Thursday, August 30, 2007
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
Monday, August 27, 2007
First Congregational Church of ******, CT
August 26, 2007
Poet Wendell Berry is a lover of the Sabbath. In his book of poetry entitled Given he includes several sets of poems he wrote on the first day of the week, on this Day of Resurrection on which we are gathered, a day when he would find a quiet place outdoors to write, to rest, to observe the world, free from the tyranny of time. He writes of his love for stillness, beauty, for the sound of birds and of the Kentucky River near his home, for the eternity of trees, for the cycle of work on his farm; he records his griefs and joys and how all of this has shaped his soul. He names the Sabbath “the timeless we pass through”.
When I read his Sabbath poems I sigh and wish for a day like his: contemplative, quiet, restful, but also creative, imaginative and deepening of purpose and meaning. We dream of such a Sabbath yet we also struggle to give ourselves over to such a Sabbath. We feel the pull of tides within: the yearning for peace and the cessation of work; the revulsion of guilt and the compulsion to finish a task; the narcissism of entitlement, the rebellion against rules, and the comfort yet also gatekeeping of tradition. It seems there has always been a contest for the Sabbath and today’s gospel lesson is no different.
The division that Jesus said he would bring in the previous chapter of Luke is present in this morning’s reading. He is in the synagogue teaching on the Sabbath; he is at the center of the practice of his faith. To practice the Sabbath is to practice the way of God, to participate in God’s rhythms. A woman with, in the Greek translation, a ‘spirit of weakness’ enters, presumably to worship God. She is unable to stand up straight, only able to focus on the small square of floor her circumscribed vision will allow. She does not call out to Jesus, she probably could not lift her head to see him, let alone know he was there. Jesus is the one who calls out to her. Without asking permission of anyone, without changing any laws, without organizing a committee to talk about it first, he heals her and creates a crisis for the leader of the synagogue and his colleagues yet an occasion of praise for the crowd.
This healing on the Sabbath is meant to carry us back to the last time Jesus healed on the Sabbath in chapter 6 and further to the first time we read of him teaching in the synagogue in chapter 4. When he healed the man with the withered hand Jesus asked the scribes and the Pharisees, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?” When he teaches in the synagogue in Nazareth, his hometown, he reads from Isaiah and we hear echoes of the lesson from this morning: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
In the eyes of Jesus, the Sabbath had become a system of rules rather than the gift of God it was meant to be. Jews were enjoined to refrain from 39 types of labor, not to ‘legalize’ the Sabbath but so that on that holy day the people of God would alter their hearts and minds from their agenda to God’s agenda. Human beings of recorded history have an apparent difficulty with an imposed communal day of rest; it does not seem to come naturally to us in our industrialized, individualistic age. So laws, both religious and secular, have been enacted to steer us toward a time of not just rest, but also toward moral behavior.
The blue laws, those that govern activity on Sundays, were written for those purposes. The Blue Laws of Connecticut and the Colony of New Haven date back to 1655, appointed by Governor Theophilus Eaton with the help of Rev. John Cotton. Though these laws were not actually on the books, they can be inferred from other statutes and codes of conduct. Here’s some idea of how the Puritans lived out not only their Sabbath but their daily lives in the Colony of Connecticut:
- Each freeman shall swear by the blessed God to bear true allegiance to this Dominion, and that Jesus Christ is the only King.
- No one shall run on the Sabbath day, or walk in his garden or elsewhere, except reverently to and from Meeting.
- No one shall travel, cook victuals, make beds, sweep house, cut hair, or shave, on the Sabbath day.
- No woman shall kiss her child on the Sabbath or fasting day.
- The Sabbath shall begin at sunset on Saturday.
- Every rateable (or taxable) person, who refuses to pay his proportion to the support of the Minister of the town or parish, shall be fined by the Court £2, and £4 every quarter, until he or she pays the rate to the Minister.
- Married persons must live together, or be imprisoned.
- A wife shall be deemed good evidence against her husband.
The drinking of alcohol was allowed so long as it did not lead to drunkenness. To be considered a freeman, and in order to vote, one had to be a member in full communion and in good standing in one of the churches of the colony. These laws strongly restricted behavior but for the purpose of aligning that behavior with God and God’s ways.
