The 10 Commandments & Jesus

Over recent decades we have heard of a number of controversies about the public display of the 10 commandments. Lawsuits were filed and courts have weighed in. Private citizens and public officials applauded the decisions, or have decried them and predicted the ruin of our society unless these are returned to a place of prominence in public buildings, courts, and schools. There is a great deal of emotion and energy behind these discussions. But what is rarely discussed is the 10 Commandments themselves and Jesus’ teaching in regard to them.

The context of the passage in Exodus in which Moses received them is familiar. He leads the people of Israel from bondage in Egypt through the Red Sea into the wilderness of the Sinai Peninsula. In the wilderness they camp at the foot of the mountain. Many religions regard mountain tops as sacred site or thin places. Moses goes to the top of the mountain and after a long time on the mountain brings down tablets on which these laws were written.

Many of us have seen the movie like the Ten Commandments and think of them as large stone tablets several feet high and quite thick. In reality that is a modern visualization. The tablets of that time would have been clay tablets written in tiny cuneiform or early Hebrew letter, tablets that could be easily held in the hand.

No matter the size of the tablets the Ten Commandments provided an ethical and moral base for the development of Judaism. But they did not develop in a vacuum. One of the earliest codes, that of Hammurabi (a king who reigned in Babylonia) is estimated to have originated between 1792 and 1750 B.C.). The Ten Commandments, (also known as The Decalogue), are estimated to have originated around 1446 B.C. The Ten Commandments thus came after the Law Code of Hammurabi.

We should not assume that because the Code of Hammurabi was first, that the10 Commandments borrow from them. We should recall the Code of Hammurabi focused exclusively on criminal and civil laws and meted out what in the present we see as harsh, and sometimes brutal, punishments. The Law of Moses covers more than a legal code; it speaks of sin and of our responsibility to God as well as to society and to others.

Both Hammurabi and Moses recorded laws which were unique to their times. Hammurabi claimed to receive his code from the Babylonian god of justice, Shamash. Moses received the Law atop Mount Sinai from the God of the Israelites.

The difference in the time frame between them allows the evolution of what constituted just punishment for crime. Often cited is what is referred to as the Lex Talionis. In Leviticus it is phrased, “And a man who injures his countryman – as he has done, so it shall be done to him – fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. To us that may seem like retaliation but in the ethical development of humanity it was a reform – it was a more reasonable punishment than more severe injury or death. Here is the beginning of the reform and reframing of punishments to ones that fit the crime – that produce something better resembling justice if not restoration and redemption.

The commandments themselves are fairly familiar to us:
The first four speak to a proper relationship with God, the rest address relationships within the covenant community of Israel.
The first re-enforces that it was this God of Israel who brought the people out of slavery. And so there shall be “no other God’s before me.”

Notice that in these early stages of the development of Judaism it does not deny the fact that other people worship other Gods… but for Israel there are to be no God’s to which one has a greater or equal allegiance.

The second commandment is “You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them nor worship them…”

This commandment forbids the making of idols or objects that put themselves in God’s place in our lives. We are reminded of the story of the Exodus where the people make an image of a golden calf.

The third commandment forbids taking the name of the Lord in vain… In the ancient near east most cultures used oaths and incantations using the name of the god to “harness” or bend divine power to serve human interests. Thus this is as applicable today as it was in the Sinai several millennia ago.

The Fourth Commandment is about observing the Sabbath. It is about cessation from work for a day. It would seem that for the people of Israel rest was written into the very nature of their living. Rest allowed time to develop a deeper relationship with the creator.

The remaining commandments offer specific prohibitions that regulate relationships. It begins with the family “Honor your father and your mother…”
One thing we may miss is that this commandment in that patriarchal society actually elevates the status of women… as equal partners with men in relationship to children. It also created the probability of a flow of tradition between generations.

The sixth is you shall do no murder. This prohibits homicide, an upsetting of the social order. But doesn’t really address warfare, capital punishment or even revenge killing. These Jesus later addresses in the Gospel.

The seventh is “You shall not commit adultery…”
This is not so much about sexual purity as it is about family integrity and the legitimacy of children and inheritance. We should recall that a number of sexual activities outside of marriage are not forbidden nor addressed in this commandment. This too Jesus addressed and broadened in his teachings in the Gospels.

The 8th is “You shall not steal.”
This commandment guards the stability of the larger society by protecting private property. But it was understood not to preclude such things as the right of the poor to glean food in the corners of the field or pother measures that provided some small measure of we might call a social safety net for the poor.

The 9th reads You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
This is a defense against perjury in legal cases as well as a prohibition against more trivial lying about another. That this was an ongoing problem can be seen in the words and accusations of various Hebrew prophets

The 10th is You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

This helps focus the members of this covenant community beyond outward actions to inner thoughts that leads to rehearsing in thought an action that threatens the stability and integrity of the family or community.

