Monday, March 31, 2014

Fourth Tuesday in Lent

“Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the Lord’s body eat and drink judgment against themselves. . . . But if we judged ourselves, we would not be judged. . . . So then, my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat [the Lord’s Supper], wait for one another.” 
1 Corinthians 11:28, 29, 31, 33

One thrust of Paul’s instructions in this epistle, is that we should come to the Lord’s Table with “clean and contrite hearts.” In order for the bread and wine to truly make present for us Christ’s death and resurrection, we must know and take responsibility for our own failings.

More striking to me about today’s passage from 1 Corinthians was the particular sin, and the amends for it, that Paul was focused on. The Corinthians had been splitting into factions, some of them cutting ahead in line and getting drunk, while others were left hungry. To Paul, it is very important that we all approach the table as equals: “when you come together to eat, wait for one another.”

Having drifted from the Episcopal Church in 1979, I had first seen communion offered in a circle around the altar, only in 2001, at my cousin’s ordination as a Congregationalist minister. “Standing equidistant from the table makes for a lovely ceremony,” I thought, “for Congregationalists,” but I assumed that that sort of thing wouldn’t fly back ‘home’ in the church of Bishops, Priests and Deacons.

I am so glad that I was very wrong in that assumption. Standing around the altar in a circle, as we do here, my new home, is a way of living the instructions of St. Paul: of waiting for one another.  The Lord’s supper feels so much more communal to me, when we stand in a circle, equidistant from the table and nearly level with the servers, rather than approaching the altar from below, with a railing barricading the table and the officials from the people receiving the supper.

― Patsy Goolsby

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Fourth Monday in Lent

Today the Church reflects upon an episode in St. Mark’s gospel when Jesus miraculously gives a deaf and mute man the ability to hear and speak.  We ordinarily speak of the episode as, “Jesus heals a deaf man.”  But this is strange. First of all, why “heal” a man of being deaf?  Many today, including scholars working in Deaf theology, do not wish to be “healed” of being deaf, any more than they wish to be “healed” of being female or “healed” of being smart.

And the episode is strange on another count, as well.  Why “heal”  this man and no one else?  Jesus does not “heal” all the deaf people whom he meets. He heals this one. For everyone whom Jesus heals, there are any number whom he does not heal. One explanation may lie in His words in Luke 4: “Many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a great famine in the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath in the land of Sidon”—that is, outside Israel.  Christ here is making a point about salvation being extended by God beyond God’s own Chosen People, even to the gentiles. Likewise, “there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed but only Naaman the Syrian.” These miraculous healings opened new communities to God’s salvation and opened Israel to new communities. They de-provincialized the kingdom of God. 

St. Mark does not say Christ “healed” the deaf man, but rather that he made him to hear and speak. This would have enabled the man to liaise between the deaf and hearing communities more effectively, to help them understand each other (not to homogenize them).  This is one reason why Gallaudet University, a great center of Deaf learning, has chosen this verse of Mark as its school motto: “Ephphatha,” “let it be opened.”  This Lent, let us be opened; let us learn from each other in Christ’s Church.  

— Ashley Faulkner

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Fourth Sunday in Lent

Psalm 19      Genesis 48:8-22     Romans 8:11-25      John 6:27-40

“Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’” (John 6:35)  Hmm.  What if you really believe that?  Really.  Literally.

Then you may lose sight of the promise Jesus made to his disciples   “that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.”  (John 6:40)  Instead you may be a confident supporter of the ‘Prosperity Gospel,’ and believe in their doctrine that financial blessings are the will of God—and, to put it bluntly, “if you have it, God blessed you with it.  And if you don’t, well,  what does that say about you?”  In this doctrine, poverty is a curse that can be broken by faith. So, obviously. . . .

And if you are among the unfortunate, you may have listened to proponents of this prosperity doctrine long enough to actually believe that you deserve your plight.  No safety net for you; just pray harder.

