Proper 8(A): Welcome is the Reward

Proper 8(A): Welcome is the Reward

Matthew 10:40-42

By: The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews

“None of these will lose their reward.”

The lectionary does neither essayists nor preachers any favors by plucking these three verses from Matthew 10 to be heard on their own, without any context except the culture and places in which they are proclaimed. These verses are particularly challenging to hear in the American context where some form of prosperity gospel has been at root since the arrival of English Puritans to a land yet unknown to Western Europeans.

In these three verses from Matthew’s Gospel, the American mindset my quickly jump to rewards: What does it take to get the reward? How might we earn “stars in our crowns” as was commonly said in the culture of my upbringing? The concept of stars in one’s crown is not biblical, and this passage certainly doesn’t support it. Neither Jesus nor the author(s) of Matthew’s Gospel spell out what the rewards are, but there is a clear direction for these verses — welcome those who come to you.

“Diversity” is a popular buzzword both in the Church and in the American political left (and the right, but usually with derision). Not only a buzzword, it is often a code word not for welcome, but for tolerance. Religious institutions seek to diversify their make ups by inviting younger people, people of color, or other outliers to be present in bodies of governance, but not to actually voice their unique narrative from being an outsider. This is not diversity or welcome, and it does not bring about the rewards Jesus encourages.

In the Diocese of California, where I was previously the communications officer, diversity is a vitality practice. When the diocese and congregations embraced — truly embraced — diversity there was thriving. Diversity and welcoming of new perspectives were the reward, and vital life followed. Diversity and welcome as a vitality practice insists on going beyond tokenism or structuring organizations to require “one person under the age of 18, one person between 18 and 35” for the sake of optics and optics only.

Optics and representation are important. However, God’s new reign of the Resurrection is not built on optics. It’s built on new life and the freedom of the Resurrected Christ, particularly freedom often yet unknown to those who benefit from and are caught up in systemic power structures. As I wrote for DioCal, “The church is strengthened when varieties of perspectives are shared and each person’s place in the body of Christ is celebrated. To be diverse, we must first wonder if we lack diversity and strive for ways to bring new, treasured people to our midst. A four-part video series on diversity as a vitality tool is available here.”[1]

Not only is the church strengthened, all of civil society is strengthened. Jesus suggests as much when he moves from telling the Twelve, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me” to “whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple.” Jesus assures his hearers that all those doing welcoming will be rewarded, but does not make offering the welcome conditional. His hearers are expected to offer the welcome, not told what their reward will be, and yet will be rewarded. The welcome — bringing in new voices, perspectives, and beloved people of God — is reward in itself.

As Jesus’ hearers today, Christians are expected to offer water — and shelter and visitation — to those in need and those in need of welcome. In mid-2017, there are refugee crises related to warfare and persecution globally. American Christians with voices and representation in their government are charged by Jesus to offer welcome and to direct their government to do the same.

Jesus’ expectation that water will be offered to the little ones is not conditional to fear of the little one’s motivations. Jesus doesn’t say, “whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple — unless they’re scared of the little one — truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”

Heval Mohamed Kelli arrived in the US as a Syrian refugee three weeks after 9/11, after spending six years in Germany. He arrived in Clarksville, Georgia, a city that welcomes 1,500 refugees per year. Kell is a cardiologist now who has moved away from Clarksville but describes his welcome by saying, “’Two days after we arrived in Clarkston, we were terrified. And then all these people arrived at our door with food, wanting to help us learn English … You know, we thought they were the CIA or something, all these white Americans knocking at our door.’ In fact, they were members of Clarkston’s All Saints Episcopal Church: ‘They didn’t look at all like us. But they changed our lives.’”[2]

The Mayor of Clarksville, Kelli, and other residents all describe the innumerable rewards they have all received by being a place of welcome, and place where ethnic restaurants and grocery stores are as vast and varied as the skin tones of humanity.

Clarksville, which offers this welcome, is located in the heart of the American South — where I am from originally ‘a place very vocally opposed to welcoming refugees, particularly from predominantly Muslim countries, regardless of if those countries are embroiled in civil war and those fleeing war need much more than a cup of water. The people — and Christians — of Clarksville are asking for more of their governments, and they will continue to receive their rewards.