It is important to note that these commandments are promulgated for those who are within the people of Israel – the covenant community. They did not apply to how one related to those not in the covenant community.

The ten commandments are a significant step forward in the moral and ethical development of the Judeo/Christian ethos. But it is a step and not the final destination.

In the Gospels when Jesus was asked about the most important of the commandments he did not respond with any one of these 10 commandments. He answered saying “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, all your mind and all your strength; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

In this we see Jesus building on the foundation of the Ten Commandments – most of which are prohibitions of what not to do – and creating a framework that guides us in how we should act and relate to another – whether in the covenant community or not.

We honor the 10 Commandments as an important step in the religious, moral and ethical development but see them further developed and expanded in Jesus teaching.

We see the same thing happening in the Gospel this morning as Jesus entered the Temple in Jerusalem and observed the noise, the competition among the various vendors and the profit motive that drove them and the temple officials. It was a place that had forgotten its core purpose. His response was to overthrow their tables reminding them the temple was a place for encountering the creator not a marketplace for profiteering.

In his relationship with the apostles and disciples Jesus always invited them to grow in their understanding beyond a surface familiarity and to deepen their spiritual roots.

Jesus reinterpreted the Law – even the 10 Commandments – in ways that prove to be less focused on the negative, more open to interpretation and yet more restrictive of the ungodly attitudes and actions that a strict interpretation of the 10 commandments would allow.

If we want to know what it is God wants from us and wishes for us to do we need Jesus’s summary of the law – Love God with all your being and your neighbor as yourself” – not the 10 Commandments.
And if we want to provide a place to display what it is that God requires of us, the place is to write Jesus’ teaching in our hearts and memories.

Lent is that time to be reminded of what mattered most to Jesus and to commit ourselves to follow in that way of life and action.


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“Celebrating” a New Year?

There we were celebrating the first Sunday of the new church year – Advent 1 – and what are we hearing for lessons…

From Isaiah.. “we became like one who is unclean, we fade like a leaf and our iniquities take us away… you have hidden your face from us…”

The psalm asks “”How long will you be angry with us…. And pleads “restore us O God of hosts, and we shall be saved…”

Paul’s encouragement to the Corinthians sounds hopeful…at least before we undestand the context.

Then we get to the Gospel from Mark talking about the end time, suffering, stars falling from heaven, and  suddenly the elect will be gathered from the four winds…

And we are told keep alert.  Keep awake… and ends with keep awake…

Doesn’t exactly sound like readings that are celebratory… doesn’t make us feel good or want to dance or even to enthusiastically praise God at the end of the reading.  What is going on here?

Let’s take a look. If we were to be transported to Jerusalem and meet Isaiah we would find ourselves among people coming back from exile to a city that is ruins.  They are confronting the reality of what has happened to them and to their city. This is part of a portion of Isaiah which is a lament.

Instead of simply blaming God for this tragic human condition, Isaiah admits that the people have a role in it too… faithlessness, hubris and pride have taken their toll, and says Isaiah “have delivered us into the hands of our iniquity.”

But all is not desolation for Isaiah almost immediately declares the hope for redemption  “…we are the clay and you are the potter” in essence saying form us – we are willing to change, to be formed, as we are all the work of God’s hand. Trust in God gives the confidence to face the future with hope. Isaiah ends with the declaration “We are all your people.”  He claims that identity. When we too claim that identity and open ourselves to God to form us aright we are given hope for the future.

In the second reading Paul writes to the Christians gathered in Corinth. They are waiting for the immanent return of Jesus to finish the work of God and bring in the reign of God where all will be as it is meant to be. We must remember that Paul is addressing a community that is a mess. Everything that could go wrong there has gone wrong among them. Yet Paul speaks positively – but with carefully chosen phrases. He gives thanks because the grace of God has been given to them in Christ Jesus. Yet he chooses not to judge them by tell them that they have utterly failed to express that grace in their community life.

He tells them they have been enriched by Christ. But he does not remind them of how they have misused or not used those gifts.

Think of the personal and professional gifts of every kind that exist within any community of faith. Paul notes the richness of gifts within the community as they wait for the return of Jesus, noting they lack no spiritual gift. What is lacking  among them is the willingness to nourish and to use their gifts in God’s service.

Paul reminds them that God is faithful and will “strengthen you to the end”. The promise of Christ’s presence among us is real and dependable. God is faithful – the implied question is how faithful are we?

You cannot get much farther from the seasonal preparation of Christmas lights and decorations than we get in the reading from the Gospel. It is almost frightening.

