Friday, February 26, 2016

Season After Pentecost

Proper 6 – June 12, 2016

Once when I was working with Kids Against Hunger, someone started a prayer with, “Thank you Jesus for breaking my heart. Thank you for showing me the brokenness in the world. By showing me that brokenness, I know what it is you want me to do.” That’s not how I would say it, but that’s what this gospel is about.

This is the message of the early gospels. Long before Jesus is on the cross. In the 1st century, the Romans were nailing a lot of people to crosses all over. It’s how they kept the peace and kept commerce moving. As you transported your goods on Roman roads, you saw people strung up and you knew exactly how those roads were made safe.

In this gospel, Jesus is invited for dinner with the people he is speaking out against, the Pharisee’s. They are Jews, but Jesus thinks they are too rigid and that they are not doing what good Jews should be doing. The Pharisees just see sinners and want to punish people for breaking rules. They don’t see people who need help. Jesus, somehow, it’s not clear, sees that the sinner in this story has faith. It’s also not clear exactly what she has faith in, but let’s assume it’s the standard, faith in Jesus. And then we have a happy ending of Jesus gaining more followers.

This is a common theme for Jesus, or whomever wrote the early gospels. He speaks to the people in the servant class. These are people who had minimal rights to worship in the way their ancestors did and weren’t invited to dinners with the priests. They wouldn’t have liked their Roman masters and they weren’t especially happy with their puppet ruler King Herod or his priestly class.

Jesus looked at all this and realized the world was broken, but instead of fighting the powers of the day, he said the first thing to do is stop being angry at the world. Love your neighbor. Recognize them for their desire to remain part of the community, not their specific knowledge of arbitrary rules.
Realize that most of those people, privileged or not, are victims of the same screwed up education about what’s right and wrong that all of us are getting. He said, we’re all being told, slavery is okay and you’re a slave. The masters are being told, slavery is okay, and you’re a master. Even if they were not a slave owner, they were being told to support that system, work hard, and maybe one day, they would get to have a slave!

That’s how a system like that is kept in place. The important thing to note is, it’s the same narrative for both classes. Jesus spoke against the narrative. He said, look below you at the lepers that you won’t touch, touch them. Bring them into the community. If you don’t, what is this community for? What does it represent? If we aren’t washing the feet of the whores, who are we to say we are better than them? If we aren’t forgiving their sins, why should we expect our sins to be forgiven? There are limits to this of course. Intolerance of intolerance will be covered elsewhere. But, if you look to the people in power and seek to gain what they have, you are perpetuating the same narrative that enslaves you.

None of this precludes having goals. If you want to be Queen or King or CEO or head cheerleader or whatever you think will make a difference in the world, that’s great, find people to support you. But you can’t be all of those things, no one can be everything. We would admire the person with 4 PhD’s, but think of the hundreds of other degrees they don’t have, or the street knowledge they probably don’t have. There are rare people like Neil DeGrasse Tyson, who is successful due in part to his vast knowledge of the cosmos, and of movies and TV. He often relates an amazing fact about the stars to a super power of some cartoon character.

The goal is not watch more TV if you are PhD, or to go get a PhD if you like watching movies. The lesson is, on your quest to rule the world make some friends along the way, don’t forsake those friendships for the goal. The goal will evolve and might never be reached, but human contact is always available. When you get passed over for the Nobel Prize, again, it will be nice to have someone you can talk to. If you’re trying to decide to clear a forest so you can build the mega-hospital for cancer research, or to leave it there for the spotted owl, it would be nice to go for a walk in that forest with someone who gets you. Jesus didn’t build his following by successfully arguing theological points with the High Priests. He built it by showing compassion to the people in the street.


This NT reading gives some context for fitting the gospel story into the larger Biblical story of the meaning of the messiah and how Jesus brought a new Covenant. It is a good passage if you are playing “theological football” and want to make an argument for “works”. It is also a passage that can be used to argue for any action because you are “justified in Christ”. Justification for actions requires reasons. Having good reasons comes from understanding the world as best we can.

If religion is a quest to determine the forces in the universe and to align yourself with them, and you have reasons for believing Jesus is a way to connect to the forces, then this passage gives you some useful information. If, on the other hand, you don’t have reasons for accepting Jesus as your path to a better life here and in the hereafter, this passage doesn’t offer much. We are left with the quest to understand the universe and figure out where we fit in.

OT – Kings 21
This is a story of retribution by God to a King who did not respect God’s claim on land. It has no real value in the modern world.

For convenience, when I say “Jesus”, I mean “the early gospel writers whose names we don’t really know and we don’t how well the early messages were transcribed or if they have survived multiple translations and multiple copies.”

When I say “gospels” or “gospel writers”, I’m not talking about 4 people we know by first name. We don’t actually know who those people were. We have some idea of when each gospel written and the earliest one was 30 to 50 years after the events it claimed happened. These should be in the background of any sermon. You can choose to teach them from the pulpit or elsewhere, but the facts are not in dispute, at least not by most and not by much.

The oldest actual copies of the gospel are from around 250 AD. They are completely useless for confirming the truth of miraculous events. They give us some insight into lives of ordinary people and their thoughts from a long time ago. This makes them valuable as historical source documents. But source documents have to be evaluated in the context of everything else you know about that time and place.  

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