In mid-May 2017 the United States denied visa requests from gay Chechen men seeking relief from what is essentially a purge of queer people from society. Lithuania began granting refugee visas just when the United States was rejecting them.[3] From the “Heart of the Bible Belt” to a loudly proclaimed “Christian Nation,” Jesus’ instruction on offering welcome in this passage could not be clearer: simply, it must be done. While Jesus mentions rewards and assures they will not be lost, he does not say what they are.

While human or American inclination may to be ask “What’s in it for me?” this is never the inclination or teaching of Jesus of Nazareth. If that question must be answered “Jesus says to” should be an acceptable answer for those who seek to follow him. When advising the Twelve on how they should be welcomed — and how those most in need should be cared for — he mentions reward, but those who have studied welcome or given or experienced it know how Jesus can be so confident that the reward will not be lost: Welcome is the reward.

[1] “The Beloved Community.” http://diocal.org/bishop/vision/beloved-community#building

[2] “This small town in America’s Deep South welcomes 1,500 refugees a year.” The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/may/24/clarkston-georgia-refugee-resettlement-program.

[3] “Lithuania Opens Door to Gay Chechens Fleeing Persecution, While U.S. Slams It Shut.” Financial Times. http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/05/18/lithuania-opens-door-to-gay-chechens-fleeing-persecution-while-u-s-slams-it-shut-lgbt-lgbti-rights-russia-persecution-asylum-refugee/.

 

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The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews currently lives in Seattle with his husband Brandon and their cats Stanton and Maggie. In his spare time — of which he currently has too much — Joseph plans and cooks food for the week, sews liturgical vestments, goes to the gym and is working on a pattern for a romper. His cats, food, progress photos, and sewing are all on his Instagram, @josephpmathews.

Proper 7(A): Jesus Doesn’t Believe in Family Values

Proper 7(A): Jesus Doesn’t Believe in Family Values

Matthew 10:24-39

By: The Rev. Laura Brekke

One of the notions that I have never understood as a convert to the Christian family is the idea that Jesus stands for “family values.” In the American context, family values are focused on the nuclear family—the mom, dad and gaggle of children version of family. This family is, according to American Christianity, the center of ethical and moral teaching, and thus what Jesus came to preserve, protect, and promote.

Um, what?

Jesus was an itinerant preacher, who left his family and said some unpleasant things to his mom (John 2). When he was rejected in Nazareth his list of siblings is called upon (Mark 6:3) to scold him for bad behavior. But Jesus shrugs off his family, and invites 12 male disciples to do the same. These men likely left behind wives and children. In fact, when one of these disciples asks to go home and bury his father—a sacred duty in Jewish tradition—Jesus says that in order to follow him, one cannot even tarry that long (Matthew 8). One must pick up their Cross and follow Jesus—right now.

And then we have this reading from the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus is clearly setting up a frame of reference in which families are divided. Jesus boldly proclaims: “do not think that I have come to bring peace to earth; I have not come to bring peace but a sword. I have come to set man against his father, and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.” (Matthew 10: 34-36)

Jesus turns our expectations upside down. Jesus astutely foreshadows the kind of divisions that his followers would experience as they struggled within their Jewish (and Gentile) families. Moreover, those reading Jesus’ words in the context of the early Church (and perhaps even the 21st century Church) would have found the divisions about which Jesus speaks to be reflective of their present reality. In both cases, the message is the same: families are going to be divided, and if you don’t like it, get off the Jesus train.

Whoa man, wait a minute.

The dominant voice in American Christianity has been preaching to me the sanctity of marriage and the importance of the family unit! Kids need strong a father figure, and a mother who stays at home and cares for their emotional needs. Gays can’t have kids because it disrupts the traditional family unit! Single mothers should be ashamed for not providing their children with a solid Christian foundation at home. And those who dare to be child-free? They are selfish and not opening themselves to God’s plan!

You’re heard that rhetoric, right? Having growing up in the American South, I certainly did. I didn’t even grow up Christian, but these ideals of the happy single-family house full of smiling healthy kids and two well adjusted parents was sold to me as the American dream. And maybe it is the American dream. But it isn’t the Christian ideal.

In this reading, Jesus is challenging just what the Christian “family” is. Families built on bloodlines will betray one another. Households—which in the ancient world were large and extended—would betray one another. The tribal bonds granted to us because of blood would be made secondary to a new bond—the one to Jesus Christ.

