Writings related to Epiphany Year A

Healing the Divide

For Sunday, February 19, 2017 – Matthew 5:38-48

From the beginning of his ministry, Jesus seeks to bring together what has been divided. Not to balance the opposites. Not to teach us to see one another as separate but equal and to encourage us to practice greater tolerance and acceptance. More than tolerance, he wants to reveal to us the potential we have to be a new entity altogether, stronger and more beautiful for our differences—a new creation revealing to the world the true nature of God.

However the opposites might be identified—Jews and Gentiles, religious and secular, righteous and unrighteous, rich and poor, healthy and chronically ill, incarcerated and free, the judged and the judgmental, children and adults, those educated in schools or on the streets, those with or without decent jobs or fair housing or adequate access to food, with or without the “correct” political, religious, social ideologies—Jesus knew the truth about us. We are one. And he knew the nature of God, who does not waste energy measuring out life, the sun and the rain, in varying portions depending on whether we are deserving or undeserving, but who scandalously pours out the same abundance on all.

How will he teach us to be more aligned with this kind of God? Jesus suggests some practices; you’ll have to read them to believe them. None are easy but all are guaranteed to change our perceptions about people we might have considered to be beneath us, deplorable, or disgusting. Trying to implement any of these disciplines in our own settings would help move us beyond judging and ridiculing, beyond tolerating what we thought was intolerable, and into taking the risk of face-to-face, concrete acts of generous solidarity. Practicing them together in community would help us begin to believe more fiercely in the dream of a new creation and its power to change the world.

Jesus does not hope that we will eventually learn to accept our differences and put up with those who annoy us or undermine us. No, he seeks something much deeper, something that will reveal more truly who God is: that we will become a new body entirely. He wants us to stop trying to find the perfect balance among all persons, perceptions, and opinions. Rather, he wants us to live together, messily, clumsily, toward the perfecting of love. He longs for us to heal the divides and be a sign to the world that it’s possible.

We Know What We Know

For Sunday, February 12, 2017 – Matthew 5:21-37

Jesus reminds us that we already know what we need to know. We already have heard the Ten Commandments and memorized the Golden Rule and know we should put them into practice in our affairs. “But I say to you” … there’s more. The outer practices need to be integrated inwardly.

“You shall not murder” is the outward practice; equal to it, Jesus says, is the inner practice: “You shall not take out your anger on anyone.” Jesus says, “You already know about not committing adultery.” But I say … thinking it is the same as acting on it. If we start to realize that our thoughts and actions are one, we might as well start cutting off parts of our body and tossing them away as to try to rid ourselves of all infractions. Our most valiant attempts at righteous living will seem impossible, regardless of our rigor and discipline, when knowing and following the rules is only part of the equation. We also must know and follow our inner truth, and the truth is, we are not yet fully integrated.

Such a realization can be difficult to accept. We feel shamed by our hidden thoughts and intentions, especially those for which we have enjoyed judging others harshly. But one thing we know for sure is that Jesus is not president of the Shame Club. His motive is never to shame us but to free us. Freedom lies in realizing we cannot achieve our own righteousness or accomplish our own ideas of perfection. Even following all the commandments will not get us there. Only as we examine the inner condition of our hearts and find reconciliation with our accuser, whether another person or our own conscience, do we begin to relax into the truth of ourselves. Only then does our ‘Yes’ become ‘Yes’ and our ‘No’ become ‘No.’ Only then are we able to give the world the gift of ourselves and receive the gift of others.

This is at the heart of Jesus’ mission, at the heart of his love for us and all creation, that we find the joy of simply giving and receiving ourselves. Not to live more rigidly by the rules, not to force those rules upon others, but to find the fulfillment of integration, when our outward actions align with our inward intentions and we start to breathe more easily and enjoy each other more fully. In this way we come to know what we already know—that we are here not to judge but to love.

Who We Are

For Sunday, February 5, 2017 – Matthew 5:13-20

We lose ourselves in striving to become people we imagine to be the right kind of people, pleasing to God, rather than simply being who we are. We strive after what might not be ours to do rather than submitting humbly to God’s tasks each day, as hidden and small as they might be. Jesus seeks to show us the way to a life that is not about striving but is easier, lighter, more joyful and free.

Rather than chastising his followers for failing to achieve a certain status among the religiously devoted, Jesus says they already ARE what God made them to be. “You are the salt of the earth,” he says. “You are the light of the world.” Right now, before we change the world, before we accomplish greatness, the very essence of who we are is serving a purpose. We are, in our core, adding flavor to life. We have been created, like salt, both to preserve what needs to be preserved and to corrode and melt what needs to be changed.

