Tuesday, February 18, 2014

No reconciliation without reconstruction


Waking Joe and La Toya. You guys realize what could’ve happened, right? The scaffolding fell down, you could have been…
Nah man, says Joe. We was right here. Fell right in front of us man. The Fire Department was right on it. Wasn’t no problem at all…
Sigh. At least he sweeps up before they go.

Dion arrives early, helping me to set up. Deacon James joining in. And a young woman from China is here, awaiting a service. At one point, she gets up and leaves. But is back a few minutes later. I’m sorry, she says, apologetically, I get impatient.

Don is back from the road with his show.
John reads our first lesson, This time from the Torah. DEUTERONOMY 30:15-20.  I ask what the Reading is about and John says obedience. Obedience to what?I ask and John says to the word of God. I say that there’s a lot in front of us. That it has to do with choice,  What we choose. 
15  See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. 16If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the LORD your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess.
And then we read,  17But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, 18I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.  
And we talk about other gods. Like what? One person  mentions our fascination with celebrity. Another the market economy. Someone else the whole idea that we are self made people. No one is self made, we all need each other.

The bottom line is this,
9I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live….God gives us the choice between life and death, the challenge is to choose life.  An appropriate subject, given Elizbeth Colbert’s latest book, The Sixth Extinction, that argues that by the end of the century, half the earth’s species will be gone as a result of no external force but our own choices.

I’m also thinking, maybe since it was Valentine’s Day on Friday, of the new study that argues that now love and marriage are class issues.  That income inequity is pushing us to marry within our class, the rich getting river and the poor getting poorer, the openness and mobility of our parents’ postwar society is all but gone. Couples having to work two jobs apiece just to survive don’t have the luxury if date nights and counseling and all that helps affluent couples keep it together.
 As we read 1 CORINTHIANS 3:1-9, we try to steer clear of Paul’s theology of spirit vs. flesh. We’re trying hard to See our lives as whole, body mind and spirit together. We can be wary, however, of being driven by our appetites. It can be easy to mistake the messenger for the message, to follow the preacher or pastor or leader instead of the one to whom the leader points. 
And as it says, we are glad that .  together; (we)  are God’s field, God’s building.

We finish with the gospel This week, MATTHEW 5:21-37. This is a section often referred to by scholars as the antitheses. But when you look at it closely, it’s not antitheses at all but in fact intensification. Jesus doesn’t contradict what came before so much as he makes it deeper, stronger. 
When we read the part about insults, about calling someone a fool, we acknowledge that while sticks and stones can break our bones, names can indeed hurt us. We talk about the increasing awareness of bullying as an issue, with the glaring example of the recent case involving the Miami Dolphins team and a quiet football player.
And then we read this:
3So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. 
We talk about the tradition that held that if you had something against someone when you came to communion, you had to straighten it out with them before coming to the table.  And we talk about the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. How forgiveness is something we do for ourselves so that we can get on with our lives, stop being a victim, stop being defined by our hurt. A letting go. But it does nothing about restoring relationships.

It was Pablo Richard who said that from a liberation perspective, there is no reconciliation without reconstruction, The relationship has to be rebuilt from the ground up. Beginning with a critical clarification that seeks to identify the truth. Or at least a mutual awareness of what each party understands t be true. An agreement as to what appropriate amends might be. And a series of mutually verifiable actions that can lead to the reestablishment of trust. Reconciliation is a process. It is hard work. But it is at the very heart of what we are called to do and be. And when it happens, I am convinced that God smiles.  That reconciliation is at the heart of choosing life. 

We read these words: 8But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  And remember poor President Jimmy Carter and his fretting about adultery in the heart. What a road we travelled between that and President Clinton parsing the meaning of the word is.

And for those who say we need to take every word of the Bible literally, we have this: 29If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell. Clearly Jesus enjoys rhetorical hyperbole. If only some of our more conservative number might figure that out.
 Finally, we all recognize the power of  7Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one. That to mean what we say and say what we mean with clarity is a sign of true integrity.
 We bring our service to a close, still thinking about reconciliation. Our young visitor from Beijing is happy to learn that Don spends considerable time in  China each year. And Don, after our brief Session meeting takes her to brunch.
I sit after church. Waiting for the scaffolding people to send someone to deal with the lights that are still out. When I realize that they’re not coming, it’s time to go home.

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