In the first part of our reading, Jesus describes the relationship between students and teachers, and slaves and masters. It’s not that the student or slave should surpass the teacher or master; rather, they are called to “be like” or emulate the teacher or master. We are those students and slaves, and we are called to imitate Christ. We’re called to boldly proclaim the Good News before others. But Jesus knows that this news doesn’t always sound good, and will divide whole communities—right down to father and son.

As Christians, we recognize that our allegiance has shifted. No longer are we to pledge ourselves primarily to family. Indeed, we are called to pick up our Cross and leave our family. What this looks like today is holding all of our relationships loosely, keeping Jesus as the primary relationship in our lives.

It also means we radically redefine family. No longer are parents and children the primary form of family. Jesus created a “found family” with 12 disciples of different ages, skills, and backgrounds. He created family with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. He created family in an Upper Room. Biological bonds are replaced by the bonds of kinship in the great family of Jesus Christ.

What Jesus illustrates with these bold statements is the high cost of discipleship, and the radical reorientation of God’s Kingdom compared with our own. We disciples are the students who are called to imitate the teacher. We are called to proclaim our faith publicly, before the world. We are also called to follow Jesus—to pick up the burden of the Cross—even as it divides our family. We are to find our life in Jesus, and not in the world.

Following Christ is radical. As a convert, I can tell you first hand that it is also divisive—although luckily there have been no sword fights in my family! Living for Christ means that supporting institutions which privilege the few and oppress the many must be called out. It means that we stand up for Jesus’ radical re-imagining of the world, even when it angers our parents, our siblings, our spouses, or our kids. It means that we find new family members in the body of Christ—and that we see other Christians as siblings, not as strangers. The things that are said in darkness must and will be brought to light. It’s a reminder that American values and God’s Kingdom values are not the same. And again, we disciples must choose who to follow.

 

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The Rev. Laura Brekke

The Rev. Laura Brekke is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA) currently serving as a Campus Minister and Director of Religious Diversity at Santa Clara University, a Jesuit Catholic university in California. Her research and programmatic work are focused on interfaith dialogue and intersectional identity. She studied History and Creative Writing at Queens University of Charlotte, and earned her Master of Divinity from Emory University. When she’s not hurrying across campus, she is an avid reader, writer, and book reviewer.

Proper 6A: God’s Inmost Parts

Proper 6A: God’s Inmost Parts

Matthew 9:35-10:23

By: The Rev. Paul Carlson

In this selection of scripture, we read that Jesus calls his disciples, equips them with authority, and then commissions them. But first we read that Christ looks at the crowds, sees their lack of direction and great need for a shepherd (as Jesus often puts it), and has compassion. This, I believe, is extremely important to emphasize when preaching, over and above the more “eye catching” parts of this passage. If we humans, and especially we followers of Christ, do not keep the driving force of Jesus’ presence in our lives (God’s love for all the world—AKA compassion) we will quickly lose track of our Shepherd’s voice, right when we are being commissioned to share that voice with all those who are lost. That small, quick little description of Jesus’ compassion is far too often overlooked in scripture by the more provocative sayings and images that follow directly after his stated motive.

When thinking of a title on this selection of scripture, I was struck by the number of sermons, biblical passage headings, and other commentaries I came across that focused the theme on verses such as, “The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few” or “Shaking the dust” or “Sending the twelve” or “the coming persecutions.” Granted, I did not look in every single English translation, article, or commentary out there, but I went through enough to realize that God’s compassion is not at the forefront of the Western mind when it comes to this particular text. In fact, the only place I did see the word “Compassion” come into the title or theme or heading of this passage was in my 4th edition copy of the Greek New Testament. There, this passage was titled: “The Compassion of Jesus.”

