In our daily prayers God was every manner of image and metaphor and meaning, and always, "God the Father." We never ever prayed to "God our Mother." What were women in the economy of God? The answer was only too painful: We were invisible. I had given my life to a God who did not see me, did not include me, did not touch my nature with God's own....Joan Chittister, "Called to Question"

Friday, November 21, 2008

Reflection for Christ the King, Year A 2008

By The Rev. Dr. Kate Hennessy

On this Sunday we proclaim that Jesus is our King, the King of Heaven, and we may wonder what on earth that means and what it has to do with us in our lives. The whole idea of kings is not one that has much meaning of us as 21st century Americans. We might think it strange to think of the whole idea of God having a “kingdom” and Jesus “reigning” over it like a monarch. But if we look at today’s scriptures, it seems that isn’t what we are talking about at all. What scripture seems to be telling us is about a different kind of kingdom and a different kind of king, starting all the way back in the Old Testament readings. We are reminded as we hear Ezekiel just how ancient some of these themes are between God and God’s people. Ezekiel lived in Babylon from 593 to 571 BCE. He prophesied among exiles and often had to say things in the name of God that he found incomprehensible, painful, and hard to bear. In this morning’s reading he is called to give comfort to the exiled people by promising a vision of a new kind of shepherd king, one who is not only powerful but nurturing, one will seek the lost and bring them home, feed them with rich pasture, and make them lie down in safety. God's rule as the shepherd king is a rule of justice not exploitation. God will protect the people from "the fat and the strong.” This is a different use of power than the exiles were accustomed to, and perhaps than we are. It might have been easy for them to say, “oh good, we will be able to rest now, we will be safe from ‘them’ picking on us.” But there is more to what God has Ezekiel say. Yes this is a loving shepherd king, but this also a just King, and Ezekiel does give a warning. God is determined to save God’s people whom God loves and there will be justice. If anyone is unjust to another, this shepherd will call them to be accountable. “I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep.” God is not simply saying that the powerful from without will not be allowed to hurt one of God’s beloved people, but that even one of God’s own will be called to account if there is injustice done, if the kingdom message is not lived out.

This morning’s Gospel is Jesus’ final talk with his disciples before his passion. In it we hear a theme that echoes strongly the one from Ezekiel and one that has run strongly through all of Matthew’s Gospel, that of discipleship, of following Jesus in living the upside-down, counter-cultural shepherd-king life that he lived. The life that he talks about again this morning in serving those who are least, of including the outcast, of feeding and welcoming and healing and nurturing. In standing up against injustice, in speaking truth to power, no matter what the cost.

Discipleship. Following Jesus in living this Gospel life. It’s what God asks of us and expects of us as a result of our having made and renewed our baptismal covenant. It’s pretty clear. There is accountability in this kingdom of God’s. If we do not meet the expectation there will be a price. Both groups in this morning’s Gospel seemed a little baffled, “Where did we see you…?” I think we get confused sometimes, too. About where we see Jesus and where we are called to respond. It’s maybe easier for us in a way to see the need in the actual poor and homeless and ill and such and to respond to that. Sometimes, it’s easier, at least for me, to see those leasts as “them,” to have a little safe distance, but you know….”they” are also “us.” God is the shepherd of us all. Maybe it’s kind of hard to admit sometimes, we too are all hungering and thirsting for something, that we too are sometimes powerless, lonely and in need, we too can feel a sense of absolute naked vulnerability at times, we too can be sick in body or mind or spirit, we too can be in our own prisons. And this means that as sheep of our shepherd we are called to reach out to that need in each other. As you consider your community this morning, what is it that you have to feed another? What warm garment of concern do you have in which to wrap someone? What good medicine of concern or wisdom might you have to share? What key might you have that could unlock something that has been imprisoning someone’s heart? And as you consider this, also take a moment to ask yourself, what is it that stops you? Is it the fear of the cost? Because we know that this kind of living has a price. Look where it took the King of the Jews. But the cost of not doing so is higher still. It is the price of our very souls, because to follow Jesus is what we were created for. As Paul puts it in Ephesians it is “the hope to which he has called us… the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and…the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.” Perhaps then it is a question of faith. Perhaps, like the slave in last week’s Gospel, we are too fearful to step out in trust, believing that we can flagrantly cast what we have out there, so we bury and hoard and hold on tight. But clearly this is not what God wants of us. Clearly this is not what God asks. In God’s Kingdom where Christ reigns, the shepherd assures the safety of all the sheep that the sheep too may care for one another. May it be so.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Proper 28A RCL

