21 Jul 19

Psalm 52

            This is a one of a kind psalm, marked as a real “gem” in the collection of David Psalms.  It was written to and about traitors against David, indeed against God and the followers of God.  Think of the person who turned Anne Frank over to the Nazi’s in Amsterdam in 1944.  In our psalm the traitor is the trusted servant called Doeg who turned General David over to King Saul for execution.

            The first section is an accusation against those who are satirically called the “mighty hero”, like this traitor.  This so called hero is accused of mistreating decent ordinary Israelites, of destruction, characterized by dreadful things said, self-centered arbitrariness and offers floods of lies or as we call it today propaganda. 

The next section states that the fate of such as these traitors of civility will absolutely in time will not prevail over the rest of us.  The irony of the so called hero’s end state comes from his or her own greed.  Watch for the end state so well put.

            The final section offers a stark contrast to this chaotic person.  It is like it says:  as for the rest of us, the devout students of God, well we are like the olive tree giving to creation authentic life, fertility, and vitality.  We have chosen to trust in God’s love.  Watch for the word “trust” which in the Hebrew is “hesed;” the essential element upon which is found authentic companionship and genuine community.

 

 

Amos 8:1-6,

            Amos talks about his dreams or visions as dreams were once called.  He has watched with despair and pessimism the decline of his country under the dreadful leadership of his king and the priests.  He has given up hope for his own time and uses the image of fruit falling rotten from the tree because it will grow no more. 

            Like the King Jeroboam II, an entrepreneur, all his business cronies care only in making money and have no scruples in business or anything else in Israel.  There was so much greed, indemnity, taxes, and rip off, that it was clear that the society would collapse under the pressures of the angry dissatisfied and demoralized citizens. 

            To understand the corruption of the merchants watch for what they want.  The market is closed during the new moon and they can’t wait for the opening of business to turn their wares (ephah) into money (shekels), using shady accounting practices.

            These practices are designed to rip off their customers, even the most needy and the poorest.

            Such a society would never survive.

Amos chapter 8

           

Luke 10:38-42

            Found at the beginning of Jesus time as a wandering teacher in the countryside, there are directions about what it means to be a student of this teacher.  All these vignettes are designed to teaching us something new about the Creator, the Holy Spirit and the beliefs of God the Son.

Most of us were actually taught to believe that Jesus had put Martha down by saying Mary, the quiet, took a better choice by her adoring listening to Jesus.  Indeed once the church once used this story to justify their actions of patriarchy by saying chastity, silence, and passivity at the feet of men was the better way of a good Christian woman.

That interpretation is totally inconsistent with the inclusion theology of Jesus.  Furthermore it perpetuates one of the big issues of feminism.  Men and women have equality of choice.  Some men can chose to be nurses and some women can chose to be heavy equipment operators.  Some women can choose to be activists for their guests, others can chose to sit and intensely listen to the guests.

If we dig deeper we will find that Mary and Martha were sisters trusting each other with love and deep respect.  Martha was so close to Mary she could complain about her sibling in her fatigue in trust.

Indeed they were both great disciples of Jesus, even though they expressing their love for him in their own way.  One loved him with active service and the other with deep listening.

21 Jul 19

Psalm 52, Amos 8:1-6, Luke 10:38-42

I am Woman!

 

God of all wisdom, grant us courage and clarity to know what we can change, and know what we cannot change.  We live in thankfulness for Christ, who teaches us what it is you call us to know.  Amen.

 

            In 1972 Ray Burton and Helen Reddy of Australia released a song of revolution that continues to resonate against sexist stereotypes by its great declarations.

Oh yes, I am wise, But its wisdom born of pain
Yes, I've paid the price, But look how much I gained.  If I have to, I can do anything.  I am strong.  I am invincible. 
I am woman.

As many of you here did, I grew up with this song.  About the same time my church was struggling to free itself of prejudice that favoured the ordination of men only.  Ordination of women in the PCC began in 1966 with great resistance.  It was a time that sexist prejudice was keenly felt by career action women, women students seeking careers in mathematics, theology, science and engineering.  Despite the brilliance of several female mathematicians and engineers of NASA evident in 1950 and 1960, recently depicted in the movie “Hidden Figures”, women remained targets of sexism.