Perhaps it’s because the emphasis gets lost in translation. Or perhaps not. But either way, in the Greek, the connection between this scene where Jesus has compassion on the crowds and the scene in Matthew 9:13, which comes just 20 verses before the start of this reading, is the clear theme to keep in mind. There, Jesus tells the Pharisees exactly what he is about.  He says, “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”

Mercy is what Christ shows throughout all of his ministry. It’s what Jesus reveals God to be both in the Incarnation and in his faithfulness on the cross. And in the Greek, the word for mercy is interchangeable with the word compassion. Furthermore, the compassion Jesus has for the crowds in 9:36 is not a noun like it is in 9:13, but a verb. Jesus is “moved in his inmost parts” with love for the crowds in such a way that the use of this word in the New Testament has messianic significance.  “…for it is only Jesus who shows compassion as in Mk. 1:42; 6:34; 8:2; 9:22; Mt. 14:14; 20:34. In each case what we have is not so much the description of a human emotion as a messianic characterization.”[1]

This text sets the framework for every commission given by our Lord. Jesus’ compassion must always be emphasized over acts of power, inevitable persecution, and knocking off the dust from one’s feet. As the Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:2 “…If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”

When someone asks What Would Jesus Do (WWJD) There should be no hesitation. The answer is written throughout scripture. Jesus desires mercy. God is moved from deep within God’s inmost parts. And so Jesus shows compassion, because that is what He does.  Jesus is the revelation of God’s love for all the world.

Luke A. Powery says in his commentary from Feasting on the Word, “This is good news, because the movement of this passage reveals that when there is a need, Jesus shows compassion, and his compassion causes him to send out others on a mission to serve those in need… All Jesus desires is that the lost be found… It is insufficient just to see human need but not be sent out to do something about it.”

Jesus has seen the need. He has heard the cries of his people. He was and is faithful and compassionate, even upon the cross. The harvest is plentiful and we too have clearly been sent out to labor within it. It is impossible to not see the need. Have compassion, like Jesus did. Be moved toward mercy in your inmost parts just as God is moved in God’s inmost parts. And go into all the world, and share the good news.

[1] Geoffery W. Bromley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament p. 1068

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The Rev. Paul Carlson

The Rev. Paul Carlson is a Lutheran pastor, along with his wife The Rev. Lauren Carlson, at Calvary Lutheran Church in Morganton, North Carolina. Originally from the West Coast, he moved from San Diego to Dubuque, Iowa where he graduated from Wartburg Seminary. He has served calls in Wisconsin and Virginia and is now enjoying the opportunity he gets as a half-time pastor, raising two children in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.

Trinity Sunday: Get to Work!

Trinity Sunday: Get to Work!

Matthew 28:16-20

By: The Rev. Canon Lee Curtis

I have preached every Trinity Sunday of my ecclesiastical career.

I don’t say that to boast—Simply to mark the fact that my ecclesial career has a) not been very long and b) has been spent by and large either as Seminarian, or as an Associate. I remember joking with friends about “Seminarian Sunday,” the last big day before we all head out the door to our respective summer routines, which (at least in many Episcopal churches) means dropping all activity to an idle and taking things slow(er).

It might be that the school year, as it currently stands, was the worst possible thing that could have happened to Trinity Sunday. The Deacon gives the dismissal, and we head for the doors with the same sense of relief as the last day of grade school. The text seems to fit—at least in this Lectionary year. Jesus has risen and has taken his place at the right hand of the Father. Matthew is winding down his Gospel. A nice tidy bow is being wrapped up on the narrative… right up until the last 2 lines:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt 28:19-20)

We act like the passage ends with “Go therefore”, but what we’re getting is the Great Commission. The call to do the work. The Church’s raison d’être.

Trinity Sunday is an invitation. An invitation that we frequently miss. We treat ordinary time like its ordinariness has nothing to offer us. We speak pejoratively about the “Green Seasons” like they’re chores to be performed until we get back to the high points of Church life. The big feasts. The Christmases. The Easters. (We blow right past a number of Marian feasts that occur every summer, but that’s a different rant for a different day…)

We get so wrapped up in the moments of Ecclesiastical performance, that we forget where and why the work is. The work is named. Go Baptize. Jesus makes it clear: I am with the Father and I am with you. So go. Baptize in the name of the God who lives in community and calls us to do the same. To receive the charge and then to step off the gas is precisely what we’re not supposed to do.

That does not mean, however, we simply program more. Program is not what we’re charged with here. Program is not mission. The change of pace that comes naturally in our common life gives us a chance to open up to engaging in our neighborhoods. To forgo a bit of the rigors of performing “church,” to get into the business of community, and to do so in the name of the Trinity.

The Trinitarian bit might be, at least for us in the Mainline, the trickiest spot. It is also the most crucial. I’m blessed to have a job description which demands that I’m out engaging in a neighborhood as a regular part of my work, and what I’ve come to know is that the Trinity is foreign to the way in which the common American conceives of the God they increasingly don’t care about, or flat out don’t believe in. The average “None” is nominally Deist, Arian in what Christology they do have, and practically pantheist in Pneumatology. Jesus as good teacher is not news, and therefore cannot be Good News.

