Friday, March 18, 2016

Fifth Sunday in Lent: What do you value?


Our friends from the Seed Group/open Choir are back again today to share their music.  We sing together Pharoah’s Army Got Drownded…with the Arlo Guthrie verse, Moses was the first to get the notion that the world is safer with the army in the ocean..

When I was a student at Yale Divinity School, I worked for the Neighborhood Legal Aid office in the Hill neighborhood. Part of what kept me in school. Part of the Hill was African-American and part Puerto Rican. The main church was  La Iglesia de San Juan Bautista. They had a big drive to buy a gold cross for the roof of their church. The Puerto Rican Socialist Party protested this as a waste of money and energy. My colleagues ion the office were divided in their opinion. Some saw it as deeply symbolic for the community.

Let’s go back 10 years. We were struggling with what to do with church. The theological perspective of session was clear. A classic reformed theological position.   They believed that the building was created by our forebears as an asset to further the mission of the church. Not as an end in itself. The Session wanted to tear down the whole building and replace it with a new residential building with a church within it. The building would be 100% affordable housing. (This had long been the majority perspective for West Park…..)
In 1980’s, deferred maintenance was abandoned. The resources of church were entirely devoted for mission.  Pastor Bob Davidson skillfully avoided the church being made part of the landmarks district. I remember talking with a Landmarks staff person who trembled remembering …why he called me an idolator of brick and mortar, a lover of stone not the living stones. Davidson succeeded.  Anyways, the Session’s plan was voted down.

So we came up with a new plan. There would be a new church. And new building. With 60/40 affordable. Community opposition arose. There was a prolonged landmarks struggle. Over that time, we saw the affordable side disappear completely. (Although proceeds would have built 250 units in Harlem.) In hearings, I made same argument, then was a  means not an end. Our mission was for us to determine, not the city. We all know how that turned out. But I grew to understand value of building to the neighborhood. It was about more than just a view. There was meaning of and to itself in a community. In Europe there is a growing area of study of the Theology of built environment.  What we build, where and how has theological content. My theology has moved beyond materialist.
(I do need to say, however…if a community has that value, it needs to pay for that value…the church cannot shoulder that burden alone…)

That’s our question on this last Sunday of Lent…what do you value? What do we value?

This is a story of Jesus and Mary. (Not that Mary, not Mary Magdalen….and by the way, she was not a prostitute…she wasn’t called that until a decree by Pope Gregory in 5th Century when he though that Mary Magdalene was taking attention away from Jesus…)
This was his best friends’ house. Lazarus. (He loved so much he raised him from the deae…and was that really  a good idea?) Her sister was Martha, the serving  one. And Mary, the student. In Bethany. If Jesus was an underground leader, this was for him and his people a “safe house.”

This is an incredible scene. Deep and rich and sensual. The fragrance of the perfume fills the air. Judas gives a classic  materialist response.  (As a side comment, Johyn’s accusations about Judas and his and in the till are  gratuitous…though  revolutions and not for profits…like the recent revelations about the wounded warrior project have shown us how easy  it is to  feel like you deserve luxury benefits for your service, your work…)
Jesus allows himself to enjoy her lavish gift. He knows where he’s going. (And so does Mary…)

The story is found in all four  Gospels. (And no place else, no extracanonical parallels) Hal Taussig (of Union) and Jesus Seminar colleagues (and what a Quixotic venture that was …) believed that therefore there was probably a story we don’t have beneath it.

What does Jesus value? Friendship. Love. The need of friends to get us through.  And love again. This is the  most sensual Jesus. (In Kazantzakis and Scorsese’s  Last temptation of Christ Jesus has both as wives…)

The critical phrase here is The poor shall be with you always. That has been so abused as an excuse not to engage in the struggle against poverty and is a complete  misreading. Why will there always be poor? Because of sin and our nature. BUT also…if you are my disciples, you will always be with the poor…

They say our truest diary is our check book.. What do you value? What do we value?

I sing a new version of this story to the tune of  My life flows on …from last week. (by Brian Wren):

A prophet-woman broke a jar
by Love's divine appointing.
With rare perfume she filled the room,
presiding and anointing.
A prophet-woman broke a jar,
the sneers of scorn defying.
With rare perfume she filled the room,
preparing Christ for dying.

A faithful woman left a tomb
by Love's divine commission.
She saw, she heard, she preached the word,
arising from submission.
A faithful woman left a tomb
with resurrection gospel.
She saw, she heard, she preached the word,
apostle to apostles.

Though woman-wisdom, woman-truth
for centuries were hidden,
unsung, unwritten, and unheard,
derided and forbidden,
the Spirit's breath, the Spirit's fire,
on free and slave, descending,
can tumble our diving walls,

our shame and sadness mending.

The Spirit knows, the Spirit calls,
by Love's divine ordaining,
the friends we need, to serve and lead,
their powers and gifts unchaining.
The Spirit knows, the Spirit calls
from women, men, and children
the friends we need, to serve and lead.
Rejoice and make them welcome!

My friend Stephen Phelps has come to moderate the Session as they discuss changes in my call. Heading in to a time of more uncertainty and challenge. I wish I could hear the discussion. Today we will elect Russ and Pat K to positions of leadership on the Session and Dion as a Deacon. As we welcome Hugo and Arcadia back. And take a step into the unknown…..

16Thus says the LORD,
who makes a way in the sea,
a path in the mighty waters,
17who brings out chariot and horse,
army and warrior;
they lie down, they cannot rise,
they are extinguished, quenched like a wick:
18Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.
19I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.
20The wild animals will honor me,
the jackals and the ostriches;
for I give water in the wilderness,
rivers in the desert,
to give drink to my chosen people,
21the people whom I formed for myself
so that they might declare my praise.

1When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
2Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then it was said among the nations,
"The LORD has done great things for them."
3The LORD has done great things for us,
and we rejoiced.

4Restore our fortunes, O LORD,
like the watercourses in the Negeb.
5May those who sow in tears
reap with shouts of joy.
6Those who go out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
carrying their sheaves.

4bIf anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: 5circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee;6as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
7Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. 8More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. 10I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
12Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
1Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him.3Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus' feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 5"Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?" 6(He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) 7Jesus said, "Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me."

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