It seems that men had the right to make choices that were and in some places still are denied to women.  Restriction of choice based on gender is oppression.  Our Jesus was unequivocally a theologian of equal opportunity regardless of gender.  He immediately took Martha, a woman choosing active service, to task for putting Mary down with her choice of active listening, quiet meditation and study. Why?  Simply put: when Martha complains he supports Mary in her right to choose her quiet pathway.

Found only in Luke, this story has been used by the church and others to criticise women who have chosen the action role of doing things over quiet listening, meditation and prayerful adoration of women subservient to a man.

So that cannot be the reason Jesus said: “Mary has chosen what is better for her, and it will not be taken away from her!”

One of the great errors in biblical interpretation is to rush to conclusion; before all the questions have been asked.  When we do that we will likely miss asking the key question.  In this case, what has been lost, in the quick conclusion drawn by the church is the recognition that Martha and Mary complement each other in different ways of knowing God.   It is the recognition that they are blood sisters, empowering each other.

Why did Jesus correct Martha?   Martha has chosen to be activist of public service and in her complaint about Mary, Martha forgot that Mary has chosen to be a loving sister to Jesus on his way to the cross.  Indeed were not both serving God in the mystery of the Holy Spirit?  Are they both not complementing and empowering each other in that service.

This past week we have had a chance to see what is known as the squad, four women of faith, courage, and action.  They are like Martha choosing to take action in public service.  We have also been exposed to two women who chose to stay still waiting for rescue.  They are like Mary choosing to trust in her knowledge, her faith and the grace of God.

These groups complement each other and yet they are as different as day and night.  They both are expressions of service.  Our homework this week is to watch for the story of Martha and the story of Mary amongst world news.   Then let us point out that these, our sisters and activists have taken courageous steps in different ways in service of healing of a world in deep turmoil.

I think I will close with this remarkable poem by the theologian Diarmuid O’Murchu called

 

Martha and Mary

 

These are women of wisdom and grace!

Companions in mission; diverse roles to lead.

The false opposition we quickly impose,

While their mutual empowerment we tend to misread.

 

One renders a service to welcome the guest,

pouring her heart out in kind.

No wonder she resents the sibling that opts

just to sit there and wisdom imbibe.

 

The part that was chosen by Mary the quiet

can easily be misconstrued.

Between the two sisters there is no divide.

Both are gifted and richly imbued.

 

If this was the journey that led to the cross,

And Jesus had glimpsed it his fate,

Then Mary had chosen the wholesome response,

Attending a friend to death's gate.

 

His heart would be heavy and weary in soul,

and the thought of indulging in food,

was the last thing on earth he could now entertain,

but to Martha he would not be rude.

 

A poignant vibration runs right through this tale, of affection so tender and true.

The heart of the Gospel that echoes through time, neither Martha nor Mary will rue.

 

And where in our time amid carnage so cruel

do we hallow the women so brave,

who bind up the wounds and render true love

our world in turmoil to save!

 

Let us go from this place in peace to the place where God asks us to serve this week in our own ways.  The blessings of God, our host and our guest, bless us in all the things we chose to do.  Thanks be to God!


 

14 July 19

 

Psalm 82

            Written later in the history of Israel during the days of refugeeism of Israel into Babylon, the Jewish faithful were surrounded with worshippers of many gods.  This psalm is actually an imaginary science fiction type play.

            It is set in a meeting not unlike a Cabinet meeting of our own government models.  At the head of this science fiction council sits the Creator.  Around the room sit all the other gods.  Thus we see this called the divine council.

The moderator is disturbed.  The Creator wants to know the criteria by which these godlets call themselves gods.  The creator, chairperson of this council, defines the role of a god: there are three: 1. Guardian of the creation, 2. Protector of all the planet, and 3. Advocate for of the most vulnerable.  In other words godness is compassion and justice for the vulnerable.

Have these godlets passed the test.  And the answer is absolutely not, their lack of wisdom and situational awareness has led to injustice and destabilization.

And there comes the sentence.  These godlets are declared con artists and sentenced to death.  Injustice and cruelty have no future under the Creator.  The court adjourns.

Then, at the end, the news reporter, a human observer, speaks out to the chair:  “God: I like your thinking and I pray that you will rise up and put your money where your mouth is!”