Jesus is part of a God that lives in community with Godself, that speaks to and moves with us in the Spirit. Now that’s news. That’s the Gospel we proclaim. That’s the Gospel that gets communicated when we take the room that the Ecclesial calendars give us, and get on with the work of being in a community, with a community, and for a community.

Trinity Sunday sets us up for a different kind of work. It launches us into the Green Season with the assurance that God is with us, and it demands that we live like it. Rest can very well be a part of that season, but it cannot define it. The world no longer operates on the agrarian patterns that made space for the “summer slump,” and the Church had little business following the academy’s lead in the first place.

Building community is the work. The reality of the Triune God is the good news we carry. If we heed the Great Commission and read well the signs of the season that we’re in, then we can’t help but live into our call. Go therefore. Make disciples. Set the liturgy on autopilot for a bit, sure, but then get on with the work. Maybe even enjoy it. It is Summer, after all.

 

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The Rev. Canon Lee Curtis

The Rev. Canon Lee Curtis, Episcopal Priest and native Floridian, received his Master of Divinity from Candler School of Theology at Emory University in 2013 and serves as Urban Missioner at Christ Church Cathedral in Indianapolis, Indiana, where he works to build community for the city’s booming downtown, and curates the Cathedral’s neighborhood satellite Circle South. He and his wife are the exhausted parents of two young boys. Feel free to follow the madness on IG @thebrokechurchman. Lee also (rarely) blogs at thebrokechurchman.wordpress.com.

Reign of Christ (C): God’s Kingdom Breaking In

Reign of Christ

Luke 23:33-43

By: Casey Cross

Last weekend, I sat with a 12-year-old boy who desperately wanted to die. In reality, it wasn’t so much that he wanted to die, he just really didn’t think he deserved to live. He actually used those words. It was absolutely heartbreaking to hear the depths of his emotion and pain leave him with the conclusion that he did not deserve to be alive anymore. As we worked together through all of this pain, the thing that most quickly settled his turbulent heart was prayer. So he talked to God. He let God know what he needed, “to hear God’s voice clearly, in English,” so he could understand. I think many of us can relate to this feeling of despair and the need to hear God’s response clearly. I know I do.

When he was done praying, I asked him what he thought God’s voice would sound like. After he gave me some of the usual answers, I told him what I thought, that God uses the voices of the people in our lives to give us wisdom and tell us the truth. In this case, to tell him that he is loved and valued and necessary. The affirmation of who this boy is turned into the affirmation of who we believe in, who we know God is as embodied in Jesus the Christ. It was at this point in our conversation that my mind flashed to the image of Jesus dying on the cross and the conversation he had there with God, the accusers that surrounded him, and the men being executed beside him.

In this scene, we hear the answer to Jesus’ question as earlier heard in Luke chapter 9, “Who do you say that I am?” Those that surrounded Jesus as he died were caught up in who he was in comparison to themselves. They were caught in the “If…then…” language that left them with the mindset, we get what we deserve. This line of thinking relies on a perspective that focuses on what is owed to us because it has been earned in some way. Here, we hear Jesus named a criminal (v.33); the Messiah of God, chosen one (v. 35); and the King of the Jews (v. 38).

Yet despite those who called him these names, Jesus answers the question of his identity in his own way. Jesus shows us who he is, with no stipulations, no strings attached in his prayer and petition for the forgiveness of others (v. 34) and in his promise of paradise (v. 43).

Jesus didn’t say that the man next to him deserved to die, nor did he test him on whether he deserved paradise. Jesus did promise that they would be together in paradise that very day. That is something to hold onto. Although what we deserve or don’t deserve may waver with history, context, lawfulness, and opinion, the person and promise of Christ will never change.

Humanity hasn’t changed much over these thousands of years. When we hear about an assault, crime, murder, war, or death, our collective thoughts quickly shift to whether or not it was deserved and why. The question is whether we will choose a perspective that sets us over and against others, or whether we will choose a perspective given to us by the person of Christ, one that relies on who Christ is for us?