I have great difficulty and dislike for proponents of the prosperity gospel.  They do not reflect the teachings of Jesus.  What to do?  Maybe I need to spend more time and effort towards an increase in the minimum wage, show more activism for social justice, and lobby for more English teachers—to explain the difference between literal, figurative, parable, allegory, metaphor, illogical conclusions, and perhaps most importantly, selfishness.

  Diane Wakat

Friday, March 28, 2014

Saturday in the Third Week of Lent

Psalm 136 is a song of praise to God. The repeated refrain “his mercy endures forever” is both a memory of the mighty works described in each verse, as well as a promise of continued mercy into the future forever. The work of creation is praised in the Psalm along with God’s mercy and continuing love through the events of history. These repeated words of the refrain echo through the other readings.

The Genesis story stresses family commitment and recalls God’s promise to Israel. Joseph’s promise to Jacob is an example of honoring a parent’s wishes and is an image of God’s love for us. The story also prefigures the commandment of filial honor to be revealed in the wilderness. In the reading from Mark, history (as religious tradition) is given a different context. Jesus is often critical of the rigid practices of his Jewish contemporaries, especially when, as here, religious practice has become an excuse for selfishness. We learn of a peculiar Jewish religious law and hear Jesus calling out the hypocrites who practice outward religion for personal gain. They have forgotten the greater message of the commandment to honor father and mother, in favor of a self-serving false gift to the temple. Jesus then sharpens and clarifies his message by explaining that sin (uncleanness) comes from within a person; external practice will not cleanse an impure heart. Paul recalls Israel’s history for the Corinthians. Israel’s time in the wilderness was a time of temptation. He tells the Corinthians that even with temptations all around, a pure heart will convey the inner strength to resist. Paul thus reinforces Jesus’ teaching in the Gospel reading by stressing the strength found in a pure heart.

History can be a teacher and example. Tradition can be enlightening or a convenient mental straitjacket. We know that God’s mercy endures outside history, throughout eternity. We know that sin and salvation live in the heart.

—  Charles Lancaster

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Friday in the Third Week of Lent

Jesus walking on water was not luck. Jesus has been praying all night.  The disciples are out on a boat on the lake.  They are struggling to row against wind.  Before dawn, he goes out to them, walking on the water.  They are understandably amazed. Afterwards, they travel around together and people recognize Jesus. They bring him their sick and he heals them. These events, walking on water and healing of the sick, are referred to as miracles, a word that is also of course commonly used today. I collaborated with my children—Alex, Jack and Amelia—to think about what miracles are and whether this word carries the same meaning today.

What are miracles? Miracles are remarkable ways God makes His presence known in our lives through his son Jesus, holy people, or everyday life. Though miracles are unexpected or unusual, a “once in a blue moon” (Amelia) rare occurrence, they can happen to anyone.  As with the disciples, often people don’t understand the miracle or recognize God’s hand in them. Alex says, “[miracles are] something amazing that God causes to happen.  I have many miracles in my life, but I don’t think of them as miracles.”

What about modern miracles? We looked at some “modern miracles,” from the Chilean miners who survived 69 days underground to science like DNA mapping to Marian apparitions.  Are these miracles?  By our definition, yes and no. These events are unexpected and rare, but some modern miracles also look very much like luck.  And, as Alex points out, some modern “miracles” can also be explained by science and the idea that “everything has to happen for a reason.  Math has reason too and if there aren’t any miracles in math so why should there be in science?  There’s only a miracle when science finds out a new thing.” As for the Marian apparitions, my skeptics felt that “people were trying to see her so they see her; they want to see her, a mirage.”  Certainly these miracles follow a different process than Jesus’ miracles, which people “see,” if at all, after the fact.
Final thoughts: “Back then miracles were way different than ours” (Jack). “I think that there are miracles today like there are in the Bible ―miracles can’t just stop happening but not as good ones as back then, not as big” (Alex).

                                                                           — The Nachbar Family