We are not on our way toward brightness. We are, right now, light—not only for our own little lives, but light for others, set on a lamp stand, lighting the entire house. Together our lights are like a city shining on a hill by which every tired wanderer can find her way home. As we accept and live daily in the truth of who we are, we are able to do the kinds of good works that matter, that heal both giver and receiver. We will not worry and work so hard at doing what we think we must, as so many of our inner village scribes and Pharisees seem to do, but we will do what we are more suited for doing. We will breathe in mercy and breathe out justice, breathe in love and breathe out peace.

To be who we really are is to live more and more in the essence of who Jesus really is. To be salt and light is to be mercy and justice, to stand up and reach out, without fear, wherever we are needed. It is to be the oxygen of hope that assures the world the holy one is among us, transforming and renewing. How? Just by making us more ourselves, living our true nature.

The Blessing Path

For Sunday, January 29, 2017 – Matthew 5:1-12

A friend of mine says this gospel passage is simply how Jesus defines sanity, how to keep our heads on straight when the world makes our minds spin. The culture that holds sway over us says we should want to “make it big.” We should want to be and do “what really matters,” which is to accumulate more power, more influence, more attribution. Jesus, on the other hand, says we will have more fun being poor, with no power in our pockets.

The world says, try to avoid anything that brings pain or, God forbid, might even make us weep, but Jesus says if we never weep, how will we learn what it is to be comforted? If we never mourn, how will we recognize the blessing of joy? It’s not when we are already filled up with the gluttony of right answers, satiated by promises of good times to come, but when we are hungry and thirsting for justice and unsure that we will ever be filled that we can honestly search for mercy, beg for a pure heart, and count on receiving them. It is not the peace so much as the longing for peace, the long agony of finding ourselves empty, that draws us closer to the One who has all we need.

Life is not difficult now so that we will more greatly appreciate being rewarded someday in heaven. Life is difficult now simply because it is difficult now. And the reward is to see it, to feel it, to let it in. When we refuse to accept that life is not to be continually altered, continually tweaked for our pleasure, we miss a simple truth: Life is what it is, and what it is, is Life. A mixed up muddle of sorrow and peace and joy and poverty and longing. We miss it if we spend all our time trying to shut the doors, bar the windows, before Life can get to us, before God can show us how good the awful parts can be. When we let the difficulties be what they are, then we can be who we are—cherished and able to live through whatever comes.

We are not in control of life, the difficulties or the blessings. But we can learn to expect them and to receive them as guests, as guides, as friends who come to show us the blessing path.

All Good or All Bad?

For Sunday, January 22, 2017 – Matthew 4:12-23

Life, contrary to popular theory, is not sometimes very, very good, nearly perfect, and at other times really, really bad. I hear gospel preachers say we are now experiencing a dawning of hope as the new administration takes office, while others say this political change represents the most perilous time in our history. Is one story completely right and the other completely wrong? Does any man or woman have the capacity to alter the nature of our inner and outer worlds and change who we are? Rather than blaming or crediting another for a world we see as either wonderful or perilous, perhaps we need to learn to accept responsibility for a world that is both of these at once.

Soon after Jesus starts to live into his baptism, discovering and deepening his calling by living his gifts for the sake of others—a hopeful period if ever there were one—he hears that John, his baptizer and front man, has been silenced and removed. Wanting to send a clear threat to Jesus, the authorities arrest John, torture him, and threaten him with death. How much worse could things become? The dream surely will die. All hope is lost. At least that’s the extreme way we tend to tell our stories. But Jesus, you’ll notice, has another way.

Jesus keeps moving forward, step by step, practicing his calling, going where he is sent, doing what he is given to do, honing in on his central purpose which is determined by a force larger than the current conditions.The news about John does not deter him; it motivates him to share it even more boldly, and to find others who do not think life is either all good or all bad but who see its great potential for being both at once. “Repent!” Jesus cries out, as John had done before him. “Repent” of the idea that all is lost and these present days are perilous and you have been abandoned. “Repent” for shutting your eyes to all the potential and promise of heaven that is right here with you, breaking through in beautiful interconnected patterns that only God could create.

No matter what dire situations you see as monopolizing the world, the greater truth is that a light has already dawned in the regions of death. Announce it. Invite others to live in it with you. All is not lost. Now go prove it.