Preaching on this text provides an opportunity to live together fully under the Reign of Christ with a practice of Law and Gospel. The law points out all of the ways we deserve death while the Gospel flips the rules upside down with a promise paradise and eternal life even amidst the death throes of sin. Here is an opportunity to see a life under the reign of Christ with new eyes; an opportunity to leave behind the old way of understanding self and God so that we may be reclaimed by the love of Christ, living with full reliance on who Christ is rather than who we are and what we deserve. This is a practice of confession and assurance of forgiveness. This is a practice of professing our faith in Christ and letting go of our grip on personal understandings and judgements.

No matter our age, we are faced with the pain of death, warping our perspective to focus on what we do or do not deserve. For those of us that put our faith in Christ, we are given the power to face down this pain with the truth that we are loved, forgiven, and accepted into the Kingdom of God, not because of anything we have done to deserve it, but because of who God is. My prayer is that the 12-year-old-boy that I spoke with last weekend, along with all of the young people I work with on a daily basis, will know this truth of Christ clearly, so that it reigns in their hearts with every step of their lives. My prayer is that this text is preached in a way that all may recognize the love of Christ, the person of Jesus, personally, so that lives may be freed and transformed. In this way, may we see the reign of Christ reflected through our very lives, God’s Kingdom breaking in.

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Casey Cross

Casey Cross is currently serving as Young Disciples Director at Hope Lutheran Church in Eagle, Idaho. She can be found walking her black lab, Lola; listening to music; reading too many books at once; playing Pokemon Go! with her husband; and sitting around, thinking about stuff that might eventually get written about on her blog: http://caseykcross.wordpress.com.

 

Proper 28(C): Stay With It

Proper 28(C): Stay With It

Luke 21:5-19

By: Dani Scoville

When I received this Gospel passage assignment, I audibly groaned. I have no idea what to do with the apocalyptic Jesus, particularly the NRSV translation of this passage with him. I stared at this scripture for over a month, waiting for something other than what I’m about to share to come up—something more scholarly than what resonated with me in the Message translation. But at the end of the day, the Message telling of Luke 21:5-19 spoke to me in this time and place most. Specifically, the lines “You’ll think at times that the very sky is falling” (Luke 21:11) and “Staying with it—that’s what is required. Stay with it to the end. You won’t be sorry; you’ll be saved” (Luke 21:19).

One of the most frustrating and clique retorts to the why of religion is “faith is a crutch.” It assumes, in that privileged white male straight American way, that we are meant to go through this life journey alone—to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps emotionally, physically, spiritually—after all, anything less makes us weak. This ego-centric approach of shouldering life on our own is destructive, and I’ve seen it lived out through isolated individualism (“I am a rock, I am an island”), substance abuse (self-medicating as a “fix” to a struggle), and workaholism (escapism or proving one’s worth). In trying to do life without God I’ve tried all three of these and they simply don’t work, and worse: they ended up only digging me further into the pit of helpless and perceived aloneness.

“Faith is a crutch”. Well, THANK GOD! Have you looked around recently? With Hurricane Matthew taking at least 1,000 Haitian lives, Donald Trump’s violent and hateful comments against nearly every kind of person, reports of US police brutality against people of color continue to surface in shocking numbers, and the two families that lived above my old apartment in the Mission District of San Francisco this week were unfairly evicted — it certainly feels like “the very sky is falling.” And all that I just listed was only this month. All I can do is desperately cling to my “faith crutch” in order to, as the dearly departed Prince said, “get through this thing called life.” Or as this passage echoes, “Staying with it—that’s what is required. Stay with it to the end. You won’t be sorry; you’ll be saved.”

I need courage right now to hope. To hope that as Martin Luther King Jr. says, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” So when Jesus says repeatedly to “stay with it,” it sounds like Gospel wisdom that speaks so clearly to 2016. It rings of the fruit of the spirit with perseverance—to hold onto hope despite all that is stacked against it.