We must recall Advent plays two roles as a season. Advent marks the beginning of a new year commemorating Jesus birth, ministry, life death resurrection and teaching.  Advent leads us up to that yearly commemoration beginning with Jesus nativity.

Advent also looks beyond the child, matured to adulthood, crucified, brought to new life in and, who promised to return to bring all creation to its fulfillment in God.

Jesus in this Markan passage speaks in symbols, with images of clouds, angels and the gathering of humanity to indicate that time when God calls all creation (including us) to an accounting.

When this portion of the Gospel was written the Roman threats against Israel were becoming real, false messiahs were arising saying they were the second coming. The signs were all around the early followers. They were torn between giving themselves up to despair or reaching out for a flicker of hope. There are all manner of signs around us as well. We have to decide whether to give in to despair or to look for the hope in the midst of the signs.

This is usually seen as judgement. And most depictions of what we often think of as the last judgement (including last week’s separating sheep from goats… seem frightening or negative.What I see here is not threat but rather advice on how to wait for that time when all will become as God created it to be. It is telling us we need to spend our energies and time living responsibly in the present.

Nancy has spoken of how as a child this gospel was frightening because she knew she could not stay awake all the time… Jesus says three times to stay alert and awake… for what?

To stay alert to the fact that our life, as one who tries to follow Jesus, is lived knowing there is accountability for our actions and inactions, for our attitudes and ignorances, and for using or burying the gifts we have been given, in order to move us closer to what God created us to be.

We know neither the day or hour when we will be answerable. In Jesus parable the servants keep doing their work knowing that the master will at some point return they will give an account of their life and work.

Years ago a doctor by the name of James Moody published “Life After Life”a study of near death experiences. In most of them the person undergoing clinical death met a being of light who asked them something like “I gave you life what did you do with it…?

This is what I see our accountability will be like. Not ledges or tomes with entries of misdeeds, not anger nor bitterness. A simple question we answer by our reviewing our lives and actions. This is actually a question we can ask ourselves even now.  What have I done with that gifts I was given? What do I want to do with these gifts now and in the future?



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“COMFORT my people” says your God

Last night we attended an annual community “Messiah” sing along as is our custom. The orchestra and most of the soloist were members of the community. I marvel at their willingness and courage to give public voice to this wonderful and often difficult music.

I was moved once again by the aria “Comfort ye my people…”  I was noting within myself the sheer numbers of people who need solace in our current culture and society when it struck me  – I had it all wrong.  I was thinking of the present primary definition of comfort; which is solace, easing grief or trouble, to console. But at the time of Handel and the King James translation of scripture comfort was not about solace, or ease – to comfort meant to strengthen!  Strengthen wills and hearts, and lives to address brokenness and fear. Strengthen willingness to engage the oppressive powers of the world and seek compassion, generosity and caring for the “least and the lost”.

In that aria last night I heard a prophetic call from biblical times issue forth to us in this beginning of the 21st century telling us we not be complacent and compliant with the forces that seek to dehumanize us and challenge those values we see in Jesus’ teaching, life and death.   We, as the people of God, are to be strengthened and are to strengthen others! We do this not for our ease, and not for our well-being. We strengthen and are strengthened so that we may feed the hungry, welcome the stranger and alien in the land, tend the sick, clothe the naked, care for those on the margins such as  those in prison, and those who are so easily oppressed and denigrated by those in power and with great wealth.  This is God’s agenda that we are invited to continue.

I am to use my voice and use my powers to influence the direction of the political process that deifies political and economic ideology and wishes to destroy rather than build up the “least and the lost” whom scriptures tell us God favors. And it is these we are commissioned by Christ to defend and to serve.

May you be comforted to continue God’s work of recreating the world as God would have it be. Or as another aria tells us “Lift up your voice, lift it up –  be not afraid…”


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Who are the saints?

Who are the saints?

To call someone a saint currently gives a sense of someone who has achieved perfection, leads an extraordinary life, or who has patience beyond measure. But that is not what we celebrate on All Saints Day. Anyone reading credible biographies of saints soon learns that some were grumpy, some were not all that sociable, and several seem perverse. The qualities they exhibited were human qualities but with an extra ingredient.

According to writer Frederick Buechner, “In his holy flirtation with the world, God occasionally drops a handkerchief. These handkerchiefs are called saints.”  But our favorite definition of a saint comes from a child – probably thinking of stained glass window depictions. “A saint is someone who lets the light shine through.”

All Saints Day and All Saints Sunday are days when we celebrate all those who have been saints in our lives or the lives of others. But as we celebrate them we should recall that none of them and none of us achieve perfection in this life.  What makes us saints is the recognition that we need grace, help and inspiration to be better than we are, and that we recognize the forgiveness, love and light we have experienced and are willing to let it shine through us to others.