What is left of these blue laws is not much, and there is controversy over that as well. Retail laws were declared unconstitutional but we cannot buy liquor on Sundays in the state of Connecticut. Most of us can remember when all the stores were closed on Sundays. I myself learned to drive on Sundays, when there was not as much traffic on the highway, and I could practice in empty parking lots. I doubt if my mother got much of a rest on those Sundays (!) but it was a quieter day, a slower time, a permission given to put one’s feet up and refrain from the marketplace and the world’s sense of duty.
More and more these laws governing Sabbath are being repealed. One reason is because there is more than one holy day in our pluralistic society. Muslims observe Juma on Friday, Jews keep Shabbat on Saturday, and the majority of Christian churches worship on Sunday, with Seventh-Day Adventists and Seventh-Day Baptists worshipping on Saturday. In some areas there is the feeling that the government is intervening unnecessarily in people’s lives by requiring a day of rest. Also, with many professions and low-paying service jobs being 24/7, when a day off is taken is up to the individual.
Ironically, there is no dispute among Jews and Muslims as to whether the Sabbath should be observed, law or no. It is only Christians who seem to have need of a law in order for the Sabbath to be obeyed. Author Christopher Ringwald, in his book A Day Apart, says that “we’ve converted a blessing into a burden.” Often I have heard grumbling about the length of Sunday worship services. Our Puritan forebears went to Meeting in the morning for about 2-3 hours, returning in the afternoon for another lengthy assembly. My response has been, “This is the day for praising God in the company of one another—I can’t think of a better way to spend a Sunday. God is not ‘on the clock’.” But then clergy are considered part of the establishment, hence the guilt we encounter when meeting absent church folk in the grocery store.
The Enlightenment had its blessings but one of its curses was its effect on the Christian Sabbath. Somewhere along the way it became optional. Modern-day Protestants have often scoffed at the Roman Catholic Days of Holy Obligation. The Code of Canon Law states that “the faithful are obliged to participate in the Mass. Moreover they are to abstain from those works and affairs which hinder the worship to be rendered to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s day, or the suitable relaxation of mind and body.”
In fact, the word ‘obligation’ leaves a bad taste in our mouths. We want to come to God out of free choice; we don’t want to be coerced into worship nor the Sabbath. Indeed, Ringwald says that the Sabbath is “an experience, not a creed.” This is God’s desire as well, but knowing human nature, we need to be told to take a day off, to focus on God’s desires and purposes rather than our own, so that perhaps one day, the other six days of the week might start to resemble the Sabbath day, that is, God’s day.
We keep the Sabbath day holy as a poignant reminder that all days are holy, given to us by our Creator. We may be endowed with certain inalienable rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but it is only because we draw breath from and have our being in that which made heaven and earth. Jesus loosens the bound woman on the Sabbath so that she might give God what is needful: worshipful, unbounded praise. And we are given a vision of our Sabbath work: to give justice wherever, whenever it is needed, to not hinder or burden others in the worship of God, and by so doing offer God our praise.
The Sabbath is a day for community, community that sustains and challenges us toward honest, humble living; community that builds justice and speaks peace to the world; community that strives to be the kingdom of God, God’s beloved community, which is the ultimate rebellion against the ways of empire. And as we participate in the Sabbath more and more, as our sense of community grows, we will surely come up against the ways of empire and all its seductions to leave behind our Sabbath work of justice and peace. But God promises us, that when we feed the hungry, fill the needs of the afflicted, when we honor the Sabbath and refrain from our own interests on the holy day, that our light shall rise in the darkness, that our needs will be satisfied in parched places and we shall be like a watered garden, a spring of water, whose waters never fail. We will take delight in the Lord and God will make us ride upon the heights of the earth, that earth which was created for us and hallowed with the Sabbath.
And so, First Congregational Church of ******, how is this Day of Resurrection a day of rebirth for you? How do you prepare yourselves to alter your agenda in order to follow God’s agenda? Sabbath and worship are to be directed within and beyond the self—is there a balance of Sabbath work within the congregation and beyond the congregation? What sustains you as a community? Are there any traditions or tenets that might hinder someone from worshipping here? When was the last time you ate together as a congregation with no other purpose than enjoying one another’s company? What are some social justice issues you would like to focus on as a congregation, as part of your Sabbath?
