Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Godwrestling 3: Can we accept a less than perfect savior?


Jeremy’s away this week and we've got a substitute who’s checking out the piano and the music and getting ready for the service. 

We’ve got a special visitor: Steve P who served as interim pastor of the vaunted Riverside Church nursing them back from a devastating implosion. Holding a divided community in some semblance of together. He’s got pretty solid progressive credentials. And I suspect his presence here has something to do with Russ’s recent visits.

As part of our continuing liturgical exploration of Godwrestling, we once again sing Amazing grace and I once again tell the story of slave holder John Newton’s change of heart. Deacon James relates how he always thought that Amazing Grace was a black song until he heard the story. Clearly it transcends bounds.

We begin our scriptures with Psalm 133…How good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters dwell together in harmony…how both unity and harmony are both important. Different notes that sound good together. We sing the Jewish version of this Psalm, Hinay ma tov umanyim, chevet achim gan yahad….and I relate how our friends at St.Paul and St.Andrews hung a banner with  these words to welcome B’Nai Jeshurun when their roof fell in. And how our friends at West End have these words on their outdoor banner welcoming their  partner Romemu and other congregations.

Our primary passage of the day is Matthew 10:15-28. Jesus and the Canaanite woman. It begins with a confrontation with purity laws, the apparent issue being ritual  washing of hands before eating but evolving into a critique of kashrut, IE, kosher. At its best, dietary laws are a witness concerning mindless consumption of creation's resources. Jesus is speaking against the law used to judge, exclude, others. In earthy and explicit language he rejects rote obedience. It’s the heart of the matter that counts.

Commentators have always had a difficult time with this passage because it puts Jesus in a negative light. Historically, scholars have twisted themselves in knots trying to excuse Jesus. Of course the word dogs can  be translates as puppies. But so what? The reality is the expression is a racist epithet for outsiders. The word Canaanite is already anachronistic, speaking of a displaced indigenous people now perceived as unwelcome enemies in what was once their own land. It’s tough to see Jesus in that light.

But the point is, if Jesus is both fully human and fully divine, then he must be fully human. That means not being fully formed or fully aware of everything and having the capacity to learn and grow.
As far as godwrestling goes, Jesus had to wrestle with his self understanding and understanding of his mission. He also had to wrestle with the prejudices of his day and culture. His earlier wrestling with purity laws set himself up for the challenge the Canaanite woman would present.

And the woman herself has to wrestle. By speaking out loud to a man in public, she could be mistaken for a prostitute. More importantly, she wrestles with Jesus and won’t let go until she receives a blessing. Just like Jacob at the fork of the Jabbok.

We’re faced with questions like:
* Can we accept a less than perfect savior?
* What uncomfortable ways do we need to grow?
* What blessing do we seek and are we willing to wrestle to receive it?

Steve P tells us a story about when he was a pastor upstate and a West-Park member came to visit him. The question was asked why any gay person would attend a church, given how churches respond to gay people. I come to make it easier for you to come was the answer. I ask Steve to bless us with a benediction as we stand in the circle.

The congregation met after church to discuss an update on where we are both in terms of our revitalization plan and our potential development possibilities. Many serious questions asked. And then the Session met to dig into these issues in greater detail. Serious and critical questions remain to be answered.

As our long afternoon of meetings ends, Sean stops by. Having  a hard time finding  a storage space. Can he have some more time? I’ve been expecting that. Answer? Yes.

Leila has stayed around to handle some office matters. It’s time for me to go to the final softball game of the season.

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