As the hymn says “the saints of God and just folk like me – and I want to be one too.”


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What’s with all the pillows?

(This was caught in the drafts for well over a year… time to set it free… Don)

Have you noticed that there is an outbreak of pillows? I wonder if global warming has affected the ability of pillows to reproduce and thereby increased the pillow population somehow?

In the past 20 years the number of pillows on beds (both hotel and residential) has increased dramatically while the number of heads to be placed on a pillow has remained essentially the same.

In visiting in homes I have also noticed that the number of pillows on sofas and chairs has increased geometrically as well. This is a strange phenomenon considering that the statistics are clear that the Body Mass Index of the US population is increasing while the space not taken up by pillows and thus actually available for sitting area is therefore decreasing.

In addition I am told numerous times by hosts as I am contemplating how and where to sit “Oh just put them on the floor!” IWhich makes me wonder if they wanted them on the floor, why put them on the chair in the first place?

Nancy says I just don’t get it! (Now that is a category of conversation that has an inexhaustible supply of content). “It is style,” she tells me. She knows I usually give up when she plays that card. I don’t know or understand style. I once mentioned in conversation that I was out of style. “You can’t be out of style”  she murmured sweetly in my ear, “when you have never been in style!”

But I am not deterred. I am thinking of starting a “Free the pillows” movement. We could set up pillow sanctuaries where newly homeless pillows could live out their days in dignity and peace without the indignity of being relegated to the floor, heaped in the closet or unceremoniously tossed in attic or basement . We might also recruit style mavens to give foster care to the pillows that used to adorn hotel beds only to be tossed aside when it is time to really sleep. And if motels and hotels did not have to have such an outlandishly high pillow budget we might get nightly rates that are lower than an apartment security deposit.

So let’s hear it: “Free the Pillows! Free the Pillows! We want our space back! Free the Pillows!”

The Pillow Grinch –  aka Don

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Sabbatical Sermon

NOTE:  Nancy and Don hare leaving May 14 on a sabbatical pilgrimage and will return ot St Paul’s on September 3. This is our sermon for May 14th….

Leave Taking  Easter 5 – 2017

Don:  On an airline flight 2 men sat next to one another & struck up a conversation. On discovering his seat mate was a priest the other man said “Well it is all so very simple. All religion can be summed up in “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you!”

The priest then asked what the other’s profession was. “Oh”, he said, “I am an astronomer.” Replied the priest and “That too is very simple it is just “Twinkle twinkle little star.”

Nancy:  The first letter of Peter acknowledges that we may begin our faith journey with a simple understanding, like newborn infants but reminds us we do not have to remain there.

Growing in the faith requires care and nurture, and feeding the spirit within us. Feeding it with spiritual milk as the reading suggested – feeding it by actively participating in a faith community; by engaging scripture and seeing within this spiritual library and specific books and passages the various levels of meaning as people of faith through the ages have struggled to understand how our life lived in God fits or contrasts with the world as we see it and experience it.

D:  The writer goes on to use the image of being “living stones”.  We know stones are inanimate… so how do they “live”? How can we become living stones let along build ourselves into a house?

N: Think of a coral reef. These small creatures focus their efforts on building a home that is strong, that is safe, and while it is not their primary purpose what they do benefits the environment in which they build it. It is work that is intentional and focused and brings about good for those beyond the one doing the work.

D: The stone becomes a cornerstone – chosen and precious. Remember that without power tools, working with stone was hard and laborious.  Stones for particular uses were often specifically chosen so that they would best fit the purpose and could be more easily shaped & formed for that purpose.

N: The writer of the Epistle indicates that we, as living stones, might not be chosen by a secular builder, but in God’s economy we may become the cornerstone in building something new in serving God’s people and creation.

This reading tells us that we are God’s people, chosen, not to simply be observers – but to be active in living into a deeper knowledge of who and whose we are and living out the work of God.

D: As with so many other places in the Gospels today’s passage begins with assurance in the admonition “Do not let your hearts be troubled…” That, like “do not fear” is a consistent theme of the scriptures… It is relevant because we are approaching a new time, a different time – which we have planned for and know about.  Yet it will still give us new people, new experiences and new things to think about. It will give us the ability to stretch and grow. And that can cause us to be troubled or have some latent fear about the unknowns.

N: Philip asks to see God in order to be satisfied. Jesus tells Philip that Philip can see God in Jesus. Unlike those apostles we do not directly and clearly see Jesus in the flesh or risen. Rather we see Jesus in and through other, in the breaking of bread, in the works of Jesus that we witness.

