Thursday, October 23, 2014

Broken Record

In this Sunday's Gospel reading, we'll hear of the time a lawyer challenging, or testing, Jesus by asking him "which of the commandments is the greatest?"

There are, after all, not just the Ten Commandments in the Torah, but as many as 613 commandments... 248 positive ones ("you shall...") and 365 negative commandments ("you shall not...") 

So, among all these commandments, how to sort, to prioritize: which is the greatest?

Jesus said in response, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: `You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."

Love God with all you've got, and love your neighbor as yourself. It's as simple as that. 

As Michael Moynahan, S.J. has written in his poem/prayer "Broken Record," 

"Grandparenting God,
You see our sin as
symptomatic stutter,
self-effacing struggle
to ignore
the confounding reality
of Your willful

"I love you
because I can't do
anything else.
I made you,
every last part of you:
all that's hidden
and all that's revealed,
all that's muddled
and even all that's clear.
You are,
at the risk
of repeating Myself,
dear to Me.
You are precious
in My eyes
just because
you are Mine.
That's enough for Me.
And it will have to do
for you.

Wrestle with it
until you get tired
and then relax
and give in.
Take a deep breath
and enjoy."

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Kingdom-of-Heaven Life -- RSVP

The gospel appointed for this Sunday starts out reminding us that the life which God intends for us is Kingdom-of-Heaven life, a "God-love life."

Living a Kingdom-of-Heaven life does NOT mean having faith, while we live, in some future thing or place or experience called "heaven" that awaits us only after we die. It does NOT mean doing the best job we can while "down here," and only experiencing the qualities of heaven after our years here on earth are over.

Rather, living a Kingdom-of-Heaven life means having faith that the thing or place or experience called the Kingdom of Heaven is coming, God's will is being done, on earth (in our lives, here and now) as it is in heaven.

Modern-day puritans always seem to want to make God less over-the-top generous and joyful than God really is. But again, if we read the Bible ourselves and not just rely on what other people tell us about it, we'd find, as in Sunday's gospel, some rather astonishing things. Things like Jesus comparing the Kingdom of Heaven to a wedding banquet. A marriage feast.

(Now when you hear "wedding banquet" don't think of some stuffy, dry, contrived formal wedding reception in a rented hotel ballroom. Think of the best party you've ever attended (or, if you are one of those modern-day puritans, think about the best party you've heard about). If parties aren't your thing, think of the happiest time you've ever had. Picture it lasting three days.)

As the 23rd Psalm reminds us, even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death - even though there are places of deep darkness, in Kingdom-of-Heaven life, we fear no evil. God's rod and staff - God's means of discipline, God's commandments and sacraments - comfort us. Again, God is compared to a gracious host, preparing a table for us, filling our cups not with a conservative pour as if we were at some wine-tasting, but to overflowing.

Taking nothing away from the fact that there are, in life, places of deep darkness, and taking nothing away from the fact that there is in fact evil all around us, life is meant to be - life is designed to be - such a feast: while walking through the valley of the shadow of death, we fear nothing and we lack nothing. We feel guided and guarded and shepherded, by God.

God really does intend that kind of life for us. Not just on some exception basis, not just to get glimpses of it, but as a rule.

So what keeps it from happening, other than just occasionally? If Kingdom of Heaven life is how life is supposed to be lived, what keeps us from living it that way?

We do. You and I do.

This Kingdom of Heaven way of life is God's intention and invitation, but it is not automatic.

That's because God has given us the terrible and wonderful gift of freedom.

God has prepared a wonderful banquet called Kingdom of Heaven life, and God does invite us to come join it. But it's an invitation...not a command.

The Lord God of all History
Requests the Pleasure of your Company
Sunday October 12, 2014 and Thereafter

And what's at the bottom of that invitation?

It's not, as I used to see from invitations from the (previous) Bishop to serve on various committees, "Please indicate your acceptance of this appointment by phone or return mail." That kind of "invitation" was simple to deal with: you pretty much know your response, and it is one of obedience. You do what you're told. (And that's fine.)

But that's not what's at the bottom of God's invitation. The invitation to Kingdom of Heaven life, the King's banquet, is not a command performance.

It's not even the "regrets only" that you sometimes you see that at the bottom of an invitation. "Regrets only" is a subtle form of coercion, because it presumes you are coming unless you let the host or hostess know otherwise.

No...what's at the bottom of God's invitation is R.S.V.P.

R├ępondez s'il vous plait.

"Respond, please."

No command performance. No presumption of acceptance. And even though -- as Sunday's parable illustrates - we human beings don't have a great track record on how we've responded to that invitation, the invitation is still there, still ours. Still yours.

A beautiful invitation to an even more beautiful Kingdom-of-Heaven, wedding banquet, God-love life.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Ever Notice that the Ten Commandments Begin with a Self-Introduction?

I ended my last message by saying there are two ways we can avoid religious hypocrisy, two ways to be our truest selves:

First, we need to come to an understanding of ourselves as having been created in the image of an "over-the-top gestures-of-love" God who is forever-forgiving, abundant, joy-filled, and creative.  If that is not God you believe in, then start by repenting -- changing your mind -- about the false god you've been believing in. If you perceive yourself as being made in the image of the god you believe in,  then you  must pay very careful attention to the characteristics of that god you believe in. Because it all starts there.  So let me ask you again: is the god you believe in the "over-the-top-gestures-of-love" God who is forever-forgiving, abundant, joy-filled, and creative? If not, start re-reading (or reading for the first time) the Bible on a daily basis, because that's the God who is revealed in those books.   If you don't know what kind of Bible to get, or you don't know where to start reading, or how to read it, then ask here.

Second,  building from that understanding, in order to avoid religious hypocrisy, we need to put our divinely-received love, spirit-of-forgiveness, abundance, joy-filled nature, and creative spirit into concrete, tangible, visible deeds.

But how?

Well, the Ten Commandments are a pretty good place to start. And the timing is good for a review of them, because they are the assigned Old Testament reading for this Sunday.

The two major points I've made before about the Ten Commandments are:

1)      if we can follow the First Commandment, the other nine come easily, and
2)      the first Commandment begins NOT with a commandment but -- here we go again! -- with a reminder of who God is, what God's character is like:  "I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage."
Notice how we get a little self-introduction before we get a commandment?
It is only after God reminds us of who God is (namely, one who not only desires our freedom, but acts in history to bring our freedom about ) does God tell us what, and what not to do. "I'm a god of freedom, God says, "so why in the world would you have (worship, bow down before, put at the center of your life) anything or any other god than me? Can't you see that all the other gods you are so fond of are only limiting your freedom, and slowly enslaving you?"

God knows it is part of our human nature to try to fill our God-shaped hole with people, work, causes, or other small-g-gods.

And God knows because those small-g-gods over time become idols or even masters, eventually robbing us of our power and freedom, we do lose our freedom and find ourselves (to some degree or another) enslaved...figuratively back in the land of Egypt, back in the house of bondage.

God gives us the other nine commandments not so much as restrictions on our freedom but as things that make truer freedom possible.  So as we'll see in Sunday's "Ten Commandments in Ten Minutes" sermon, I want to show how the Ten Commandments can be thought of as Ten Freedoms. To the degree we can follow the first, and then the other nine commandments, we are more likely to be free from all the idolatries and small-g-gods that would, otherwise, entrap and enslave us, and more likely to be free to live into the image of the God in whose image we were created.