Monday, September 26, 2016

Pentecost 19C

Amos 6:1a, 4-7

1Alas for those who are at ease in Zion, and for those who feel secure on Mount Samaria,
1bthe notables of the first of the nations, to whom the house of Israel resorts! 2Cross over to Calneh, and see; from there go to Hamath the great; then go down to Gath of the Philistines. Are you better than these kingdoms? Or is your territory greater than their territory, 3O you that put far away the evil day, and bring near a reign of violence?
4Alas for those who lie on beds of ivory, and lounge on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock, and calves from the stall; 5who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp, and like David improvise on instruments of music; 6who drink wine from bowls, and anoint themselves with the finest oils, but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph! 7Therefore they shall now be the first to go into exile, and the revelry of the loungers shall pass away.

In the Christian bible we find Amos the prophet's words in one of the twelve separate books of what we call the Minor Prophets. The Hebrew bible collects them into a single "Book of the Twelve." Amos lived in Judah, the southern kingdom, but God called him mostly with words of judgment and hope for Israel, the northern kingdom. That's "mostly," because he has harsh and redemptive words for all God's people, collectively referred to as "Joseph."

Amos brings us the earliest articulation of monotheism. Throughout all nine chapters he acknowledges only one true and possible sovereign Being, who is God of all the people of Israel and Judah, but also the divinity of neighboring nations, whether or not they acknowledge him. Amos also brings us a type of universalism that's not so much our conviction that in the end God's irresistible grace and inclusive reach saves and redeems all creation, but closer to God has effected liberation and redemption for nations and peoples other than the Israelites.

More than once Amos tells us he is not a professional prophet, does not belong to the prophets' guild. That would be similar (for example) to our contemporary American Guild of Organists organization that we often refer to as the "Guild." What does Amos do for work? He is an arborist who tends sycamore trees; as a vinedresser he takes care of grapes; he works as a sheep herder or shepherd.

Interesting note: the Sycamore Fig was the national tree of Israel. In the gospel of John Jesus tells Nathanael, "I saw you under the Sycamore Tree." The upshot of this becomes, "therefore, I knew you were worthy to become my disciple." Sons of Israel, sons of the covenant, sons of Torah traditionally would sit under a sycamore tree to study the scriptures. John mentioned The Getty museum campus has a lot of sycamore trees. (Another interesting note: that means I have a lot of pictures of sycamore trees from the Getty and need to post them and label them.)

Lectionary peeps have paired this Amos pericope/selection with Luke's famous account (Pastor Peg called it a "folk tale") of the outcast Lazarus. The broad point of both passages is an indictment of people who live opulent, luxurious, self-indulgent lives but don't even notice needy, hurting people near them or in their midst. They don't even glance beyond the houses of their eyes.

Our passage from Amos 6 follows God telling us via Amos in chapter 5:
21"I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. 22Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offering of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. 23Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. 24But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream."

Despite Amos' outlining how the bad behaviors and neglect of the needy will be a factor in sending people into exile, Amos concludes by God promising to restore Israel's fortunes, rebuild and re-inhabit cities, plant more vineyards that will yield more wine, establish more gardens, more fruit trees. God promises to plant the people on their land!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Pentecost 18C

Luke 16:1-13

1Then Jesus said to the disciples, "There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. 2So he summoned him and said to him, "What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.' 3Then the manager said to himself, "What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.' 5So, summoning his master's debtors one by one, he asked the first, "How much do you owe my master?' 6He answered, "A hundred jugs of olive oil.' He said to him, "Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.' 7Then he asked another, "And how much do you owe?' He replied, "A hundred containers of wheat.' He said to him, "Take your bill and make it eighty.' 8And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. 9And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes. 10"Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. 11If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 13No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth."

We're still in Luke's gospel. Recall how deep, wide, high and inclusive Luke's world and his gospel are. He firmly roots his narrative in the history of Israel and in the current historical setting of Roman occupied Palestine. We've also talked about Luke featuring marginalized people and women (who in that day were not society's central actors), table fellowship, reversals of social and economic status. Redistribution of goods and wealth, "distributive justice." The entire witness of scripture concerns itself about finances, economics, money, dollars, shekels, euros, legal tender... mediums of exchange that help us navigate the world and help give us stuff we need to live.