A Reflection on Judges 4:1-7; Psalm 123; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; 25:14-30 by: The Rev. Jacqueline Schmitt

When I went to my oldest son’s high school 9th grade orientation, the teacher leading the session said, “The clock is ticking!” The message was shape up! Study hard! Your future starts now! Fail now, you’ll never catch up!

The way the church has structured these last weeks of the church year is like that. Certainly last week’s lesson of the wise and foolish bridesmaids is marked by urgency, and the remaining lessons in the 25th chapter of Matthew push that boundary. Urgent, yes, and the standards are high: God is expecting a lot from us.
But the 25th chapter of Matthew is about more than that – about more than a liturgical device to get us ready for Advent, the season which defines getting ready.
Recently, I have come across the scholarship of Linda McKinnish Bridges, through her article, “Preaching the Parables of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel in Ordinary Time: The Extraordinary Tales of God’s World.” (Review & Expositor, 2007.) She reminded me of the strange and destabilizing effect of parables, and this 25th chapter of Matthew has three of the strangest and most destabilizing. The English word “parable,” she reminds us, comes from the Greek “para,” meaning alongside, and “bole” meaning hurl or throw, and so at its very root a parable is more than a sweet story, an allegory whose meaning is to be teased out and neatly fit into a liturgical lesson. In college, I took a class on James Joyce, and every page of Ulysses or Finnegan’s Wake had to be read with a glossary in hand, to decipher each symbol and sign. Linda McKinnish Bridges reminds us that we can’t quite do that with parables, which are really too weird and curious. The parable is a metaphor which defies easy explanation, whose purpose is indeed to make us stop and think. The parables are full of everyday images from first century Palestine, and yet they are not historical snapshots. The illustrations come from the commonplace but Jesus puts them together in a way that disturbed his hearers – and those same images come hurling toward us as well, causing us each time we read them to scratch our heads and wonder, what is this about, really?

For the past several years, I have noticed that biblical scholarship has tugged us in new ways. I keep remembering what I heard John Dominic Crossan say in a lecture around the time his book Paul and Empire came out. The Roman Empire is not in the background, but in the foreground of all the gospels, he said. It is not just how we decorate the slide shows of Jesus’ spiritual teachings, but the context which shaped the lives of the followers of Jesus who wrote down his life story in the gospels. The structural oppression of Empire was in the very air they breathed. The Gospel of Matthew, then, is not just the story of Jewish-Christian disciples trying to figure out how to preach to the Gentiles. It is a story of resistance, a “left-handed power” of non-violence – the only way to resist an Empire of power and violence, the only kind of power, Linda McKinnish Bridges says, that evil cannot touch. The gospels themselves are parables, hurled at us over time and space, destabilizing our understanding of religious faith as something that keeps us happy, allows us to accommodate, to be nice, to refrain from controversy. The gospels subvert the power structures of the world, showing us that love and sacrifice and compassion and mercy rule. They use the words of this world – words about economics and power – to undo the conventional wisdom of what the world means by them.

This week we read the middle parable of the three in the 25th chapter of Matthew. The master is not interested in conventional wisdom, in the safe bet, the “prudent man” rule. The master demands that his servants be venture capitalists, taking what he gave them and giving him back more. If last week’s parable shocked us into vigilant preparation – get that oil ahead of time! -- this week’s shocks us into taking risks. We’ll have to wait until next week for Jesus to tell us just what it is we have been given, and what Jesus expects us to produce in abundance.