Monday, August 15, 2011

No more ideas

Quiet day as I work on tomorrow’s service. Late in the day, I stop in the yard, sit and talk with Stephen. Ask about his official first preview last night. It went well. Good notes from some real theatre guests. Still a ways to go. We’re all right, water wise. So far.  On my way home,  two doorways are taken by sleepers. Edward is asleep on the  sidewalk.
It’s raining. Heavy. Walking is hard. Hope arrives, ready to help. A man is sleeping in the southeast doorway. It’s not Edward. Scraps of cardboard and other trash all around. On my way to the copy shop, I tell him he’ll have to go. 
Chanae has come with Caleb. They’ll both be singing with us this morning. Before the service, Hope and I were talking about the current divided country we live in. The growing gap betwen rich and poor. The narrartive that immigrants create problems, that only some of us count. That opening the way to more privilege is the only way to make things better for alll of us. While all around  the world, a generation that has been disenfranchised and marginalized raises its voice, in Israel, in England, in Geece, in Spain...
That same voice was raised up here and brought Obama to the presidency in 2008. A generation that had never believed in politics came forward, got involved, cared. Dared to hope. And he chose not to use the power the constituency that had been created offered. Chose the path of preemptory acquiescence. And today we are more divided than in my memory. 
I talk about Psalm 133, How good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters dwell in harmony. How unity and harmony are different but both good. How that was the banner SPSA placed to welcome B’nai Jeshurun years ago, that defines its welcome to BJ, us, the Sacred Center. I teach the congregation Hinei ma tov. Right after I read the story of Jesus and the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15: 21-28),Chanae sings a beautiful Pie Jesu. Today I’m also dealing with Joseph and his brothers, (Genesis 45: 1-15).
Robert Roth says that the overarching theme in these two stories is how change comes to two families when faith allows one family member to see their families’ story in the larger story of God’s saving encounters with humanity. Their story as part of the big(ger) picture. Joseph forgives the vicious abuse of his brothers and provides his entire family the very bounty foreseen in his inspired dreaming. Jesus expands his mission to the people of Israel to include Gentiles coming in faith. The Canaanite girl’s mother also sees the bigger story, faithfully pleading to the "son of David" (Matthew 15:22) to heal her daughter of a demon.
This of course, also raises for us the issue of what exactly  we mean by family. The fragmentation of society into the vested, guarded interests of nuclear families undercuts both those families and a social order yearning for fuller life and deeper harmony. A biblical ethic sees the biological family within the human family, in turn within the generational continuity of life on earth. Those who speak of defense of the family always seem to have an image of mother and father three children and automatic weapons in a bunker armed against a hostile, threatening world.  Somehow we must learn to live together as brothers and sisters, as Dr. King said, or die together as fools.
With Joseph, sometimes we need to have reminders of our own alienation before we see our right relationship with the whole humna family. The story of Joseph and his brothers is the story of redeemed relationships. It is also a beginning of immigration story, the children of Israel coming to Egypt as guest workers. Here they are saved. Live well. Until, as we remember, there comes a new pharoah who knew not Joseph. 
The story of Jesus and the Canaanite woman has always fascinated me. One of my favorites. Because it has an edge. This is not a nice story. “Dog” is not a term of endearment. It is an insult. Especially to a woman who has been “racialized and colonized.” (Laurel Dykstra) It’s easy to think of examples from our own society.  What’s most disturbing is that it is Jesus who does the insulting, not the disciples. His first response to her is related  to her externalitites:  Canaanite, woman. 
 What’s involved here is shame. And what is amazing is that  the woman does not allow herself to be shamed. She sets aside what could be called internalized identity markers. (As Eric Law has discussed in his work on cutural groups and  perceived distance from power.) She insists on her inherent right as a human. In a battle of wits with Jesus, she does what no great Bible scholar or doctor of the law ever did:  she wins. 
And what is the instructive part is for us is that Jesus allows his understanding of the “kingdom” to broaden. He allows himself to be converted. Are we open to conversion? Especially from the margins?
This ultimately raises some serious questions for us. Who are you in this story?
 Are you one of the disciples, brushing off a nuisance? Get rid of her, she’s annoying, there’s more important work to do. Are you the woman, taking the Holy One by the lapels and not letting go? Are you Jesus, playing by the rules of your calling until confronted by a faith that turns over your standards and demands to be heard? (from Julie Polter) Who are we?
I love that Jesus has to grow. That’s what makes the story for me. It’s easier for me to believe in the bodily resurrection than that he never made a mistake. If God ceated Jesus fully human, of course he didn’t know everybting. Was a product of his day, his time, his culture.  His openness to conversion opens the door for us. (But who do we need to be converted by?)
It also speaks to us about the power of interruptions. Holy intrusions. That’s why it’s good that our doors are open. Our office in the front. The people who come in, who interrupt, make our day. Just like Caleb walked in and today sings here. Thank God for that. 
(Significant ideas for today’s sermon came from Sojourners magazine’s resource Preaching the Word.
Caleb shares a moving Deep River as the offering is collected. We make our circle. The service is done. 
The Session discusses what kind of campaign we might want to launch. What Sojourners, Stony Point, PHEWA, others might be doing. There is no leadership. As a sign said in Greece, you have no more ideas. Things as they are, in church, politics, economy...are over. Played out. Done. We must be a place where new ideas can be thought. Given a chance to grow. Become real. 
Outside, the rain continues. The man is still in the doorway. I speak to him again. Half my foot’s cut off, he says. What? I say. Diabetes, he says, pulling back his sheet to show a bloody sock. You’ve got to get help, I say. And then hurry off to see Chuck’s daughter Martha in a play. Hours later, after I’m home, I wonder why I didn’t call 911.Or at least 311.  If he’s still there tomorrow morning......

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