In the words of Wendell Berry:
Teach me work that honors Thy work,
the true economies of goods and words,
to make my arts compatible
with the songs of the local birds.
Teach me patience beyond work
and, beyond patience, the blest
Sabbath of Thy unresting love
which lights all things and gives rest.
Friday, August 24, 2007
Though it's a war-based anthem, with a strong sense of religiousity about our flag, it's still a thrill to sing it in front of a large crowd. Thanks for listening.
Thursday, August 23, 2007
You're The Hobbit!
by J.R.R. Tolkien
All you wanted was a nice cup of tea when some haggard crazy old man came into your life and told you it was time to do something with yourself. Now you're all conflicted about whether to stick with your stay-at-home lifestyle or follow this crazy person into the wild. While you're very short and a little furry, you seem to be surrounded by an even greater quantity of short folks lately. Try not to lose your ring, but keep its value in perspective!
Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.
I thought the questions in this quiz were a bit limiting (this or that), so where I felt divided about the answer, I kept getting some pretty strange books (Love in the Time of Cholera, Lolita). So I gave different answers until I got a book and the description I liked and thought was most accurate. It was between this one and Babar the King. I object to the 'furry' comment, but otherwise I thought it suited me, especially about being called into the wild by a crazy person. Never a more concise description about what it's like to be called into parish ministry by Jesus.
Monday, August 20, 2007
Sunday, August 19, 2007
Jeremiah 23: 23-32; Luke 12: 49-56; Hebrews 11:29 – 12: 2
******** United Church of Christ
August 19, 2007
This morning’s lessons from the lectionary are not easy ones to hear nor are we to shy away from them. Jeremiah speaks the word of God to the priests and rulers of his time, warning them that they are propagating the lies of false prophets, that there are no secrets to be hid from God, and that all this can only lead to ruin. In Luke we see Jesus on fire with righteous anger, declaring that he came to bring division, not peace, imposing a choice upon his followers, calling the crowd hypocrites. In the letter to the Hebrews we are given a brief history lesson of those who suffered for their faith and service to God, who did not receive what was promised yet still witnessed with their lives to the real presence of God.
I included all these passages because I think it is high time, actually past time, that the prophets are preached from the pulpit with renewed vigor, that the Church risk peace by exposing the lies and myths we live by and its complicity in them, that we make the choice to live by God’s truth, that we remember the lives of those who told the truth before us, so that we might be healed and able to run that race that God has set before us.
The main reason we avoid doing any of this in the Church is the risk of conflict and upheaval. But we all know that a peace that subverts conflict is not really peace at all; it’s a crisis waiting to happen. And crisis is pervasive in nearly ever corner of the Church.
In the Catholic Church there is the sex abuse scandal and the payouts of huge sums of money to the victims, plus the questionable accountability of priests. There is also the Pope’s latest statement reinforcing the doctrine that salvation can only be found in the one true Church, creating conflict between Protestants and Catholics. In the Anglican and Episcopal churches, as in many other denominations such as the United Methodist, Presbyterian, and the Evangelical Lutheran churches, there is conflict over homosexuality and whether the communion of Episcopalians and Anglicans can remain as one. At General Synod this summer the delegates of the United Church of Christ voted to take no action on two resolutions, a Reaffirmation of Marriage based on the Word of God and a Reaffirmation of the Historic and Ecumenical Christian Perspective on Marriage, rather than bringing them to the floor for what would hopefully be a resounding ‘no’ vote to the restrictive underpinnings of those resolutions. And there are local churches that are at a point of crisis in their finances, in their overall ability to function as a church, and in their identity as a UCC church.
Within the past ten years or so, a positive spin was put on the word ‘crisis’. The Chinese language was brought into play, showing the two characters that comprise the logograph for ‘crisis’: danger and opportunity. Many business analysts, executives, and pundits seized on this interpretation of crisis. Many self-help books were written on the subject. Recently I came upon an article written by Victor Mair, a professor of language and Chinese literature at the University of Pennsylvania, who exposed the untruth behind this positive spin.