Psalm 82

 

Amos 7: 10-17

The prophet Amos sets the standard for all the prophets who follow him.  Amos is the first book of the late prophets where their actual words: sermons and warning are recorded.  While we have taken the word prophet to mean predictions of the future, the Bible sees these prophets as guardians, who, from the margins of society, warn the establishment about the great risks of bad judgement and exploitation of people.  Amos is the first of many such guardians which include Hosea, Isaiah, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, and of course, our Jesus of Nazareth.

Being the first, we might like to know about this prophetic voice and this is what our reading does for us.  We learn he started as a man from the margins of Judah, at the low end of the rigid caste based society, caring for trees and sheep.  Unlike the earlier Israeli prophets such as Elisha and Elijah, who were part of congregations, Amos stood alone with his voice crying from the outside.  He claims to be neither prophet nor prophet’s son.  This sense of self was picked up by all the preachers advocating for good government and independently thinking faith groups up to including Jesus, Stephen, Peter, and Paul.  The challenges of Amos to those in the power house of Israel threatened their deep investment in financial security through bully dictatorship and collusion with their church.  And so we read that the King of Israel wanted to kick him out.

Amos 7

Luke 10:30-37

Our gospel reading hardly needs introduction nor explanation.  Perhaps one of very first of the Bible stories taught to children, we have a pretty good idea what is happening with this parable.  Parables, a favoured teaching tool of Jesus, endure forever because they provoke active thinking because they leaves us with enough doubt that we want to think about it yet again.  Interpretation depends on the place the interpreter stands. 

Perspective is critical here and yet is often not appreciated.  We usually see this story from the perspective of the Christian church 2,000 years after it was first told.  Let’s change perspective to the point of view of those who ignored this bleeding victim of robbery.  Why did these leading men of Israel ignore this man?  Indeed, why do most people often ignore the beggar who hangs around traffic lights with their hand-made signs?

The road was well known to be very dangerous, open to muggers who the vulnerable.  This traveller would have known that and yet, in the story, he decided to travel alone, which… as it turned out, as expected, was a really dumb decision.  There was no law against taking really dumb decisions, and this traveller foolishly threw caution to the wind.  It was no wonder he was beaten so badly.  It was in a way a self-inflicted injury.  Those passing by would have understood that and refused to stop to avoid the  risk and contamination if not sheer inconvenience.  We should not blame them.

It takes an uncommon love, courage, and respect to step in.  The Samaritan in the story becomes an euphemism for the God of the poor, God of the vulnerable amongst us.

Luke 10

14 July 19

Caution should be exercised

 

 

O God of justice and mercy, implant within us hearts of faithfulness, hearts that lead our hands in works of compassion. From your great love for us, inspire us to love our neighbours, that all might come to know your plan for our world. Amen.

There is a big difference of the education of people our age and the education of the youth for every generation.  For the young, the test comes after the lesson; for those long in the tooth, the lesson comes after the test.

The consequences of terrible judgement became our teachers.  We have all bad decisions in our lives some of which might have jammed us up.  Jesus tells the story of a traveller alone all jammed up!  Who knows what bad decisions have left the traffic-light beggar in a jam.

The prayer of those marginalized, financially vulnerable like the traveller in the story or like the traffic-light beggar, or like the widows and divorced women of some cultures is offered by the human observer at the divine court in the psalm.  “God: I like your thinking and I pray that you will rise up and put your money where your mouth is!”

This is the prayer to the God of the poor.  The God of the rich would not pray like that.  They might pass by on the other side and pray that they will stay safe.

The God of the rich is not the same as the God of the poor.  The role of the God of the poor is compassion and justice for the vulnerable just as Psalm 82 sings.  The powers who pray that they will not suffer like the vulnerable fail to fulfill the “godness standard”.  They will be judged long on image but short on action.  They will not survive.

Yet, is it not so that our rich and powerful today pray to God, working work to sustain their self-centered life styles often at the expense of the rest of our society?  Do we not see the institutions of that God collude with such greed? 

For example: Have we not heard anything but silence from Christian faith groups about the Mexican wall and children in concentration cages? Have we heard any church protests about the bullying by government leaders?  Have we heard social justice cries from the church about deportation issue?  Did our own Presbyterian church shut down the justice issue about the physical punishment of children?  Do we hear Muslim faith groups protesting the Iranian/European Union tensions of the Middle East?  Do we hear the synagogues decry Christian persecution in Muslim countries?  By their silence and inaction are faith groups siding with the oppressors against the oppressed? 

