Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A month of Sundays part 3: The 4th of July weekend


It’s the 4th of July weekend. Which means it will be quiet. Still we have our remnant there, including little 4 year old Xavier, Stephen S’s son. Full of energy. And he waits anxiously every Sunday for when we form our circle and sing Amen. He gets upset if he misses it.

We’ve got the story where Isaac gets his wife Rebekah. (Genesis 24: 35-38). His servant is sent to find a wife from his kindred. The story is one of those that is rich for those who speak of the Biblical model of marriage. We do note these things:
* It takes place at a well, which in the Bible is where romance begins. Jacob meets Rachel at a well. And Moses and Zipporah. All this helps explain the background of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well and why the disciples would be shocked, Expecting romance would be implied.
* Even in this arranged marriage, at least Rebekah is asked if she will go with this man.(58)
* There’s a gold nose ring involved. Wonder what it looked like compared to what is worn today. Perhaps we should reinstitute engagement (nose) rings.
* The whole camel caravan is a good visual
*As soon as she sees Isaac, she veils herself. (Recently in my neighborhood I’ve seen more veiled women with only their eyes showing.)
* And he loves her.(67) And was….. comforted after his mother’s death.

It’s easy to think of Isaac as having been traumatized by his earlier experience with his father. He’s very passive in this story. Clearly was very close to his mother. And Rebekah’s primary purpose, here, was to comfort him.  Love can grow, even out of arranged marriages.

Our Song of  Solomon passage, 2: 8-13, is a paean to romantic, sensual love. It was only allowed into the Bible because scholars argued it was a metaphor for the love of Christ for his church. (Seriously) In the days of arranged marriage, this is a pretty scandalous book. You’ve got a woman expressing passion and desire for a lover, young and athletic who leaps and bounds over hills like a gazelle or stag. Like a Baryshnikov. Or maybe Neymar.  And he’s at her window, ala a Shakespeare character, asking her to come out.  No waiting for dowries here.  This is a Biblical book that is a celebration of erotic love. And maybe that’s why we need it.

As for Paul in Romans 7: 15-25,  we’re back to guilt and anguish again.
I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. 17But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.
 8For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. 19For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. 20Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. (Wait, Paul. It is you who does it, not some alien entity called sin that came in. You have to claim that.)
21So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. (Indeed true. And sometimes hard to tell the difference.. Sometimes very close together. )

 22For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, 23but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

I remember the 1928 Anglican prayer book:
And there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders.
I could never say those words. People in this city spend thousands of dollars a year on therapy to not feel like there is no health in us. Or that they are wretched. Being able to love oneself is the single most difficult thing to do. And it doesn’t help to say that the only thing good about you is that Jesus loves you even though you don’t deserve it. So this is one of those times when I say, Paul, you are wrong. (It would have been great, if Paul, like St. Augustine, had shared with us what he struggled with.)

Finally, the Gospel. (Matthew 11: 16-19, 23-24). Early on, Jesus seems to have a damned if you do, damned if you don’t thing  going on.
18For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He has a demon19the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners! Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.
But you do see Jesus eating and drinking, enjoying life with others. His first miracle (John 2: 1-11) was turning water into wine for a wedding celebration (here we are circling elliptically back through our other passages..)

The real point of the gospel is it’s conclusion:
28Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

The word yoke was a traditional way of referring to studying the Torah, the Law, the Teaching. Jesus is saying that study is important, but not as a heavy burden. As a freeing experience of life to be lived. I used this passage for the last verse of the song I wrote for Teddy’s memorial service:

Come you who are weary and so heavy laden and lay your burden down
For my yoke it is easy and my burden is light and you can trade your cross for a crown
And you can rest  awhile, rest awhile, come away and rest awhile.

                                                                      * * * *

Last week, Pride Sunday, we were also blessed by another visit from our friend Brian Taylor. Our bicoastal member. Voice actor. Company repping. And Binky the Clown.  But most of all faithfully coming by every time he’s in town to see what he can do…


All this on a 4th of July weekend where I’m pondering the good people of Murietta, California turning  away immigrant children (Bus them to DC!) and bankrupt Detroit shutting off the water of thousands and we ponder going back to Iraq….

We end by singing America the Beautiful by Katherine Lynn  Bates. (Music by Presbyterian  choirmaster Samuel A. Ward.) And one more Pride note: this much beloved patriotic anthem was written by a woman who lived (and loved) faithfully for 25 years with another woman Katharine Coman.

But as I learned from William Sloane Coffin, Jr. when he had us sing these words in Managua, Nicaragua in 1983, after a witness on the border with Honduras during the contra war,  they have an edge as well….

America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,

Thy liberty in law!

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