The first character does indeed mean danger but when the second character, opportunity, is linked with danger, it no longer means opportunity but “an incipient moment, a crucial point when something begins or changes.” Mair writes, “[It] is indeed a genuine crisis, a dangerous moment, a time when things start to go awry. [This word for crisis] indicates a perilous situation when one should be especially wary. It is not a juncture when one goes looking for advantages and benefits. In a crisis, one wants above all to save one's skin and neck! Any would-be guru who advocates opportunism in the face of crisis should be run out of town on a rail, for his/her advice will only compound the danger of the crisis.”
Jeremiah prophesied to the kings and priests of Judah that they were indeed at a crisis, an incipient moment, a crucial point for change, a tipping point toward danger and ruin. For all his faithfulness to God, Jeremiah was at best ignored and at worst he was imprisoned, thrown down a well, beaten, given death threats, and declared a traitor. In the end, though, Babylon conquered Jerusalem and Judah, despite Jeremiah’s warning, because of the comfort of lies that were fed to the people.
Every organization, every group of people, has some basic myths to it, some hidden secrets within it, a shadow side. A webzine article by Daniel Clendenin entitled “False Hopes, Bad Dreams, and Reckless Lies” talks about the false hopes, dreams, and lies we tell ourselves, that guide our living and our organizations.
Here’s a short list of my own personal false hopes and reckless lies that I have told myself over the years:
- My husband should be able to empathize and understand all my struggles.
- My children will learn to like a clean bedroom and keep it that way.
- I should be able to not exercise as much and not floss my teeth, yet live as long as I want and keep my teeth.
- I work better under pressure.
- Somewhere, out there, the perfect church for me is waiting.
- Now that I’m making a little more money, it’s okay to spend a little more. I deserve to have what I didn’t get when I was growing up.
- God has the future under control OR God isn’t there—he’s an idea we’ve become addicted to, to avoid responsibility for our personal and collective realities.
- God knows what I’m thinking and feeling, so why do I have to pray?
The false hope of Jesus’ time was that the Messiah would bring peace; a peace that would still allow the status quo. Jesus decries this bad dream, filled with fire, baptism, and the Holy Spirit, saying that he has come to bring division, that is, he is imposing a choice: will we, God’s people, live by our lies and the lies of empire or will we live God’s truth? Living God’s truth does not create inclusivity, not at first. Author Sue Monk Kidd wrote, “The truth may set you free, but first it will shatter the safe, sweet way you live.”
Some of you already know this. You have paid a price, perhaps a high one, for choosing to live God’s truth rather than a safe, comforting lie. Some of us are considering the price and wondering if there is enough in our spiritual savings account to survive. Yet we cannot serve the reckless lies, the false hopes, the bad dreams and serve God at the same time. We cannot serve the many voices in our heads telling us what to do, how to behave, what is acceptable in society, and serve God at the same time. We cannot serve both the lies of empire and the truth of God. Our society, our nation is at a crisis, an incipient moment, a crucial point of danger where change can begin, for better or for worse. It is past time to be safe, to be peaceful, to be politically correct. Jesus is righteously angry and demands of us, “Why aren’t YOU?”
Every day we encounter the false hopes, bad dreams, and reckless lies that are setting the course not only for our nation but also for the world. Here are, in my opinion, the three big lies of the United States:
- Everyone can achieve the American Dream, that is, home ownership, if they just work hard enough.
- We can win the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and we can win the war on terrorism.
- Global warming is a hoax, due to natural climate change, and it is nothing to worry about.
Jesus says to us, you are frauds! You know how to forecast the weather but you cannot tell a lie from a truth, the truth that the Christ is in your midst.
For Jesus, the dividing issue, the truth of God, was this: have we fed the hungry, quenched a thirst, welcomed outcasts and strangers as though they were family, have we clothed the naked not with our hand-me-downs but with our best, have we visited the sick and the imprisoned? The ministry of Jesus, which is beloved community, is juxtaposed against the supposed values of the world of empire. We cannot live with one foot in the witness of our faith and the other in the comfort empire gives us. Jesus cries out to us, I am here-and-now, when you do these things, I am in your midst, the beloved community becomes reality, and the reckless lies begin to fall away.