This might just be the real life story of those who pray to the God of the rich and then pass by on the other side?  These I think are great questions to ponder as our homework.

And yet despite such evidence, God has stepped up.  There are those today who like Amos and Jesus have defined the God of the poor as the God of the rich.  From time to time we have glimpses of our God not only speaking up but standing up by today’s guardian voices.  We hear outsiders offering solutions that move the world ever so slightly towards the vision God has for earth as envisioned in heaven.  We believe that the world did not lapse into chaos with the execution of God.  On the contrary, the world found, in Easter the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, and new starts.  The God of the poor does defeat the gods of the rich, when we see that the God of the rich is not necessarily the same as the God of the poor. I want to close with a portion from this delightful satirical poem written by a Hugo Assmann.  He is one of those unlikely voices who saw the Creator overcoming the fake gods.  Assmann died in 2008.  He was a brilliant Brazilian Catholic theologian born into a prominent family, who is, today, considered a leading voice for the poor in developing countries.  He fled for his life from Brazil due to the military cue of 1964 which led to the murderous military dictatorship of the Fifth Brazilian Republic.  He fled again for his life from Chile in 1973 at the fall of its democracy by the hand of the murderous General Augusto Pinochet.  Assmann, denounced as a radical by the United States CIA, knew what it costs to align oneself with the poor.  His God, surprisingly, was also the God of the poor.

I love his title which links Psalm 82 so well with today’s reality:

 

The God of the Rich and the God of the Poor are not the same God

 

But it so happens that this history

            Of Jewish monotheisms

Is not always told correctly,

Because right there in Israel

the one God

the God of liberation for slaves,

Again became a rallying point

Of oppressors against the oppressed

(and only now and then of the oppressed against the oppressors).

 

The true idolatry

is not that of nonbelievers,

is not that of atheists

(who often are those who destroy idols and are fighting against idols).

 

Idols are the

gods of oppression.

Idols are

the shining fetishes

with divine names and broad smiles,

with creeds,

with worship,

with prayers,

with laws,

with sacred and divine power

Power to oppress

Power to exploit

Power to kill.

 

The dominators

The idolatrous,

Will never make the mistake

Of declaring themselves atheists

(of their idols)-

God, Homeland, and Family

Tradition, Family and Property.

 

Let us go from this gathering to meet our neighbour with open hands and an open heart, giving and receiving the goodness of God’s love!


 

 

7 Jul 19

Psalm 30

This psalm, located in a time of peace in Israel when all was well for most people it is rich with theology.  Psalm 30 is found in the first book in the psalter and is labelled as one many songs from the King David collection.

This song was written by one person, feeling grateful to God for curing a life threatening disease.  We know this because he was on his way to go down to the pit, which was a way of saying he was dying.  Here we see a pattern repeated twice.  We see the problem using the words in the depths of despair and others, then God’s intervention: with words like “healed”, and then there is gratitude expressed with the words “sing praises”.

This pattern appears again from verses 6 to 12. In this second section the writer adds two really neat features: one at the beginning where he writes all is well with the world, until his world is rocked likely by bad medical news.

Secondly, he also bargains with God and this is in fact black humour:  “if you let me die, there will be one less voice to praise your name, so save me for your sake!” Watch for these insertions.

In between these two sections the writer adds an aside:  “by the way all you people, God may be angry but it will not last for long: so remember to hang in because “there’s got to be a morning after” just as we heard sung in the movie “The Poseidon Adventure.”

 

2 Kings 5: 4-19

The key to this the theology of this miracle story where Elisha the prophet cures General Naaman of leprosy lies in the last 4 verses.

General Naaman is a rich powerful man, forced into hiding with a disfiguring disease, for which he would have been socially quarantined.  Elisha the prophet, General Naaman, a Gentile and King Jeram of Israel were likely real persons as the books called the Kings are essentially history books of Israel, these names and their times and countries can be collaborated by other non-Jewish writings and archeology.  Written in a style historians today would never tolerate as the center piece of the history is the relationship of Israel with the Creator, good bad and indifferent.

