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John 4:5-42

5So Jesus came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. 7A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8(His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) 10Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 13Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” 15The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” 16Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 17The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” 19The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” 26Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

27Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” 28Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29“Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” 30They left the city and were on their way to him. 31Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” 32But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” 34Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. 35Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. 36The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” 39Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” 40So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. 41And many more believed because of his word. 42They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”

What I Am Learning:

Jesus once is once again crossing socially constructed barriers between people.

The first is that he and the disciples are in Samaria. Jews and Samaritans had racial and religious differences that separated them from one another. This is a complex story. The simple version is that Samaritans were Jews who refused to divorce their foreign wives after the the Babylonian Captivity. The Jewish leadership was on a purity kick when they returned and required that the Jews who remained in Israel divorce their non-Jewish wives. The Samaritans were the ones that refused. Samaritans found their own mountain to worship on, but generally were faithful to the Torah and Jewish worship practices. Things were so bad between them, that Jews would knock the dust off their feet after leaving Samaria.

Jesus went there anyway.

As if this was not controversial enough, Jesus goes to a well about noon and speaks to a Samaritan woman there. We think that it likely she was there at noon because she was not allowed to go with the women in the morning, who went to the well together. It may be that she was considered an adulterer who did not follow the mores of her village. It is important to know that Jesus did not ask her to confess this as a sin before he speaks to her. Nor does he seem to offer forgiveness to her. Jesus is willing to see her worth as a fellow human being whatever her previous behaviors or her status in her community.

It is very strange that she talks with Jesus. Women and men who were not related were not allowed to speak to one another as it would be considered pre-sexual behavior. Notice that the text says that Jesus' disciples were appalled by his interaction with her.

Jesus spoke first, and then instead of retreating to the village as expected, she responds to him. There are many things about this conversation that would be surprising to a first century reader:

  1. She was at the well at noon
  2. Jesus spoke to her
  3. She responded to him
  4. She and Jesus debate theology and religious matters
  5. She shares with Jesus about sexual/relational matters
  6. Instead of hiding her conversation for breaking the social conventions and relational morals of her day, she tells the village.

Then another surprise happens: the village leaders, instead of punishing her for her bad behavior, invited Jesus into the village.

Then another surprise happens: Jesus and his disciples stay in the village for two days, receiving their hospitality therefore recognizing them as equals.

Then a final surprise: This woman, outcast or not, sat with Jesus and the men of the village and they publicly acknowledged that she had shown public leadership by connecting them and Jesus! Women were not seen as public leaders in first century Palestine!

Several things are important to note here. First, Jesus is willing to talk with and respect any person, no matter if he has social support to do so. His vision is so important to him that he is willing to make his disciples and his own people deeply uncomfortable. Being a disciple of Jesus means to be and to sometimes lead others to be uncomfortable.

Second, when he engaged a community he most often began with those at its margins and then brought the change into the center of that community.

Jesus sought to bring reconciliation between people as individuals and groups. He was willing to break rules and expectations for behavior to bring healing and reconciliation. Jesus was not always a good boy!

Are we willing to break the rules to bring healing? Are we willing to engage in conflict with our friends and supporters and congregations and families to do it? Are we willing to be uncomfortable in ourselves?

As we are reoriented to God's way of mutuality (the reign of God) in our baptism we find that since we are beloved we have the confidence to be uncomfortable. So let's be uncomfortable participants in God's healing of the world - and find that disconnected parts of ourselves will be healed in the process.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scapegoating happens when groups of human beings are anxious and then focus their anxiety on a vulnerable person or group, blaming them for all the problems leading to their anxiety.

The problem is, while this may make people feel better for a while, it doesn't solve the deeper issues leading to people to feel anxious. Rather, it turns human beings into abusers and victims of abuse – this is bad for everyone. It also creates a cycle in which there is always another group of scapegoated people who are "up next" and undermines the very fabric of human community.

Recently, some of our public leaders have picked two groups of people to scapegoat:

  1. Mexicans - as the reason for lost jobs and low wages and as a safety threat
  2. Muslims - as a safety threat and as those who want to undermine our culture

And if this were not bad enough, this scapegoating of Mexicans and Muslims is leading to violence toward Jews, the GLBTQIA community, Sikhs and others.

We will spend three weeks talking about these issues:

  • March 16: The world as it is.
  • March 23: The world as we envision it.
  • March 30 What we are going to do about it?