I have experienced something of staying with it in my limited and privileged time here on earth:

My senior year of college felt like rock bottom to my 21-year-old self. My father had committed suicide earlier in the year, my support system of my three best friends were all gone on their study abroad programs, and I was dealing with daily panic attacks that felt like constant near deaths. Not to mention the common worry of “what the heck do I do after graduation?!” that every senior grapples with throughout their last year. In my limited and individual experience, it felt like the very sky was falling around me, and I felt alone. I was angry at God for all of it and refused to engage in my faith in the ways I had at my church and in my personal practice. So instead of scripture, I went to poetry. It was in this poem by Rainer Maria Rilke that I heard God saying exactly was Jesus was saying in this passage: “Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. / Just keep going.” (Book of Hours, I 59). The “just keep going”, got me through that very difficult season, even though relief didn’t come for a while, it was miraculous perseverance and strength I can only attribute to God.
There is an invitation into the long game in this passage. It doesn’t skirt the reality that life has some real terror and injustice in it. And it instructs us to “stay with it.” Don’t run away, don’t numb out, don’t go it alone. Trusting that, somehow, God is bending that arc towards justice, despite news headlines and soundbytes that say otherwise.

 

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Dani Scoville

Dani Scoville is a certified spiritual director practicing in San Francisco. She is particularly curious about spiritual developmental stages, individuals’ personal experiences, and the relationship between attachment styles and God images. To find more of her writing, visit her blog.

Proper 27(C): This Blog is (NOT) about Marriage

Proper 27(C): This Blog is (NOT) about Marriage

Luke 20:27-38

By: The Rev. William Culpepper

In the introduction to his book “Sex God,” Rob Bell assures us that “this” really is about “that”—meaning  that the book really is about sex, even if it the particular chapter or section didn’t seem to be. It was a particularly good point to make at the beginning of the book because sometimes I found myself reading and asking was “this” really about “that”? And I find myself asking the same thing here: was the Sadducees’ question really about “this”? And was Jesus’ answer really about “that”?

I’m not talking about sex here (although I’m sure there is a commentary out there that does, given that the institution of marriage and sexual intercourse were so tightly bound during this time and in this culture.) But I do want to know what the Sadducees are getting at. Are they asking about marriage? If so, is this an intellectually curious question that has no real answer since we have no idea about the laws of marriage in the next life. Are they asking about resurrection? If so, are they honestly asking or seeking to undermine the teachings of Jesus since they do not believe in resurrection (verse 27)?

Is this some sort of mega-Schrödinger situation in which the woman is both dead and alive and also married to one brother and all of the brothers?

And then there is Jesus’ answer. What is he getting at? Does he adequately answer the question or is this one of those situations where Jesus seems to know more than we do and acts counter to what we would think he would do?

Is this question really about that? Is the answer really addressing that?

Let’s crack these hypotheticals by looking at the person of Luke. This story is included in both Matthew (22:23-33) and Mark (12:18-27), but Luke leaves out something that is included by both Matthew and Mark. In the other two gospels, Jesus begins his response by calling into question the Sadducees’ knowledge of both Scripture and the power of God. Luke probably doesn’t include this little detail because he is writing to a primarily Gentile audience, while the others are writing to primarily Jewish audiences. Instead, Luke begins Jesus response by saying “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage but those who are considered worthy of a place in that and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.” (v. 34-35)

Jesus’ answer is about this and that.

But the ‘this’ and ‘that’ isn’t marriage.

The ‘this’ and ‘that’ is life and death.

“Let’s step away from the hypothetical and into what matters,” says Jesus. Stop asking about a situation that probably never happened and start looking at one that happens everyday. Start asking about the difference between death and life. That is what the Sadducees were missing, and maybe that is what Jesus was referring in those interlinear passages found in Matthew and Mark. Resurrection is throughout the Scriptures; somehow the Sadducees have missed it.

And with no resurrection there is no way to escape death.

And with no escape from death, what can we hope for in this life?

And yet, God offers life as an escape from death through Jesus Christ.

And yet Jesus is the resurrection.

The Sadducees needed to stop asking about the letter of the law and start seeing the resurrection right before their eyes. They needed to open their dead eyes and see the life that is offered by Christ. Because things are different between this age and that age. And the difference is that we worship not “the God of the dead but of the living” (v. 38)

And those who worship this God experience life.

And those who are living that life experience death.

There is a difference between this and that. It’s resurrection. It’s Jesus.

 

Bill-Culpepper
The Rev. William Culpepper

The Rev. William Culpepper is an ordained Deacon in the South Georgia conference of the United Methodist Church. He currently serves as the Associate Pastor and Youth Minister at a church in downtown Macon, Georgia. With a 2 year old daughter and newborn daughter, he and his wife Lindsey have their hands full but wouldn’t have it any other way.