Naaman is all fired up, enraged against the healer Prophet Elisha because Elisha doesn’t appear in person, but sends the General nonchalantly to the River Jordan for the cure.  It is the calmness and patience and humility of his slaves, the marginalized that persuades the General to go.

While the miracle cure of leprosy may be a curiosity, the theology at the heart of the story in Naaman reaction found in the last few verses.  In this story, just like in the psalm, is a pattern:  Naaman is needy, sick with leprosy; he reaches out for an intervention from the God of Israel, the God of creation.  God intervenes, and Naaman’s reaction, a follower of another religion, is faithfulness and praise from an outsider.  Now here again we meet some black humour.  Watch for it!  Since the General believes this God of Israel lives in Israel, he imports two mule loads of Israeli dirt upon which he builds a sort of Embassy temple of Israel on which one can praise the Creator he praises by saying “there is no God in all the world except in Israel.”

           

Luke 10: 17-20

The seventy are sent out on the Mission of Jesus with very specific instructions.  Upon their return, reported only to the Lukan community because it includes a large number of non-Jewish Christians, we learn about their successes. We also learn how astounded they are about the work of the Holy Spirit through them.

Once again the theological pattern of need, intervention and praise seen in psalm 30 and in the story of General Naaman is here for us.  There is need, need as big as a giant steeds, in hordes of the Jewish working poor.  These were the ordinary citizens damaged horribly due to the imposing violence of the thumb of Roman rule and the Israeli leaders’ collusion.

God intervenes through the 72 to unchain the imprisoned from their stress related mental illness.  This gives rise to the observation that nothing is outside the creative divine power that turns chaotic madness, here called demons, into the peace beyond understanding.

Jesus uses their joyful observation to remind them directly to be careful to hang onto their humility before God.  This success and joy was not by their human hands; it was only by the grace of God.  This was the way of Jesus, at this point, to offer praise to God knowing that the end game of God is God’s alone, and yes it is something to expect, no matter how long it takes.  Even the most damaged of the Israeli peasants will lean peace, patience and humility.  And even the most resistant of evil, greedy, self-appointed, arrogant High Priests, Caesars and kings will be turned to patience and humility.  This we saw with General Naaman sick with leprosy and as we saw with the psalmist who found out he was dying.

7 Jul 19

Outrage or Patience; Pride or Humility?

 

God, you speak to us in surprising ways, through unexpected prophets. Help us to listen for your voice in our everyday lives. Teach us to serve others in acts of kindness and love. We ask this in the name of Jesus, who sends us out to love and to serve. Amen.

 

Ok, let’s start today with things that irritate.  These are events that can try even my normal very good will:

The impatient horn honk, TV commercials, computer updates, hospital waiting rooms, persistent child wailing, insensitive interruptions, the engine check light, certain politicians, the “we just” prayer, the computer generated telemarketer, or the answering machine that says if you are calling about the hours, press one, if you are calling about…. and the computer which says: “your call is important to us, you are caller number 8!”

That is some of the things I find outrageous.  I am sure if we were to list all of your sore points; we would have quite a list.  We could call it the Outrageous and Arrogance List.

These irritants are much like those we read about in our lessons today.  And like our list, any one of these events can be opportunities for learning experiences, as they were for the psalmist and General Naaman.  The psalmist was outraged by a medical diagnosis of some kind, like we might be outraged by endless waits for important medical treatment or parking challenges. 

General Naaman was outraged that his healer sent a servant to treat him as we might be when our doctor answers our calls with inane automated answering machines.  From there they found a more constructive way: the way of patience and humility.

These lessons were picked up by our teacher, Jesus of Nazareth when he reminded the 70 they were not the source of their ministry nor the source of their constructive healing of the so called demon possessed.

While our outrageous and arrogance list is one thing for students of Christ like us, the outrageous and arrogance list for those living deeper in the chaos are much different.  Those living in the deep chaos are like those leaders abusing the working people of Galilee in the time of Jesus.

Those living in the deep chaos become enraged by indigenous or immigrant children and put them in cages or reservations.  Those living in the deep chaos are too arrogant to hear any love or see the beauty that is all around.  Those living in chaos are outraged when they are not in control of everyone.  Those living in chaos are so arrogant they look a gift horse in the mouth.

Think of the deep chaotic stories of this week in which lies the potential for world society to embrace patience over outrage and humility over arrogance:

The USA fourth of July shows off its military prowess.

