Proper 7C
Zechariah 12:8-10
Psalm 63:1-8
Galatians 3:23-29
Luke 9:18-24

Paul’s letter to the Galatians presents such a clear and unvarnished picture of an early christian community. It’s nice to know they fought even back then. Last week’s reading shows us Paul and Peter in open conflict, and by Paul’s account, never to speak again. Very different from the picture Luke presents in Acts. And they are arguing over the extent of the church’s radical hospitality. Same issue we are arguing about today.

In his week’s reading, Paul tells the Galatians to grow up. They have put on Christ, just like a Roman youth puts on the toga. Now, the paidagogus (tutor) is no longer following the youth around, so things could get wild. But Paul says that justification and maturity comes not through the workings of the law (following the rules of a grown up), but through faithfulness. Now that you are grown-ups, act like grown ups, even if the paidagogus isn’t around to catch you misbehaving. What is stunning in this reading is who puts on the toga: Jew and Greek, slave and free, man and woman. All of these differences, according to Paul, are socially constructed and so can be deconstructed. Jew and Greek, slave and free, we get. But male and female as socially constructed? That’s harder to comprehend. Paul sees that it can be undone. What else can be undone?

Luke places Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ immediately on the heels of the Feeding of the Five Thousand, which functions as a type of the community’s radical hospitality. Demoniacs, dead girls, womem with flows of blood — all of them are seated for the meal of bread and fish, the eschatological banquet.

So, who is this Jesus who feeds these crowds? Is he Elijah, returned to usher in the messianic age? An ancient prophet, restoring the kingdom? None of these. He is the Christ of God, and the Son of Man, rolled into one. He is the eschatological figure. But whoever would follow, must take up the cross daily. Mark’s Jesus prepares his disciples to suffer knowing that the eschatological age is coming soon. The Son of Man is about to come on the clouds of glory. Any day now. Luke knows better. The eschatological Son of Man must suffer, and the end is not coming. The disciple must be prepared to suffer daily. That’s just the way things are. Some of those standing in Jesus’ presence have seen the end arrive, and this is what it looks like.

There will not come a time when everything is set to rights. It won’t come by everyone following the rules, but everyone coming to the table. Life is messy and is going to stay messy. We have the vision of the restoration of Jerusalem, but it’s a vision, something we can aim at, but never arrive at. This mess we’re in now, this is what it looks like. We have to be prepared to follow Jesus even without expecting him to come and set it all to rights. Whoever would be my disciple must deny self and take up the cross daily and follow me.

The Episcopal Church grows up.

The Executive Committee of the General Convention (that body charged with carrying out the business of the GC between meetings) has taken the advice of the House of Bishops by declining to participate in Pastoral Scheme proposed by the Anglican Primates meeting this spring in Dar es Salaam (see the Executive Committee’s statement). There is no finger pointing in the statement. The Executive Committee simply points out that all the Episcopal Church USA has to offer to the larger Anglican Communion is itself in relationship. They point out that the basis of relationship within the Church is baptism, and that many of the baptized members of the ECUSA are gays and lesbians. The Executive Committee commits to continue to listen to our Anglican sisters and brothers, but makes no promises about where the spirit may or may not lead us in the future.

There is no apology in this statement, no shying away from what we have come to know about ourselves, no trying to say two things at once. It seems we have finally found the courage of our convictions. It feels good. When Advent had once taken the vote to become an Oasis Missouri congregation, we could begin to be straightforward with ourselves and with all who visited us and have since come to join. We are explicit in our affirmation of welcome of all persons, including gays and lesbians and the whole alphabet soup (GLBTQSA), the whole rainbow. That freed up a tremendous amount of energy that had been spent worrying about what would happen if we did jump in the pool. The statement of the Executive Committee feels the same way. We are what we are, let’s get on with it. We will listen, we will do everything we can to stay in relationship, but we won’t be who we aren’t, because then we are not in relationship honestly, and therefore not in relationship at all. Way to go.

See the Episcopal Majority’s comments also.

Do you see this woman?

Proper 6C
2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15
Psalm 32:1-8
Galatians 211-20
Luke 7:36-50

I only regret that I’m not preaching this week. So much good stuff here.

Uriah was Hittite. Was Bathsheba? Hittites consitituted one of those groups with whom true Israelites were not supposed to intermarry (see Ezra 9). Did David think he could take Bathsheba from Uriah because Uriah was Hittite? Interesting how it’s always the women whose bodies mark the boundaries between inside and outside. Bathesheba has no voice in this whole episode.