We invite the community to come and join us in this conversation at the Empire Ale House at 314 W Gates St
Mount Vernon, WA 98273

We will begin at 7:00 PM and end at 8:30 PM.

If you have questions you can email terry at terry@catacombchurches.org.

Please come and join us!

John 3:1-17

3Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews.2He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” 3Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 4Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” 5Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ 8The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?”10Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? 11“Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

What I Am Learning:

Yes, these verses have a tarnished reputation. Authoritarian Christians have used these verses to tell people they had to have a conversion experience in order to prove they are followers of Jesus. The primary message underlying their message: they are indispensable to God’s process of conversion and that they know what conversion looks like. These authoritarian Christians apply social pressure to people when they are vulnerable and think that the conversion they impose is from God. The more people they convert the better Christians they are, they think.  A notch on their Bible for every convert….

Jesus says otherwise.

“Nicodemus” was not a proper Jewish name, in fact it wasn’t a name at all. It comes from two Greek words. One is the word for “victory”. It is the same word that the sportswear Nike comes from.  The second word is from “demos”, which means “people.” Nicodemus means “victory of the people”.

Nicodemus was not a person, but is a stand-in for a whole group of people in Jesus’ day and in our own. There are many ideas about who Nicodemus stands for. My favorite is that he stands in for those who want the People of Israel to come out victorious over Rome. But their desire for victory had been shaped by Rome’s spirituality of power over others.  The word “flesh” in this passage does not mean our body but is a reference the domination culture that formed the spirituality of the Roman Empire. This spirituality of bullying had infected Nicodemus and all of the people he represents.

Make no mistake: Jesus was talking about the need for conversion:

 

Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.

Jesus told Nicodemus and all who want God to enable their victory over others that what they want is not from God. But to see another kind of victory, victory with others and even with our enemies, we must be born from above.

Birth in the first century determined your status, your allegiance and your worldview. To be born from above, that is from the Creator of the universe, implies a changed status, changed allegiance and worldview.

To be born from above means that our whole way of being in the world changes.

But this is not something that can be imposed on others, or bottled up in a scripted sermon or way of converting other people. This conversion comes like the wind, a primal power of the world. The wind blows where it will and cannot be controlled. The Spirit of life moves around, uncontained and wild.

Nicodemus had read the Torah and followed the law and was a faithful religious person but had not been totally reoriented to God’s way of mutuality. When Jesus engaged Nicodemus and the people he represents he was not being judgmental, he was being hopeful. He hoped that Nicodemus might move his gaze from apre-programmed and formulaic spirituality to hear the wind blowing.

Lutherans and Episcopalians believe that this reorientation is not a once-for-all thing, but an ongoing life-long and daily process begun in Baptism:

In baptism God radically affirms our life and invites us to daily death and resurrection, dying to domination and submission culture and rising to God’s way of mutuality. In this death and resurrection we continually move through a cycle of

  • Orientation

  • Disorientation

  • New orientation

We are invited to die to the worldview of our natal culture, and be reborn to a whole new worldview.

Who does Nicodemus represent?

I have grown up in a culture that prized winning, and the individuals who win. My culture, in part, is an individualist-competitive culture. Only one can win, the others who competed don’t matter that much, they are forgotten. This winning and losing is a zero-sum game. It’s victory or bust.

This individualist-competitive culture is in me. Maybe it even is me. I want victory over others – at least a part of me does. My natal culture has taught me well, set a spirituality in me that I was only too willing to accept.

But the wind is blowing.

A year and a half ago a big storm blew through Anacortes. I did my best to prepare for it but found I was not prepared enough. The wind moved stuff around, rearranged and randomized a many things in my yard. It was frightening and exhilarating and disorienting and fun.

Nicodemus is us, and not just a few of us.

What Jesus is offering is a life of constant change, death and rebirth. Jesus offers a daily reorientation that is frightening, exhilarating, disorienting and fun.

At the end of these verses we see John 3:16: For God so loved the world….

The word “world” here is the Greek word cosmos. It has the same range of meanings it does for us today: the universe and all that is in it and how we look at or understand this world.  Jesus did not come to destroy our ways of seeing the world, he did not come to destroy our culture, but to save it from itself.