Iran apparently is breaching its 2015 nuclear pact.

The Maputo Protocol designed to protect women from family violence remains unenforced in several African nations.

Legalities support Army vehicle manufacture in Canada for Saudi Arabia

Less than 10% of plastics used in Canada get recycled.

Any and all of these, as they were for the psalmist and General Naaman, can have a positive outcome when the world acknowledges from its own discomfort.  Being outraged and arrogant are not comfortable places in which to live.

So to wind up; let’s go back to our initial list of outrageous and arrogance!  Chances are one or more of these moments might occur to each one of us this week.

And that is the first part of the homework for us at the personal level.  Patience and humility can be had where once there was outrage and arrogance.  Each of these moments can be one that teaches as Jesus of Nazareth taught.

Today, let there be a second part for our homework.  We can become advocates, teachers as it were, of Jesus of Nazareth and thereby invite others to see the destruction of rage and arrogance for the purpose of replacing that rage with constructive patience and that arrogance with honest humility.  We can look for the deeper chaos of the uncreated in the world news next week.  We can tell our friends and family how this deep chaos could be the learning points as they might have been for the psalmist and General Naaman.  Let us watch, in the news, for the tipping points that could move us from the outrageous and arrogant to the way of patience and humility.

 

Like the first 70, let us set out on a journey once more, taking only what we need.  Let us travel the streets of this town, offering peace with every step.  Let us share what we have with the people we meet, offering them God’s blessing in every word.  And let us go now as God’s own people, unknown to the world but named in heaven, with good news on our lips, and renewed strength in our souls. Amen.


 

23 Jun 19

Psalm 42

Psalm 42 and 43 are really one continuous psalm broken into three scenes like a play.  It is set in a time when all Israel feels alone, helpless and hopeless.  It is a time for individuals to feel fear and wonder out loud if God is good.

In the opening scene is a cry of anguish, deprivation and an insatiable thirst or yearning for relief from a battle for life, when there is none in the riverbed.  Watch for the word “soul” or “self” which links the three scenes.   From tears and personal self disclosure of despair we move in a ritual, a parade to God’s house, and there we end up with this inner dialogue with God:  “Why are you downcast, O my self?”  This is a personal journey from aloneness through ritual ending in hope. So ends scene 1. 

Scene 2 starting as indicated repeats the ritual of this inner dialogue three times: “My self is downcast within me.”  and that ritual leads from feelings of drowning, abandonment, grief, and bullying to hope in God.

Psalm 42 

 

Psalm 43

This reading is the third scene in this three scene play.  We know it is intertwined as it ends this scene just as it ended in both the first and second scenes: with the ritual of an inner prayer or dialogue a person has with God:  “Why are you, oh my self, so downcast within me?”

In this scene we embrace prayer with the expectation that God will indeed hear the prayer and God is in fact an active partner in the solution to the personal and social inequalities of the time, which here are called “enemies” and “foes”.

It ends with the conviction that the darkness and chaos that seems overwhelming like a waterfall will never have the last word.  Despite all the overwhelming distress let us stay the course and hope in God.  This then is the last line.

The three scenes together use ritual that leads out of our desperate yearning in the first line to our hope for the life-giving God in the last line.

Psalm 43 

 

Isaiah 61:1-4

This is the purpose that Jesus gave for his lifework, execution, and resurrection.  Jesus offers only this purpose as his reason for being.  Isaiah offers this up from an unknown writer fairly late in history of ancient Israel about 515 BCE during the time of rebuilding the country after being forced out exiled to Babylon.

This passage is critical in understanding Jesus’ thinking.  Watch for three critical features we need to grasp.  I’ve underlined them.

First of all the ministry of this work, will be carried out by teams of the dedicated, is authorized and fed only by God’s Holy Spirit.  The teams of these dedicated people are those who are in bondage, rendered impotent with overwhelming debts.  They are the hopeless, powerless and desperate.

Secondly, this speaker believes these marginalized have been called by God as was Elijah and Moses. 