Christ is in our midst in the illegal immigrant, the migrant worker, the working poor; in the child without health care, a home, good nutrition or an education; in the insurgent, in the soldier, and in the civilian; in Christians, and Muslims, and Jews; in Palestinians and Israelis and Arabs; in the detainees at Guantanamo and all those in prison; in the refugee camps and killing fields of Darfur; in hospitals and clinics, nursing homes and hospices; in heat waves and floods, forest fires and hurricanes, drought and rising sea temperatures, in every creature, in every growing thing, in the very earth itself.
The price of peace is our sweet safety but also the comfort of our lies. In Hebrews we hear of the suffering of those who lived out the truth of God, that though they were commended by God, they did not receive what was promised. Joy was coming but not in their lifetime. The price we pay today for tomorrow’s peace is that we may not live to see the fruits of our sacrifice. And this is the highest price, that like Moses, the promised land may be in our sight but it will be our descendants who will inhabit it. It took thousands of years for empire to become entrenched in our world. It will take a gargantuan effort on the part of humanity working together to uproot it.
So let us pray, and pray hard, for faith, faith that is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. We are promised a great cloud of witnesses, those who have gone before us, God’s witnesses who, though dead, still speak to us of God’s strength and enduring love; who speak to us of Jesus who endured the cross for the joy to come; who speak to us of the Holy Spirit who comforts us yet also baptizes us with fire and with power that we might persevere in our faith and not surrender to the false hopes and reckless lies of our time. Perhaps we ought to also include St. Augustine’s prayer: "Lord Jesus, don’t let me lie when I say that I love you…and protect me, for today I could betray you." God knows that the price of peace has become increasingly steep but through Jesus, God has promised to be with us through it all.
And so, ******** United Church of Christ, what are some of the false hopes, the bad dreams, the reckless lies under which you presently live? What makes you angry about the world we live in and what are you doing with your anger? And if you’re not angry, why not? What scares you most about living out the truth of God? How do you acknowledge conflict in your midst? How do you handle crises as a congregation? What choices has your belief in Christ imposed upon you? Who are the powerful witnesses of faith who speak to you and give you courage? There is a cost of discipleship—what gives you joy?
Thanks be to God for those prophets and truthtellers who risk danger and violence to dispel our reckless lies and encourage us to do the same. Thanks be to God for righteous anger that fuels our ability to survive division and to be faithful witnesses to God’s truth of peace and justice. Thanks be to God for the promised land to come and for the blessing of working for its reality. We are being called to be the answer to our own prayers. God grant us courage for the living of our faith. Amen.
Friday, August 17, 2007
I loved this show when I was a young girl. Jaime Sommers was beautiful, strong, funny, and very human. The show could be really campy at times (remember the Fembots?!) but then what TV shows weren't back then? And I'm looking forward to the new version coming this fall.
Thursday, August 16, 2007
Dalai Lama won't reincarnate in Tibet.
Apparently the Chinese government won't allow Buddhist monks to reincarnate in Tibet without permission. I LOLed when I read this one. As if this is something we mortals can regulate. I suppose, though, the Chinese could make it difficult for the monks to engage in the search in Tibet or for a hiding place to be kept safe for the young 15th Lama. I see shades of Herod, Rome, and magi from the East. Neither God nor the Compassionate One will be thwarted by some puny law.
If you're curious about this whole reincarnation thing and the choosing of the next Dalai Lama, see the movie Kundun. It's excellent.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
She agreed, but asked how he would know when the baby was born. To keep it discrete, he told her to simply mail him a postcard, and write "Spaghetti" on the back. He would then arrange for the child support payments to begin.
One day, about 9 months later, he came home to his confused wife. "Honey," she said, "you received a very strange postcard today."
"Oh, just give it to me and I'll explain it later," he said. The wife handed it over and watched as her husband read the card, turned white, and fainted.
On the card was written: "Spaghetti, Spaghetti, Spaghetti, Spaghetti, Spaghetti. Three with meatballs, two without. Send extra sauce."