are weeds, sometimes respond to harm, or its believed existence, by being themselves harmful. What precipitates 57,000 children, on their own, crossing the U.S. border from the south? Could it be the 1994 NAFTA trade agreement? It destroyed Mexican and Central American economies and gutted unions so as to provide capitalist drug dealers legal cover to run corporate sweatshops and kill any workers (i.e. mothers and fathers) who oppose them? NAFTA’s 20 year reign of terror has yet to be brought into a conversation more and more dominated by militant Christians who are so sure of the harm done by children crossing a border. While the children are like the woman in the opening story experiencing danger and warning that it is ahead, for those willing to listen, Christians intent upon preserving the U.S. Empire, are on a collision course with its practices.

The basic problem with weeds is that they don’t know how to get along. They’re aggressive. They dominate nutrients and control conditions for their own benefit so that survival is difficult for other, fruitful life. It’s become an apt description of U.S. Empire and it needs the healing attention of disciples nurtured in Christ.

Prayer: Dear God, help us relinquish any characteristics of a weed and be fruitful instead.

Question: What are the weeds I can transform?

July 20, 2014 Gospel Matthew 13:24-30 Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Nature

Jesus’ deep connection with nature is apparent in his parables. That’s the case this Sunday with his parable about the sower, the seeds, and the ground on which the seeds fall. The wise people listening knew Jesus was speaking truths about nature as well as truths about humanity. 

People who are wise are like nature. For instance, they take their time. They care enough to take the time to see, to hear, and to understand so as to nourish others - in the same way seeds and soil and seasons take their time to nourish life. When we’re in the presence of people and nature who take their time we feel at peace. Perhaps wise people are like nature because they like nature. They like planting seeds and watching in awe as the miracle of life emerges. They like listening to birds as they sing to each other so that the concerns of those who are most fragile in the world resonate within them. They like participating in the gentle changing of the seasons and thus come to understand the dyings and risings that happen to us in this life. There seems to be a shared nature between the two. And what is to be made of people who are not at peace and nature that seems to be more and more violent? Do they too share a nature? 

It seems all creation is groaning as something is being born in this world. A longing for peace is emerging; it’s beautiful, gentle and in our nature as human beings as it was in Jesus’ nature. People who have let anxiety, frustration, and anger overtake their own peaceful nature seem to be resisting the whole world’s peaceful nature. How can we invite them to live from their deeper nature? 

Prayer: Dear Creator, such beauty surrounds us; thank you.

Question: What can I do to live in peace with my own nature and with nature itself?

July 13, 2014 Gospel Matthew 13:1-23 Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time