Thirdly, their job was to “gospel” the defeated, the wounded, broken world towards creative constructive society.  The word “gospel” here is not a noun; it is actually used as a verb that means to transform by the vision of God, the dreadful social conditions of the shattered people into a new testament of common rights and empowerment.  To gospel is like saying to heal.  The Game of Thrones actually caught the nuance of this verb when the Mother of Dragons came to liberate the oppressed or to use her words:  “I am not going to stop the wheel, but to break the wheel.”

 


23 Jun 19

Instead of sackcloth

 

God our rock, storms rage around us and we despair. Come to us in our rituals; nourish and strengthen us for the journey to which you call us. We praise you, our help and our God. Amen.

 

Repetitive dance, hymns, prayers, drums, and food and so on form the rituals which we need and crave.  We know spiritual fire dances occurred before human beings could speak to pay tribute to the fires some 600 thousand years ago.  We humans have always ritualized the change of the seasons, the solstice, the various milestones in the cycle of life which of course includes death.

Just a week ago we ritualized the slaughter of Juno Beach and D. day with pipes and drums like this: video 1

Funeral rituals have become most significant in the process of the celebration of life, helping the bereaved grieve, helping us calm ourselves and help us recover from devastation of loss.  Indeed as far back as 100 thousand years ago our ancestors commended our dead to the mysterious forces that hold the secrets of life.  We continue today as we offer our belief in God, how we seek God close amongst us, and know about the care God gives to those who have passed through their final life-as-we-know-it stage.

The church sees ritual in various stages.  There are those rituals which we take for granted such as saluting, kissing or shaking hands or bowing as greeting.  From a spiritual perspective these are in fact our deeply felt craving to connect, for relationship, meaning making, if not transformation from strange to intimate.

Secular rituals such as victory parades for the Raptures require certain premeditation, but again they feed our need to be connected together and in the words: “We the North”  as the great nation of Canada.

Father’s day was celebrated in the Nairobi churches with dance last Sunday.  Ester sends us this great ritual:  video 2.

These are great examples of second level rituals.

The third ritual level is that which humans have formalized as sacred.  We call them somewhat formally and traditionally sacramental rituals or spiritual rites of passage from one stage to another.  At one time humanity made sacramental or prayer rituals in Funerals, Baptism, the First Communion, Marriages, new homes, graduations like last week, or in preparing the dead for burial as the women wanted to do to with their Jesus.  Such rituals have powerful meaning that claims to heal loss and negativity.  These are the rituals in our psalm reading that takes human being past the poverty symbolized in the rags called sackcloth.  From Isaiah, repeated by Jesus as his purpose, we learn that “to gospel” are the rituals of good news  that God, full of compassion, is still with us to overcome injustice, disease, poverty, war, violence, and chaos.  It is the rituals sacred; often importantly deeply traditional events that take us from the negativity to hope.  Rituals are so critical that recent psychological research has indicated that the explosion of addictive behaviours with drugs, sex, gambling, and so on has resulted in cultures because rituals are being abandoned.  These studies imply that our human craving for ritual must be satisfied, and if it is not by our cultural institutions we will find other compulsions as distorted destructive outlets for our need for ritual.  This is as the psalmist once claimed years ago:  ritual instead of sackcloth, ritual instead of depression, ritual instead of secular aloneness.

Rituals from the common handshake or fist bump or elbow tap or passing the peace to sacramental rites preparing ourselves to say good-by to our beloved deceased are all sacred moments in which we crave a spiritual relationship with each other.  I am delighted to watch great indigenous people’s rituals where the connection to the earth is not a lost as it is in Western cities. 

The Maasai people of Kenya have most powerful rituals: one of which is a preparation for the dead much like the ancient preparation offered to the dead Jesus.  A great fighter of human rights in Kenya the long serving politician, William ole Ntimama died in 2016 provoking national grief.  This is one of the ways Kenyans ritualized their great loss.  Video 3

The power of rituals is not ever to be dismissed as primitive or savage superstition.  Today our own psalmist and prophets reminded us most forcefully that we can invoke meaningful respectful rituals instead of destructive compulsions, we can follow sacred rituals instead of addictions, we can experience rituals instead of depression, and we can do rituals instead of drugs.

So the homework this week, know that every ritual connection you make such as (passing the peace) bowing, fist bumping, handshaking, hugging, or kissing in greeting are part of rituals we crave, without which we borrow the isolations behind destructions of all kinds.  Let us start this homework as we pass the peace at the end of the first part of our gathering today.