D: Jesus tells these friends and followers to ask God in Jesus’ name and it will be done. We understand that if we allow the spirit to dwell within us what we ask is more likely to be that which is in accordance with God’s dream to re-create the world as God would have it. And that work begins with God’s Spirit re-creating us in ways we cannot know or fathom.

N: Today we begin an experiment of a sort. A short time apart on different journeys, traveling in different ways, having different experiences which we will try to share with one another as we are able.

We know that if we engage this journey and these events and activities…

if we open ourselves to the experiences and the Spirit when we come back together in September we will be changed.

We will in some way be different and be better able to look again at the faith community known as St Paul’s  Jeffersonville in a new light and ask what God would have us do to live into the future where God calls us to journey.

D: A Jewish friend of mine described his son asking their rabbi “Why did God create people?”  The rabbi smiled and enthusiastically said “Because God loves stories!” Scripture is filled with stories, and as we gather here we tell various stories; and as we gather round tables in the parish hall we share stories.  In September may we have many stories to share.

May we recognize more clearly the presence of God on the journey…

May we be grateful that we have had the gift of this special time in which we have tasted that the Lord is good.

May we know gratitude for being formed as a spiritual house and a royal priesthood  – especially when we may see ourselves as odd rejected stones – so that we may we know ourselves to be chosen and precious and ready to share our story with others who need good news.

Don & Nancy

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…with fear and great joy…

Sitting in an airport years ago I was waiting for our delayed flight to board and decided to take walk down the concourse.  As I got to an unoccupied gate area, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a flash of brown above me. Looking up I saw a sparrow land on the inside ledge of the skylight in the ceiling.  Here was a sparrow on the inside of the terminal looking out.

The bird seemed somewhat at home – as if acclimated to life in the terminal. There was no furious beating of wings as if the bird were trying to get beyond the glass. No frantic sense of the bird having recently become captive.   As I watched it flew to the carpet to retrieve some sort of crumb or tidbit someone had dropped.  Another brief flight and it sat again on the window ledge above me looking out at the world beyond the glass. I had a sense of forlornness within me as I watched this scene unfold. There was something deeply disturbing about it.

I realized this wild bird had probably flown in through an open baggage door somewhere and unable to retrace her path had become trapped within the terminal. This trapped bird is not able to return to the world for which she was created. Instead she lives in this foreign, temperature controlled, world without grass, insects, separated by a barrier and able only to catch a glimpse of the natural world. Sitting on the ledge of the skylight I sense her deep desire to be where she was meant to be and her resignation at being where she was.

Why did this affect me so much? Perhaps because we are all trapped by circumstances and barriers in our life that prevents us from fully being part of the world for which we were created. But unlike the sparrow we may not even know we are living in an artificial world rather than in God’s kingdom for which we were created. We seem content to live in our artificial world of consumerism, power and status. We live in the engineered world of work and the mall, and only occasionally see, let alone long for, the world beyond the barrier. We, like the sparrow, no longer try to get to that real world – no longer try to find out way to where we really belong. To do those things that we were created to do.

The women going to the tomb that Easter morning before sunrise… when the first day of the week was beginning to dawn… had experienced the real world of the kingdom of God as Jesus had lived it. But with Jesus dead they thought they were back to life as it was before.  So Mary of Magdala, and the other Mary make their way, as Matthew phrases it. “to see” the tomb. This sounds to me a great deal like the sparrow looking through the window at life as it was supposed to be – but stuck looking out at it. Jesus was dead – the tomb contained the remains of the dream of the kingdom of God.

Matthew tells us that while they were there – there was something like an earthquake – they and the guards at the tomb were filled with fear. And the guards were like dead men – immobilized  – frozen in fear. They all experienced the ground shifting – just as Jesus had shifted the disciples understanding of themselves and the world.

The angel gives them the message not to fear – and then shows them and tells them Jesus is not there. They are to trust their experience.  Then the women are then sent to share the news with others.

What tells me we have a real human experience is that next phrase which says they left with fear and great joy. Great joy that their friend and master had somehow been made alive again. But that same news was also a cause of fear – for they did not understand how it was possible.

Then as they leave they meet Jesus – and after greeting them – he also tells them not to fear.  He gives reassurance that they don’t have to understand it to experience it. And again they are sent to share the news.

We have the Gospel summed up in this vignette. We are given the opportunity to experience what we may not understand, yet are assured that we don’t have to understand it, and are asked to share our experience with others.

But the church wasn’t out of Jerusalem before the emphasis shifted to understanding rather than the experience of the risen Christ.

The problem with the Easter story is that an empty tomb is not proof of resurrection. It is merely a sign – something that points us towards a greater reality. We are unable to fully understand it. Our logic asks how this can happen – how can this be?  The resurrection of Jesus is but one example of resurrection. They are myriads of example of small resurrections places where new life has emerged from what seemed dead and lifeless.. But we need to allow ourselves to see them and experience them rather than analyze them. Understanding won’t get us close to the reality of God’s world but to allow ourselves experience and name it will.

