Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Is there more to learn?


With Jonathan Bell at Rendall

I arrive at Rendall for my third Sunday and take the time to rehearse my song “Rest Awhile” with music director Jonathan Bell. AN discover that Jonathan has been a student of my friend Milica. We sing  the song right right before my sermon to resounding “amens.” 

Some even singing along. So here’s my reflection:

God bless Dick Gregory….who died yesterday at 84… I was remindenof one of his early stand-up routines where he sat act launch counter. The waiters said, “ I’m sorry, ee don’t serve negroes.” To which Gregory responded,  “That’s ok, I don’t eat them anyways. Just bring me fried chicken.”  Confession: he was my first Presidential vote in 1968. Another giant. 

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about what happened last week. And the response to it. And I’ve got to say that it’s not about “both sides.” There is a difference. The pain of the one excluded is not the same as the one who has pain because they now have to include. DO you understand what I am saying? The pain  of the people who couldn’t bear having a black president was not the same as what President Obama must have felt when people kept challenging his birth certificate and all kinds  of other crazy things. 

And before I go deeper, we’ve had to experience another terrorist attack in Barcelona. And are you aware that in Sierra Leone, there are over 400 dead and 600 missing from deadly mudslides in Freetown. Adding to the sadness is how little we ever hear about what happens in Africa. 

And I mention these things because God’s word always comes to us in a context, in the midst of what’s going on in the world, and we need to be aware of what’s going on around us as God’s living word lives among us. 

So to go back for a moment, I said last week that we’re not going anywhere until we wrestle with the legacy of slavery in our country and be able to speak the truth. That healing and reconciliation begins with the TRUTH. And that means having to speak the truth as Presbyterians. About being Presbyterian. That means ultimately telling our stories as New York City Presbyterians.  And I hope soon we will do that. 

But it also means that for our denomination. I had a conversation in which an African-American author questioned me about  our denomination. How in 1861 we divided over slavery. That the southern part of our church had provided a  theological defense of slavery  and that when we reunited in 1983, we never talked about that history. And this week I learned that it was common in Virginia for churches to own slaves and that they paid the pastors by renting them out for a year. They were called endowments..As their slaves had more children, their endowment grew.

We have to talk about these things. Confess these things. 

We’re going to have to be open to growing, learning changing…which of course, brings me to Jesus…
There’s a lot in our gospel lesson today and I just want to stop for a moment and say that its first part about what comes out of your mouth  being more important  than what goes in is classic Jesus….

But let’s go to  another of My favorite stories…the Canaanite woman with a deeply troubled daughter.  At first, he doesn’t her answer at all. And the disciples want to send her away because she keeps shouting after them.  (If it was anything like the guy on the crowded 2 train night, i don’t blame them..)  But she won’t go away…

( As Mc Connell said of Elizabeth Warren, Nevertheless she persisted…)

They go back and forth 3 times…
At first, Jesus says he’s come only for the lost sheep of Israel…(It’s good to have a clear sense of your mission and it limitations…)

It gets worse, he tells her the children’s food should not be given to dogs…(It’s good to set boundaries..) ( and here he’s using a common insult for Canaanites…)…and she responds…but even dogs get the crumbs…(like leftover loaves and fishes?)…and Jesus finally feels her and her daughter is healed…

OK…hold on…what’s going on here?

Is it uncomfortable for you to hear about Jesus acting in upsetting ways?
For centuries, commentators have tried to explain this…like, he was just testing her…like when you try and convert to Judaism, you get turned way 3 times…maybe it was like that…

Or maybe it was just like it says…Jesus has been working VERRY hard…he still hasn’t got that break he’s been wanting ….. like last week he tries to take a break and immediately his disciples get in a jam…out in the boat…in  the middle o the lake…and he’s to to do a rescue mission and pull Peter out of the water..

So maybe he’s tired right? And this woman has been loud and annoying…
Look, here’s the thing….what do we believe about Jesus? that he was BOTH fully divine AND fully HUMAN…not half human, not a little bit human, not human on the outside, but  human, FULLY human….

And if that’s so, then he will be subject to tiredness and irritation and human emotions, passions and feelings…and he doesn’t have every awareness of his whole life in his mind…or he wouldn’t be fully human,…OK?

And THAT means, ( according to Jill Duffield)  
but fully human, and being fully human encompasses grief, frustration, desperation, fatigue, love, compassion and indifference. And I find this messy display of Jesus' complex discernment a relief. If Jesus has these feelings they are not only allowed, but sanctified and holy.

And that God can use them to teach us new things, take us to new places….

Like one of Jesus’ leanings, growth points, was that he wasn’t just come for the lost sheep of the house of Israel…but for everyone…and thank God for that….that persistent annoying Canaanite woman helps get the door open for US.

And Jesus was able to be moved with compassion by someone form the very margins of the margins…

check this out… If a Canaanite woman, a double outsider with no power other than tenacity and persistence, can expand the vision for Jesus' mission, then our prayers and groans, shouts and screams aren't in vain. (Duffield)

Hear this… Therefore, don't be afraid to kiss and weep, screech and beg, show some righteous anger because Jesus will listen and JESUS WILL BE MOVED…..

  1. Don’t be afraid to feel what you feel….feelings are NOT right or wrong, it’s what you choose to do with them that is…
  2. Never doubt that Jesus hears and will be moved
  3. And the toughest one…who has Jesus put in your life to challenge you, annoy you, help you discover your true call? Who is YOUR Canaanite woman…?
Let those with ears to hear, hear….

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