Inside and outside

30 August 2009
Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 17B (RCL)

Song of Solomon 2:8-13
Psalm 45:1-2, 7-10
James 1:17-27
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

On Sunday past, I asked folks to write on a 3×5 card whatever ministry they had done in the last week, and place it in the offering basket. They could put their names on the card, or not, as they desired. After service, several people told me they didn’t put anything in the basket, because it felt like “blowing their own horn.” Christians aren’t supposed to do that, I guess. I’m going to push back this week. I intend to ask if putting money in the basket is “blowing our own horn” (the more I put in the more I make, right?). Since the cards can be anonymous, this is about offering: what do we offer? I want to learn how folks understand their Christian faith.

James tells us to be doers of the word and not hearers only, and that faith without works is dead. Martin Luther famously did not like the Epistle of James, because it seemed to favor a “works righteousness” rather than pure grace. The Song of Solomon is a love poem, and can be read that way pretty simply. It has often been read as an allegory of the love of God for the community or for the soul. Anyone knows that a marriage or partnership can’t be based on pure grace. Yes, it is pure grace that my spouse or partner loves me, even given all the things I’ve done, but if I don’t respond in kind, and show it, what good is that? The reading from Mark’s gospel also seems to imply that outward deeds reflect inward realities, and inward realitites can be shaped by outward deeds. The trick is getting the inside to match the outside, or one might say, the inside and outside are going to match, no matter what. Change one, change the other.

This Sunday, we have three baptisms. It is easy to talk about the love of God when we are baptizing infants and young children, but they do have a way of growing up. The love between God and the Christian must mature as the Christian matures, just like we can assume the love between the two lovers in the Song of Solomon must mature.

So, what is our resistance to writing down on a card the ministries we have engaged in? We want to keep the inside inside. Certainly, we don’t want to brag, and that is good, but if I kept my love of my spouse to myself, what good would that do? The exercise make us think about what we are offering, how our vocation as Christians encompasses our whole lives, and that it continues week by week.

Where is God in all this?

23 August 2009
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 16B (RCL)

1 Kings 8:1, 6, 10, 22-30, 41-43
Psalm 84
Ephesians 6:10-20
John 6:56-69

[That’s one of the five questions, by the way]. These are rich lessons this week. How to distill from them a sermon?

Solomon pulls off a daring shift in theology. Up until Solomon, God had been a god of war. The ark lived in a tent, always ready to decamp to the battlefield. The Tent of Meeting was always at the center of the “camp.” The poles made it possible to carry it out to battle, and the story surely shows it being used this way. Now, all of sudden, we pray to God at the Temple during drought, famine, plague and the like. The ark is settled permanently. It no longer goes out to battle. That’s a huge shift.

Ephesians certainly captures the imagery of war: the whole armor of God. But, our struggle is with cosmic forces, not armies. So, does the author of Ephesians imagine an ark-like presence of God within a mobilized community? We are to fight the “cosmocrators” of the world, a reference to the Caesars of the world. Certainly subversive.

And more bread and wine. John tells us that whoever drinks the blood of the Human Being has life. Jesus dwells in that one, and that one in Jesus, just as the living father sent him, and he lives through the father, so that one will live through Jesus. Startling language in several regards. First, just the cannibalistic aspect is shocking. But beyond that, the blood: The institution of sacrifice as described in Leviticus prevents the use of blood. Blood belongs to the deity, because blood is life, and all life, all life is God’s. So, we are to drink the blood (the life) of the deity. So, we are the deity.

After changing water in to wine, John reports no long discourse of Jesus. All the other “signs” in John’s Gospel get a discourse. This one, instead, is followed by the Temple Act. Jesus, when asked by what authority he does these things, says, “Destroy this Temple and I will rebuild it in three days.” Jesus’ body replaces the Temple. John’s community replaces the altar, where the blood is poured. Note that the sign of water to wine takes place at Capernaum, and we are told Jesus delivers this discourse teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.

The community, then, is the presence of God in the world, both for battle against the forces of evil, and for prayer at the Temple. Solomon invokes God’s name over the Temple, so that when people pray at the Temple, God will hear in heaven. If we are the altar, then when people entreat us, God hears in heaven (or in our midst). That’s an awesome responsibility. What we bring to God is what gets brought to God.

Gnawing on Jesus

16 August 2009
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 15B (RCL)

1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14
Psalm 111
Ephesians 5:15-20
John 6:51-58

What are we to make of Solomon? We are told that he walked in the statutes of his father David, and God assures Solomon that if he walks in God’s ways as did David, God will be with him. David walked in God’s ways?! We are told Solomon loved the Lord, only he sacrificed at the high places, habitually offering thousands of burnt offerings at the high place of Gibeon. In later times, offering at the high places would be seen as one of the worst possible sins. So, did Solomon love God or not? It must be that at the time of Solomon, offering at the high places was not seen as a sin. It was something read back into history by the post-Exilic editors, as a way of explaining why bad things happened. As long as we are large and in charge, we tend to think God is with us. It’s only when things go south that we start to wonder where we messed up. So, in his day, Solomon was a good king.

The Ephesians passage has to do with conduct at banquets: don’t get drunk, and don’t employ outside entertainment (flute girls, for example). Sing spiritual songs yourselves. These would have been very modest and moderate banquets.

And then, Jesus in John: Whoever does not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood has no life. The word that Jesus uses for “eat” in this passage is the Greek trogein. It means to gnaw. A hole gnawed by a mouse is called a trogle and one who creeps into such a hole a troglodyte. The imagery is graphic. We are to gnaw on Jesus’ flesh the way a mouse gnaws on wood. And drink his blood — a horror for any Jew. Drinking blood was forbidden, because the life of an animal was in the blood, and life belonged to God. So, we are not to eat Jesus just as food, but to ingest his very life, which belongs to God. And, it’s not just simple swallowing, but gnawing.

Maybe eating Jesus doesn’t happen quickly or easily. Maybe we have to work at it. It’s not just swallowing a wafer, but changing a way of life. If we, collectively, are the body of Christ, then perhaps individually, we are particles of flesh. We are being instructed to ruminate on each others’ lives. Savor them, extract every bit of life we can from them. The people who frustrate me, what can I learn by ruminating on their lives? Can I learn to appreciate them by gnawing on them? What makes them who they are?

In the recent debate of health care, we seem to have lost the ability to listen and hear. Those shouters at town hall meetings, what are they afraid of? What would we learn if we chewed on their lives for a while? Do we savor the lives of those without health care? If we took their lives into ours, what would change?