The Mother Lode of Teaching

faithinthealleyWhat riches we have today. One hardly knows where to begin. I could write an entire reflection on the beauty of the words attributed to Moses:

“For this command that I enjoin on you today
is not too mysterious and remote for you.
It is not up in the sky, that you should say,
‘Who will go up in the sky to get it for us
and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?’
Nor is it across the sea, that you should say,
‘Who will cross the sea to get it for us
and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?’
No, it is something very near to you,
already in your mouths and in your hearts;
you have only to carry it out.”

God is as near as your very breath. You do not need degrees in theology or biblical studies to know this. You can feel it. As Moses said, it is already in your mouths and in your hearts. It is part of who we are. God’s love resides within us as the spark that ignites our life and sustains us until it pleases God to return us to Himself.

It is what moves us as our stomach tightens at the beauty of a sunrise, the sweet smell of a newborn, or the tender caress of a loved one. God sighs in the morning breeze and kisses our shoulders in the warming rays of sunlight. God is close and if we sit in the silence of his love, we KNOW both this and what it means to “carry it out”, being the human that we are called to be.

The parable of the good Samaritan brings us up sharply against our desire to somehow make “God’s will” hard to understand, and thus excusable when we fail. For we do desire that understanding God’s will be hard. We after all, are using so much of scripture to work out our salvation. We want to be different, apart from others who don’t care about “being saved.”

Look at the opening gambit by the scholar. What is he interested in?

What must I do to inherit eternal life?

Not what must I do to understand God’s will for me? What might I do to be a good person? What must I do to honor God? No, his concern is what must he do–what is the minimum requirement that I must fulfill to get where I want to go–my eternal salvation. It’s a “me” question.

Jesus simply confounds the scholar with his answer. The scholar must have been deeply pricked by the implications.

First the priest avoids the wounded man. The priest is following good “law”. He is following good religious law–avoid the unclean lest you have to interrupt your journey to return for purification. He didn’t have time, he had important “church” business to attend to.

How many times have you heard  remarks from alleged Christians who claim that the bible doesn’t “support” government aid to the poor, that it is the proper jurisdiction of   individuals–individuals like themselves who need and want to feel “good” and “righteous” through their largess? How many times have you heard them say that to support the homeless by feeding them only encourages them in their “laziness”?

We rely on out-of-context remarks from Paul suggesting that those who don’t work shouldn’t eat as justification for our “legalism”, and our refusal to help, much as the priest did in the parable.

Jesus DID NOT SAY, ask the fellow questions and first be satisfied that his behavior is not a ruse for free food and lodging. Jesus DID NOT SAY, ask at the innkeeper if the fellow is known as a vagrant, lazy and unwilling to work. Jesus DID NOT SAY, tell the innkeeper that once he is on his feet that he should work off his debt or be thrown out. Jesus DID NOT SAY, worry yourself sick wondering if you’ve been duped by a con artist out of a few dollars and a loaf of bread.

Jesus DID SAY to GO AND DO LIKEWISE, as the Samaritan had done.

I am continually confounded why those who claim that the Word of God is just that, the ACTUAL LITERAL WORD of God, and yet continually caveat, ignore, explain, and parse the meanings of this parable as well as the great commandment of Matthew 25: when you failed to do it for them, you failed to do it for me. The literalism screams at us in both these statements, yet somehow it is explained away.

I have to wonder why.

I can only come up with the fact that too too many of us supposed Christians are like the scholar–the poor (whom they claim Jesus admitted would always be with us) are there for the purpose of helping us “real Christians” work out our salvation. They are the fodder for our charity machine that spits out a “receipt” if we wish one, that can be taken to our graves to present to St. Peter as our proof that we were properly charitable.

We have our receipts, and we have taken our proper deductions from our tax obligations. We have done our duty, and so leave the rest of my money to me, government, for I plan on going to Disney world this year. After all, I’m entitled. I did my Christian duty and I have the receipts to prove it.

I bet that Samaritan fellow couldn’t wait to tell all his neighbors that he had worked out his salvation too on that road to Jericho that day. Yes I’m sure that’s what Jesus meant. I’m sure that’s what he really meant.

Amen.

Loving in Action

Last Wednesday I was driving to the pool for my swim. I travel a good portion of the way on US70. No sooner had I entered onto the freeway that I was ushered off by police barricades.

As I traveled along the frontage road with a growing number of vehicles, I realized that I would sooner or later come upon the scene of an accident, obviously a very bad one.

When I saw the wreckage, there was no doubt in my mind that lives had been lost. The next day, reading the newspaper account, I learned that a car had veered across into the oncoming traffic, gone airborne and plowed through another vehicle. A mother and son, died when this vehicle tore off the roof of their car and destroyed the entire front end.

I was confronted, as we all are periodically, with the fragility of life and just how little control we have over it. This woman and child were doing nothing wrong. They were obeying the traffic rules. Yet in moments their lives were hideously ended.

They had no time to reflect on a life well or ill lived. No time probably to even say a short prayer. They were no more.

Nothing in this life is guaranteed. Our wealth can be snatched from us in mere moments due to an economic catastrophe. Our health can decline with suddenness or with relentless deterioration. Our loved ones can depart willingly or otherwise. So too our friends. We may lose jobs, homes, beauty, pets. We can lose our country to war or invasion. We can lose our world to pollution.

The great Shema of the Jewish faith teaches us that what is most important in our lives can only be God.

“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone!
Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God,
with all your heart,
and with all your soul,
and with all your strength.