Domination cultures always destroy themselves. Our competitive ways can dehumanize us and those we compete with. Much of Christianity, including our authoritarian sisters and brothers, have turned Christianity into yet another expression of Rome’s spirituality: striving for status in a dog-eat-dog world.

How many notches are on your Bible?

Our continual conversion from domination culture to God’s way of mutuality comes from above, a primal move of love by the Creator of all things.

Are you disturbed? Are you feeling stuck between two ways of seeing the world? Are you disoriented?

If so, that’s good.

And when you are feeling that way, look up at Jesus on the cross, vulnerable, suffering and dying and realize that God does not seek victory over you, but seeks to free you and I from the need for power over others. We are so loved by God as a gift that we need no other status, no other allegiance, no other worldview.

At the end of John, Nicodemus came and helped to bury Jesus.

There is hope for all of us Nicodemus’ yet. The wind blows where it will….

Matthew 4:1-11

4Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” 5Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” 7Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 8Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” 11Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

What I Am Learning:

On the plane home I watched the movie "Loving". It was a wonderful movie. It made me weep a bit.

In one scene, the husband, a white brick mason who had married a black woman, was drinking with some of her family. One of her family told him that "the best thing you could do is divorce her." He went on to say that Mr. Loving could divorce his wife and and be done with all the stress of their inter-racial marriage and as a white man, he could move on and escape the tensions. But this was not an option for black people. They could never divorce their skin.

Mr. Loving did not divorce his wife. He didn't divorce her because he loved her. Together, with the help of the ACLU, they helped redefine marriage laws. Together they supported each other and led each other through that process.

But he did still have what we call "privilege." He had a status as a white person that no black person could have because of the biases and racism in his culture. But he was also willing to give up at least some of his privilege, or at least to use it, because of his love for his wife and children.

Jesus was tempted with his privilege in this week's gospel reading: a privilege contained in the words "son of God."

We Western people tend to see this term as having to do with genetics: that Jesus was conceived without the assistance of a male human being, but by the power of the Holy Spirit. Much of Christian theology has focused on this. The point of this focus is to say that in Jesus God joined the human condition and acted out the values of God in his own historical context.

This means that God fully embraced the what human beings often struggle to embrace: lives that include consciousness of our selves, our desire to live and the reality of our vulnerability and death. God embraces our lives fully, even as we struggle to do so.

This means that as we look at Jesus' life in his complex cultural and political context, we see the values and character of the Creator. Since we are made in the image of that Creator, we see the true values and character of God's intention for us. In Jesus God sets us on a journey toward being fully human, knowing that we are embraced as we are along the way.

But there is another aspect of this term "son of God" that we ignore. The People of Israel were often called "the children of God." This meant that each person, male or female, were sons and daughters of God. As they chose to have a king (something God had some warnings about) the king was called "the son of God."

Psalm 2 is a coronation psalm. In this psalm, God declared the new king "my son, today I have begotten you." When Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan River, a voice from heaven speaks, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” In this, the voice from heaven announced that Jesus was the king of Israel. This was not just God saying that Jesus was a "good boy." This was Jesus being anointed king.

The second part, "the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased" addressed how he would rule. This is a phrase from Isaiah 42 in which Isaiah proposes that the best way to escape the dehumanizing slavery of the Babylonians was through nonviolent, public acts of resistance.

So Jesus was the king, a political leader with a very different strategy and set of values than that of the Roman government.

When Jesus was tempted, the tempter left off the second part. He tempted Jesus with his newfound political privilege as the king of Israel, the son of God. One temptation was to meet his physical needs, the other was to exert control over God, and the third was to become the ruler of the entire world.

Jesus was tempted with the heart of the Roman Empire: the spirituality of power over others we call a domination culture.

Each time Jesus resisted the temptation because he puts the God who announced him king above his own status as king.

Each time, Jesus remembered not only his call to be the King of Israel, but also the values and character of God that would guide his use of that power.

I know that as a white, male, cisgender, married person who has a master's degree, is a pastor of a Christian denomination with a house, car, computer, internet access, a phone, health, dental and vision care, and lots of friends that I have a many privileges that others do not have.

We begin Lent this week. It is a time for us to reflect on the depth and authenticity of our discipleship of Jesus. The questions I will be reflecting on are these:

  • Am I willing to put God, the Creator of all things, whose image is in each human being, before my privilege?
  • Am I willing to hold myself accountable, as Jesus did, the values and character of the God who has called me to my vocations as husband, father, son, sibling, pastor, public leader and friend?