Luke, Matthew, and Mark all bring us parables. Parable? A multi-layered anecdote or situation open to more than one interpretation. Every commentator I consulted about this text had several suggestions and ideas, none of them felt there was a single conclusive meaning to the parable's characters, situation, or outcome. For one possibility, we definitely can claim the unjust steward is Jesus Christ who brings us the outrage of grace, mercy, inclusion, and forgiveness. The total loss of respectability. But unjust steward also can be parsed otherwise.

Debt and sin essentially are synonymous, the same thing, in the world of the bible. Torah forbids charging interest on a loan! Roman occupied Israel was full of indentured servants and tenant farmers, who in time would owe their soul to the company store. Pastor Peg told us about a former plantation she visited on her recent trip through the south, and how slaves who worked on the plantation actually had more personal and economic freedom as slaves than they did working the same land as freed individuals. Sara mentioned her Irish ancestors in such indebtedness over micro-parcels of land that had been subdivided a multitude of times that their descendants never would get out of debt, either. Also remember that in the setting Luke wrote about, the landowner, the steward, the manager, and Rome all take their cut.

A couple of important Lukan passages that relate to this parable:

• In Luke 1:46-55 we find Mary's Magnificat. Luke based all his canticles /psalms on songs from the Old Testament—Mary's song and Hannah's song found in 1 Samuel 2:1-10 share many similarities. Mary sings about God acting through the baby she's pregnant with: God has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts; brought down the mighty from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly. Filled the hungry with good things; sent the rich away empty." Done deeds!

• What is Jesus' IPO, his first act of public ministry in Luke's gospel? Luke 4:16-21 records Jesus reading in the synagogue from Isaiah 61:1-2 promising liberty to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, the year of the Lord. Jesus tell us, "I am the Jubilee year! I am Mary's child"—the son, the baby in Mary's womb who would bring great societal and economic reversals.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Pentecost 17C; 911 + 15

Exodus 32:7-14

7The Lord said to Moses, "Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; 8they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, 'These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt! 9The Lord said to Moses, "I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. 10Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation."

11But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, "O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12Why should the Egyptians say, 'It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth'? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people.

13"Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, 'I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.'" 14And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.
The worldview of Luke's gospel is wide, high, and inclusive. Remember Luke's emphasis? People who in general are marginalized, broken, outcast. Women, who were not society's elite in those days. The HS; table fellowship.

Jesus' first act of public ministry in Luke: reading from Isaiah 61. "I am the Jubilee Year; I am the Eschatological Feast." Liberation. Shalom. Inclusion.

Two weeks ago when we heard from Luke 14:1, 7-14 on Pentecost 15C, Jesus dined on the sabbath with the religious elite, with pharisees, at their elite homes. Today in Luke 15:1-32 we meet Jesus dining with tax collectors and sinners. Next section begins, "A man had two sons...." one of the stories unique to Luke.

Sunday was the 15 year anniversary of the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center twin towers.

Exodus 32:7-14, "Moses, your people" ... and Moses reminds God, 'God, your people.'" It's always both/and.

We can define slavery, prisons, bondage, Egypts of all kinds. Not freedom. Not liberation. Martin Luther's famous Bondage of the will. Having a huge debt of any kind. Being literally stuck at a job you hate and that doesn't suit your skills because you need the income.

Yesterday some of us wore "God's Work / Our Hands" shirts for the denomination's God's Work / Our Hands weekend. We helped out at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore warehouse. A few of us wore our shirts to church.

"Moses, your people" ... and Moses reminds God, 'God, your people.'" It's always both/and. Could God accomplish God's plans and desires without human agency? of course! We mostly discussed ways our hands (feet, minds, creativity) can do God's work. Pastor Peg pointed out God always works through physical, earthly, tangible "means," so sacraments, preaching [the church's official Means of Grace], listening carefully, balancing books, designing and building houses, etc., child care, feeding people, are means or vehicles that carry and convey God's grace.