But how and where do we experience these bits of resurrection that we may not recognize or name?  Perhaps an illustration from my own life may provide some clues. I applied for and was hired for the job “I always wanted” Director of Communications for the largest Anglican diocese in North America.  Eighteen months later I was told my contract would not be renewed. Passive church-speak for “you’re fired.”  SoI ended up in a parish in Buffalo working on behalf of the poor and infirm to develop a food pantry, built housing for the handicapped; and worked with the Buffalo New Neediest Christmas Fund.  And in this forced return to parish work I found my way back to myself and to my God given purpose.

It was working at this parish that Nancy and I first met and worked together. And 7 years later we married.

Being fired was not life-giving, but what flowed from that because of the changes that brought to me have been very life giving and brought new life to me on several levels.


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I had one of those days this week where between morning appointments and my Japanese class, I didn’t have anything to eat between breakfast and dinner, so when I got home about 4, I was hungry.  I suspect many of you have experienced this kind of hunger – knowing that the body is ready for sustenance.  There is a naturalness to this hunger – we all experience it.

Hunger can be created, too.  Just walk past Schimpffs Confectionery… they have an exhaust fan which wafts the fragrance of their candy making outside… inviting us to desire their delicacies.  Flavors of cinnamon and chocolate and caramel…

Food is not the only object of hunger.  We are also aware of people who are said to be hungry for power, for love, for wealth, notoriety or influence.  In the process of satisfying these kinds of hungers it is possible to wreak havoc on others lives.

The reading from Genesis 2 shows clearly the effect of such a hunger. In this ancient story Adam & Eve are placed in a garden where their needs are supplied. They can eat of any tree, except the one in the center of the garden.  At first their hungers are satisfied both with the garden and their relationship with God with whom they walk in the cool of the evening.

But over time the one forbidden fruit creates in them a new hunger – for that which they can’t have – a hunger spurred on by the serpent. The false hunger of the forbidden works on us today as well. For example – when our boys were little I would occasionally tell them that they could do any activity they wanted but they were not to scratch their nose. Suddenly scratching their nose was the one thing they needed and wanted to do – that prohibition produced a hunger to do it.

But this is not the only hunger Genesis reveals. The serpent sows the seeds of another hunger in saying “when you eat of the fruit your eyes will be opened and you will be like God… knowing good and evil.”  This desire to be like God is a hunger that runs through the history of humankind. It is often misunderstood as a hunger for power, for immortality, for knowing all, controlling all.  God’s power comes not from great might, but from steadfast love.  The serpent lied to Eve, and in the process helped to manufacture a hunger.

What are our created hungers?  They can be seen is the hunger for the latest IPhone, the biggest & best house, the new car, the latest fashion trend…  The other night we saw a 60 Minutes news story about a guy who hungered for the adrenaline rush that comes with danger and thrills.  He reveled in skiing down a mountain and parachuting off a cliff.  His friend had died on one of their adventures.

These and other hungers are deep, and often never satisfied.  We want love, respect, power, wealth, to having a place or in society, to feel connected.  These hungers are not new – they are at the base of the temptations in the Gospel story.  Following Jesus’ baptism he was led into the wilderness – traditionally a place of danger, and struggle, where God can be met.  In the wilderness for forty days (bible speak for “a long time”), Jesus grappled with who he was and the path set before him.

We see in Jesus’ interplay with the devil those human hungers that Jesus had to face. In fact many interpret the story itself not as a historic event but as a summary of those temptations that would be there throughout Jesus’ ministry: temptation for ease, control, and power.

First turn there stones into bread – here the temptation is to use his power & position for himself.  Don’s grandfather once remarked on an acquaintance that “He started off to do good, but instead he did very well!”

The second test is symbolized by suggesting Jesus throw himself off the pinnacle of the temple. This is testing God by using the promise as a shortcut to fame and power.

And finally there was the offer of all the dominions of the world if Jesus would offer worship to the devil… the hitch was that in return for control of the world, he would need to abandon the essence of who and whose he was.

In each of these temptations Jesus quoted a passage from Deuteronomy, the so-called “fifth Gospel.”  One does not live by bread alone, but also by the word of God: hunger for God, Jesus tells the devil.  Do not put the Lord your God to the test: hunger for spiritual maturity.  Worship the Lord you God, and serve only him: hunger for right relationship.

In his time in the wilderness, Jesus was confronted with his hunger, both physical and spiritual.  He chose to keep God at the center of his life, rather than putting himself above God.

