Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Fourth Sunday in Lent: Seeing in a new light

John's cup (inside)

John's cup (outside)
Walking up the street, I’m thinking about Jed. Katherine and I planning the memorial service for his wife Celia. Died after a six year struggle with ovarian cancer. It’s good planning this service with Katherine, her art with liturgy. Jed gave  us two amazing  years as an artist in residence. Helped create the perfect palms to passion Sunday service. Among many others. These events, with Katherine  and Jed, made going to church something to look forward to for me. 
Holly is waiting at the church when I arrive. And we both wait for Hope, who has the keys today.  A young man comes in, heads to the back. So many wind up missing today. We remove our temporary tables. Return the communion  table to the front.  Dress the table and pulpit in Lenten purple, at last.  I look up and see that Jane Galloway has joined us. Glad she’s there but wishing more of us were here. 

Today we’re looking at light. More like an Epiphany theme. But maybe there’s a difference.Maybe it’s not like getting in a flash of light.  Maybe it’s more about  seeing things in a new light... a process.
We begin with Samuel’s call of David. Deals with  leadership. Quality . Value. 
7But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 7)
How we look at things. There’s been alot of discussion this year about a Presbyterian Church “white paper”.An analysis, critique, plan by conservatives. See our church as dying. In need of reform. But for them, back to  a past that can be no more. 
More recently, a group of liberals held what they called the Next Church conference, offering their analysis. Critique. Plan. They too see the church as dying. Know what needs to be done. 
Here in New York City Presbytery, a group of self-selected clergy and elders have brought the same analysis. Critique. Plan. To our presbytery. They want us to vote on it in May. And if they lose, they essentially want permission  to secede. 
It’s a mistake to perceive the basic fault lines in our church as right versus left. In New York City,it is not conservative vs. liberal.It’s more complicated. But what is consistent in every case is the assumption  that  money and size and power add up to quality. Add up to wisdom. The sense of we know  better. Let us tell you what you should do. And if you don’t do it, we’re taking our money and leaving. Our whole presbyterian system was based on the principle of equality of insight, vision, inspiration...That big and small, rich and poor, red and yellow black and white, by listening together for  the leading of the Holy Spirirt, can discern what God’s will is for us. 
Maybe it’s the little guy. The red headed little shepherd. Maybe it’s David who God wants. The little churches. The ones at the margins. 
In all of this I have heard not a word, about peace, justice, reconciliation. We’re back to Belhar again. How can we continue to maintain a hierarchical corporate form of ecclesiology and at the same time honor Belhar with its call to reconciliation,peace and justice? And even more specifically, 
*  that the church must therefore stand by people in any form of suffering and need, which implies, among other things, that the church must witness against and strive against any form of injustice, so that justice may roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream;

* that the church as the possession of God must stand where the Lord stands, namely against injustice and with the wronged; that in following Christ the church must witness against all the powerful and privileged who selfishly seek their own interests and thus control and harm others. (Belhar Confession, 1988, South Africa)

I want to know: How can we pass Belhar, unanimously!, and think its ok to have a self-selected group who will decide?
Can we see things in a different light?
But there is a personal aspect of this as well. We are called to be children of light...
I’m drawn to Eugene Peterson’s translation of the Bible, the Message. In his Ephesians we read:
 8-10You groped your way through that murk once, but no longer. You're out in the open now. The bright light of Christ makes your way plain. So no more stumbling around. Get on with it! The good, the right, the true—these are the actions appropriate for daylight hours. Figure out what will please Christ, and then do it.
 11-16Don't waste your time on useless work, mere busywork, the barren pursuits of darkness. Expose these things for the sham they are. It's a scandal when people waste their lives on things they must do in the darkness where no one will see. Rip the cover off those frauds and see how attractive they look in the light of Christ.

   Wake up from your sleep,
   Climb out of your coffins;
   Christ will show you the light!
So watch your step. Use your head. Make the most of every chance you get.
These are desperate times!
Have confidence in, trust the Lord...
What he’s talking about is no hiding. If we do what we do in the light, it robs the power of that which frightens us, controls us, weakens us. If you feel you need to hide, maybe you need to think about it....Not only see it in the light do it in the light. 
Finally, the gospel lesson. Dangerous ground here again.  If you’ve learned anything over the the years here it is that Biblical connections between  disability and spiritual infirmity are just plain wrong. Jesus makes this clear by rejecting the presumed connection between blindness and sin. You have to see things in a new light. 
But still. There remains this ...was blind but now I see... business. As one of my friends in the disabilities concerns network used to say, I once was blind, but still am. And you can’t say well we’re all handicapped in one way or another....that robs a community of its own particularity, God given uniqueness. 
Nor can you duck behind metaphor. Discussin gthsi issue once with an African-America music director, he said, but its just a metaphor. And I said, yes, like wash me and I shall be whiter than snow. And he said, oh....
Beware metaphor. the power to control the meaning if a metaphor is the power  to control the meaning, the quality of another’s life. We know what’s’s a form of psychic violence... you have to see things in a new light....
So much better in the Spanish translation, La Gracia Sublime, 
...tu luz me rescato....
Your love has rescued me.
When I read the passage from John 9:3, 
3Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”
Hope responded that she preferred the translation that God might be glorified in him...(just as he is) Later she woud tell me she looked for that translation and it doesn’t exist. It’s the way she hears the passage. God can be glorified in me as I am. I do not need to be cured. 
That’s what this time, this season is about...learning to see in a new light...We have quality, value, just as we are..may we continue to grow towards what we will be...

Just before the offering, we discuss the growing movement to fast in solidarity with the hungry. It's grown like a wildfire, crossing denomination, faith tradition and secular political boundaries. We decide to join. To reflect on our experiences fasting in worship. And to challenge our presbytery through its Social Witness Council to join in.  (see
It’s time for communion. And now our unique communion cups are back. The cup John created with our church on the outside, Katherine, I and the people  on the inside. Though the cold and health keep her away, she is still there, in the cup. With me. With us. And the other, a cup made by Andrea’s mother Pat, her pottery. She, a daughter of a Spanish Catholic woman and a communist Jewish musician, she made us a cup.
We finish the service. Sing our Amen. And as always, share Anna’s cafe con leche. The young man introduces himself. He’s from Wall Street. Looking for a way back. Here in our own home, doors open, there are visitors again. Outside, there’s Andre.When he got here  at 10 and no one was here, he left and went to SPSA. We missed him. Better communications next week.  
We leave bread and juice on the steps.A man comes forward, takes the bread. Asks for more. Arcadia goes to the table, brings him the rest of the loaf. Communion.
The Table

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