To be a Christian is not to claim a status over others. It is to be a part of a community which is willing to risk for and with others because of the God-given status of each person as God's beloved children.

What questions will guide your Lenten reflections?

Matthew 5:38-48

38“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

43“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

What I Am Learning:

We live in a very tribal time. Our politics is tribal. Our sports are tribal. Our economics is tribal. Our religion (or non-religion) is tribal.

The central dynamic of our time is tribalism: the possession of a strong cultural or ethnic identity that separates one member of a group from the members of another group.

We are being split into smaller and smaller tribes, separating from one another over our differences.

And it is not a large step to move from tribalism to exclusionism: That those different from you do not deserve full human rights.

If we continue to go down this road, of always stating what we are against instead of what we are for, we will soon all be tribes of one.

Jesus knew all about the dynamic of tribalism and exclusionism. He knew that road does not end well.

So Jesus began his ministry, not by stating what he is against (the bullying culture of the Roman Empire) nor by stating who he is against (the Romans and their collaborators).

He begins by announcing that God's Way of Mutuality was on the way, was among his disciples. It would have been easy for him to say, "We are good, They are bad." He does not choose to do this. He does call people out on their wrongdoing. But he does so without tribal or exclusionistic tones.

In this reading, Jesus taught how his disciples were to treat people "in the other tribes" - people who were enemies.

Jesus says that we are to love our enemy. This is the Greek word "agape" which means self-giving love. Our definition of love in TCC is this:  Love is risking oneself so that oneself and others may be more authentic to the person/community God is calling them to be.

Many have assumed that to "turn the other cheek" means to invite abuse. This is not so!

Those of higher rank would slap an inferior person with the outside of their hand when their honor was infringed. They would slap equal with the palm of their hand when this happened.  To turn the other cheek invited your superior person to slap you with their palm. Turning the other cheek is a way of claiming your humanity and equal status with a supposedly superior person. It was a way to resist domination.

If anyone used the court system, a rigged system that favored the rich and connected, to sue you and take your coat then give them your cloak as well. Some have thought this meant that we can be abused by getting ripped off. No. In first century middle eastern culture to see a naked person dishonored those who looked. So if you lose in a rigged court case, give them your coat, and then in full view take off your inner garment as a public witness to their shameful court system. It was a way of resisting domination and calling for change!

If a Roman soldier asked you to carry his pack for one mile, you carry it two miles. This was the right of Roman soldiers. It was not your choice. But if you carry it a second mile you place the Roman soldier in your debt and claim your humanity and the right to choose. This could serve as a challenge to the soldier's view that the populations were not really human.

If someone begs from you, give to them and if they ask for a loan, give it to them. Jesus seems to have moved from those outside a community of mutuality who have more privilege than you now to those with less. He says that our response to those in need is to share what we have.

Lastly, he encourages us to love our enemies. Some have suggested that this means only some enemies. Nope! Jesus encourages his community to love, to seek the welfare of, those who act as enemies. Every enemy, every time!

This means that we are invited to a kind of holy imagination and a holy commitment. This holy imagination and commitment is to see our enemy as our neighbor, to see those who are different in this tribal time as future friends. We are invited to expose injustice without dehumanizing those who carry it out.

In doing so we honor not only the image of God in our enemy, but the image of God in ourselves.  In doing so we can then begin to reverse the trend toward tribalism and division and find our common humanity.

This road begins with our stating what we are for, instead of what and who we are against. It ends with no more enemies, only neighbors.

Matthew 5:21-37

21“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 22But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. 23So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. 25Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. 26Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

27“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell. 31“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

33“Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ 34But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.

What I Am Learning:

After two weeks of powerful and empowering gospel readings, we now get this. Jesus is now harshing our mellow. He seems to be back to legalism and "thou shalt nots."

But wait, maybe not!

In the first part of the Beatitudes Jesus overturns their score-keeping system. He lifts up a vision of who God honors - those who the bullying culture doesn't value. God honors and values the vulnerable and weak and sorrowful. And since all human beings, when we aren't pretending, are vulnerable, weak and sorrowful, God values all people - just not the status and power-over-others games we play.