Lent, we are told, in the invitation during the Ash Wednesday service, is a time to prepare by a season of self-examination, fasting, and centering ourselves in God.  It is a time of retreat from the world to examine our lives and our choices.  It is a time to look at our hungers, to see if they are misplaced, and to right ourselves, or as the church uses the word, to repent (to turn to face God) so that we are in right relationship with God.

Over centuries the church has developed practices that assist us to examine our hungers and to use these practices to help shift the center of our life from ourselves to have God in the center, which provides us with the ability to withstand the trials, temptations and misplaced hungers of life that are all around us.

We have this period of 6 weeks offered to us yearly as an opportunity to focus on where we are in our spiritual journey and to take specific steps to move towards where we want to be. They are not necessarily dramatic changes or actions. But sequential steps that allow us to be centered more and more in God and less and less in self and ego.

And it is of this journey of centering ourselves in God that the mystic Julia of Norwich wrote: “He said not ‘Thou shalt not be tempested, thou shalt not be travailed, thou shalt not be dis-eased’; but he said, ‘Thou shalt not be overcome.”

And the result of that is her most recognizable quote “And all shall be well. And all shall be well. And all manner of things shall be exceeding well.”


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Faith & Politics

In a recent message to the clergy of the diocese Bishop Cate Waynick  shared her thoughts about  criticism of the church being motivated “by politics” in espousing actions and  to support or oppose governmental policies, issues.  She wrote:

“I want to be clear that I don’t believe there is anything inherently bad about politics.  We have political systems because we live in communities/States/Nation and need to have shared expectations about how our common life will be lived out. Truth be told, I have always been rather fascinated by political processes, and have actually enjoyed participating in these processes both in the secular world and in The Episcopal Church.

It’s when people start describing our motivations as ‘political’ that I want us to be careful.  We use political systems to register our desires and values, and to participate in making what we hope will be positive changes in our common life.
What I hope we do, as followers of Jesus, is allow ourselves to be guided and formed by the imperatives of our faith.  When we advocate for justice and engage in works of mercy it is because we understand that God has commanded that we do so, and we have committed ourselves to do so.

We do not refrain from degrading, insulting, demeaning language in order to be ‘politically correct.’ We refrain because we are followers of Jesus who know we are called to a ministry of reconciliation and to be witnesses to God’s love of all people.

Such categories as ‘political correctness’ or ‘political motivation’ are valid where people who have no other structure or underpinnings are concerned.  Our underpinning is the Gospel, and our structure is the framework of Jesus’ teaching and example, and our Baptismal Covenant.
I have to wonder whether, when the Roman Catholic Church stands firm in their advocacy against provision of birth control or abortion, anyone considers they are being ‘political.’  I suspect that they have been so clear that this is a religious imperative in their own minds that their actions are seen in that light by society in general.

I think it is entirely possible for us to be equally clear that justice for all persons, merciful response to human need, and respect for every person is considered among us to be a religious imperative of the first order.  So when we advocate in a variety of ways, including in our existing political processes, no one can accuse us of being motivated by anything other than religious commitment.

“… there can be honest disagreement among us about particular issues, and we must always guard against speaking in ways which seem to deny that reality.  The only way we can learn what it truly means to love each other as Jesus loves us is to refuse to walk away from each other in the midst of disagreement.

That we are all experiencing a level of uncertainty, angst, anxiety, or fear is undeniable,  but we are not without resources. We have each other. We have the networks we have established with others – both ecumenical and inter-faith, and we have the teachings and the spiritual disciplines which have sustained our forebears for millennia.

At every moment God is with us. At every moment the eternal reality of the Incarnation makes Christ present among us. At every moment our Savior is teaching, healing, challenging, and bestowing the gifts of the Spirit. At every moment Christ is commanding us to love with sacrificial love, sharing the sacred meal of his Body  and Blood, being betrayed, suffering, dying, and undergoing the attempted annihilation of God’s divine gifts to the world – and at every moment is rising to new life and making new life possible for all creation.

In times of high anxiety we must remember what we believe and who we are called to be. And as I said yesterday, when we find ourselves walking with those who have always had to live in fear, we may discover that great spiritual gifts come to us.  The experience of Jesus, Peter, James and John on the mount of Transfiguration did not move seamlessly to the resurrection. They had to travel first to Jerusalem, and all that dangerous journey meant for them.

Keep breathing. Keep praying your prayers. Remember that you, and every other person is beloved. And hold fast to each other.  You are amazing, gifted, and creative leaders and servants of the people of God. Be to each other and to the world around us the love God longs to share……

The Rt. Rev. Catherine Waynick is Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Indianpolis

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Lighting the shadows

What was the greatest (though some might argue worst) invention that changed human life?