We spent the rest of our time remembering our original 9/11/2001 experiences and updating our emotions and intentions.

I didn't use most of my extensive notes, so won't blog them, as much because of only partial internet service as anything else, since I often include notes we didn't get to. However, I've filed my hand-written notes for reference three years from now.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Pentecost 16C

Deuteronomy 30:15-20

15See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. 16If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. 17But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, 18I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. 19I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, 20loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

Luke 14:25-33

25Now large crowds [throngs] were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, 26"Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.' 31Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.

We listened to words from Deuteronomy and from Luke. For several weeks we've been talking about neighborology: who is my neighbor? how can I be a good neighbor?

The compilation of the book of Deuteronomy was a long time coming, from events and written sources prior to the Babylonian exile, to events and sources afterwards during the rebuilding of Jerusalem, of community, of worship, of Torah. Luke the gentile's word and gospel are wide and expansive and inclusive.

Deuteronomy reminds us to choose life by keeping the commandments, by considering the needs of the other person as at least as important as our own needs. Jesus talks about following him by carrying the cross. That's not necessarily anything as dramatic as being killed for being Christian by enemies of Jesus; not as influential as Mother Teresa's ministry or as spending a season alongside Mother Teresa's peeps. It can be as simple as giving some of your lunch to your hungry coworker, donating a dollar or two to the animal shelter, lending the sweater in your backpack to the shivering person beside you in church—always making sure your basic needs have been met, because you've can't give away what you don't have. Again we cited the example of putting on your own oxygen mask before helping others with theirs. The late Jewish theologian Martin Buber tells us, "love is the responsibility of an I for a thou."

The compilation of the book of Deuteronomy was a long time coming, from events and written sources prior to the Babylonian exile, to events and sources afterwards during the rebuilding of Jerusalem, of community, of worship, of Torah.

Related to the reading from Deut 30, in 2 Kings 22 we have the narrative during the reign of Josiah of Huldah's discovering the scrolls of Torah, the people in tears when they listened and heard. Remember the English word "law" can be a caricature of Torah. This passage from Deut probably comes from much later than when God's people were getting ready to cross the Jordan into the Promised Land after the wilderness trek, but this scripture retells, recounts, and remembers their experiences of God's faithfulness. We do the same thing when we celebrate Holy Communion! Part of the Eucharistic Prayer includes events from God's history with the people; by reciting those events, we claim them and place ourselves in the history of all God's people. Someone mentioned "Remember!" is the Gospel in a single word.

Since Luke 9:51, Jesus has been on this way to Jerusalem, on his journey to the cross. In the reading from Luke, "hate" implies a lesser love, second choice, less intense affection, less esteem, and not the visceral disgust, rejection, and loathing our English word hate implies.

The Reformers insisted Word and Sacrament were enough – satis es / it is sufficient [Augsburg Confession Article 7] – for the existence of the Church; where you find Word and Sacrament, you find the church. No Word and Sacrament? No Church. Martin Luther also outlined (biblical number) 7 marks of the true church:

• proclamation
• baptism
• holy communion
• confession and forgiveness, also called the office of the keys
• valid orders
• worship and hymn-singing in the vernacular, the language of the people
• suffering and persecution, or "the cross"

What does it mean to be a church under the sign of the cross, under the sign of death? For most of us it doesn't mean spectacular feats of martyrdom or even months and years of Mother Teresa-style service. It means giving up – the death of – our comforts, our preferences, putting the needs of the other person first. Being a good neighbor. Choosing first the way of the commandments, the way of God. Jesus said give up "all your possessions"—exaggeration, hyperbole. But we also can read into that to treat others as persons, meeting them where they are and as they are, helping meet their needs, rather than viewing people as objects or possessions to fulfill our needs.

Neighborology: the word about the neighbor; words about being good neighbors. The commandments. Jesus of Nazareth.