We are similarly reminded in the Psalm 18:

R. (2) I love you, Lord, my strength.
I love you, O LORD, my strength,
O LORD, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer.
R. I love you, Lord, my strength.
My God, my rock of refuge,
my shield, the horn of my salvation, my stronghold!
Praised be the LORD, I exclaim,
and I am safe from my enemies.
R. I love you, Lord, my strength.
The LORD lives! And blessed be my rock!

What is it that we are reminded? While all is temporary, subject to loss or change, only God is forever. Only God can never be taken from us. Only God is faithful, ever-loving, ever-present. You can be denied your bodily freedom either through incarceration or disease, but no one can take God from you. No one can eradicate your belief or your love.

In the end, God is all you have. It is why I so feel sorrow for those who deny God or deny the possibility. I do not feel sorrow because they will be eternally apart from God, because I don’t lay such a human punishment upon them. I refuse to believe that God works in that manner. In any case, it is God who will decide such things, not me.

What I sorrow for is the loss of comfort God affords us. We are never alone. And as thinking beings, surely each of us has at some moment realized that no other human being can take away the utter aloneness that being an individual entails. We are shaken to our core when we realize that no spouse, child, parent, or friend can ever penetrate our inmost being. We remain self-contained vessels. The agony of such a realization is only ameliorated when we realize that God can and does penetrate. God does live with us. God does hold us in love through the trials of life.

Jesus said that this Shema was the greatest commandment. The next was to love our neighbor as ourselves. On these two rest all the others.

As we approach Tuesday and exercise our responsibilities as citizens to elect leadership for our country, we should remember this. We love God and we express that love by loving our brothers and sisters in this country and around the world. To love our neighbor means to empathize, to sympathize, and finally to be compassionate toward our neighbor. We must take on his and her burdens and make them our own. We must not think just of ourselves and our own well-being but what is best for the greater good.

No better explanation of this can be found than at my dear friend Tim’s blog, Straight-Friendly. He explains the differences between empathy, sympathy and compassion far better than I, and reminds us that we owe it to ourselves and most especially to God to make our choices on Tuesday wisely and with a spiritual vision guiding us.

May God bless you in your choosing.

Amen.

What Have You Done?

We are a silly species when you really think about it. Really we are. More to the point, we are a people of convenience. We tend to interpret the world and especially our “values” and our “principles” in ways that make things easy for ourselves.

I think of the movie the Godfather, which portrayed, correctly or not, the Italian mafia. The men plotted by day the demise of other men or the stealing of their property, but on Sunday they genuflected and crossed themselves as they accepted communion.  Convenient?

I few days ago, a commenter on another blog related that after a woman had said really nasty things about the President in not repeatable graphic fashion, he asked, “and I suppose this is an example of Christian charity?” The woman responded with a certain self-righteousness, “God will forgive me any sins I have just by asking him to.” Convenient?

The readings today, remind us that our self-serving definitions and interpretations may not serve us well at all. The words of Moses come to us in Deuteronomy 11:18.26-28.32.

“See I set before you today a blessing and a curse: a blessing if you obey the commandments of the Lord our God that I enjoin on you today; a curse, if you disobey the commandments of the Lord your God and leave the way I have marked out for you today, by going after other gods you have not known. You must keep and observe all the laws and customs that I set before you today.”

Moses makes it clear: DO right, don’t just mouth right. Obedience is an action, not an afterthought. You don’t have a perpetual “get out of jail” free card.

Now, I don’t believe in literal concepts of heaven and hell. I believe that we seek unity with God. That is the goal. To have God perfectly present to us in every moment. That is the unity of singleness that Jesus achieved and attempted to teach us. That is how we are as Spirit, and it is how we are able to be in our humanity. If we work at it–actively.

When we emulate the teachings of Jesus, we move toward that unity and we find peace and joy in our lives. When we go it alone, acting out of our baser evolutionary beginnings, we generally spend a lot of time in fear, and that is not a happy state to be in.

Yet, we don’t like to think about these Jesus truths. Why? Because we are busy  going after other gods as Moses put it. We are intent on money, and fame, and fortune, and things. And so we turn to what Paul appeared to say to the Romans:

“[We] are justified through the free gift of his grace by being redeemed in Christ Jesus who was appointed by God to sacrifice his life so as to win reconciliation through faith since, as we see it, a man is justified by faith and not by doing something the Law tells him to do.” (3:21-25.28)

So many of our believing friends love words like this, since it “lets them off the hook.” Paul appears to say that works, or DOING mean nothing, it is pure faith that saves. And we all know the types don’t we? Those who invoke God every third sentence, yet don’t ever seem to DO anything that suggests they have gotten the message. Jesus is avoided, Paul seems much easier to follow.

Yet, if read carefully, Paul only means that faith is a gift freely given. And we cannot, truthfully, work out way into heaven. Yet, he also tells us that those who have accepted their faith and really believe what has been preached, NATURALLY act it out in various good works.

And this is precisely what Jesus says in Matthew 7:21-27:

“It is not those who say to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the person who does the will of my Father in heaven. When the day comes many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, cast out demons in your name, work many miracles in your name?’ Then I shall tell them to their faces: I have never known you, away from me, you evil men.”

Don’t in other words strut around the streets and church pews spouting my words, shouting your faith to the heavens. DO what the Father wants. Feed the hungry, tend to the sick, free the imprisoned, clothe the naked. DO the works of LOVE. DO, not say. DO, not judge. DO, not preach. DO, DO, DO.

It strikes me today, as Lent approaches, that doing is a better way of  experiencing this most important of seasons. Doing rather than “giving up X”. What are you planning this Lenten season? What can you DO to evidence your faith and your seeking?

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