Artificial light – whether oil lamps, candles, incandescent electric lights or LEDs… We can provide a means to see in the midst of the dark.

For thousands of years people had to stop activity for the night when it got dark and they could not see. The work day was determined by the amount of daylight. My garndfather, born in the 19th century on a farm in Western New York spoke of working “fron can’t see to can’t see!”

Over centuries the darkness of night became a metaphor for the unknown, the eerie, the power of mischief and evil… for ignorance and waywardness.

Thus the reading for Epiphany 3 from from Isaiah rejoices that people who formerly had darkness not have seen a great light – it has shined on them and brought joy.

The letter to the Corinthians is one we should be able to relate to given the past election and present political season.  This small struggling Christian community in Corinth was divided into factions, with disagreements, dissension and quarreling. Paul in his letter calls them to a new way of seeing – inviting them away from the shadows of partisanship into the light of Christ – by their baptism through which being baptized into Christ they have been given an agenda and proclamation that even now gives us the power of God to guide our choices and the will to continue and to endure.

In the Gospel according to Matthew, following his Baptism by John – Jesus remained in the south until Herod had John arrested. He then left for the Galilee which was out of Herod’s jurisdiction. Jesus made his home in Capernaum by the Sea of Galilee (also known as the Lake of Kenneserit or the lake of Tiberas). Here as in other places Matthew shows a fulfillment of the Old Testament through Jesus by using the quote from Isaiah to indicate the Jesus is the new light dawning in the darkness.

Jesus movesinto this freer more open environment to gather disciples and begin his mission of preaching and proclamation.  Matthew gives us the summary of Jesus proclamation –– “Repent – for the kingdom of God has come near you.”  Turn back to God, he tells people.  This proclamation indicates one does not find the kingdom of God in Jerusalem, or in heaven, or some distant place – the kingdom of God is near wherever you are. It is around us, it is within our sight, and within our grasp if only we recognize it. The kingdom of God is here for us to live into and create.

Jesus bring light into the murky world of religious thought of the day.  In those days if your life was drudgery, or pain, or illness or poverty – religious thought day said it was because God was not blessing you… in essence it is your fault.  Like the prosperity Gospel we are again hearing about in recent days – saying if you have wealth it is because God is blessing you. The only significant problem is that if one looks at Jesus’ life we do not see prosperity, wealth or any other signs of blessing that particular theological stance says is an indication of blessing.

Living into and creating the kingdom as Jesus presents it is a not a solitary enterprise. We cannot do it alone. We know that because Jesus newly moved to the Galilee begins to look for people to work with him in this effort. Who was Jesus looking for ? Not the ones the populace would have expected. Not the wealthy, not the religious elite? Definitely not those we might describe as self-made or people of influence.

Jesus walks the shore of the lake and invites the laboring professional fishermen. These men went fishing every day for as long as it took to being in a catch that would feed them, their families and if possible with some with which they could sell or barter with others. Recreational fishermen use a hook & line. But that is not an efficient way to fish professionally.  They used a drag net and sometimes a casting net we have reference to in the Matthew’s Gospel.

It seems likely to me that Jesus has seen them before and perhaps had spent time talking with them. This moment in which he asks them to follow makes more sense and does not seem so impetuous and hasty if they knew about him and what his mission was.  He comes along and asks them to follow him telling them they would “fish for people”.

Now what in creation does that mean?  I have heard it explained as they were to hook people, or bring them unwillingly into the kingdom; but that just does not fit! So I believe what is being said is that they have gifts and skills that will be valuable in this new work.

They had patience – to be able to wait for the right moment to throw the net, or haul in the drag net. They would need patience in their dealings with the crowds.

They had perseverance. They went out day after day even when they had no had success the day before; even in bad weather, even when they were tired and sore and discouraged.

They knew that you had to use the right bait. When dealing with different people – different concerns, questions or ideas that matter to them. They would need to be adaptable – to know what they needed to say in order to illustrate to them that the kingdom of God was indeed near.

They had courage. Galilee is a small lake and it is not very deep and is surrounded by tall hills they call mountains. A storm can come up off the hills quickly and the lake becomes rough on a moments notice. To be out on that lake in a small sailboat in the midst of storm required courage and keeping a level head.

So fishing for people, I believe,  meant using the gifts these fishermen already possessed to use in the service to spreading the Good News of God. Jesus shone a new light on who they were, what they could do, and the meaning it could have in their lives and the lives of others.

The question I ask that we ponder this week is “in what way is God calling you – me – each of us to use our gifts in new ways to bring light to the darkness & shadow places around us?”  And how can we help invite others to find that light that illumines our hearts & lives?

“On those who sat I the shadow of death on them light has shined…”

May we be bearers of the light!  


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