Galatians — one of the most unvarnished pictures of the early history of the christian movement. Peter and Paul fight, never to speak again. Again, it’s all about boundaries.

Luke. How did this woman get to the feast? The NRSV does an awful job of translating. Verse 37 says something like, “And look, there was a certain woman in the city who was a sinner. And when she recognized that he was reclining in the house off the Pharisee, she brough out an alabaster jar of myrrh.” She’s already at the party. She recognizes Jesus.

She wipes Jesus’ feet with the hair of her head. Her hair is down. She is a courtesan, part of the entertainment for the guests at Simon’s banquet. It’s not shocking to Simon that she’s there (he hired her), but shocking that Jesus, a prophet, would let a courtesan touch him.

Jesus says to Simon, after his little lesson about being forgiven and loving, “Do you see this woman?” The answer is “No.” Simon sees the entertainment. He sees a sinner. Jesus reverses the logic of his earlier story and says that her many sins have been forgiven because she has loved much. Or implies that her sins were forgiven before this encounter. In any event, she has been more hospitable than Simon. Jesus does not upbraid Simon for hiring entertainment. He simply lets the woman go in peace.

orphans and widows

Proper 5C
1 Kings 17:17-24
Psalm 30
Galatians 1:11-24
Luke 7:11-17

I wonder how many times I have preached on this set of propers? I would guess at a minimum five times. And never before now have I noticed that this is the first appearance of Elijah in the narrative history told by the deuteronomists. In 1 Kings 16:29, the historians introduce Ahab, King of Israel, that most wicked of kings. “It was not enough for him to imitate the sins of Jereboam, son of Nebat. He even married Jezebel, daughter of Ethbaal, king of the Sidonians.” He erected an altar to Baal in a temple he built for Baal in Samaria.

Baal, of course, was the storm god, who provided rain, and made life on earth possible. Ahab sets up a temple and an altar to the god of prosperity and fertility, to the god of success.
Elijah appears on the scene in 1 Kings 17:1 with absolutely no introduction — we have no idea who this character is. He simply appears before Ahab and says, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, whom I serve, lives, during these years there shall be no dew or rain except at my word.” Elijah trumps Baal. God then instructs him to flee (no wonder, after making such a claim). Ravens, dirty scavenger birds, provide him bread and meat twice a day out to the east of the Jordan, where Israel wandered in the wilderness. He drinks from the wadi Cherith until it dries up.

Then God instructs him to go to Zarephath of the Sidonians, exactly where Jezebel has come from, where a widow will provide for him. He meets the widow at the gate of the town and asks for water. She is ready to oblige. He asks also for a little bread. She is collecting sticks to bake her last bit of meal, so she and her son may eat it before they die. Elijah tells her the meal will not fail, nor the oil run out until there is rain. After a period of time (Elijah is apparently living in her guest room), her son falls ill and dies. She imprecates Elijah and asks why he has remembered her sins before God. Elijah takes the child to his room and prays to God for his recovery. The child comes to life, and Elijah gives him to his mother. She recognizes that Elijah is a man of God, and the word of the Lord comes from his mouth.

What a great contrast to begin the story of Ahab and Elijah. At the prompting of a Sidonian princess, Ahab builds an altar to the god of propserity and fertility, who promptly forsakes Ahab. Elijah turns for his support to a Sidonian widow who has nothing.

Luke clearly knows this story and refers to it in his account of Jesus raising the son of the widow of Nain. He meets the crowd at the gate of the town, he gives the man to his mother. The crowd responds with an acclamation about a great prophet and the word of truth. In Jesus’ inaugural sermon in the synagogue at Capernaum (Luke 4), he referred to Elijah going only to a widow of Zarephath, not to any in Israel. Herod, the king of the Judeans, is not where God is at work, but among the nobodies outside of the usual boundaries of Israel.

In what ways do we set up an altar to the god of success? Easy to look at the prosperity gospel people and point the finger, but I suspect we do as well. What do we sacrifice for success at work? for social standing? Hiel, the Bethelite, we are told after being introduced to Ahab, rebuilt the walls and gates of Jericho, sacrificing his oldest and his youngest son into the works. It’s scary to think about what we sacrifice our children to. Jesus stops the bier of a dead man, his widowed mother’s only son, her only support, and says to him, Young man, be resurrected. How did she end up a widow? The word of God resides with the widows, the families whose children have died, who can point out the flaws in our values.