Last week he tells his disciples (at this point in the story that's about 4 people) that they don't have to change the world through power over others. They don't have to play domination's game.  They can instead focus their energy on letting the light God has placed in them to shine. They can be salt that catalyzes the manure so that it can burn making food for the family. Light and salt help us to perceive the world. Light allows us to see and salt allows us to taste the food we eat.

No bulldozers needed. No bombs. No "One Facebook post to rule them all!" No forest fires or lightning bolts! He helped them to envision their own agency, their own God-given and therefore inalienable power.

God was asking them to let their light, a light given freely by God, to shine.

But letting our light shine is no simple matter. We can't hold our wands up to the sky and say "lumos maxima" and be done with it. The light that shines in us is through our public and private relationships.

The point of these verses and some that come after is this: our ways of relating to people has been warped by our power-over-others culture. Instead of reflecting God's light, we compete with each other. Instead of catalyzing the manure that is bullying we have taken on its qualities.

We have been shaped by a bullying culture and we have become consummate bullies - we are so good at bullying, so sophisticated at it, that we can even hide it from ourselves.

So to help his disciples prepare to be salt and light, he suggested that they begin what people in AA would call a rigorous moral inventory. Christians call it repentance - turning and being turned in a new direction, a new orientation.

Now let's take these verses on by paragraph, briefly.

The first paragraph deals with conflict. In Jesus' day, if you owed someone money and you could not pay, you likely would be put in a debtor's prison. You would not get out until you paid the last penny. This harshness is only one example of how people were playing for keeps with each other. People were holding their anger in until it became so hard they had no mercy for each other.

So Jesus told them to rigorously look inward at their attitudes toward their neighbor and to deal with their conflicts directly and quickly. To be people of peace, Jesus seems to say, is to engage in peaceful conflict management with our neighbors.

Second is the a conversation about adultery. In a bullying winner take all culture, men were constantly looking to gain status by having a richer, more well connected and more beautiful wife. This reduced women to objects, to consumer items, to trophies.

Jesus told them to rigorously look inward at their attitudes toward women and to realize that they were human.

Now for the paragraph about swearing.

I was in Seattle to protest the Muslim Ban and a young woman had a sign that was a take off on famous Martin Niemöller quote:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Her sign was a bit more simple and a bit more crass, as I suspect you could imagine.

I was wearing my collar so I said, "I suppose I'm not supposed to like that sign, but it is really my favorite." The people around laughed and said they would absolve me.

The swearing on the sign and the swearing we often think of is not naughty language, but rather making an oath to people by invoking God's name. This essentially made God a "co-signer" on your promise. When you broke your promise then God also was made into a liar.

Jesus told them to make their own agreements, to say "Yes" or to say "No" and not to diminish or objectify God by making God an accomplice to our posturing and lies.

The common thread in all of these is that in a competition for status, we are willing to objectify everyone: people we are angry at, women and men and marriage, and even God.

Jesus was not trying to be a perfectionist here. He was not saying that we must be perfect for God to love us.

Remember that "hell" is a valley just down from the little hill that is Mt. Zion where they used to sacrifice human babies in the name of God. The ultimate objectification of a human being - a tool to get in good with God - a means of worship that was soundly rejected by Jews in Jesus' day.

He was asking us to do a rigorous moral inventory so that we can recognize the holiness, the dignity and worth of ourselves, neighbor, our spouse and God.

As we begin to recognize the inherent worth and dignity of human beings we will begin to be salt and light to and for them as we create together a power-with-others culture.

As we begin to recognize the mystery of God, and therefore the universe that God created, the light of God shines not only through us, but through others to us.

Isaiah 35:1-10

35The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus 2it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God. 3Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. 4Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.”

5Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 6then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; 7the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes. 8A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God’s people; no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray. 9No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there. 10And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

What I Am Learning:

Notice in this text the emotional and spiritual issues facing the first hearers.

There were weak hands and feeble knees and fearful hearts. There were eyes that could not see hope and ears that could not hear words of hope.

The People of Israel had good reason to feel this way. They had been in Babylon for some time, riven from their homes and families and put to work. The promise of the Exodus from Egypt, the key memory of faithful Israel had become a fairy tale. Exile in Babylon was their reality. Between them and home was an army and a wilderness full of danger.

The prophet's job in a time of despair is to call people to hope again that God is moving in a broken and hurting world, and that we can have something to do with this hope.

But people who are despairing often resist words of hope. It is easier to be numb to the pain when the world is unjust and life is hard so we become numb to everything else: love, joy, gladness. To hear the prophet's words of hope is to endure again the pang of losses. To embrace words of hope, at first, is to embrace pain again.

But emotional and spiritual pain is part of life and to suppress it is to suppress the reason we experience pain: love.

Ellie Wiesel taught us that anger is not the opposite of love. Indifference is the opposite of love. What we love we are willing to suffer for, to anguish over, to expend our life energies to protect and nurture.

Hope like the prophet Isaiah speaks of is an invitation to love again after years of numbing indifference. Like a limb that has "fallen asleep" it's going to be uncomfortable for a while as it wakes up again.

Isaiah said that one day soon the soldiers would stand aside and a highway would be made straight for the People to return to their land and to their communities. And after about 60 years in Babylon this came true.

John the Baptist would use these words about 700 years later as they experienced a new kind of exile: an exile at home (as NT Wright has taught us). John and then Jesus used both the stories of Exodus from Egypt and Return from Exile in Babylon to propose that again there was hope. That people were free to live and love again.

They experienced that hope in Jesus. People began to share their food again. To reach out in love to those who were different. To build stronger communities again.

This was Jesus' real threat to the Roman Empire and for this threat he was killed: he taught people that they could live no longer divided from their neighbor, that they could be a community again.

Trevor Noah, a comedian who grew up in South Africa, wrote a NY Times Op-Ed recently. He reminded us that it is easier to control a people who are divided from one another.

But before the work of reuniting with those who differ from us, we must be able to glimpse a ray of hope on the horizon.

One day, God will gather all the peoples of the earth together with singing, everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

This is the hope toward which Christians strive. It may cause us pain when we see God's peoples being separated and divided and distracted and made fearful of one another. Feel that pain. Taste your anger. But then stand up and get to work for the day is coming when divisions will cease and mourning and crying and pain will be no more and love will win.

Colossians 1:11-20

11May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully

12giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. 15He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

What I Am Learning:

For many of us this last week has been a week of sorrow.

Some of our sorrow is because of the horrible things Donald Trump said about Mexicans, women, people of color, Somali's and Muslims.

Some of our sorrow is because he won the election having said these things.

Some of our sorrow is because many are realizing that naming a problem like racism is not sufficient to reduce it.

Some of our sorrow is because many of us are now aware, as if for the first time, the plight of many white working people in the nation.

Our economic system and the significant technological changes taking place have left behind rural and urban, white people and people of color (even if not to the same degree). The problem is that instead of talking about this, Donald J. Trump chose to pit the left behind against each other.

This is not only a source of sorrow, but of fear.

  • Fear on the part of the vulnerable in our country
  • Fear for the vulnerable by those who recognize them as neighbors
  • Fear for the very fabric of the "we the people" that make up this country
  • Fear for our constitutional system of government

The experience of fear is not new in human history. Indeed we are finely attuned to fear.

The problem comes in when fear takes over, saps of our strength, and leads us to withdraw from the world. The problem comes when we see fear become the defining, ultimate vision of reality.

First century Christians had plenty of opportunity to experience fear. Caesar was in charge. His armies were everywhere. His tax collectors legion. No change was in sight.

In this context, the letter to the Colossians lifts up a vision of God's reconciliation of all things in Jesus Christ. This reconciliation happens through the non-violent love of Jesus Christ. In the "blood of his cross" and subsequent resurrection, Jesus empties this instrument of mass terror of its power and so frees his disciples from the icy grip of fear.

This vision for the reconciliation of all things honors the sorrow and fear in the current situation. Such a vision allows, even requires us to feel the sorrow and fear the human race is experiencing.

Such a vision, however, reminds us that fear is not the last word. Fear is not ultimate. Even the powers of government and the invisible forces of culture, while currently creating the conditions of injustice, will find their balance again because their creator will recall them to their purpose.

Such a vision helps us to see the situation of our fear is temporary and that the long arm of the universe is moving - and that we can move with it in the GREAT RECONCILIATION.

Such a vision gives us strength to endure the gap between the way things are and the way God will one day make them.

The reason we encourage spiritual practices is in part to take a break from the constant drumbeat of fear, and to let ourselves relax into God's vision for the world and to remember who we are: God's beloved children, sisters and brothers with all God's beloved children.